A conundrum too hot for the government to handle – ‘Education’

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. Our education now has a sole objective. Study for a sheet of paper that has your name and a degree alongside a grade. There is little concern regarding the practical use of the education that we attain.

The education system in India is broken. Physically, yes, because there are institutions that run out of broken chairs, benches and without any proper structure for itself. A simple but important thing like having a girl’s toilet can make a difference in the enrollment of children in schools.

There is an intellectual breakdown because of a theoretical education system. Students study, to be precise rote learn, for marks and not to gain knowledge. The examination system that we have checks the ability to reproduce certain facts within certain time limit. In many universities in India the syllabus and curricula are not updated from time to time. The irrelevant curricula are not able to cater to the industry standards.

Survey after survey shows that not even half the children in Class V can read a Class II text. The government seems to be bereft of ideas for remedial measures. The only concern of the state government’s are whether they have an NIT/IIT in their state. Of course, we need more such institutes, but it must be done on a bottom up approach where there is a proper schooling system and continues up to higher education. Though funds for higher education and research is crucial it would be more purposeful if we can spend some money on schooling as well.

Now let’s see what happens when the government steps in to reform our education. They come up with reforms like the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP), the choice based credit system, making Kannada compulsory in primary schools in Karnataka, introducing Sanskrit in schools in a mid session and so on. If the intention of the political class is to introduce such reforms then it is better to say ‘no’ to education reforms as such reforms will only do harm than any good.

The FYUP in Delhi University was introduced without any discussion and debate with the stake holders. So its roll back was inevitable.

The Karnataka government wants to make Kannada as the language of instruction till class 5. This means a student will study in Kannada medium till class 5 and then he can change to English medium if he wants to. Why did the government come up with such a reform? The State Government say that the Bill was brought in the wake of the State’s language policy being turned down by the Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court. The policy was turned down as it had been brought through a government notification instead of legislation. But why play such politics with education.

The choice based credit system envisions a common syllabus, a common entrance test, common semesterisation, grade-based marking, standardisation of examinations, centralized recruitment, and provision for faculty transfers across Central universities. Sounds good in paper. But the hurry shown by the government in implementing this will have its effects. It should be done step by step, by making sure that the required faculties and infrastructure is in place. We cannot expect the lower standard institutes to become on par with higher standard institutes overnight. So the higher standard institutes have to come down to be on par with others. This will only result in diluting the educational system. Later we complain that Indian universities do not figure in the top institutions across the world.

Then we have the Right to education (RTE) act, which makes education a fundamental right. But again this is an act with more wrongs than right. The schools should provide free elementary education to children of weaker sections of the society. The students are to be promoted to the next class till class 8 whatever be their academic performance. Later if the student fail the school is being blamed. Many schools are overburdened without adequate teachers. To have efficiency proper student teacher ratio and infrastructure has to be maintained, which the RTE act is silent on. Without proper system what will the schools offer to the new comers who join under the RTE act.

Lack of money is another issue in the education sector. The private sector did invest in education. Some of the best schools in the country are run by private sector. But their profit oriented business model may not work in all sectors of education. The donation money pours in from students for a seat in college and donations from aspiring faculties for job in colleges has only resulted in dilution of standards. The disproportionate number of engineering colleges that we have manages to produce engineers out of which 97 pc are unemployable, according to an NSSO survey. So its time for the academicians to be given a chance to reform our education.

Education is the first thing a child seeks after its birth. We need more reforms in education as we have to move along with changing times. But reforms done in haste without giving any proper thought is not the solution for it. Education is such a delicate matter that touches so many people. So handle it with care or it might just break down.

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I want to vote this time but…….

The elections are round the corner and all candidates are out on the streets campaigning day and night. This is also the time when the political bug hits hard and people from various strata of society vie to become politicians; be it sports persons, film stars, comedians, social workers, business men; the political class is ready to welcome all . Like every election this one too has its share of entertainment. Be it Rakhi Sawant fighting elections with a green chilly symbol, or candidates weeping for not getting the constituency of their choice, or candidates changing their affiliated parties each week like chameleons, or friends suddenly becoming political opponents, as a whole it is a total block buster.

This is also a crucial time for the people of this country. They again have the power to choose and rectify if they had done any mistakes in the past. So voter awareness campaigns is also going on in a full-fledged manner. The essence of democracy itself is the participation of the people. So in the true spirit of democracy people should come out and vote. Many campaigns like pledge to vote by Citizens for Accountable Governance, and so on is trying hard to help the cause.

Sine I turned 18, I have voted on all the three occasions when the elections were on, one Lok Sabha election, one State Assembly and one Municipal elections. On all three occasions I was at home, so I made it a point to exercise my right. But this time during Lok Sabha elections I will be in my workplace and that is around 600 km from my home. I would feel really bad if I am not able to vote this time. I even called up my parents and asked them if I could come home, vote, and then come back that day itself. But the question in front of me is, I must travel around 13 hours to reach home, then go and vote, then again travel back 13 hours. Such an effort for a single vote, hmmm…….?

There are campaigns to create voter awareness and it is required so that more and more people come out and exercise their right. But what about those people who genuinely want to vote, but are not able to do it because of unavoidable circumstances. Today most people are migrating to other places, especially cities for better opportunities. People are ready to go anywhere if they are getting better opportunities. So it would be of great help to many people who are outside their states, some provision of going to their nearest constituency and vote or at least a provision of postal vote.

A lot of private companies are providing employment to many youngsters these days. But the job require them to shift places constantly. A person now working in Bangalore might shift to Mumbai for another project after say, six months, then from there to Delhi after sometime and so on. Entering our names in the electoral rolls in every city we go can be a bit of burden for such people. So some alternative arrangements are made then much more people would be happy enough to exercise their right and vote in the elections. What if your vote turn out to be the decider.

The search for a secular India

According to the preamble of the Indian Constitution, India is a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic. The term secular is symbolic of the fact that India does not identify an official state religion. In August 1947, when the British acquitted India, one of the largest ethnically diverse nations were being divided on the basis of religion. One country, Pakistan, chose to be an Islamic state. But India chose to remain secular, although the term secular was added to the constitution in 1976. Here Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists everyone has the same and equal rights. But it is a very utopian thinking that hardly ensues in the real world.

The secular India lost its meaning the day India got independence. With the threat of civil war between Indians and Muslims looming around, the leaders at that time had thought partition was the best way to retain peace in the subcontinent. But they were in for a surprise when Hindus and Muslims clashed on the wake of partition. Neighbors who lived together for years suddenly turned foes. Hindus and Muslims were forced to move out of their homes to their respective new born countries. Almost a million people lost their lives during partition, which was just the commencement of a catastrophe of communal riots about to take place in the coming years.

When Jawaharlal Nehru was surprised by the Jabalpur riots in 1961 one wonders what would have been his reaction if he was alive to see how once a pluralist nation was changing its face. The Ahmedabad riots of 1969 were sparked off on the grounds that Jagannath Mandir cows were disturbing the Urs celebrations. The Bhagalpur riots of 1989, due to a procession that was carrying bricks for constructing the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 after the assassination of the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. The Mumbai riots of 1992 in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition. The 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out after the Sabarmati train carnage near the Godhra station in which Hindu karsevaks were killed. The 65 years of independent India have also seen a large number of smaller riots with thousands of people losing their lives in the hands of communal lunatics.

Small communal tensions existed pre independence too. But by and large it remained peaceful. Tensions began to build up post independence. Muslims go to Pakistan and Hindus go to India became a constant rhetorical sloganeering in both countries. Muslims have taken away our land in the name of Pakistan so they don’t have any right to live here, are the kind of remarks spread by miscreants who despise communal harmony . What they forget is that they are also human beings who just want to live their life like everyone else.

The partition did not ease the bitterness and animosity among the Hindu and Muslim communities with each claiming the land as their own and the other as outsiders. But no partition would have meant India was in danger of becoming a conflict zone. The seventies and eighties also saw the emergence of the Sangh Parivar consisting of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party), Bajrang Dal and VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) and the revival of Hindutva ideology. But to put the blame on Sangh Parivar for the propagation of Hindutva and subsequent rioting is also not correct. Congress claims itself to be a secular party but its urge for power and various communal leaders at the top, finds it difficult to remain secular. Almost all the riots post independence did occur when the Congress was in power.

The British who wanted to divide India, thought the propagation of communal hatred between the two as the best way to break the peace of the state. Unfortunately, we are still not able to overcome the communal hatred ingrained on to us by the British. People who endorse the idea of a secular state are considered as mentally sick by Hindutva bullies. With the new phenomenon of internet Hindus, who keeps trolling the internet and social media sites, they have found a new way of propagating their hindutvawadi ideas into the society. Renowned historian Ramachandra Guha in his new book Patriots and Partisans has said, how, when he endorses the need for a secular state, is flooded with mails calling him a poison in the face of this earth.

The provocative and communal speeches made by various leaders also leave a deep impact in the society. In fact it is the government’s inability to take action against rioters and hate mongers that gives them more impetus to spread hatred to communalize the society and pushes it to be in the margins. Today the idea of a secular state is totally lost. The vision of Nehru and Gandhi for a secular India is yet to be achieved even after 65 years of independence.

Terror errors or convenient scapegoats?

Gunfire all around, ten terrorists at large in the city of Mumbai, Hotel Taj and Oberoi up in flames, 166 people killed, and in the midst of the mayhem a terrorist captured alive. These are the reminiscence of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. It was a face of terror no one had ever seen before. As clichéd, the ten terrorists were Muslims. But does that give the liberty to round off any Muslim and declare them to be involved in the attacks just because everyone will buy that story?

Last month all the leading dailies carried the story of three Indian Mujahideen terrorists arrested by the Delhi police. In September of this year 12 people were arrested and accused of terrorism by the Bangalore police. Just as the cacophony on their terror activities mellowed down, reports of their innocence started emerging. Today the greatest threat to our national security is terrorism. So when a terrorist is captured people should feel more secure. But now a sense of skepticism has crept in, ‘Is he really a terrorist or an innocent made to suffer at the hands of the police?’.

It’s not the first time the police have got it wrong. These cases follow a certain pattern. Initially the police conducts a press conference where every minute details are given out. They reveal the identity of the culprits, the organization they are associated with, their modus operandi, their handlers, how the plots were hatched and so on. A biased media create an impression that our cops have become very efficient overnight. It is only a matter of time their concocted stories collapses in the court of law. By the time the acquittal is granted, several months, years or decades must have passed behind bars. To save their faces the police will have another set of accused and a new story by now. Which narrative should we believe in?

Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed were alleged to be co-conspirators of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The Supreme Court on August 2012 upheld the acquittal of the duo. Mohammad Amir Khan, an 18-year-old, was charged by the Delhi police of being the mastermind of 1997 Delhi serial blasts where five people were killed. He was released after 14 years of incarceration without any evidence against him. Recently, the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association released a report titled, “Framed, Damned, Acquitted: Dossiers of a ‘Very’ Special Cell” where they have profiled 16 cases that resulted in acquittals after being presumed guilty by the police. The acquittals have left many cops red faced.

The common perception of the society is, if you are an accused then somehow you must be connected. His family and friends can claim innocence but, what if he was doing his activities behind their back? In a polarized environment where communal rhetoric refuses to die down, a bad company is enough for any youth to get dissuaded into doing wrong things. But many recent court verdicts have raised a needle of suspicion on the police establishment. The police instead of solving the case is trying to find some unfortunate souls from whom they can get forced confessions.

We are living in a society that believes in ‘All terrorists are Muslims’ rhetoric. The cops are also part of that society. So arrest a Muslim and brand him as a terrorist is the easy way out. The police witch hunt due to this perception is demoralizing, it can breed anti state feelings in the community.

What happens after an acquittal? The cops are too bashful to apologize. For the media the arrest is a breaking news, but the acquittal is just a one liner story. There is no compensation from the government. No one wants to get associated with a former terrorist. It is hard to pick up the pieces and move forward in life all alone. When Muhammad Haneef, the Indian doctor who was falsely accused of terrorism by the Australian authorities, was freed, he got a substantial monetary compensation and an apology from the Australian police. After clearing his name he now has a job and a normal life. Such things are yet to happen in our country.

Now the dilemma is whether to trust a cop or not. An ideal cop is like a super hero who turns up, nabs the bad guy to deliver justice. Now the perception is, majority cops are villains who turns up, nabs any guy to result in a miscarriage of justice. To catch ten terrorists the police catch thousands and torture them. The more unnecessary arrests the chances of punishing the real culprits diminishes. Whether or not they catch the real terrorists they have definitely created hundred new terrorists. Today a police officer is the new satan who decides who should go to hell.

Do not criticize the government, it is seditious in a democracy

Suddenly the Indian state is under threat from a section of people, the so called cartoonists. Earlier they used to tickle our funny bones with loads of wit and humour. Now their cartoons are inciting people to rebel against the state. If that is not the case, how does the officials explain the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi accusing him of sedition? The same old sedition laws of 1870, by which Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were arrested for waging war against the British. Aseem Trivedi was arrested because he drew some offensive cartoons. Six decades after independence we are still suffering from colonial hangover of the British rule in India.

The section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code implies sedition as an offense that excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government. Now, what is disaffection? Disaffection means, you are not satisfied with the people in power and you are no longer willing to support them. With a population of one billion it is impossible for any government to satisfy the masses and there will be a voice of dissent at any given time from some quarters. The law makes sense only if there is violence. It is undemocratic to nab someone in the pretext of sedition just for criticizing the government.

Many people over the years have been arrested on bogus charges of sedition. The most controversial sedition case in recent times is that of Dr Binayak Sen. He was accused of being a courier for the Maoist and sentenced to life imprisonment by the court. His suffering stemmed from the fact that he was a vocal critique of the state government and the outfit Salwa Judum. Arundhadhi Roy’s secessionist views on Kashmir was enough to get her slapped with charges of sedition. In Uttar Pradesh, journalist Seema Azad and her husband Vishwa Vijay were charged with sedition on the basis of some innocuous documents found in their possession. When Gandhiji was arrested for sedition, he was given a six year prison sentence. Awarding life imprisonments to Dr Binayak Sen and Seema Azad perhaps we are going a step further than the British to punish our own people.

Laws are made to make life easier. But the sedition law exists only to incarcerate people for raising their voice. The administration wants to avoid criticism because they are scared of mass movements that target them. They can’t afford another Anna Hazare like episode to be played out on the streets. In Koodankulam, thousands of protestors were charged with sedition in order to suppress their voice so that the authorities can go ahead with the nuclear plant.

Every law in this country is misused. Then what is so unique about sedition? In the case of sedition, the law itself is undemocratic. Democracy gives space for criticism. This law has a place only in authoritarian rule where freedom of speech and expression is curbed.

Jawaharlal Nehru was in favour of scrapping this highly objectionable and obnoxious law in 1951. But he refrained from taking any concrete action. 60 years have passed since then. Over the years not a single government took any initiative to get the law repealed. Even today the majority opinion is to abolish and do away with this undemocratic law. With the wheels of legislative reforms moving at a snail’s pace if the process starts now then we can achieve the target in time for our next generation to live easy.

Angrez chale gaye, lekin angrezi kanoon chod gaye (The English left, but left the English laws behind).  When we boast of our technological advancements and economic growth taking our country forward, these archaic laws are pulling us back. Today the pen is mightier than the sword to put you behind bars.

The innocence of free speech

The world has gone crazy in the last couple of weeks. What could be the reason for such sudden turbulence? Is it due to any conflict between two super powers of the world? Did some popular leader get assassinated? Or is it a revolution against an autocratic military rule? No, it isn’t. The reason is the 14-minute amateur video in YouTube of an anti-Islam film named “Innocence of Muslims” made by a Coptic Christian in America. It has turned the world upside down.

There are two kinds of people in the picture. Those who are in support of the film wants to uphold the principles of freedom of speech, which is an integral part of a democracy. Those who are protesting against it, they are deeply offended by the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in the film. Whichever side you wish to join in, this film has caused violence and unrest in many countries for real.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran said, “In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they-the West- raise the slogan of respect of freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech is the most cherished and precious rights of a man. We can opine, criticize, and talk freely on any subject without any fear or punitive action. But freedom of speech does not give the license to spread hatred, bigotry and Islamophobia. It is a very fine line between criticism and insult. For a mere criticism the right of free speech cannot be denied to anyone. But insult in the pretext of freedom of speech is unethical.

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic”, the most famous opinion on free speech written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. To get offended by something is subjective. For so many people around the world to take to the streets and run riot, you sure have crossed the line.

When a mere depiction of Prophet Muhammad has a history of violence, the issue is highly sensitive. It is a spark waiting to ignite a ravaging fire. By equating “man plus X equals Islamic Terrorist”, calling Muhammad – the bastard, and ridiculing him as a womanizer, child molester and homosexual, it is highly unlikely that there won’t be any reactions. No one has the right to insult Islam even if they do not follow the prophet. So the only point in making this film is to disrupt the peace and harmony.

But violence in the streets is not the answer for discontent. The right of peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy. No religion in the world encourages violence. All those rebels who are protesting and killing people in the name of God, are insulting the Prophet themselves. The way they are reacting they are giving an impression that Islam is a religion of intolerance and war when actually it is not.

When Pakistan observed ‘Love the Prophet Day’ what actually unfolded was violence in the name of the Prophet. At least 23 innocent lives and livelihood were lost as the protesters went on a rampage. Some reports suggest that Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, a Pakistan cabinet member offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the filmmaker. Is death the solution to all the world’s problems? The Muslim extremists are creating instability in their own regions by rioting in their backyard. They themselves are the real losers in this whole episode.

Every American is now looked upon with suspicion. Some lunatic American made a film about the Prophet and the US Embassies came under attack. But should Americans complain? After 9/11 every Muslim was being looked upon with suspicion by the Americans. The tables have turned now. Just as every Muslim is not a terrorist every American is not anti Islam. But in the midst of all the ruckus people are dying. Just spare a thought for them.

An open letter to Anna Hazare

Dear Annaji,

If this letter was written last year, it would have been a letter of appreciation about your movement. Now one year down the line you have made me cynical. Cynical, about you and your movement. Cynical, because your movement has lost its direction. Cynical, because you have started speaking in different voices. A movement that promised so much has failed to cross the finish line.

The first issue is, what is the movement’s main cause? Last year the movement was only about Jan Lokpal. This year the focus is more on the resignation of 15 ministers and to set up a Special Investigation Team to probe them. The issue of lokpal has taken a back seat. This shift has made a huge dent in your movement’s image. The demand of Lokpal was realistic. You took a lot of effort to explain to the masses about the lokpal bill and how important it is in the fight against corruption. This year when you want the ministers to resign, you are not coming up with the exact charges and proof of their corruption. Just like last year you must educate people about the corruption committed by these ministers. If you can do that then the people themselves will come to the streets and demand their resignation.

The next issue is, what is your way forward? Last year you were averse to join politics. After the recent fast you wanted to give people a political alternative. Now you are contemplating to revert to your earlier stance of supporting honest candidates. You were hailed as a modern day Mahatma Gandhi and your movement was compared to the Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement against emergency. Jayaprakash Narayan at the end formed the Janata Party. But those were different circumstances. Is the formation of a political party the best option at this stage? With so much infighting on this issue, first you should try and get a consensus within your team.

If you are going political, then you have a lot to do in the next couple of years. From the very basic things like its name, symbol, to where and how you are going to contest, a lot of time and deliberation is required to work out everything. Money is another important factor. You are going to prove that elections can be won without money and muscle power. But you seem to be a one policy party. “In the next two years if the government enacts the janlokpal we will exit politics straightaway.”, Arvind Kejriwal wrote in his letter to the volunteers after the end of his anshan. Can a political party win elections only to fight corruption? A government in power is not like an anshan. You form the political party, come to power, pass the lokpal bill, and then wrap up and go home. Is that going to be our country’s future?

On the contrary if your plans are to support honest candidates, start carrying an honesty detector for better identification of people. You should be knowing some magic formula to identify such people. It is guaranteed that after 2014 there will be 543 Raja Harishchandra’s in Lok Sabha.

If this movement was really for the lokpal, by the people of this country, then the team members would not be speaking in different voices. The announcement about your political party should have been made after all the consultations were over and when a final decision was reached. The constant flip flops shows cracks in your team and the decisions are taken by a coterie who are trying to convince each other. At the end, the inevitable happened and you disbanded the team. So does that mean you have no confidence in the team and it has no future?

With a dysfunctional parliament and a wave of corruption in the air this was the best time for you to make an impact. Two years have gone since the fight for lokpal started. When you started out is this where you wanted the movement to reach after two years? Last year I really wanted to come to Ram Lila to render my support to you. But today I am quite happy where I am.  I guess somewhere in the middle you just lost the plot.

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