Dumbing down a pliable workforce

August 10, 2016

Published in The Hindu, 10th August 2016

Rohit Dhankar

“Public policy,” according to Douglas Gomery, “is the making of governmental rules and regulations to benefit not one individual but society as a whole. It asks, what is the best way to conceive and evaluate policies aimed at the public as a whole and its various subgroups?” We are in the last leg of such a government-led exercise in education policy making. Therefore, it is pertinent to think what basic assumptions our proposed National Education Policy (NEP) 2016 uses.

When he advised the Turkish government on its education reform agenda a century ago, John Dewey said working out the particular actions and steps to be taken in the reform process is possible only if the government is clear about what social purposes education is supposed to serve, and what educational aims it wants to achieve. Without clarity on these two, it would be a fumbling reform fated to be abandoned at the advent of the next new idea without achieving any results.

  1. Winch echoes Dewey when he argues that if a public education system does not have clearly debated and articulated educational aims, it operates on covert aims. And that gives opportunity to the powerful sections of the society to direct the system for their own benefit. The marginalised sections, thus, lose faith in the system.

Lack of clearly in articulating aims could also be an evasion exercise, as R.F. Dearden argues, so that while everyone is involved in the particular reforms the direction is left to the chosen few.

Therefore, a proper analysis of aims of education in the draft NEP 2016 becomes imperative. Only then can we fully understand particular recommendations and proposed initiatives in it. The claim here is not that stated aims always determine education, it is rather that understanding covert aims is necessary to get a fuller grasp on action that the policy recommends. I have made an attempt to understand the aims of education in the current draft in the light of earlier two National Policies on Education (NPE 1968 and NPE 1986).

Two earlier policies on education

A quick analysis of the NPE 1968 and NPE 1986 reveal that the social purpose of education in both documents is closely connected with the national goals, or nation-building as some like to call it. The national goals are those of an economically prosperous nation that is democratic in character, culturally rooted but aware of shortcomings of its own culture, well-integrated internally and secure from outside aggression. They envision a pluralistic society in which equality, justice, liberty and dignity of all citizens are guaranteed. Social cohesion and fraternity among the citizens is seen as an important social goal. The policy and social ethos are based on secularism and scientific temper. The NPE 1968 emphasise human resource development, or economic aims of education, but keeps in mind the potential of education in creating a democratic society. The NPE 1986 emphasises the individual independence relatively more.

Both the earlier policies though list the social purposes as mentioned above under “role of education”. They are also very clear that to achieve these social purposes, education has to develop certain qualities and capabilities in the learners. Only citizens with those capabilities can achieve the defined social purposes. These capabilities of individuals, or proper aims of education, include democratic values, open-mindedness, appreciation of Indian culture, critical thinking and a sound base of knowledge that help them become active and contributing citizens. The aims or capabilities to develop in the learners are connected with the social goals or vision of the society.

New draft NEP 2016

The new draft NEP 2016 is substantially different in its vision of society, social purposes, understanding of aims of education and their articulation. It is neither overtly undemocratic nor overtly sectarian, but a close reading between the lines gives a very debatable picture.

The first striking difference is in the vision of society. The draft NEP 2016 is almost obsessed with the “fast-changing, ever-globalising, knowledge‐based economy and society” (KBES). It sees these changes as god-given and no critique of them in terms of impact on human life and wellbeing is attempted. For the policy it is a fact, the forces that bring these changes are unseen and unchallengeable; therefore, all that is left for India is to go with the flow and ‘cope’ with it. The document does mention social concerns, disparities, issues of social justice and democracy, etc.; but its eyes are fixed on what it calls “knowledge economy” and a cohesive society with a certain cultural hue. That culture is not to reinterpret or challenge or search for alternatives to the KBES, but only to wave a flag of different colour to say, “look we are here too”.


The authors of this document are conceptually confused about national goals (for example, creation of a just and equitable society), education department’s or system’s targets (for example, to bring all children to school) and educational aims (for example, inculcate values of justice and equality in the learners). They all are put in the same category of Educational Objectives. That in national policy gives a feeling of being directed by incompetent people, if nothing else. What the policy draft lists under the educational objectives are mostly targets of education system. Educational aims are scattered all over the document, and one has to collect them together in order to understand.

The collected aims fall under four broad categories: employable kills, cultural heritage, values and knowledge.

The thrust of the policy is clearly employable skills. Recommendations concerning skills dominate every section. It is understandable if the society is seen as KBES, then the most important task for education is only to prepare people who can be employed in it. The aims also make it imply clear that the skills are to cope in this system, not to challenge or modify or even to lead it.


The cultural heritage is seen as culture of ancient India. Though there is mention of cultural pluralism, diversity and tolerance, etc., but what is described at one place is only ancient Indian contribution to the wold of knowledge. With the authority of Sri Aurobindo there is also a hope and desire that the rest of the 21st century will belong to India, whatever that might mean. There are no overt statements that might bring the charge of sectarianism, but no indication of any other culture is given, and the characteristics that are listed are ones claimed for ancient Indian culture.


Almost everything is mentioned in values, from justice and equality to punctuality (a KBES value, perhaps). However, on a close reading of the passages where these values occur, one notices qualifications when citizenship and freedom are mentioned. The education under this policy will endeavour to “produce” “responsible citizens” who use “freedom responsibly”. If one reads this in the light of overwhelming emphasis on employable skills, knowledge for KBES and complete absence of critical thinking (mentioned twice in passing), then the citizen that seems to be desired is one who largely is amenable to the state and political power, who has full faith in the state’s goodness, and accepts the social structure. There is no place for a citizen who feels responsible if the state and society perpetrate injustice to large sections of society. No place for a citizen who makes noise, agitates, and opposes government actions and policies. It is a citizen who is more concerned with social cohesion, peace, and is tolerant towards the state.


The knowledge as envisaged in the policy draft is almost completely the one required for KBES. That is the knowledge to be imparted to deal with changing skill environment and lifelong learning of skills, to prepare for work force and to be productive. The knowledge which is to be generated is that which is applicable in the employable skills. Indian traditional knowledge seems to be the only exception, as that is needed for awareness of cultural heritage.

The knowledge which is required to understand the world, natural and social, to understand human life, to appreciate human achievements in aesthetic fields, for sheer intellectual delight, etc. is not indicated at all, as every single  mention of knowledge is also associated with the knowledge-economy or knowledge for skills.

Knowledge to gain insight into human existence, to enter into the complex ethical world, to make independent judgment and to decide what is worth living and dying for has no place. The knowledge to decide when to support and appreciate a state and the government, and when to resist and oppose it, is not required. In short, the knowledge to become a rationally autonomous being and still be completely embedded into the whole of humanity is conspicuous by absence.


As a conclusion, one can say that it is a policy to gear education to producing pliable citizens who work as the government says, believe it, obey it, produce but do not think and do not question. It is a policy to craft an education system that is to dumb down the citizenry. It is time for India again to remember that a just and functioning democracy squarely depends on citizens who can think clearly and critically and who can act on their convictions in the face of risks. Democracies are not sustained by obedient productive units in so-called knowledge based economies. However, that is precisely what our new NEP 2016 envisages.


Vigilantism: developing a form of crowd-terrorism?

August 6, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

This morning I read an article in The Indian Express published on 5th August 2016, titled “In the name of the cow: Murder, flogging, humiliation of Muslims, Dalits”. It lists several instances when people (it seems all Muslims and Dalits) where either killed or thrashed or humiliated in varied ways on suspicion that they were somehow involved in cow slaughter or beef eating or beef trade. Most of these vigilantes it seems remained unpunished for their crimes. (I am assuming The Indian Express article is factual.)

Incidents of vigilante violence are common affair on Valentine day every year and in enforcing dress code on women and their eating in restaurants etc. have also been in the news often. Most of the perpetrators of these crimes remain unpunished and publicly express their resolve to continue their activities. Often they also seem to be proud of this obnoxious behaviour of theirs. This shows that the law enforcing agencies are giving them space to continue committing these crimes.

There is a vocal brigade of netas (many of them Members of Parliament) in BJP who not only defend such acts but praise them and issue threats, mainly to Muslims. The vigilante groups and these BJP netas clearly seem to be connected. If that is the case then the seemingly scattered and sporadic violence in the name of cow (and in one wave that of the nation, Bharat Mata, etc.) may not be spontaneous and unconnected. It might actually be planned, however loosely.

I have not been following this issue but do not know of any strong statement from the central government either to unequivocally condemning it or to stop this menace. Had it been the issue of one or two incidents one may still argue that the government need not issue statements but to curb such elements. But it is a pattern now, the government says almost nothing on it, and the pattern is growing more and more violent and menacing.

The question that comes to mind is: could this be a thought through strategy of mass training in crowd-terrorism?

Terrorism, as it is practiced today, most often is an act of a few individuals who cause high damage and at high risk to themselves. Because the risk to the life of the terrorist is very high it requires a mistaken preparedness for sacrifice and mistaken notion of bravery. A terrorist sees himself as a brave warrior for a cause. This requires a cause for which one is prepared to die. Which is possible only through faith and/or very high level of indoctrination or unbearable oppression that makes one feel that life is not worth living in this form. Or it involves all of them.

But if there is a community or group in which not many meet any of these conditions, where there is no faith or cause to defend in which one actually—as opposed to just professed—believes, then it becomes very difficult to produce terrorists. Or it takes very long time to create that fervour of faith or mentality of victimhood. But if the terrorism is given a crowd base where it is relatively difficult to single out a particular individual then the risk gets distributed and diffused. It still retains the character of expression of hatred and aggression, but since it is expressed collectively, the participants feel relatively safer. They can also handle the guilt—if and when their humanity surfaces—more easily.

The vigilante activity—if above argument is correct—resembles more and more a mass public training programme in crowed-terrorism. Targeting merely on suspicion creates an atmosphere of fear in the marked groups. Which is the main object of all terror. Ambiguity about the guilt of the most victims sustains the support base in the community; which is a necessary condition for any terrorist activity to survive.

The Hindu community has the first responsibility to stop and eradicate this vigilantism. Simply because it cannot flourish without internal support from the community. Also because it will harm the most Hindu community only. In other forms of terrorism the support base of communalised and active elements still remain relatively small. This crowd-terrorism communalises much larger sections of the community and requires much larger set of active elements.

It seems this is the time for ordinary Hindus—practising or otherwise—to stand up and speak. The religious leaders and politicians and so-called sadhus cannot stop it, many of them perhaps don’t want to stop it. If they (religious leaders and sadhus) speak against it they will use too many ifs and buts, which will make them sound more like its supporters. Explanations of a terrorist’s acts on the basis of being misguided or having mistaken perception of various pressures on his community or less respect paid to his community beliefs than required, etc. will sound like “justification of their acts”. First, there are very few people in the public who can make out “an explanation of a phenomena” from it’s “justification”. Second, most often whose who explain actually try to justify without dropping their own fig leaf.


Defending terror in the name of human rights

August 5, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

It is reported in some sections of media that 50,000 people attended Burhan Wani’s funeral. The agitation triggered by his death took a toll of more than 30 lives including some security personnel; hundreds were injured by pallets fired on the agitators.

The funeral attendance by so many people and widespread agitation was used (is used) to prove that Kashmiris’ demand for so called azadi is legitimate. That Burhan Wani was a freedom fighter and not a terrorist. And pallet injuries were thought to be the evidence of cruelty of Indian forces, of the state and the nation.

This was (and perhaps is) the narrative taken up by many Facebook users who wanted to prove their liberal humanitarian credentials. (Fortunately discourse in print media is more sober, which takes into account sufferings of the Kashmiris, mistakes on the part of the state as well as points out conditions under which this highly disturbing drama is being played out.) This narrative was supported by supposed to be wise opinion makers by twitting that Bhagat Singh was also called the poster boy of Indian revolutionaries by the British press; therefore, (a hint at unstated conclusion, that) Burhan Wani is like Bhagat Singh, a freedom fighter.

Anyone who opposes or even wants to understand the basic principles, assumptions, and logic behind this discourse is immediately dubbed as “Hindutva-vadi”, “anti-Kashmiris” or “anti-Muslim”.

Not to be outdone the Hindutva warriors immediately declare any one remotely mentioning sufferings of the Kashmiris, accesses by the forces and mistakes of the Indian state. A meaningful social debate is made impossible by the two mutually opposing hardliners.

In this article my focus is on the three contentions of the supporters of Kashmiri agitation for azadi. However, before I come to that would like to mention there have been mistakes from the Indian state, there have been incidents of accesses and Kashmiri people have suffered long years of tense atmosphere as well as constant threat of untoward incidents; both from the forces as well as from the terrorists. The state and Indian society in general should find a way out of this problem by eliminating the injustice done as well as connecting at the emotional level. Dubbing everyone who speaks in favor of Kashmir struggle as anti-national is not only stupid, it is harmful for the democratic process in the country.

However, the most popular contentions of some radical opinion makers and their Facebook supporters still remain unsupportable. And those who speak in favor of struggle are equally guilty to going overboard.

That brings me to the three contentions.

Does the agitation in Kashmir prove that their demand for ‘azadi’ (whatever that might mean) is justified?

India has a solid legal basis to consider Kashmir an integral part of the country. It was made part of India by the instrument of accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, who was a legal ruler of the territory at that time. Yes, there are some conditions like article 370 but they are being met. Plebiscite was not held because Pakistan refused to meet the conditions it accepted in the UN. India cannot be blamed for this.

The only basis that the supporters of Kashmiri agitation name is the agitation itself. “So many Kashmiris demand azadi therefore it is legitimate” goes the argument. Does any community living in a territory has the right to secede from a country at will? Can countries function like that?

I have dealt with this issue in detail in one of my earlier blogs here. In that blog I considered the issue of Kashmir being integral part of India from historical, legal, moral and pragmatic stand points. Interested people can see that article. In my view India is completely justified in considering Kashmir an integral part from these four perspectives. If that is the case the agitation is unjustified, and on top of that carefully fomented by Pakistan on religious basis. That provides no grounds for azadi whatsoever.

Burhan Wani as a freedom fighter?

If the demand for azadi itself is unjustified then Burhan Wani cannot be a freedom fighter. The most charitable opinion about him could be a somewhat misguided youth. If one looks at the interviews of his father, past and present, one can see the religious source of this poison very clearly.

He was commander of an Islamic terrorist organization. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen means “Party of Holy Warriors”. It wants J&K to become part of Pakistan. And it has always campaigned for Islamisation of Kashmir.

HM Emblem

It’s emblem (I must check the authenticity of this emblem, but seems to be the correct one at the time) has Quran supported by AK 47s. I do not know Arabic but do not have any doubt that the book shown here is supposed to be the Quran. (Would be grateful if someone who knows Arabic lets me know the correct meaning of the quote shown in the book. If it is not Quran, I would be willing to change my views on this particular point.)

For the sake of argument even if one accepts the argument that he was seen as freedom fighter by Kashmiris therefore he is one; as freedom fighter of one nation is after all can be a terrorist of another. If it is not just a formal and semantic quibble, then those who call him a freedom fighter and support him should also approve of the kind of nation he wanted to build had he been successful. Do they support Islamaizatin of Kashmir? Do they support separation of Kashmir from India to become part of Pakistan? And if they do, do they recognize the re-play of two nation theory in Indian history within 70 years?

Calling Burhan Wani a freedom fighter comes with this package of assumptions and implications. If his supporters accept it, they are harming secularism and democracy in India deliberately; if they are unaware of the implications they are supporting bigotry in their mindlessness.

The pallet injuries

The pallet injuries are splashed on social media as if it is an example of deliberate cruelty of the Indian security forces. As if firing the pallets at innocent people is an ab initio, as if it is the first cause in this dance of death. They seem to make it that the armed forces just started shooting at public without any reason, without any preceding events. “Since people received pallet injuries so the forces are cruel, the state is unjust, and the nation is abominable” seems to be the refrain. But the crowd burnt police stations, vehicles, killed securely personnel. How to control a crowd of 1000 people advancing on a police station? One has seen videos of youth showing bravery in pelting stones on the forces. Could there be a planner behind these youth who knows that the Indian forces will behave with restraint, therefore, they can attack them with impunity? The pallet injuries have to be seen in the context.

Presence of armed forces in Kashmir is not the cause of agitation, it is violent agitation what forced the state to send armed forces there. This agitation and violence killed people, competed ethnic cleansing, and threatened the integrity of the nation. That is why there are armed forced in Kashmir. There is no place for detailed historical analysis of the problem here, but it was created by Zinnah-attitude (a not so religious leader using religion for political purposes) that Sheikh Abdullah often lapsed into, the fact that Kashmir is a Muslim majority state, and the Pakistani determination to separate Kashmir from India. The historical context of dismissal of popularly elected governments and rigging of elections in Kashmir is not that innocent and plain. At each stage some people were playing the separatist card with impunity.

Result of this support to Burhan Wani and agitation

This emboldens the terrorists. They get an assurance that if they are killed, a section of well-meaning  Indian population will try to prove that they were not terrorists, but freedom fighters. Therefore, there is a possibility of armed forced avoiding hurting them. Since they themselves have no such restraint, they will kill civilians and armed forces personnel with more impunity.

If they are captured, proved guilty in the court; then there shall be arguments that they were innocent and the punishment awarded to them is unjust. And will be made heroes, ghar ghar se nikalenge.

More Kashmiri young men will join their ranks, and the foreign fighters will feel safer to come to add in this jihad.

The hardliners in Kashmir will gain greater prominence, will feel legitimated, and moderates will become weaker, will feel unsure of themselves.

The resolve of the India public to defend Kashmir will weaken. This will reflect in the state action.

Armed forces will get demoralized.

And all this due to a stand taken by accolade hunters on the basis of spurious information, misunderstood principles of justice and false propaganda.

To resolve the Kashmir issue with sensitivity to Kashmiri people we need clarity of mind, compassion in heart and determination of action. Extreme stand on either side will harm the nation as well the Kashmiri people. Let’s realize that nation is much larger than the Kashmir. Also the current fashion of deriding anyone who uses the term “nation” is nothing but imbecility.