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Rohit Dhankar

For last about 8 years I have been out of touch with the government schools in rural India. Had somehow started feeling that my feet are no more on the ground and my imagination of real educational action had started to become rather dated, if not hazy. (I say this because I consider the “real education action” is in the school classrooms. Explanation of this, some other time). So I visited two government schools yesterday. One Senior Higher Secondary in a block headquarters and second an upper primary in a very remote village.

Both the schools have beautiful and adequate campuses. The Upper Primary School (UPS) is rather stunningly beautiful, green well managed and very serene environment. I don’t think any private school can match that.

The Senior Higher Secondary (SHS) has 48 classrooms, well maintained building with about 1700 students. All the classes were running, teachers were present. However, in many classes number of students exceeds 100 and in two three classes some students were sitting outside the doors, listening intently and taking notes. The Principal told me he has all the needed furniture for students but cannot use it as that will limit the classroom capacity to around 50 students. Students sit on durries, teachers have a small table and a chair. Also the science laboratories are inadequate.

The Principal interacts with children in assembly every week, and emphasises moral development in which harmonious living with all Indians and getting rid of ahankara (ego) seems to be his focus.

This is a block headquarters town, and the old town had Muslim majority. Now after several new colonies around the old town population ratio is about 35-40% Muslims and 65-70% Hindus. The town has faced three serious religious riots between 1992 (Babari issue) and 2005. According to a friend working in education in this area now both the communities have suspicion of each other, though there is peace on the surface.

The Principal said there used to be Hindu-Muslim brawls between the students in the school, which thankfully are no more. But then now there are only about 150-200 Muslim students in the school with strength of 1700, in a town having 35-40% Muslim population. It seems the Muslims of this town are very aware educationally, there are many students studying abroad, high percentage in government jobs and traditionally having large land holdings. So why so few Muslim students in this well running school? The Principal thinks that recently the Muslim community has opened their own senior secondary school and the government has opened another secondary school with Urdu medium. One wonder why these two development were needed?

Principal tells inspirational stories from the literature of both religions in his talks with students. However, has a Saraswati statue and two large Saraswati pictures in his large and beautiful office. There is nothing indicating Islam in the office or the school, or at least I did not notice it.

Principal narrated two inspirational stories he used with students in his sermons to get rid of ego, ahankara. One about a Muslim saint and his pupil. In this one the Muslim saint argues that those who have big ego are to be pitied rather than being angry with them, because their soul is ill. In the other Vashishtha gives the title of Brahm-Rishi to Vishwamitra only when the later leans to bow, jhukana seekhata hai. After narrating the stories on Gurupoornimas (27th July this year) he asked the students can you give example of some big Indian leaders who have learnt to shed their ego (examples of jhukana), students gave two examples: Abdul Kalam and Narengra Modi. Modi as he touched the parliament steps as he entered there for the first time. The Principal thinks Rahul Gandhi provided another example recently in the parliament when he hugged Modi.

The Principal kindly allowed me to interact with 12th standard student who study political science, history and geography. The interaction was in Hindi, I am trying to reproduce it from memory.

The Principal took me to the class. A teacher was teaching there. The principal introduced me to the students (did say nothing to the teacher) saying “aap bahar se aaye hai, aap logon se baat karenge, theek hai?” Students stood up and there was some murmur which seemed like “theek hai” or something. Then the Principal and the teacher both left. I sked students to sit down. It was about 25X20 room with about 60 students, roughly about 20 girls and 40 boys. Girls sat clustered together.

Me: Mera naam Rohit hai. Main bachochon ko padhata raha hun pahali kaksha se koi 12vi tak. Aaj kal university men padhata hun. Aap log 12vin men hain?

Some students: Han.

Me: aap men se kuchh to 12vin ke liye bahut chhote lag rahe hain. Hamare jamane men to 12vin me kuchh bade bachche hote the. Aap log kuchh jaldi to nahin aa gaye is class men?

Many students: Nahin. (An emphatic nahin with smiles)

Me: tum men se kuchh ko koi pareshaani to nahin 12vin men jald aane se?

Many students: Nahin. (An emphatic nahin again with smiles)

Me: achchha, kaya-kya padhte ho school men?

Many students: political, history, geography, Hindi, English.

Me: political? Political kya?

Students: political (one voice: rajaneeti shatra)

Me: achchha, political science?

Students: haan.

Me: theek hai. Batao tum men se kisi ne koi aisi kitaab padhi hai pichchhale 2 saal men jo tumhare course men nahin ho? (I had to repeat this)

(Only one boy in the front row raised his hand)

Me: kitab ka naam bata sakate ho?

Student: (stud up)

Me: baithe baithe bhi bata sakate ho.

Student: (sat down) Inspirational Talks. 

Me: ohh, kisne likhi hai?

Student: Swami Vivekananda.

(I have not read the book and knew nothing about it. On internet search I found a book of Vivekananda’s talks, it is titled “Inspired Talks”, maybe I heard the student wrong as saying “Inspirational Talks” or he may have remembered the name wrong.)

Me: (to the class) achchha. Inspirational mane kya? Inspiration kya hota hai?

Some students: (several words) motivation, utsahit karna, prerana, ….

Me: achchha, theek hai utsahit karna aur prerana maan lete hain.

Me: (to the student who had read the book) ye kitab angreji men hai?

Student: Angreji men bhi hai aur hindi men bhi.

Me: tumene kaunsi bhasha men padhi?

Student: dono men.  

Me: (with some surprise in voice, but below the level of indicating disbelief) ohh, dono men? Pahale kaunsi bhasha men padhi?

Student: Hindi men.

Me: are, Hindi men padh li thi to fir angreji men fir se kyon?

Student: achchhi lagi is liye.

Me: achchha. To us kitrab men kya likha hai? Kuchh bata sakate ho?

Student: apani shanskriti aur rashtradharm ka samman karna chaahiye.

Me: (saw the opportunity for which I was looking 😊 Wanted to write “sanskriti” and “rashtra-dharm” on the black board which was of reasonable quality and clean. Looked for chalk, there was none.) achchha chalk to hai hii nahin, main do cheejen board par likhana chaahata tha.

One student: main office se lata hun.

Me: theek hai, do hii lana.

Me: (to all students) achchha yeh rashtra-dharm kya cheej hoti hai? Jisne kitab ka naam bataya use hii akele batane ki jimmedarii nahin hai. Koi bhi bata sakata hai: rashtra-dharm kya hota hai?

(Answers started coming…By this time the student who went to get chalk came back with two good quality chalk sticks. I started writing on the board, the board and chalk both were good quality to write clearly and easily. I wrote “rashtra-dharm” on the board, underlined it and again asked “ye kya hota hai?”)

Students: (many)

  • Rashtra ka samman karna
  • Rashtra ke prati apane kartavya pure karna
  • Rashtra men samanvaya banana
  • jaruratmandon ki madad karna
  • rashtra dhvaj aur rashtra-gaan ka samman karna
  • rashtra ki sampatii ki raksha karna
  • ektaa kii raksha karna ….

Me: wah, kaafi hain. Achchha, yah aur batado ki ye “rashtra” kya hota hai.

Students: (sannata)

Me: rashtra kya hota hai? Jamiin, nadi-nale? Pahad?

Students: (many) haan, jamiin. Desh.

Me: theek hai, man lo ham saare hindustaniyon ko kisi tarah chand par lejaayen. Kuchh mushkil to hoga, par sab ko lejaayen, ek bhii bakii nahin bache. To bhii bharat desh yahin raha jaayega kya?

Students: (a few voices) haan. (Overwhelmiong majority) nahin.

Me: badhiya. To rashtra logon ke bina nahin hota. Log to uske jaruri hissa hain hii.

Student: (one) rashtra nagarikon se banata hai.

Me: theek. To rastra ke prati kartavya ka matlab uske nagarikon ke prati kartavya? Rashtra ka samman mane uske nagarikon ka samaan? Rashtra ki ekata mane uske nagarikon ki ekata? Main theek kaha raha hun kya?

Students: (many voices) haan.

Me: theek hai. To thoda yah aur batado ki rashtra ke prati kartavya kya kya hai hamare?

Students: (many)

  • Rashtra-dvaj ka samman.
  • Sab se samanata ka vyavahar
  • Bhedbhav nahin karna
  • Samanvaya banana …..

Me: theek hai. Tumne mool kartavyon ke baare men suna hai kya? Fundamental duties ke baare men?

Students: (a few) han, (started repeating the same thing as above)

Me: theek hai. Ek aur duty hai: vaigyanik chintan (scientific temper) ka vikas aur vaigyanik tarike se jaanch karna. Yah suna hai?

Students: (sannata)

Me: theek hai. Chalo to maan len ki rashtra-dharm ka samman karne ka matlab:

  • Rashtra ke logon ka samman
  • Logon men samanvaya banana
  • Sab ko saman samajhna
  • Bhedbhav nahin karna
  • Jarurat ho to madad karna

Students: (many) haan.

(Here I wrote “sanskriti” on the board.)

Me: achchha, inhone bataya ki Inspirational Talks men swami Vivekananda apani sanskriti ke samman kii bhii seekh dete hain. Yah “sanskriti” kya hoti hai?

Students: (many voices)

  • Bhasha
  • Sahitya
  • Khan-paan
  • Vesh-bhusha
  • Riti-rivaj
  • Rahan-sahan
  • ….

Me: are wah, to ye sab sanskriti hoti hai. Theek.

To ye batao hamari sanskriti men ye cheejen hain kya:

  • Jaati-pati?
  • Chhua-chhoot?
  • Auraton ko kam haq?

Students: (many) haan hain.

Me: aur vivekanand ji kahate hain ki hamen apani sanskriti ka samman karna chaahiye. To matlab hamne jaati-paati, chhooachuut aur auraton ko kam manana chaahiye, apani sanskriti ke samman ke liye?

Students: (sannata)

Me: aur vivekanand ji yeh bhi kahate hain ki rashtra-dharm ka samman karna chahiye. Rsahtra-dharm ka samaan mane uske nagarikon ka samman, unko barabar maanana, bhed-bhav nahin karna, yah aap logon ne bataya. To dono cheejen kaise Karen? Chhua-chhoot, jaati-paati, auraton ko man bhi manen aur unko saman bhi mane, bhed-bhav na Karen? Yeh to Vivekanand ji se poochhana padega? Kya Karen?

Students: (kuchh der sannata. Then one voice…) sanskriti samay ke saath badalti hai.

Me: achha, sab manate hain kya sanskriti samay ke saath badalti hai?

Students: (many voices) haan, badalti hai.

Me: theek hai, to rashtra-dharm ka samman kane ke liye sankriti se jaati-paati, chhua-chhot aur auraton ko kam haq ki baaten hatanii padengi. Yah theek hai?

Students: (many voices) haan.

Me: to maan len ki rashtra-dharm aur sanskriti men virodh ho, takarahat ho, to sanskriti ko rashtra-dharm ke anusaar badal lena chaahiye?

Students: (many) haan.  

Me: tum sab manate ho kya yah? Sab sanskriti ko rashtra-dharm ke anusar badalne ko taiyaar ho kya? Chua-chhoot nahin manate? Auraton ko barabar maananete ho? Sab ka barabar samman karte ho?

Students: (almost all) haan.

Me: (with a smile) tum speedometer janate ho? Jo motorcycles aur gaadiyon men laga hoita hai.

Students: (with surprise) haan.

Me: usmen speed dadhatii hai to suii aise ghumatii hai na? (I indicated by moving my finger and then drawing on the board)

Students: haan.

Me: (with a smile) mere dimaag men ek ‘jhootho-meter’ laga hai. Uski suii bhi jhooth badhane par aise hii ghoomati hai. Jab tum sab ne sab ko saman maanane ki, sab ke riti-rivajon ko samaan samman dene kii baat kii aur khaka ki tum aisa karne ko taiyaar ho to vah suii bahgut ghoom gai.

Students: (general giggles, amiles. Some spoke) nahin.

Me: suii to ghumi. Mera jhootho-meter galat hai ya aap logon ki baat?

Students: (laughing. Many) aap ka jhootho-meter galat hai.

Me: theek hai. Maan lete hain.

Me: (after thinking for a few seconds, and moving about in the classroom to buy some time) ok. Maanalo ki main apane ghar men ek parti dena chaahata hun aur usmen kuchh doston ko invite bhi karta hun. Main parti men beef bhi parosna chaahata hun. Tum beef janate ho kya? kya hotii hai?

One student: han.

Another student: gau-maans.

Me: haan to main gau-maan bhi parosana chaahata hun. Kuchh logon ko pata chal gaya. Ve mujhe maarane aa rahe hain. Tum logon ko bhi pata chal gaya. Tum kya karoge?

Students: (sannata) (ek dheemi aadhi majak men aawaz) marenge. (general laughter)

Me: (smiling) batao, tum kya karoge? Lagata hai ek ne to sach bola hai.

Students: (sannata.)

Me: tum mujhe yeh gau-maans wali parti karne doge ya nahin?

Students: (majority) nahin.

Me: kyon? Tum political science ke vidhyarthi ho, nagarikon ke mool adhikaron ke baare men padha hoga. Bharat ke sab nagarikon ko apane khan-paan, riti-rowaz aur vishwason ki swatanhtrata mool adhikaar hai. Tum mera mool adhikaar kyon cheenana chaahate ho?

One student: kisi dharm men nahin likha ki gau-maans khana chaahiye.

[I knew Quran recommends it: “And remember when Moses said to his people: ‘Allah commands you to slaughter a cow,’ they said: ‘Dost thou make a jest of us?’ He said: ‘I seek refuge with Allah from being one of the ignorant.’ (2:68, The Holy Quran, Translated by Maulvi Sher Ali, published by Islam International Publications Limited, 2004). But wanted to make the point that this kind of argument cannot be accepted, therefore, rather than going into what is written or not written, took a different direction.]

Me: kisi dharm men to yeh bhi nahin likha ki moog ki daal khaani chaahiye. To kya yah bhi na khaane den?

Students: (sannata)

Me: sawal yah nahin hai ki kisi dharm men likha hai ya nahin. Sawal yah hai ki kuchh log khana chaahate hain. To samanata aur swatantrata ke naate un ko haq hai ya nahin?

Another student: gau-badh ki kanoon men manaii hai. To aap gair-kanooni kaam kar rahe hain.

[Here I had two choices: either take the point that even if it is against the law, who should enforce the law? Crowed or the state/police? You complain to the police if you think it is unlawful, why hurt me? But I took another direction.]

Me: gau-badh adhiktar rajyon men mana hai, par sab rajyon men nahin. Jaise Rajasthan men mana hai par Mizoram men nahin. Aur mana “gau-badh” nahin kar raha, gau-maans khana kahin bhi mana ya gair kanooni nahin hai. Rajasthan men bhi mana nahin hai. To maan lo main gau-maan Mizoram se laya hun ya America se laya hun, sirf parti yahan de raha hai. Gaubadh yahan nahin kar raha.

Students: (uneasy, but sannata) (one voice) aap kisi ki dharmik bhavanaon ko aahat nahin kar sakate.

Me: main apane ghar men party de raha hun. Kisi ko khaane ke liye nahin kah raha, kisi ke ghar nahin jaa raha. Bhavanayen kaise aahat hui, main kuchh khata hun ya nahin khata hun se?

One student: aap logon ko invite kar rahe hain.

Me: Unko kar raha hun jo khate hain ya main samajhta hun ki khate hain. Nahin aana chaahate meri parti men to mana kardo. Marte kyon ho? Mujhe rokte kyon ho?

Students: (fir chup)

[I had taken a lot of time, so wanted to end the integration.]

Me: abhi bharat men ek badii rassa-kasi chal rahi hai. Ek taraf kuchh logon ke vichaar se Hindu-sanskriti hai, ek taraf kuchh aur logon ke vichar se Muslim personal law hai aur ek taraf Bharatiiya Samvidhaan hai, jise aaj tum logon ne rashtra-dharm kaha hai. Ye rassa-kasi ham logon ne shuru kii hai, meri peedhi walon ne. 10 varsh men tum bade ho jaaoge, kai mahatvapoorna nirnay kar rahe hoge. 10 varsh men yah rassa-kasi khatm nahin hogi. Tum logon ko is ke nateeje bhugatne padenge. In tikadi par sochana.

[I drew a triangle on the board with “Kathit Hindu sanskriti”, “kathit Muslim Personal law” and “rashtra-dharm/samvidhaan” as three vertices.]

Me: achchha maine bahut sawal pooch liye. Tum kuchh poochana chaahate ho?

One student: aap kahan rahate hain?

Me: mahane men ek saptah Jaipur aur teen sapatah Bangalore.

Another student: mausam Jaipur ka achchha hai ya Bangalore ka?

Me: log kahate hain ki banagklore ka achchha hai, vahan sardi-garmi ka kasht nahin hota, mausam kuchh beech ka sa hii rahata hai. Par main to Rajasthani hun. Mujhe to yahan ki sardi-garmi ki yaad bhi aatii hai.

Another student: aap kya padhate hain?

Me: maine primary men aur upper primary men to sabhi Vishay padhaaye hain. Par aajkal university men shiksha-dharshan padhata hun.

Another student: haan mujhe aisa hii laga tha?

Me: matlab? Kya laga tha?

Student: ki aisi baate darshanik hii karte hain.

Me: (smile) matlab falatu baaten darshanik hii karte hain?

Students: (general smile) (the same student) nahin, itane share sawal.

Me: (smiling) achchha abhi mujhe jaana hai. Tum logon ne shuru men socha hoga ki chalo aaj padhai se chhutii mili kuchh der, vo bhi ab bore hogaye honge.

Students: (general smile, some giggles) (many voices) nahin, bore nahin hue.

Me: namate, dhanyavaad.

Students: (stand up) (many voices) dhanya vaad.

This dialogue raises many questions in my mind. Student seem to generally understand the constitutional spirit of equality, justice, respect for all, etc. They also seem to have a general idea that what is called sanskriti may need critical look and may need to change. And that when the constitution and so called sanskriti come in conflict one has to weed out unconstitutional part of that sanskriti. But when it comes to particular beliefs and issue they care about, their loyalty to the constitution seems to falter and they want to interpret constitutional value of equality etc. according to their own belief systems. This problem cannot be address simply by reading books. Something more is needed. One of those things could be the kind of dialogue/interaction given above.

But who should conduct such dialogues? Where? When? What kind of preparation would it require of teachers if they are supposed to conduct such dialogues?

*******

28th July 2018