A rotting system

July 12, 2016

Published in Deccan Herald on 11th July 2016

Rohit Dhankar

The report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy (NEP) headed by T S R Subramanian is finally in the public domain in spite of hesitation of the then Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, thanks to the former cabinet secretary himself. One should perhaps take it only as a report that will be an important input in the final policy formulation.

The report, however, claims to be the policy itself at many places. For example, after listing eight challenges to Indian education, it declares “The New Education Policy has addressed all these challenges”, which implies this document itself is the policy. There are many such assertions. In spite of it, though, we should consider it only as a report.

There is much in this report that should be discussed, and immediately, before the policy is finalised. This article, however, is only to note a bold admission of problems at the national level institutions directly under the HRD Ministry. In Chapter VIII, the report comments on six of them: All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), University Grants Commission (UGC), Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou), National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA).

The report does not include National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) in this chapter, perhaps because its status is different as a constitutional body. However, it does have comments on functioning of NCTE elsewhere. Overall, the report gives very useful information which can be turned into insight into understanding these institutions.

If one believes the assessment of the report, then all these apex institutions have failed in fulfilling their mandate, though some may claim partial success. The AICTE, as per the report, “has largely failed to act as a regulator” which is its mandate. It has allowed proliferation of substandard and high capitation fee charging institutions; as a result, only “20% of our engineering graduates are employable”.

While the UGC is credited for issuing “a series of regulations for achieving better quality and efficient management,” the report has noted that the commission has not been able “to ensure effective enforcement of those regulations.” It recommends that “When the new National Higher Education Act is enacted, the UGC Act should be allowed to lapse”, meaning scrapping the body, perhaps justifiably.

The Ignou while has done some good work, has also failed in regulating long distance teacher education programmes. As “in teacher-education field,” there is a “proliferation of long distance teaching shops, offering degrees or diplomas basically in exchange of money, with minimal assurance of quality or teaching-learning standards”.

The report envisages an important role for open learning at school level as it recommends creation of “two new national level examination systems to certify Class X and Class XII equivalent achievement”. However, it is quite clear that NIOS could not be proposed to be a nodal agency for that job “in view of its doubtful record of performance, and inability to establish itself as a credible agency”.

The NUEPA is normally considered an efficient institution, but the committee thinks otherwise. The committee expected NUEPA to provide some research done on important educational issues, but “Put simply, the Committee found very little serious examination of fundamental issues facing school/higher education in India undertaken by the University.” Actually the report says that private organisations have done a better and more relevant job.

The report notes some successes of NCERT in teacher education like four year integrated BA/B Ed etc, but also thinks that “the institution has been unable to cope with the massive volume of changes around it”. The NCTE as per the report is, guilty of proliferation of substandard teacher education institutions. And thinks that “State governments and the NCTE were partners in approving such institutions, most of which were nothing better than degree shops.” The six apex institutions of the country which are supposed to guide and support education, then, are nothing but largely failed white elephants. Of course, the country knew this, but corroboration by an MHRD appointed committee is important. This should make the government wake up and look into its own functioning.

Lack of capable staff

The report notes lack of capable staff in adequate numbers in these institutions. Working of many of them has never been assessed by any independent agency. They lack autonomy and seriousness to work. And some, like NCTE, have serious irregularities. When we want to improve quality of education, which according to the report is the main thrust of the NEP, lack of adequate expertise in various segments of education in these bodies indicates a national level intellectual deficiency. The report says nothing regarding how this deficiency can be removed, or how to prepare good quality experts.

The situation of the apex institutions by this account seems to be no better than the schools. And before one blames the schools, may be one can say that the rot spread from the top. However, when the report talks of low quality and indifferent functioning of elementary education, there is frequent reference to teacher capabilities, attitudes, commitment, accountability and political interference. This is instructive to note that in regard to apex institutions though capabilities and shortage of staff is mentioned, attitude, commitment and accountability are not seen as problems. In fact, the report sees lack of autonomy as a problem there, but not lack of commitment!

It is common knowledge that the heads of most of the institutions mentioned above are political appointees and that should have an impact on their functioning as well as the capabilities of the people. But the report prefers to be silent on that. It also seems to assume that the right attitude to implement the mandate of the institution and accountability in these institutions is no problem, it is a problem only in the case of teachers. One wonders whether a rotting head can diagnose its own ailment!


Should Zakir Naik be ‘stopped’?

July 9, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

There is a debate in the media whether Zakir Nail should be ‘stopped’. It is not clear what stopped means here: is it banned? Or should not be allowed? Or should be countered through argument? There also seem to be a hashtag #StopZakirNaik. I tried to see on this what people are saying. But found it too much in snippets which require a history of following to make sense of it. Therefore, it was useless for me.

Zakir Naik, for those who do not know, is an Islamic preacher. His supporters (and he himself) also call him a scholar of comparative religions. One of the terrorists killed in Dhaka restaurant attach it seems was a fan of Zakir Naik, and Bangladesh is investigating if he was inspired by him. The debate has started in this context.

To just get a glimpse I looked at a few snippets of news items and also watched Arnab Goswami’s cheekh-chillahat which he calls ‘debate’, a gross insult to the term and human intelligence. In this programme the anchor as well as many other participants wanted to “stop Zakir Nair”; there are also some who are against “stopping” him. Whatever stopping might mean.

Some of the charges that I could find on the internet against Zakir Naik are listed below:

  1. His organisation Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) is registered under FCRA, it takes foreign funds and is involved in religious conversions.
  2. Zakir Naik runs a TV Chanel called Peace TV which does not have licence, and is banned, still cable operators show Piece TV.
  3. He ridicules other religions.
  4. He claims that Islam is the only true religion, all other religions are false.
  5. He supported Osama Bin Laden and still supports terrorism.
  6. Many terrorists are inspired by him.
  7. He justified ISIS terrorists using female captives as sex slaves.
  8. He converts people to Islam and shows that on TV and in videos on his site.

The first two are issues of following the law of the land. If organisations taking foreign funds under FCRA are not allowed to use those funds for conversion and political activity, then IRF should be investigated and the law should take its course, as the saying goes. Similarly if he is still airing programme on Piece TV in spite of it being banned, he should be punished according to the law.

Zakir Niak does ridicule other religions and openly says that Islam if the only true religions, and Allah is the only true God. But so says the Islamic theology, including Quran. The protestations that Islam does not consider itself the only true religion are all wrong, it does. But so does Christianity. It is only Indic religions which don’t make this claim. One does not know how long they will remain open to the idea of एकं सद्विप्राह बहुदा वदन्ति. Zakir Naik is being only true to Islam when he says that there is only one true God, Allah; and only one true religion, Islam.

This is also true that he ridicules other religions. One can take two attitudes to it: one, if his ridicule crosses the boundary of relevant law he should be prosecuted, why ask straight for the ban? If that is what is meant by “stopping”. But a more liberal stand would be that ridiculing religions is a right of all citizens. Many of them, including Islam, have plenty of things fit to ridicule, and oppose.

His support for Islamic terrorism is somewhat circuitous, but it is there. Even his explanation in the media to absolve himself proves that. There is a clip in which he says that he supports Osama Bin Laden as the twin tower was an “inside” job by America and Osama is only terrorising the terrorist. His explanation: “This clipping, yes it is me saying it but it is out of context. I said a terrorist is a person who terrorises someone. I also gave an example that a policeman terrorises a robber. So, for a robber a policeman is a terrorist. In this context, every Muslim should be a terrorist to the anti-social element.” This is a spacious argument, and also shows the level of Dr. Naik’s logical acumen. America according to him is terrorising Muslims, therefore, Muslims should terrorise America. One hears similar arguments about India. It is simply a more ganwaroo version of the relatively sophisticated argument Indian intellectuals use all the time: that Islamic terrorism is a creation of structural injustice, that it is an expression of Muslim rage against injustices mated out to them. Poor Dr. Naik does not have that sophisticated language and those spacious theories to buttress his claim. This idea cannot be defeated by banning. Nor is it justified to ban such claims, they have to be examined and defeated in a fair public debate.

One does not know how far the claim that many terrorists are inspired by him is true. But as long as he does not directly abet, add and train terrorists it would be unfair to ban his speeches simply because some terrorists were his fans and said that they were inspired by him. A Hindu terrorist may be inspired by Gita (I know no such example of anyone saying this, but it is theoretically possible), and scores of terrorists actually say that they are inspired by the Quran. Would one ban Quran for that? Would one start a campaign to ban Gita if tomorrow someone says that he is inspired by Gits to commit a terrorist act? This is as good a logic as Zakir Naik uses.

He does justify ISIS terrorists making captured women sex slaves. But he justifies it on the basis of Quran. Chapter 23 of Quran begins with describing how the believers should behave and “who shall inherit the Firdaus (Paradise)” 23.11. In this description it says: “And those who guard their chastity (i.e. Private parts, from illegal sexual activity). Excerpt from their wives or (the slaves) that their right hand possesses, –for then they are free from blame”. (Verses 5 and 6). Maulana Azad claims that it is only after marrying the slave women. But then why mention them separately? After marriage they are “wives”? Dr. Naik also claims that the Quran’s treatment of slaves and prisoners of war is much superior to the UN charter.

In India one has the right to preach one’s religion and to convert people to it; as long as no force (and perhaps material enticement) is involved. Unless one proves that he used force or enticement (in case it is illegal, I am not sure) or cheating one cannot ban his conversions, even if they are shown on TV. Yes, in investigation can be started if what he shows on the TV is only a stage-managed drama (it looks like that) or real conversion. If it is found that it is only a drama, then he can be prosecuted for cheating people.

Zakir Nair’s arguments and logic

One example of his logic I have already given above, the policemen being a terrorist for a robber, etc. will just give one more, one can collect hundreds in his videos. Someone asked him that he preaches his religion and converts people to it freely in India, and most of the democracies allow this. But the Muslim majority countries do not allow preaching of other religions in their domains, what does he say on this? His answer is a classic of stupidity. In about 15 minutes circuitous laffajji what he says is this: In a classroom when a teacher teaching mathematics allows only one answer to 2+2, and that is 4. He does not allow it to be “5” or “3” or anything else. Because it is certain and it is the only truth. In a country once Islam is established no other religion can be allowed and the country has now achieved the truth. Allowing anything else will be deviating from the truth. This is exact meaning of that he said but not exact words. This shows the man’s quality of mind and level of understanding. He is not even honest. When the same question was asked after his video lecture in Oxford union all he sad is that yes, some countries do not allow, but it is their matter. He did not have a courage to repeat what he openly says in Bombay in a video lecture being transmitted to Oxford.

He is most famous for quoting from scriptures of religions other than Islam. Mostly to show that Muhamman is mentioned of predicted in Vedad, and other religious books. Actually all his quotes, verse numbers including the order in which he rattles them out come from only one book “Muhammad in World Scriptures”. It is written by an Ahmadia Muslim Maulana Abdul Haq Vidyarthi, and was first published in Urdu in 1936. The only credit Dr. Naik can take for these quotes is that of cramming it very well and rattling it very fast. None of the quotes actually support what he is trying to prove, this is only a trick for cheat gullible public.

But in spite of all this the most that can be demanded by the public is an investigation into his illegal actions related to his TV channel, his use of foreign funds and if he has any direct link with the terrorists. Banning his lectures or arresting him (on the charges and evidence that is in public domain, as far as I know) would be an attack on freedom of speech, and against the right to preach one’s religions. Zakir Naik’s views are ill-argued, bigoted, and obnoxious. His ‘scholarship’ is just a pretention. Zakir Naik is a bad news for humanity. But curtailing his freedom of expression would be a worst news for democracy and for humanity. Therefore, such people have to be allowed and youngsters have to be helped in seeing through their ill argued proclamations.


Religion as a bully

July 5, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

In small towns and provincial colleges there used to be a sub-species (in more than one senses) of homo-sapiens called “dada”. It was “sub” in the sense of a “sub-set” as well as “less than”, less than human at the least in thinking and moral sensibility. It was a bully. In small towns the dadas indulged in land encroachment for themselves as well as on behalf of their protected. As land grabbers they made money as well as created an aura of invincibility in the face of government authority and police. This also helped in creating fear. Everyone was scared of them but called them “gundas” behind their back, which was an apt description.

They also proclaimed themselves as guardians of the ijjat and rutba of some or other politician or some old powerful feudal family. If someone said anything which they considered ‘insulting’ to their malik they used the fear created in the society and invincibility in the face of police to browbeat that person into an apology or abject capitulation.

Two recent incidents in the newspapers draw a close parallel between religion and these dadas or gundas. One is concerned with temples demolished in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) to widen the roads. I could find no news item which talks about the legal status of the ownership of land on which these temples were built. But going by the way temples mushroom allover India in the middle of roads and on unused government land it is almost certain that they were built on encroached property. They obviously were a serious traffic hazard and perhaps caused accidents. The government demolished a few of them in order to widen the roads and ensure smooth traffic flow.

This angered the Hindu swamis and BJP and they started protesting. As soon as the protests began the AP government capitulated and promised to rebuild the demolished temples on the same spots.

This is the usual story about middle-of-the-road-temples. Some smart fellow builds a temple on the road, no one is ready to stop him because of fear of ‘hurting religious feelings’, temple becomes established. It becomes a traffic nuisance and source of income for the encroacher.

About two years back Vasundara Raje government removed a large number of such illegally built temple from roads. One felt happy that the roads became better and traffic flow smoother. But then one leant that all these illegal occupiers of government property were allotted alternative plots of land for free to relocate their temples. In the name of religion first illegally occupy government land, cause serious nuisance and then get legally allotted lend for free in the bargain to remove that nuisance. This seems to be the modus operandi. The religion is clearly acting as a bully here.

Another news item in The Hindu (5th July 2016) was about so called sacrilege of Quran in Malerkotla of Punjab. This has resulted in arrest of a few people and a police investigation against an AAP MLA. Earlier in this incident some Muslims “resorted to burning of vehicles and damaging property following rumours that torn pages of the holy book were found in a cemetery”.

“The mob set buses, cars and other vehicles on fire and damaged some buildings. Police had to fire in the air to control the mob” says a newspaper report.

What do these incidents communicate?

The usual recourse to “hurt feelings” is not enough to explain these happenings. The pattern is too obvious and they happen with alarming regularity. Earlier there was tension and burning of shops in a UP town after someone saw  Arabic written on some paper plates. There was tension in Jaipur on the issue of removal of a temple which was serious traffic hazard.

Nor can this phenomena be explained by that trite statement that “it is not religion, it is the politicians using religion for their own nefarious purposes”.

One may ask: if religion can be used so often and so successfully for nefarious purposes then shouldn’t there be something fundamentally wrong or even evil about religion? It must have something in its structure that makes it a fit instrument of villainy. Now can anything fundamentally holy and unblemished be used so successfully for such a long time for nefarious purposes?

These kinds of incidents are actually to create fear of all things religious in the common people’s mind. This is to make religion above the law, above humanity, above the good of the people. It is to create an aura of invincibility in the face of the law of the land so that it can perpetually bully people. It is plain attempt to dominate. Politician is only a small unscrupulous and selfish player, the real bully is the religion itself. One may ask: but religion is not a person, how can it be a bully? Well, religion is ‘personified’ in the form of the deity, in the form of a book or a building. And it has its viceroys who act in its name. And a whole section of the society which draws benefits and privileges from its operations back those viceroys.

Contradictory acts

If the places of so-called worship are so holy that they cannot be removed why built them illegally on someone else’s property? How can something built stealthily in an illegal manner be holy? How can greed, unconcern for inconvenience to people, immorality of unjust occupation generate piety? What kind of god likes stealth, greed, injustice, and troubling innocent people? No, it is neither hurt feelings nor holiness; it is plain tactics of browbeating people into unquestioning submission. The ruckus created on these incidents is to maintain that fear, the tactics of the Bombaiya films’ bhailog: “we rule as long as the fear exists, so keep the fear intact” as they say in filmy dialogues.

If a book, Quran, is so holy to some believers that they can go on a rampage on seeing its torn pages why do they distribute it free on some occasions on the road side? They distribute it especially to non-believers. Should something so holy, dear to heart to the extent that one can burn property of other people and even try to kill if it is disrespected, be distributed to non-believers? Why make it freely available in the market place for a few rupees? What is the guarantee that any one who buys it will respect it? Is it sold with that condition? Why not keep Quran strictly within authorised safe sanctuaries if disrespect to it infuriates some believers?

Suppose someone buys a copy of Quran along with Capital, Nyaya Sutras and Critique of Pure Reason. And places them in his bookshelf side by side. Further, suppose termites damage the bookshelf and many of the books in it including all the four mentioned above. What is this non-believer supposed to do with these damaged books? Can he throw them out with all other books which he loved to read and keep as prised possessions? Is throwing The Quran out sacrilege? If one throws out termite eaten copies of Capital or The Nyaya Sutras or Critique of Pure Reason is he being disrespectful to these books which all are much richer in wisdom and knowledge than Quran? If throwing out damaged copies of these books is not disrespect to them why is that disrespect to Quran? A non-believer can read the Quran with the same intention of gaining insight into human thought as he reads other books. The rage generated and pretended in the name of Quran is simply a way of believers to impose their own attitudes on unwilling others. This is curtailing their freedom as building temples in the middle of roads is.

They have to be stopped. But bullies never stop as long as one keeps on surrendering before them. Bullies stop only when they are shown their proper place.