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Do we need a Knowledge Commission?

Our surfer opines 'merit' alone can never be the parameter for knowledge.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2006 13:23 IST

Shri SharadYadav of the JanataDal (U) has called for sacking those members of the "Knowledge Commission" who have opposed the reservation of the OBCs in the institutions of higher education. He has offered two reasons - their position is anti-constitutional and in their understanding of knowledge, they are pro-western. It is worthwhile examining both the propositions.

With the exception of two members, Dr Jayathi Ghosh and Dr Bhargav, all the other members have opposed reservation to OBCs. That such a position is anti-constitutional is no doubt. The Constitution of India, advocates reservation to SCs/STs and backward classes. It is evident that the commission has taken a clear stand against the constitutional mandate. Anyone who takes a stand against the basic tenets of the Constitution cannot be a member of a commission of the government.

No one, therefore, could question Sharad Yadav, on his stand on sacking those members who have taken a public stand against the constitutional provisions.

The second argument that Sharad Yadav makes is that the members of the commission are stooges of the West. It is here that academicians have a problem with Yadav. While the Indian heritage was essentially casteist and hierarchical, the West was known for its egalitarian principles. Ours was and continues to be an oppressive casteist system while the West operated on the principle of equality. The West may have been racist with prejudices against the black and the brown but never against the principle of equality, per se.

India, of course, is different. We have never accepted the principle of equality in heart, mind and soul.

To further substantiate the argument, let us examine the attempts to include the excluded in India and the West. The USA has worked on affirmative action and has succeeded to include the excluded, without legal provisions and purely on voluntarism.

In India, in spite of the law on reservation, we have not even succeeded in filling up the required percentage of vacancies in government and private institutions. The reason for not filling up the quota is not that the candidates are not available; we have a mind-set and we are unwilling to shed that. Reasons are offered that suitable candidates are not available especially when those from upper castes sit for interviews to check on suitability and eligibility.

However what shocked most in the academia in the opposition for reservation by the Knowledge Commission is their scant respect for knowledge. What do they mean by knowledge? Is knowledge to be defined by the narrow definition of obtaining the highest marks in the university examinations? Researchers and scholars have proved again and again through data, merit of that kind is not a product of intelligence but opportunities and historical advantage. Students who lack basic necessities of life and a qualitative academic environment cannot be expected to do as well as those who due to their economic status and inherited social privileges are able to score higher marks.

If Knowledge Commission considers that as merit, it is a tragic reflection of the members in the commission. The country may not need a knowledge commission of that kind.

Mugging as knowledge is too narrow an understanding. Knowledge is primarily an insight into the productive heritage of India, that is obtained by seeing, feeling, touching and reflecting on the lives of the people of the land and discovering their rich social, medical, cultural, scientific and economic heritage. That 65 per cent of Indians do not have access to any public or private health care and yet manage by recourse to indigenous and community medical system of roots, herbs, leaves and Ayurveda is due to their knowledge system.

The way the farmers have fed the people of the land with their own kind of appropriate technology and brought about a green revolution is surely because of the knowledge system. Our white revolution too is not because of technology from the West. It is due to the experimentations and discoveries of the ordinary people. Does the Commission consider all this as a part of knowledge? Is there a place for the ways and means through which our subaltern communities have struggled and kept alive their communitarian ways and means in the Knowledge Commission headed by Sam Pitroda?

What is knowledge after all? It is both an insight and a discovery. It cannot be got through mugging or imitating the West. Corporations cannot provide knowledge and in fact, they do not like citizens to be critical. Knowledge should lead the individuals for the cultivation of attitudes of concern and compassion, and skills of problem solving. Insights and discoveries have to be contextual. One cannot impose on the country insights and discoveries of another country or mortgage the country to the interests of dominant countries in the name of knowledge. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the knowledge heritage of subaltern communities and groups simply because they are not recorded.

The task of the Knowledge Commission should be to make attempts to document little known heritages, be universal in its outlook instead of being elite and learn from people instead of from corporations that loot and plunder resources in the name of knowledge. It should look for sources of knowledge from the little traditions of the subaltern communities than multi-national corporations. If it is a commission for the people without insertion with the people, the knowledge commission may miss its destination. Once the starting point is people of the country, and then the commission will be representative of the knowledge of the people and will be able to move beyond.

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal of St. Joseph's College, Lalbagh Road, Bangalore - 560027 and can be reached atp_ambrose@hotmail.com.

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