Education is an unimportant topic among the decision-makers of today’s India. More than 30 per cent of school teachers do not have a degree.
The National Institutional Ranking Framework has named Delhi’s Hindu College as the best in the country in arts and science streams. It is a well-deserved distinction based on its academic standards, the role played by its campus societies and its placement records.
The name of the college also brings out the peculiar Indian practice of linking education with religion. This is a regressive approach, started during the colonial period by selfish Christian missionaries. In Oxford or Cambridge, Harvard or Stanford, France’s Sorbonne or Sweden’s Karolinska, religion
was never thrust into the nomenclature of educational institutions. How did it become part and parcel of Indian culture?
When Madras emerged as the epicentre of education in the south with famous colleges featuring on its marquee, religious labelling was ingrained into the process, no one thinking about it as something special. Madras Christian College and Loyola College became more popular than the non-denominational Presidency College or Pachaiyappa’s College, the first educational institution in the south not founded by the British. The culture of those days was summed up in the saying: The
gentlemen of Christian, the slaves of Loyola, the princes of Presidency and the rowdies of Pachaiyappas. (Pachaiyappa Mudaliar who became a “master financier and merchant prince when
he was just 22” ensured that the institutions he financed had outstanding architectural distinction. Until 1947, the college admitted only Hindu students.)
Why Pachaiyappas got identified with rowdy types is not clear. The college’s motto is “Mind Moves Matter.” But headlines often put a question mark on that motto. In July 2019, a group of machete-wielding students from Pachaiyappas chased another group from the same college. Police identified 90 “route rowdies”, commuting students “elected” as leaders of students travelling to college on a particular bus or train. These rowdies had their own rules and anyone who violated them would be punished in ways they would never forget.
The very idea that students travelling to their college should be subject to control by violence-prone student “leaders” pointed to a negative culture gaining ground. This was a long way from the culture that led to the founding of Nalanda and Takshashila universities. Chanakya was one of the teachers at Takshashila where he composed Arthashastra. Earlier in the 12th century, fire destroyed more than nine million manuscripts in Nalanda. Not long after that invader Bakhtiyar Khalji destroyed what was left of that university. Fire and invaders destroy our centres of learning, but not those in Europe or America. Why the difference?
Among the top 10 universities in the world as listed by Times Higher Education, Harvard comes first followed by Cambridge, Columbia, Oxford, Yale, Stanford, Sorbonne, Chicago, Michigan and Princeton. Not one from the East. Among the top 100 universities as recognised by the world, China’s Nanyang and Peking universities appear in the 78th and 87th positions, respectively. The National University of Singapore has the 99th rank. Not one from India that is Bharat.
There is nothing surprising here. Education is an unimportant topic among the decision-makers of today’s India. More than 30 per cent of school teachers do not have a degree. And 40 per cent schools are without electricity. There are schools where cheating during examinations is officially encouraged. There are also schools where children have to sweep the floors and serve meals to the teachers. Beating the kids with rulers is a routine. The Right to Education Act is only on paper.
Sanjeev Sabhlok, Secretary of the Education Department in Assam in the 1990s, said bluntly in 2019: “The system is almost totally corrupt. Teacher posts and transfers are sold.” Under the Modi Government, the neglect of agriculture and education became something of a scandal.
This is the context in which the Hindu College’s rating needs to be understood. In 2018, it stood fourth and second in 2019. Rated the best in 2018 was Miranda House. In 2021, University of Delhi topped the list with the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, Kanpur, Madras and Delhi following in that order. Three reasons were given for naming a college after Miranda (not an Indian name). Vice-Chancellor Sir Maurice Gwyer’s favourite actress was Carmen Miranda, his daughter’s name was Miranda and Shakespeare character named Miranda (The Tempest) symbolised for him what a lady should be.
Innocent were those days when idealism was respected and one could follow one’s creative instincts without bothering about its politics. Where is that India? How did the malignity of politics overtake the lucidity of education? Why has broad-minded India been subjugated by intolerant Indians?