Volume 5: Number 1, Feb 21 2002
NCERT Framework Meeting
-- A Report from the Khoon Pasina Network
A committee is meeting on a hot Delhi afternoon inside a tubelit, air-cooled conference room, around a long table. The smell of khus from the cooler mingles with the dank smell of the carpet, as the occupants—bureaucrats and academics–await a long afternoon of discussions. The door bursts open and in come two clowns, their saffron-bubble noses billowing from their heavy breathing (shakhas after all train you for self-defense not for climbing three flights of stairs on a hot afternoon) and in sharply creased khaki shorts. The clowns take up seats at the head of the table quite naturally and all conversation ceases.
Gulabi Boshu, one of the members at the table perks up. "Why have six of our esteemed and long time colleagues been dismissed from this committee?" he demands of the clowns.
Bajrangi Lal, thick-necked and muscular, eyes Gulabi down his saffron nose and utters in a guttural tone, "You want to be ejected too?"
"You are threatening me?" Gulabi squeaks. "I am the seniormost person on this committee." He turns to the other members: "Are you all going to stand for this bullying?"
Manmohan Rao, who is somewhat sympathetic to Gulabi, looks around and sees lowered eyes. The committee is cowering. Ever since the clowns have taken over the committee and renamed it as the National Council of Effusive Ritual Training (instead of the earlier National Council of Educational Research and Training) and introduced a host of their own bureaucrats and academics into the committee, the committee’s mood can at best be described as ambivalent.
Parivari Lal, stringy and ascetic-looking, waves the draft document framed by the committee in the air and slaps it on the table. "This will not do. We have to understand Indian history a lot better." He takes a deep breath and starts on a lecture. "Characterised as one of the longest surviving continuum of cultures, India is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual society with a perennial undercurrent of essential unity. Its social base seems to be consisting of rocks of all the ages jumbled together by a series of seismic shocks. Thus the heterogeneity in social structures is a distinctive feature of the Indian society. Like the myriad species of plants and animals that make up the rich natural world, the large number of beliefs, religions and races inhabit one of the geographically most diverse countries. India’s various ethnic groups form interconnecting loops, competing and cooperating while forming complex webs of interaction. Indian culture thus is a living process assimilating various strands of thought and lifestyle. The process has created a rich collage of India exemplifying ‘unity in diversity and diversity in unity’. This long tradition has been transmitted from one generation to another and it shows both continuity and change. In the Indian society collectivity had a traditional, agrarian ethos, which provided continuity. Conversely, the subsequent encounter with the western ethos generated discontinuities in the living process."
"Traditionally, India has been perceived as a source of fulfillment – material, sensuous and spiritual, consisting primarily of an agrarian society, the social design of which emphasised self-sufficiency, contentment and operational autonomy for each village. The principles of non-interference and non-aggression were emphasised. The economic structure of the country was designed on the basic principle of the distribution of resources, not the distribution of income. The social matrix was congruent with the economic design based on the principle of distributive authority given to each village unit. Such a social design recognized the continuity of psycho-social relatedness, such as nesting of financial roles, as occupation and education in the social structure. Festivals, as part of the social infrastructure, were the most natural modes of expressing oneself and enjoyment. A religio-philosophic ethos, centered around self-realization as the main purpose, allowed one to surrender oneself without any feelings of guilt or fear of punishment."
As he finishes his monologue the committee is silent. Slowly a low murmur of protests arises from around the table. Bajrangi Lal glares at them, lifts his muscular arms menacingly and shuts them up.
The door bursts open and in comes another clown—with a difference. Manohar Lal too wears khaki shorts and a saffron bubble-nose, but his shorts are actually Gap Cargo Khakis. He excuses his lateness: "I was at a meeting with Shourie Sahib at the Ministry for Disinvestment and Privatisation." He assumes his position at the head of the table, and sheepishly acknowledges his senior colleagues.
"Parivari bhai, all this history-shistory is all very nice but what we need is a focus on values. Sidhhanta sikhao na bhai, siddhanta. Uchchekoti ke siddhanta. After all, when we need people to come and build our temples, our children should offer their labor in the thousands and millions."
Manmohan Rao stands respectfully, with hands folded, and says "Sir, I don’t mind Vedic Science, but I think little of it not too much, more of real science."
"Yes, yes," jumps in Manohar Lal, "Science, commerce, banking… we have to teach all this along with good brahmin and purohitya education."
Seeing some energy of agreement from around the table, Parivari Lal jumps up and pulls out a collapsible plastic trident from his shoulder holster. "Shut up you all, nahin to sub ko Mahabharat yaad dila doonga."
The committee quietens and Bajrangi Lal uses the moment of intimidation to introduce his changes to the document. "Since India is the most ennobling experiment in spiritual co-existence, education about social, moral and spiritual values and religions cannot be left entirely to home and the community. School education in the country seems to have developed some kind of neutrality toward the basic values and the community in general has little time or inclination to know about religions in the right spirit. This makes it imperative for the Indian school curriculum to include inculcation of the basic values and an awareness of all the major religions of the country as one of the central components."
"A comprehensive programme of value inculcation must start at the very earliest stage of school education as a regular part of school’s daily routine. The entire educational process has to be such that the boys and girls of this country are able to know ‘good’, love ‘good’ and do ‘good’ and grow into mutually tolerant citizens. The comparative study of the ‘philosophies’ of religions can be taken up at the secondary and higher secondary stages."
"Besides, making education accessible to more and more girls, especially rural girls, removing all gender discrimination and gender bias in school curriculum, textbooks and the process of transaction is absolutely necessary. Moreover, it will be the most appropriate thing to recognize and nurture the best features of each gender in the best Indian tradition."
"During the period of secondary education, emergence of desire and inclinations of sexual nature is a normal feature of students’ psycho-physical development. This dimension deserves careful attention of the curriculum organizers. The idea that the Indian society does not approve of promiscuity and that self-control or ‘Samyam’ is one of the highly valued qualities ought to be underlined. This will generate among the youth healthy attitudes toward sex and respect for members of the opposite sex."
F. Sudha (whom most would remember as Fightback Sudha from JNU) is inflamed. She stands and in a voice barely in control, says "I will not stand for this. Women’s education cannot be designed to relegate them to the kitchen and the maternity ward. We have fought long and hard and we shouldn’t be stepping back. More girls have stopped going to school ever since the likes of you took over and …." She looks around hoping that somebody else in the committee will pick up on what she is saying. Nobody does.
Parivari Lal is gesticulating angrily with his trident, while Bajrangi Lal has pulled something out of his pocket and is inflating it. The committee soon sees a plastic mace take shape.
Gulabi bleats at this point. "I think there is something in what Ms. Sudha is saying. What do you think Manmohan?"
On this issue Manmohan promptly switches sides "You know, I think, to be honest, the Vedas have taught us that the strength of Indian civilization is our women and we must ensure something. But, you know, if we don’t have women building our family and our community who will?"
Sudha visibly restrains herself. "Mr. Rao, I should have expected this of you, after all you wear khaki knickers too."
At this point Parivari and Bajrangi with their trident and mace, respectively, flank Sudha and escort her out of the room while Manohar Lal is busy dialing his high-command on his tiranga (tricolor) cellphone. "ABji, ab to Sudha bhi gayi!"
Parivari and Bajrangi return, raise the slogan "Bharatiya Joker Party ki Jai" twice and ask for a vote from the committee to dismiss Sudha, get it with some abstentions, with every committee member looking every which way. Manmohan Rao looks relieved, as if he has been able to ease himself after holding tight for a long time.
Manohar Lal: "Okay sir, okay sir" signs off. "Our dear prime minister has congratulated the committee on its balanced and moderate approach. He advises that we must keep our industrialists happy too. That is why I have been saying," and he launches on a speech:
"Education, by and large, suffers basically from the gap between its content and the living experience of the students. Education ideally must prepare students to face the challenges of life. For this, it needs to be intimately linked with the different life-skills, by developing in them generic skills related to a wide variety of areas such as health and social needs. It is through these skills that students can fight the challenges of drug addiction, violence, teenage pregnancy, AIDS and many other health related problems. The skills would also make students aware of issues such as consumer rights, questioning the quality of goods and services available to them, writing to the manufacturers and civic authorities about the quality of goods and services that they expect. Besides, legal literacy and understanding of civic and administrative procedures would also be made available to the students to make their life simple, hassle-free and safe."
"While on the one hand, education should help in promoting a global world order, on the other, it should be seen as developing a national consciousness, a national spirit and national unity essential for national identity. At no point of time can the school curriculum ignore the inclusion of specific content to forge national identity, a profound sense of patriotism and nationalism tempered with the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, non-sectarian attitudes, capacity for tolerating differences arising out of caste, religion, ideology, region, language, sex, etc."
"Globalization may pave the way for more autonomy for individuals in a society of knowledge which would imply that schools shall have to develop capacity among students to acquire relevant knowledge and inculcate and interpret new values that will, in turn, guarantee them the ability to remain up to date with the evolution of their environment."
While Manohar Lal is carrying on endlessly the sound of slogans and a voice over a megaphone is heard outside. Gulabi slinks over to the window to see.
Sudha is addressing a small crowd "Do you know what they are cooking up there? High technology and science for themselves and their children, and mumbo-jumbo nonsense education for the Dalit children. For them Management and Silicon Valley, for others sweep the floor and say jo-hukam to the lords. They are snatching our children’s future, they want to teach them the rubbish the brahmins have used for centuries to push down Dalits. This will not DO. Shout after me ‘NCERT hai hai.’"
Gulabi sighs, he wishes he was out there with the fiery Sudha. But the comforts of the retirement package are too good to give up. Got to keep the administration happy. He returns to his seat to listen to Manohar Lal.
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