The fight regarding the government’s caste-based reservation policy continues to affect public life. In the meantime, the spat between the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry and the Supreme Court on the 27 per cent reservations also carries on.
Recently, HRD Minister Arjun Singh was the chief guest at Ranchi University’s convocation. The occasion was disrupted by students protesting against the quota policy. This was not an isolated incident. What these disruptions essentially underline is the collapse of the educational system.
The academic hub has been transformed into a political citadel for promoting vested interests and vote-banks through the misuse of youth power and a deliberate fragmentation of civil society. Even as India has become the epicentre of a globalised world, with economic powers drawn towards its immense potentialities, the educational sector is deteriorating and becoming highly politicised.
The faultlines are clearly etched out and the future of thousands of students is at stake. One need not stretch one’s imagination to notice the indisputable linkage between national development and human resources development. We are witnessing an astounding depletion of our youth power due to a tainted, ramshackle system that does not allow any reforms. Policies are spelt out but hardly ever implemented.
The scars of Rajiv Goswami’s self-immolation in 1989, in protesting against the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for reservations based on caste-configurations, are still fresh in our memories. Unfortunately, the lessons of history have not been learnt. The last several months have witnessed an unfortunate replay.
The outcome, as expected, has created an unprecedented furore and a prolonged legal battle between the SC and the HRD Ministry. The SC clarified on April 18, 2007, that its March 29 ruling staying higher education quotas was not an “advice”, but an “order” totally binding on the government. In this verdict, the court stated that the implementation of the additional 27 per cent reservations must stop. “Nowhere else in the world do castes come up, classes or communities queue up for the sake of gaining backward status. Nowhere else in the world is there competition to assert backwardness,” pronounced the apex court.
The crux of the matter lies, of course, in the doing away of merit, the unconcern for excellence and in the implementation of divisive policies for vested interests. This is ushering in a regime of mediocrity and mendacity for retaining power without genuine concern for the uplift of the impoverished and economically backward. The accent still remains on the segmentation of society and the allotment of privileges as per a hereditary caste system, rather than on merit.
It may be recalled that Manu’s treatises were brought to light only in the 19th century by the British imperialists, in order to implement their ‘divide-and-rule’ policies. Today, Mandal’s implementation has reinforced the same kind of divisiveness, helping our political masters to manoeuvre their nefarious power games.
In the context of revamping our cancerous education system, it would be worth considering the viability of ushering in a new era of educational reforms with emphasis on merit and uniformity of social justice, irrespective of caste, creed or colour. Despite our vociferous criticism of Western racism, we need to sort out our own shameless practices of apartheid at home.
Affirmative action needs to be taken up seriously at the primary and secondary levels of education by rendering economic support to impoverished sections, and for strengthening their human resources in a legitimate and transparent manner. This would enable the underprivileged to compete and succeed in an open system, at the tertiary/university level, without giving the authorities a chance to offer them crutches.
It would be useful here to recount the American practice of a balanced social justice system for the uplift of marginalised communities at the rudimentary levels, with the facility of free, fair and quality education for all school-going children. One also needs to look at our own Vedic past while seeking exemplary models of such ameliorative practices.
In this context, we may cite the instance of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Brahmin’ based on Chhandogyo Upanishad, which defines ‘Brahminism’ as an action-oriented quest for truth and knowledge rather than any supremacy by birth. The Vedic society of ancient India fostered a non-hereditary and equitable system of scholarship, learning and action, which was also based on non-discriminatory division of labour.
It is high time that in the interests of national growth, we stop playing petty power games. Globalisation heralds an age of renewed prosperity, which can never attain its desired crescendo without the reality of a truly educated lot of young, 21st century Indians. Undoubtedly, education is the key to this long-awaited glorious future.
Laksmisree Banerjee is a senior Fulbright scholar and academic.