ALL INDIA FORUM FOR RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Observe 11th April as ‘Mahatma Phule Common Education System Day’
All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) calls to observe 187th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Jotirao Phule on 11th April as ‘Mahatma Phule Day of Struggle to End Commercialisation and Communalisation of Education and to Build Common Education System from ‘KG to PG’ to Provide Free Education of Equitable Quality’ to foster a democratic, secular, just and enlightened society as envisioned in our Constitution. At a time when dangerous forces of neoliberal commercialisation and communalisation are making deep inroads in the education system of our country, it is essential to recall and reclaim the historical legacy and vision of Mahatma Phule, not only as a symbol of resistance against these pernicious forces but also as a symbol of an egalitarian and just society that he stood for and for which we continue to struggle. It is also essential to remember that Phule was not only a fierce critic of the inhuman caste system which has caused subjugation of vast masses of Indian people, he was in equal measure a visionary who stood for radically reconstructing the society on basis of equality by annihilating caste and patriarchy.
Born into a backward caste family on 11th April 1827 in Maharashtra, Phule had experienced and closely observed the cruelty of caste-system which deprived a large majority of labouring masses of a place of dignity in the society. Deeply enraged by the exploitative nature of caste-system, he waged a historical struggle against it. It would be no exaggeration to say that he was probably the first visionary of modern India who established that India cannot become a humane and just society until and unless caste-system is wiped out of this country in its entirety. He was not only critical of caste-system, but was equally concerned at the subjugation of women. It was out of this concern that Jotirao Phule along with another visionary Savitribai Phule established first ever school in India for girls of backward and Dalit communities in 1848. However, not bound by any exclusivist agenda, they established another school in 1851 for girls of all castes. Thus, Jotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule are the proponents of ‘Common School System’ in India where children from all segments of the society can pursue education with equality and without any discrimination whatsoever.
The Historical Legacy of Mahatma Phule
The neoliberal policies of commercialisation have affected most seriously the poor and deprived classes of our country including dalits, OBCs, tribals, minorities, women and persons with special needs whose right to equitable education has been snatched away by these policies. The well-thought policy of downgrading and destruction of government school system, by depriving them of necessary infrastructure and sufficient number of teachers has hit these classes the most because their children attend these schools in large numbers. Few from the so called upper castes with resources and money send their children to elite private schools that have been consciously promoted by successive governments, whether of Congress or BJP at all-India level or many other regional parties along with these parties at state level. The situation is so bad that even the deprived classes are now being forced to send their children to low cost private schools which are equally in bad shape like ordinary government schools. These schools extort money in the name of fees and other charges which is further impoverishing these already poor classes. In addition to these, in private schools the students are always put under huge pressure of performance due to competition in education markets which stymies creative and critical faculties of children.
Commercialisation and communalisation of education has also distorted pedagogy by not only commodifying education but also by perpetuating the upper-caste/class and patriarchal bias in education including teacher’s education. Communal, casteist and patriarchal ideas are being inserted into educational curriculum at all levels which is a dangerous trend. These distortions are deliberately implemented to destroy even the possibility of critical consciousness among younger generation which could challenge the inhuman inequalities of class, caste and patriarchy.
We have seen many incidents of suicides by students of Dalit and other deprived communities in our universities and colleges. These suicides are a result of deep-rooted casteist discrimination that the Indian State and successive governments failed to eliminate from centres of learning. Now, with neoliberal commercialisation, the State is altogether abdicating its responsibility to end casteist discrimination from educational institutions. Private educational institutions do not respect the social justice agenda of reservations. Besides, by charging usurious amounts in name of providing education these institutions prevent students from deprived sections including the poor, Dalits, OBCs, women and minorities from even getting admissions into these institutions.
Thus, privatisation of education will close the doors of equitable education for poor, Dalits, OBCs, women and minorities who have got at least some chances of social mobility by existence of public-funded education. It is true that even today, more than 90 per cent of children of these communities are prevented from access to higher education and we need to struggle against this unjust situation. But it should be understood that if unabated privatisation of education continues, even slightest possibility of the poor, Dalit, OBC and minority communities to attain equitable quality education will be closed forever as a large majority of children of these communities will be forced into second grade vocational educational institutions to learn only low-paying skills, while the high-paying positions of power and status will be monopolized by the higher castes-classes.
At a time when every child’s right to equitable education is being thwarted by neoliberal commercialisation and communal forces, especially the right-wing Hindutva fundamentalist parties, intervene increasingly to communalize politics and education, it is necessary to remember the historical legacy of Jotirao Phule and wage an uncompromising struggle against these pernicious forces. It should be recalled that way back in 1882, in the landmark ‘Memorial to Hunter Commission on Education’, Phule had argued for state-funded education so that the vast toiling masses of the country are not deprived of education. Besides, in Phule’s view state-funding was also necessary to maintain ‘neutrality’ in education, which is otherwise hegemonised by the privileged castes-classes of the country. Phule was well aware of the high-caste bias in education and therefore he cast upon State the responsibility to ensure that such social hierarchies are not perpetuated in the education system. Ironically, the State of independent India has completely ignored this vision of Phule and is actively implementing policies of commercialisation and communalisation of education which perpetuate the vicious social hierarchies that have marginalised and oppressed majority of people for centuries.
Reading Phule historically we can easily identify that colonialism operated as an ally of caste-based deprivation. Phule had pointed out that under the educational policy of the colonial state the privileged castes-classes had virtually monopolized access to education, especially higher education while the resources for funding education was produced by the labour of subjugated castes. It is ironical that this situation not only continues even today, but due to policies of neoliberal commercialisation the historical aspirations of subjugated masses of the country to achieve egalitarian education are being defeated further. Government schools are being closed or handed over to corporate houses, NGOs and religious bodies all over the country. Similarly, in higher education aid is being withdrawn from public-funded institutions and instead being transferred to private institutions being run on commercial basis. Thus, through various forms of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) policies, public wealth and assets created by the toiling masses is being transferred to the same caste-class forces that have been the beneficiaries of social inequality since ages.
Phule was also a fierce critic of the curriculum of education under British rule which, in his view, was completely disconnected from the real life conditions of country and its people and its only objective was only to create “clerks” for the British government. He identified that the education system was alienating the students from their social environment by completely ignoring the role of productive work that is central to the lives of majority people especially of the deprived and marginalised castes. It is important to note that the same colonial policy of education continues even today. Although the struggle of independence enjoined upon the State in independent India to break free of the colonial mould and build an education system that is geared towards serving the developmental needs of the masses and is instrumental in creating an enlightened society, successive governments of independent India deliberately ignored this responsibility in order to preserve the privileges of vested interests. The neoliberal assault on education has effectively put the clock back as education is now being remoulded to create slavish workforce for global capital. Commercialisation and communalisation of education negates from curriculum the actual life conditions of the people and its diversities as well as productive work and its inherent dignity and replace it with an alienated and homogenised package. Its objective is to cut-off people from any possibility of historical judgment and critical reflection so that the existing inequalities and oppression is never questioned or challenged at all.
Reclaiming Phule’s Vision to Resist Commercialisation and Communalisation of Education
Ages ago, dalit Shambooka was killed by the privileged caste-class rulers because he wanted to pursue education. At the present juncture, the caste-class forces have found a new lease of life by the neoliberal commercialisation that is perpetuating age-old hierarchies and structural injustices due to which majority of the people of India have been deprived of education and consequently of equitable status in the society. The ideal of social justice that forms a cornerstone of Indian Constitution has been given a backseat in pursuit of unabated profits for global (including domestic) capital at the expense of need and necessities of the people especially the poor, Dalits, OBCs, tribals, minorities, women and disabled. Ironically, even those sections who privilege the idea of academic/educational ‘merit’ should acknowledge that commercialisation is increasingly endangering even this limited notion by replacing ‘merit’ with ‘money’. Thus, purchasing power is the only merit that neoliberal commercialisation recognizes. It is important to note here that the major mainstream political parties including the Congress, BJP and host of opportunist parties (national and regional) have joined hands as far as the agenda of pushing for neoliberal commercialisation is concerned.
The regressive forces which put Sita into fire in name of testing her purity and exiled her to forest and the forces which burnt Roop Kanwar (Rajastan, 1989) are only growing each day threatening to destroy whatever gains we have made in democratic rights through decades of struggle. Today, communalism has emerged as another disruptive force which is not only inimical of the minorities, but which is equally dangerous for other deprived and marginalised sections especially the poor Dalits, OBCs, and tribal communities and in equal measure for the women. It should be recognized that communal forces have supported and enforced the exploitative and inhuman caste-system which has subjugated vast majority of people of our country and denied of dignity worthy of a human being. Such forces have always negated the emancipatory aspirations of the masses from caste exploitation and patriarchy. Communalism projects a homogenised view of society that is suppressive of the rich diversity expressed in the cultures of the masses that has developed through centuries of toil and resistance. Communalism also thwarts the pursuit of an enlightened and humane society free of unjust hierarchies, the roots of which can be traced since ancient times and which were manifested time and again in teachings of Buddha, Charvaka, Bhakti saints and the great visionaries of modern India including Mahatma Phule. In fact, communalism is inimical of all democratic rights of the people.
Historical injustices and entrenched inequalities perpetuated and recast by neoliberal capital and communal forces can be challenged effectively only when the education system is radically restructured to put an end to the distortions and discriminations that continue to plague it. The vision of Mahatma Phule enjoins upon us the duty to struggle for such an education system which is able to cultivate faculties of critical examination, reason and humanity which is important to counter and challenge oppression and entrenched social hierarchies and to build a truly democratic, egalitarian, secular and enlightened society.
In the context of the twin dangers of commercialisation and communalism, it is essential to reclaim and reconstruct the vision of Mahatma Phule and to state emphatically that the historical aspirations of the masses to achieve dignity and justice can be realized only when these two dangers are wiped out and a fully state-funded ‘Common Education System’ from KG to PG including Common School System till class XII is established in the country. Let all the democratic and progressive forces of the country unite to achieve this cherished goal of the masses!
ALL INDIA FORUM FOR RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Contacts: Sri D Ramesh Patnaik (09440980396), Dr Vikram S Amarawat (08128293711)
Email: [email protected]; Website: www.aifrte.in