24th World Book Day. 99 Books We Must Read.

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The World Book Day was chosen by the UNESCO General Conference to “pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.” The first World Book and Copyright Day was observed on 23 April 1995.

Most educated Indians are indeed curious about the things which concern them immensely. But unfortunately, the media or formal education does not offer us insightful explanations. Paradoxically, the present young generation seems less interested in reading and more inclined towards the electronic screens. An important cause is that the most useful books that really educate us and reveal our various aspects, and of our world, are seldom publicised with the vitality which they deserve. So the curious mind gradually resigns itself to whatever is popularised by the powerful elite, without ever questioning it.

A selection of 99 books is hence listed here to educate the curious mind and society – to provoke imagination and to reveal certain realities which journalism is generally too shy or embarrassed to care. Continue reading 24th World Book Day. 99 Books We Must Read.

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Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Resignation Speech

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's Caravan

Most of us know Dr. B R Ambedkar’s ideological fights with Gandhi. Not many, however, would know the kind of issues Dr. Ambedkar had with Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

The so called modernist Pt. Nehru had turned so conservative after India’s freedom – or he was a conservative throughout his life that Dr. Ambedkar could no more remain his co-traveler and had to resign from his Cabinet on September 27, 1951. Reproduced [Ambedkar’s Writings, Vol. 14, Part Two, pages.1317-1327] is the full text of Dr. Ambedkar’s speech on his resignation

Text of the Resignation

ambedkarThe House I am sure knows, unofficially if not officially, that I have ceased to be a member of the Cabinet. I tendered my resignation on Thursday, the 27th September to the Prime Minister and asked him to relieve me immediately. The Prime Minister was good enough to accept the same on the…

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CASTES IN INDIA: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Paper read before the Anthropology Seminar of Dr. A. A. Goldenweizer at The Columbia University, New York, U.S.A. on 9th May 1916

From: Indian Antiquary, May 1917, Vol. XLI

 

Many of us, I dare say, have witnessed local, national or international expositions of material objects that make up the sum total of human civilization. But few can entertain the idea of there being such a thing as an exposition of human institutions. Exhibition of human institutions is a strange idea; some might call it the wildest of ideas. But as students of Ethnology I hope you will not be hard on this innovation, for it is not so, and to you at least it should not be strange.

You all have visited, I believe, some historic place like the ruins of Pompeii, and listened with curiosity to the history of the remains as it flowed from the glib tongue of the guide. In my opinion a student of Ethnology, in one sense at least, is much like the guide. Like his prototype, he holds up (perhaps with more seriousness and desire of self-instruction) the social institutions to view, with all the objectiveness humanly possible, and inquires into their origin and function.

Most of our fellow students in this Seminar, which concerns itself with primitive versus modern society, have ably acquitted themselves along these lines by giving lucid expositions of the various institutions, modern or primitive, in which they are interested. It is my turn now, this evening, to entertain you, as best I can, with a paper on “Castes in India: Their mechanism, genesis and development”

I need hardly remind you of the complexity of the subject I intend to handle. Subtler minds and abler pens than mine have been brought to the task of unravelling the mysteries of Caste; but unfortunately it still remains in the domain of the “unexplained”, not to say of the “un-understood” I am quite alive to the complex intricacies of a hoary institution like Caste, but I am not so pessimistic as to relegate it to the region of the unknowable, for I believe it can be known. The caste problem is a vast one, both theoretically and practically. Practically, it is an institution that portends tremendous consequences. It is a local problem, but one capable of much wider mischief, for “as long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have any social intercourse with outsiders; and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem”.[1] Theoretically, it has defied a great many scholars who have taken upon themselves, as a labour of love, to dig into its origin. Such being the case, I cannot treat the problem in its entirety. Time, space and acumen, I am afraid, would all fail me, if I attempted to do otherwise than limit myself to a phase of it, namely, the genesis, mechanism and spread of the caste system. I will strictly observe this rule, and will dwell on extraneous matters only when it is necessary to clarify or support a point in my thesis.

To proceed with the subject. According to well-known ethnologists, the population of India is a mixture of Aryans, Dravidians, Mongolians and Scythians. All these stocks of people came into India from various directions and with various cultures, centuries ago, when they were in a tribal state. They all in turn elbowed their entry into the country by fighting with their predecessors, and after a stomach full of it settled down as peaceful neighbours. Through constant contact and mutual intercourse they evolved a common culture that superseded their distinctive cultures. It may be granted that there has not been a thorough amalgamation of the various stocks that make up the peoples of India, and to a traveller from within the boundaries of India the East presents a marked contrast in physique and even in colour to the West, as does the South to the North. But amalgamation can never be the sole criterion of homogeneity as predicated of any people. Ethnically all people are heterogeneous. It is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian Peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture. It has not only a geographic unity, but it has over and above all a deeper and a much more fundamental unity—the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end. But it is because of this homogeneity that Caste becomes a problem so difficult to be explained. If the Hindu Society were a mere federation of mutually exclusive units, the matter would be simple enough. But Caste is a parcelling of an already homogeneous unit, and the explanation of the genesis of Caste is the explanation of this process of parcelling. Continue reading CASTES IN INDIA: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development

Prophet Muhammad – The Benefactor of Humanity

If grandeur of design, pettiness of means and immensity of results, be the three measures of human genius, who could dare to compare any great men with Mohammed? Head of the State as well as of the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar. If ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports.

Every philosopher or reformer who has influenced the world came from a privileged family or a prosperous civilisation. Prophet Muhammad was, in this regard, unique. He was born among the Bedouin tribes of Arabia, in a region ignored by all the great empires and civilisations. His only advantage was that he lived in the full light of recorded history. Born to Abdullah and Aamena, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was orphaned at the age of 4 years. Thereafter he lived with his grandfather Abdul Mutallib, who was a highly respected tribal leader in Mecca, a first among equals. The only matter of pride for the Prophet was a respectable lineage and a noble character. He was the most trustworthy person in Mecca, even among his adversaries. When all the great civilisations had sunk into the Dark Ages, he gave the humanity a universal message that raised a golden civilisation of scientific discoveries, technological inventions, medical and philosophical revolutions, multicultural coexistence and marvellous arts. Continue reading Prophet Muhammad – The Benefactor of Humanity

Islam and the West

A speech by HRH Charles George, The Prince of Wales, at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford on 27th October 1993

Ladies and gentlemen, it was suggested to me when I first began to consider the subject of this lecture, that I should take comfort from the Arab proverb, ‘In every head there is some wisdom’. I confess that I have few qualifications as a scholar to justify my presence here, in this theatre, where so many people much more learned than I have preached and generally advanced the sum of human knowledge. I might feel more prepared if I were an offspring of your distinguished University, rather than a product of that ‘Technical College of the Fens’ – though I hope you will bear in mind that a chair of Arabic was established in 17th century Cambridge a full four years before your first chair of Arabic at Oxford.

Unlike many of you, I am not an expert on Islam – though I am delighted, for reasons which I hope will become clear, to be a Patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. The Centre has the potential to be an important and exciting vehicle for promoting and improving understanding of the Islamic world in Britain, and one which I hope will earn its place alongside other centres of Islamic study in Oxford, like the Oriental Institute and the Middle East Centre, as an institution of which the University, and scholars more widely, will become justly proud.

Given all the reservations I have about venturing into a complex and controversial field, you may well ask why I am here in this marvellous Wren building talking to you on the subject of Islam and the West. The reason is, ladies and gentlemen, that I believe wholeheartedly that the links between these two worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live and work together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater. At the same time I am only too well aware of the minefields which lie across the path of the inexpert traveller who is bent on exploring this difficult route. Some of what I shall say will undoubtedly provoke disagreement, criticism, misunderstanding and, knowing my luck, probably worse. But perhaps, when all is said and done, it is worth recalling another Arab proverb: ‘What comes from the lips reaches the ears. What comes from the heart reaches the heart.’

The depressing fact is that, despite the advances in technology and mass communication of the second half of the 20th century, despite mass travel, the intermingling of races, the ever-growing reduction – or so we believe – of the mysteries of our world, misunderstandings between Islam and the West continue. Indeed, they may be growing. As far as the West is concerned, this cannot be because of ignorance. There are one billion Muslims worldwide. Many millions of them live in countries of the Commonwealth. Ten million or more of them live in the West, and around one million here in Britain. Our own Islamic community has been growing and flourishing for decades. There are nearly 500 mosques in Britain. Popular interest in Islamic culture in Britain is growing fast. Many of you will recall – and I think some of you took part in – the wonderful Festival of Islam which Her Majesty The Queen opened in 1976. Islam is all around us. And yet distrust, even fear, persist. Continue reading Islam and the West

Knowledge, Education & Wisdom: Maladies and Remedies

Superior intelligence is the only human ability that enables us to overcome all other species. We use our intelligence to gain knowledge of all the living and non-living things in the world around us. As we gain more knowledge we also develop wisdom that guides us to carefully use the power that comes with knowledge. These are the only trait that sets humans apart from all the other living beings and allows us to tame the most ferocious beasts and make medicines from snake venom.

A very important advantage we humans have is the capability of beliefs and opinions; animals are only capable of emotions and intuition. As we acquire wisdom, we understand that our lives are temporary and everything changes with time. Our health and abilities, possessions and power will cease to exist sooner or later. Governments, cultures and civilisations will rise and fall over time just as the great civilisations of Indus and Nile have long disappeared. But the only thing that continues to flourish and pass from one generation to other, from one civilisation to other is knowledge. For example, the people who first invented the wheel are now in complete oblivion, but wheels are used every day in bullock carts, the smallest toys as well as the largest power stations.

Knowledge, unlike myths, cannot be fabricated but only acquired after careful study. Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have tried to organise and acquire more knowledge and impart it with discipline. The ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia had scribal schools about 5,000 years ago which trained children during the day. Education is perhaps the greatest utility in history that mankind has been developing continuously. Peaceful societies cannot exist without good education and a country that patronises scholars and reformers will eventually reach its zenith. The Supreme Court of India had observed in September 2012 that democracy, though cannot be flawless, depends for its very life on a high standard of general, vocational and professional education. “Dissemination of learning with search for new knowledge with discipline must be maintained at all costs”, said the apex bench.

After fighting two devastating world wars, the great powers of the world realised that mere political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was thus created in 1945, to build networks among nations that promote knowledge, build intercultural understanding and pursue international cooperation. “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.”

Good quality education, however, has mostly remained a privilege of the dominant classes, since it requires well qualified and methodically trained teachers. It is therefore the greatest necessity of mankind to educate the coming generations besides fostering such moral values and intellectual growth in society which will enable better access to good education. The most important uses of education are building a sound intellectual environment, fostering social and cultural values and equipping youngsters with disciplined knowledge to achieve a just and sustainable development for society.

Education in schools and colleges is not for memorising certain disjointed pieces of information, concepts and methods. Education is to unleash the best intellect and aptitudes in humans, and train those abilities in a manner that can be best utilised for the welfare of society simultaneously giving a wholesome satisfaction to the individual. The success of education lies in its ethical energy to coordinate all aspects of human life, instead of compartmentalising them, and in the integration and upliftment of all sections of the society. Education would remain only an administrative or economic tool if remains a prerogative of the mainstream and privileged classes.

Education in India

Education in the sense of learning is undoubtedly a life-long process, both individually and collectively. Both formal and cultural education in India still have a long way to go. While it’s a well known fact that no Indian citizen has won a Nobel Prize in science or literature after 1930, other indicators are quite depressing. The reader might be surprised to learn some bleak realities of education in India. The following passage can be potentially disturbing, reader’s discretion is advised.

  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) publishes rankings of countries based on an indicator called Human Development Index (HDI). It’s a summary measure of three key aspects of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. Unfortunately in this arena, India is behind some countries struck by civil wars like Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Sri Lanka and Lebanon. India is a member country of international associations like G20 and BRICS. Except India, all developing members of the two associations like China, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Turkey and Indonesia belong to a different league of High Human Development. India is slightly ahead of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the three neighbours have Medium Human Development.
  • The Times Higher Education Rankings are published every year by an independent audit, in which Indian universities show abysmal performance. In the 2016-17 rankings, 19 out of top 20 universities are British or American. There are 2 Chinese universities in top 35 and 3 from Hong Kong in top 80 (Hong Kong is a Chinese province). But there is not a single Indian university in the top 200 ranks. Indian media however projected it as some kind of a victory deserving praise.

Domestic statistics perhaps give some insights to understand the cause of such an abysmal situation.

  • Due to the ever increasing costs of academic education, less than 12% Indians have completed matriculation and about 5.6% have completed graduation.
  • In September 2015, over 23 lakh candidates, including 2.22 lakh engineers and 255 Ph.D. holders besides thousands of M.Com., M.Sc. and M.A. holders had applied for 368 peon positions in the Uttar Pradesh State Secretariat.
  • This is in sharp contrast to the fact that the Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Council had invited applications to recruit 6,645 Assistant Teachers a year before. Over 10 lakh posts of teachers are lying vacant in India today.
  • About one-third of faculty positions in central universities are lying vacant. More than 53% positions of associate professors are vacant and most universities rely on ad-hoc, contractual and guest faculty.
  • Only 20% of all the engineering graduates in India are employable.
  • Over 4,400 students had dropped out of the prestigious IITs and NITs between 2012 and 2015.
  • IIT Bombay, Delhi and Kharagpur have over 33% shortage of staff.
  • India registered 8,048 student suicides across the country in 2014, with the highest cases in Maharashtra which also has a lead in farmers’ suicide and wine production.

The purpose of this assessment is not to express cynicism towards the educational system and policy makers but to take an un-romanticised account of the situation and contemplate some holistic solutions and reforms.

Perhaps one of the reasons for such abysmal education standards in India is the budget that the government allots for the education of its people. India is among the few countries that dedicate less than 4% of its GDP to education. Again, India spends the least fraction among G20 and BRICS countries on education. Brazil and South Africa, despite smaller populations and economies than India, spend more than 5.5% of their GDP on education. Scandinavian countries, known for their excellent education and HDI, spend more than 7% GDP on education.

Eventually, academic education remains substandard in India and youngsters are left unemployable. The problems of education are endemic and are entrenched in our socio-economic system. Dr. Craig Jeffrey, a former Professor at Oxford University is the Director of the Australia India Institute, Melbourne, Australia. In his book titled Time pass: Youth, Class and the Politics of Waiting in India, he calls Indian education as a ‘time pass’ for the idle middle class youth who are unable to get a decent job on the basis of their degrees. They take admission in a variety of courses for ‘killing time’ and look for a jugaad to get a government job.

In a society where teachers, parents and media perpetuate a notion that possessions and influence precede happiness, the primary purpose of the education system seems contradictory. Instead of sensitising virtues, cultivating intelligence and wisdom, the agenda of education becomes the creation of knowledgeable workers for a ‘service system’ and a citizenry that is socially passive and intellectually mediocre. In this framework, the pedagogic enterprise is to prepare human capital for the labour market and the central thrust of educational policy is to supply labour for industry and the free market.

As a result of this approach to education, hundreds of private schools and colleges have cropped up in the past 15 years which provide better education at exorbitant prices. Education is becoming privatised which is just one aspect of an increasing socio-economic segregation in India. It is a part of an entire privatisation system which includes housing, healthcare, security, electricity and an ever narrowing journalism.

The neoliberal lobbies propose better quality of education through free market policies. They promote corporatisation to evolve elite institutions that mostly serve the upper classes. They foster competition amongst students and between institutions. Neoconservative policies, as if to complement these efforts, attempt to shape the personality of students and teachers so that they become susceptible to the propaganda of the dominant social classes. The result is that mass education is turned into a commodity akin to fixed deposits or insurance policies, under which lower classes receive humble packages of education and upper classes receive premium deals. Education now serves as a sophisticated and pernicious tool to perpetuate social and economic stratification.

No wonder, even with all these educational problems prevailing, privileged Indian candidates do exceptionally well in Ivy League universities and multi-national corporations. The present education system thus promotes a self-perpetuating class system where the children of the rich mostly go on to rule over the children of the poor. Education thus defeats its very purpose of fostering social mobility and justice and goes into maintaining inequality in society.

Educators and policy makers, therefore, ought to understand that the success of education does not consist in the acquisition of a great amount of material knowledge to be used for a life-exhausting career or amassing wealth through complex schemes of consumerism, exploitation and expansionism. Nor does it consist in the enthusiasts’ indulging in arts, aesthetics and addictions or the elites spending their wealth on luxurious mansions and aesthetical decorations, even as the living conditions of the public are deteriorating and man-made floods and droughts are on the rise.

A great problem of some education systems is that they tend to fit the world to their skewed perceptions based on limited knowledge, instead of being open to new perceptions and understanding the stupendous world better. As the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “It seems surprising at first, but is nonetheless certain, that our reason does not draw its conclusions from nature, but prescribes them to it.”

The problems of education seem similar in developed countries, and sooner or later will also affect the privileged classes. Robert Putnam, a Harvard Professor of Public Policy, published a book titled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis in March 2015. The book presents ground-breaking research on the decline of social mobility in the United States over the past 50 years. Putnam finds an alarming “opportunity gap” in the American education system and warns that the United States could soon cease to be a “land of opportunities”. Independent incidences have also revealed a racial bias in the curricula and examinations of America’s most prestigious schools. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a commonly used exam for college admissions in USA and many other countries, tends to be biased against Black and Hispanic candidates while most universities in USA clearly show racial and economic marginalisation. John Goldthorpe, an eminent sociologist in the United Kingdom, warns of a new situation emerging in Britain. He says young people entering the labour market today are far unlikely to move up economically than their parents did. He appeals to radical changes in educational policy besides a whole new range of economic and social policies.

The first step towards solving a crucial problem is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its various facets. The union government in India has taken many initiatives like National Curriculum Frameworks by NCERT, National Policy on Education (1986), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (2000), Midday Meal Scheme, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 and many others by state governments. The syllabi of National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) books are also designed in order to discourage rote learning or confining studies to the prescribed textbook, erasing compartmentalisation of subjects, and to encourage children to reflect on their own learning. There are a few “islands of excellence” where some schools and educational societies have shown impressive results.

All the above efforts, though encouraging, lack a proper implementation with a wholesome approach. The Indian Republic is still far from achieving the Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution, like

  • “to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” (Article 45)
  • “the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment” (Article 39(c))
  • “promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” (Article 46)

Good education and opportunity to undergraduate courses is still a privilege of less than 5.6% Indians. It is therefore indispensably urgent to rethink education and revive the system with a comprehensive outlook.

information-knowledge-wisdom

Rethinking Education

From the crudest words uttered by a toddler to the most enlightening words spoken by a luminary, every form of communication has a purpose. The purpose of any action determines its real worth and its results. If education determines the future of society and democracy, it too must have a lofty purpose with far-reaching motives. An education system therefore, if designed merely to provide employment or serve the state’s workforce requirements, would fail its purpose. It would be great injustice to the populace who pay taxes and trust the government and intellectual classes with managing school and university curricula.

There are some ideas about formal institutional education that are well accepted in academic and intellectual circles, viz. education is supposed to encourage the students to analyse and evaluate their experiences, to doubt, to question, to investigate, to be inquisitive and to think independently. New and unfamiliar experiences must enable us to question our old ways of thinking. Education must enable the learner to analyse preconceived notions, formulate new concepts and new ways of looking at the world and life. Natural growth of human rationality must be promoted and give the young mind enough courage to challenge established norms.

But education, time and again, tends to become overladen with inert ideas. Education with inert ideas is extremely harmful; it causes corruption of the best minds. Except at rare intervals of social or intellectual ferment, education becomes radically infected with inert ideas and stifles the growth of the very human traits that it verbally states to revive. It must therefore, be the primary and perpetual purpose of education, no matter how brilliant it is, to guard itself from inert ideas which lead to the corrosion of intellect.

The great American reformer Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in one of his speeches on the purpose of education. He said that education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, King said, is to enable intensive and critical thinking. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but bad morals. We must remember that intelligence alone is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. A thief with a gun may rob a bank, but a thief with knowledge and intelligence can rob a stock exchange.

An essential purpose of education must hence be, to pre-empt the development of such thieves and imbue them with morals since childhood so that robbery becomes a rare phenomenon. Only then “a complete education would give not only the power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate”, King said. As the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras had said, “Educate the children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men”. If education and economic class remain the only differences between a pickpocket and Vijay Mallya or Bernard Madoff then the purpose of education remains unfulfilled. Societies, as in USA, will inevitably idolise Britney Spears and be brainwashed by intellectuals like Thomas Friedman, Bernard Lewis, Christopher Hitchens, besides mainstream media, who endorse neoliberalism or all the invasions and manipulations in the Middle East.

Life, in all its manifestations, is complicated and everyone must have the character and sense of moral purpose to succeed. The high standards of academic rigour and professional training are already being threatened with vice, dishonesty and prejudice. This in turn is worsening the long malignant cancer of corruption in every social domain. Corruption of state agencies and private businesses is not just an economic or administrative problem but the direct result of the moral and social corruption that plagues society. Character development, honesty and ethos must therefore be the urgent and indispensable aspects of the education system.

John Dewey, an American philosopher and educational reformer, strongly advocated that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. The purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. Dewey said that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform.

Education must enable graduates to acquire an eagle eye’s view of the environment in which they live. When college undergraduates look at poor people around, they must possess the insight that poverty is perhaps caused by some kind of inequality in society and mostly affects those who suffer from insecure work and low income, which may also affect their social life, personal health and individual psyche. If the educated class think that poverty exists because some people are lazy workers, come from ‘problem families’ and cannot budget properly because they suffer from low intelligence, then we know that education has largely failed. The educated class, then, has acquired skills but has neither acquired wisdom nor cultivated intelligence. Education must engage the human mind with enough enthusiasm for self and social reform, and cure the human fixations of possessions, power, fame and addictions.

René Descartes, considered to be the father of modern philosophy and mathematics, held that learning is a personal quest comprised of external worldly experiences and internal ponderings. It is very important to gain knowledge through questioning supposed truths, and this “enlightenment of cognition” is individual and personal. Students can generate new knowledge by engaging with the information passed on to them by their elders. It is therefore essential for school education to arouse and cultivate curiosity in students’ minds. There can be no mental development or intellectual progress unless the pupils are continually sustained by the evocation of interest, the acquirement of technique, and the excitement of success. The young mind will otherwise consider education as a burden.

Formal and general education must be well articulated so that every individual naturally approaches their inherent and unique aptitude. Humans can work most effectively when their thoughts, beliefs and actions are in tandem. The natural passion of the individual must go along with his everyday toil, only then can every person give his best performance. Education must facilitate students to discover their aptitude and build the right attitude to fully harness that aptitude. Universities have to serve as a connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old.

A robust working class and a thriving economy can be realised only by producing workmen and employers who enjoy their work. For example, it is impossible that a person, who has the talent of a teacher but ends up as a factory supervisor, will produce a large output of first-class work, however skilful his hands. He will inevitably limit his production, scamp his work, and be adept at evading inspection; he will be slow in adapting himself to new methods, be a focus of discontent, full of impractical ideas with no apprehension of the real working of trade conditions. If society is full of such anomalies of individuals, then it will deserve only inefficient organisations, haywire administration and demagogic leaders.

Wholesome Education

An important reason for such mismatches of talent and jobs is the upbringing of the young generation. Many parents do not raise their children to bring up a responsible citizen who intends to develop the community and society, but to produce youth who are professionally successful and can maintain if not raise the family’s financial status. The ideal of such parents is to purchase luxuries and flaunt their family before the community; very much like the farmer who fantasies a golden egg laying goose. Pressure is placed on students to take multiple advanced classes, participate in resume building extra-curricular activities, get super-high grades, and be admitted to prestigious universities.

Such upbringing of students can produce extraordinary stress in youngsters and create a mental health crisis in the community. Higher education, in such societies, is then reduced to a cultural exercise; you take a course because your community is taking it. Education and especially an undergraduate course then, is not a personal passion or inner conviction of the student but a dream of their family. The student who is taking the course has no idea about how the course will benefit him personally, morally or socially. If this is the prevalent purpose of education in a society then not only will the youth comprise of lethargic and under-qualified manpower but consumerism and social disparities will also prosper. Peace and solace will remain utopian dreams.

Wholesome development of students is of prime importance. In 2015, an American Superintendent of Schools of a high-achieving New Jersey school district located near Princeton University sent a letter to parents, stressing the urgent necessity of developing a “whole child”. In the year 2014-15, 120 middle and high school students from the district were recommended for mental health assessments; 40 were hospitalized. On a survey administered by the district, students wrote things like, “I hate going to school,” and “coming out of 12 years in this district, I have learned one thing: that a grade, a percentage or even a point is to be valued over anything else.”

Most students are too naïve to comprehend that they are lunging headlong into a purposeless maze. This is because they are told by their parents and teachers to confine their study just to the prescribed textbooks, which is especially true in the Indian subcontinent. Instead, students must be consistently encouraged to learn from a diversity of sources. The prescribed textbook is just a bare minimum necessity, it’s not at all sufficient to develop the personalities of future citizenry. Periodic assessments must be designed around judging and rewarding the students’ abilities to learn from such non-prescribed sources. Extra-curricular activities, besides reading literature, newspapers and encyclopaedias, scouts and guides, visiting museums and industries and going on excursions must be fully integrated with the mainstream textbook learning, all getting equal attention from the Boards of Education. Secondary level assessments by these educational boards must fully embrace the ‘peripheral’ education and give equal weightage as the state or nationally standardised exams. All knowledge is interconnected and wisdom comes by exploring those connections. This should be the guiding principle of every educational board. Knowledge will then be treated as a vast network of information, concepts and ideas instead of a concatenated string of uninteresting concepts.

Of course, these upgradations would certainly require a much better educational infrastructure, which is why the government must plan larger budgets for education, as do South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and other countries with better HDI. Otherwise, the Indian workforce will continue to be mediocre and passive and unemployment will remain persistent.

Contrary to a popularised notion, religion is not necessarily a hurdle in the process of scientific enquiry or modern education; the hurdle is rather ritualism or twisted doctrines. The greatest luminaries of modern philosophy, science, mathematics and education like Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas and Isaac Newton had strong beliefs in God. Abdus Salam, a Nobel laureate, was a pioneering proponent of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which seeks to explain matter and energy in the universe. As he spoke at the Nobel Banquet in 1979, he quoted from the Qur’an, “You will see no imperfection in the creations of the Merciful (God). Turn your vision again, can you see any flaw? Then turn your vision again, and then again; in the end your vision will return to you, worn out and frustrated !”. (The Dominion, 67:3-4). The Standard Model, though very successful, can explain only 4% of the known universe. The first Education Minister of independent India was an Islamic scholar named Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He played a crucial role in India’s freedom struggle and founded India’s premier institutions like the University Grants Commission (UGC), Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) etc. Maulana Azad worked together with Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was also a great scholar of religion and philosophy. Both had presided over the UNESCO General Conferences in 1952, 1953 and 1956.

Technical vs Socio-Cultural Orientations

Education becomes effective if it is an integral part of the students’ culture. However, the prevalent culture in India is many times in conflict with the modern ideals of education system. On the one hand, most Indian students do realise that academic learning encourages them to challenge old ways and formulate better ones. But on the other hand, their elders at home often force them to adhere to the culture of their elders and even arrogate unconditional obeisance. Elders want their children to attend school but not bring their learning to home. Such a culture also discourages the students from taking seriously the values taught in the curricula.

Greater the gap between education and culture, greater will be the ‘generation gap’ which may also create a ‘class conflict’ or a conflict of cultures; since certain sections of the newer generation are increasingly exposed to ideas and knowledge that might be foreign or contradictory to the prevalent culture. In such a situation, it becomes the greatest challenge of educators to disperse reformist ideas in much faster and wiser ways. Since the middle-aged generation can no longer be directly educated, but continues to steer society, young generation has to be imparted with vast and superior knowledge which will enable them to reform the archaic culture at home while minimising the friction with their elders. It would be extremely beneficial in this regard if the elders are also exposed to progressive ideas through various kinds of media. Looking at the kind of soap operas and news channels broadcast on television today, it’s very clear that this social education, which must complement the academic education, is dreadful. Very few programmes like Satyamev Jayate are broadcast, because some media houses are scornful of awareness campaigns which focus on real issues.

Owing to a market oriented education system, the syllabus is inclined towards technical education. Perhaps because many people favour employment in the industrial and service sectors, topics such as quadratic equations, analytical geometry, metallurgy etc. are also taught in 9th and 10th classes. However, as fewer than 30% graduates in India are engineers, most Indian graduates will never use these concepts in their vocational lives. On the other hand, a majority of Indian graduates including engineers, doctors and managers, are unaware or callous of the crucial socio-cultural maladies and environmental degradation. In such a situation, it would be much better to reduce the emphasis on the purely technical topics, like polynomials and atomic structure, from secondary school education and advance the subjects of social studies and languages. Only those technical topics may be retained which serve to impart familiarity with abstract thought, its application to particular concrete circumstances, and the general methods of logical investigation.

If we can abandon the unnecessary habit of cramming young minds with recondite theorems which they do not understand, and will never use, there will be plenty of time to concentrate on really important topics. Literature and social studies go a long way in imparting moral and cultural education. It can also restore the balance of education between market orientation and society orientation. There can be no prospect of industrial peace with environment so long as the elite and working classes are engaged in a soulless operation of extracting money from the public. The policy makers and the people at large have to abandon the false hope of remediating social inequalities with technology-boosted markets.

Another improvement would be to scrap the “no detention policy” in primary classes, which is a way to whitewash the shortcomings of undertrained teachers, poor teaching practices and infrastructure. The results, as observed in the past few years, are undereducated pupils. For example, students of secondary classes sometimes struggle to answer basic questions or solve mathematical problems of primary classes.

A very controversial issue is the caste reservations in educational institutions. On the one hand it is perhaps the only hope for the discriminated classes to catch up with the mainstream working class and thought process, while on the other hand it can compromise the proficiency and skill of the working class. If the government and educational societies can provide special tuition and coaching of remarkable quality within the premises of institutions under a legal framework (like midday meals scheme), then social equality, justice and work quality may be achieved simultaneously. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has chalked out a scheme on these lines but it needs much more maturity, organisation and a full-fledged implementation. If the weaker sections successfully catch up with the mainstream, reservations can then be gradually done away with. Such methods can also be beneficial in districts (such as in North-eastern states) or countries (like USA) with ethnic discriminations.

Finally, it is the responsibility of educators, academics and intellectuals to step out of their closed circles and actively engage with the public; diffuse the truth and expose lies. They are the only class in society that can effectively keep the public policies and journalism from becoming narrow and discriminatory. They are also the backbone of the educational system that requires several reforms and upgradations. If they fail, or remain passive, then they will inevitably be ruled by demagogic leaders and inefficient bureaucrats; since the responsibility of intellectuals and the ultimate goal of education is to perpetuate wisdom and cultivate a society that acts on beliefs, opinions and understanding but not on emotions or intuition.

good academic writing – what’s your list?

patter

I asked people in one of my Australian writing workshops to tell me what they thought was essential in good academic writing. The purpose of the activity was to generate criteria that participants could use to steer their own writing. The list was not meant to be an evaluative rubric, something that could be used to assess distance from the ideal. No, the list was an expression of aspirations.

So here is the list that the workshop participants produced – with just a bit of editing from me.

The text is written clearly – complex ideas are explained and difficult terms are defined – the content is accessible to the reader. Even when concepts and theories are obscure, complex or difficult, they are not overcomplicated, but made comprehensible.

The text is well organized – it is clearly structured so that you know where you are in the argument.

The text…

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Zakir Naik Media Trial: Defamation aka Journalism

Indian media has an uncanny habit. It gets obsessed with certain issues and controversies for a short time that last less than a fortnight. Trivial news items and discussions are blown out of proportion and important ones left out. Issues related to politics and ideology do usually eclipse the issues useful to general society. Eventually, the everyday necessity of general awareness is unwittingly ignored. The obvious setback of a controversy-addicted news media is that it cannot quench the hunger of knowledge which leaves the society morally and intellectually malnourished thereby perpetuating social evils besides administrative and economic disorders. This sensationalist attitude of the media, that resembles a cannabis addicted youngster, has left the populace longing for uncontaminated food, water and unpolluted air. A generation has grown up that doesn’t remember the taste of delicious mangoes and can hardly see a locality with families of different communities living as neighbours.

Media’s Crusade Against the Islamic Preacher

The recent controversy around Dr. Zakir Naik, an Islamic preacher, was one such pill, carefully administered by a fascist lobby. The controversy began with a cunning report. The Daily Star, the leading newspaper in Bangladesh published a story about the terrorist attack in Dhaka. It reported that the gunmen who killed 22 people at a café in the Bangladeshi capital had posted some of Dr. Naik’s ideas on social media. This news was then reported by the Indian Express, Times Now and NDTV on July 5 and in Scroll which further added that the controversial preacher is banned in UK, Canada and Malaysia.

Dr. Zakir Naik responded by uploading a video on his YouTube and Twitter blogs on July 8 in which he exposed the lies of these media houses. The Islamic preacher was never banned in Canada or Malaysia but was actually honoured with the Tokoh Ma’al Hijrah Award for Distinguished International Personality in 2013 by the King of Malaysia, which is Malaysia’s highest civilian award.

The Daily Star then quickly removed the news page from its website and published another one clarifying that it stands corrected and expressed protest against the misunderstanding. Though media outlets had reported that the responsibility for the Dhaka attack was claimed by the misattributed Islamic State (ISIS), the Bangladesh government’s investigation shows otherwise.

Zakir Naik Media Trial

Since then, all the media agencies have been running a smear campaign against this soft-spoken preacher who is a household name for millions of Muslims around the world. Besides being given highest national honours by the heads of states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Gambia, Zakir Naik is also the founder of the Peace TV network, available free-to-air in 200 countries and has a total viewership of over 200 million. This makes Peace TV the largest religious TV network in the world, which is uplinked to satellite from United Kingdom and UAE. Dr. Naik has shared stages with lawyers, journalists, bureaucrats, judges, politicians, Bollywood personalities and religious leaders including the famous Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But all the media outlets have published guile reports to falsely associate Zakir Naik with Wahhabi extremists while none of them have reported in the recent days about his public dialogue with Ravi Shankar in 2006. This is because Dr. Naik had exposed the spiritual guru’s supremacist views in his erroneous book on Hinduism and Islam which was published after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Zakir Naik’s Peace TV does not have a cable licence in India, so cable operators are prohibited from relaying it. But like the thousands of channels available around the world, it can be viewed using a private antenna, which is not prohibited. As of now, Bangladesh has banned the Peace TV on cable, but private viewing is still permitted. Dr. Naik, as usual, is on a foreign tour holding peace conferences and other events.

Liberalism – Slander Journalism

Mainstream media and politics are distant cousins. Media outlets have the tendency to flirt with political/ideological sides and become a narrow pool of like-minded journalists who gradually lose the touch of reality and public opinion. This is why many leading news agencies gave terribly wrong analyses on the popularity of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump.

Among the most misleading criticisms published by such journalists was by Saba Naqvi in the Times of India on July 9 calling him a “preacher from hell”. An essay of not more than 700 words, Naqvi has written 10 blatant lies about Zakir Naik, terrorism, sectarianism, current affairs and history. Naqvi seems to believe that Islam is nothing more than a cultural identity, which is exactly the narrative of Sangh Parivar. Shekhar Gupta, who had interviewed Dr. Naik on NDTV, writes that Zakir Naik is a “dangerous misinterpreter of maladies” and promoted religious fundamentalism. Ironically, Gupta has neither studied religion nor geopolitics. In fact, Shekhar Gupta and Saba Naqvi have hardly ever studied or reported the complexities of theology, religion, geopolitics or terrorism. TV channels, as usual, got their choicest pseudo-intellectual critics who are obsessed with maligning certain Islamic Schools of Thought.

Mainstream media can easily support the opinions of a Bangladeshi or Pakistani exile to criticise Islam but cannot understand the swarm of Islamic scholars and Muslim intellectuals who preach Islam and build communal harmony.

Liberalism, therefore, is emerging as a fanatic ideology whose supporters would resort to all kinds of sinister methods and lies when faced with a formidable challenge. All the constraints of journalistic professionalism, objectivity, integrity and fact checking are candidly broken. Character assassination is also a card to be played lest all the other methods fail. This is when mainstream journalism turns into toxic propaganda. Social Media channels too, that are otherwise liberal and fairly objective, have shown their talent of misinterpreting Zakir Naik’s talks. This kind of attitude that conceals and belies the truth is referred to in Arabic as ‘kufr’ and a person who does this consistently is called a Kaafir (which by the way is a word of secular and pre-Islamic origins). Everyone in this world who tries to reform the society goes through such trials.

Zakir Naik, Wahhabism and the Middle East

Contrary to Arnab Goswami’s defamation, Zakir Naik frequently condemns terrorism and violence by quoting the Qur’anic verse in his programmes, “… whoever kills anyone, unless for murder or spreading corruption in land, it is as if he has killed the whole mankind. And if he saves anyone then it’s like saving all the people” (The Table Spread, 5:32) But none of the news or opinion platforms, whether print, electronic or online have mentioned it anywhere. Anyone who watches Dr. Naik’s programmes in their unedited entirety knows that the preacher is all against violence and has been actively promoting inter-faith dialogue and understanding.

Mahatma Gandhi had said that all religions proceed from the same God but are all imperfect because they have come down to us through imperfect human instrumentality. Dr. Zakir Naik, therefore, holds public gatherings for free, to present a practical path that is free from human manipulations. He commands respect from several Muslim and non-Muslim guests who thank him for opening their eyes to brightness and clarity.

Almost every media house, of late, has been associating the Mumbai based preacher with Wahhabism which they consider to be an extremist Islamist ideology. Bewitched by a habit of naively buying the narrative of Western lobbies, almost every Indian media agency is propagating the notion that neo-Wahhabism (known as Salafism) is the cause of global terrorism. Salafism, in reality, is just a theo-jurisprudential School of Islamic Thought that emerged in the twentieth century. Ironically, articles in the print media criticising Salafism are never written by anyone who is a proper cleric from a madrasa or at least has a master’s degree in Islamic Studies from a university. All of them are poets, writers, historians or at best professors of cultural studies.

Contrary to the media portrayal, Salafism is a very broad creed and is not synonymous with the Saudi Wahhabism. It has gone through many changes and bifurcations since its founding by Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab in the eighteenth century in the Najd region of Arabia. Salafism traces its legacy to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 14th century CE) and the Ash’ari School of Islamic theology. It emphasises a pure and pristine monotheism (Tauheed) based on Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition (Sunnah). Similar to other revivalist movements around the Muslim world, it opposes superstition, hero worship, grave reverence, extravagant celebrations, the transactional nature of religion which accumulates wealth by exploiting the ignorance of laymen and blind loyalty to scholars or creeds. Through its influence in the House of Saud it also reunited a fragmenting Muslim world, in the matters of religious jurisprudence (Fiqh), during a declining Ottoman Empire.

The famous School of Deoband in India is closer to Salafi jurisprudence, and also opposes extravagance and grave reverence. Interestingly, the most respected Salafist scholars drew inspiration from an Indian Sufi luminary named Shah Waliullah Dehalwi, who was a contemporary of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Salafism therefore, like Buddhism, Sufism or Marxism is far from a monolithic creed. Noted Salafi scholar Dr. Yasir Qadhi, who studied under the most influential Salafi scholars, has listed seven strands diverging from Salafism. Six of them are concerned only with theological and jurisprudential issues and the seventh strand – the terrorist one – has emerged only in the late 1990s. Ironically, the very word ‘salafi’ was popularised by a scholar named Rashid Rida whose views differ widely from the contemporary mainstream Salafism.

Several Salafist scholars have denounced and condemned terrorism as much as military aggressions in the past few decades. Dr. Yasir Qadhi, besides many others, who graduated from the Islamic University of Medina, has repeatedly condemned terrorism and also criticised the Saudi regime for its indifference towards the Syrian refugee crisis. Some scholars like Yusuf Qardhawi, who condemn the 9/11 attacks, opine that suicide terrorism may be allowed by a military commander when a country is besieged and extreme conditions like those in Palestine prevail.

Most critics of the misattributed Islamist terrorism don’t know that Palestine is a centrepiece territory in the Middle East and has been occupied since about 100 years. Some prominent terrorist organisations in Palestine are Communist groups founded by Christians. More than 9 million Palestinians live under horrible conditions like refugee camps, military occupation, economic suffocation, systematic deprivation and poisoning of water bodies to name a few.

Terrorism is Not a Muslim Monopoly

This explains why terrorism by a fringe of radical Muslims has emerged only since the 1980s while Wahhabism is about 250 years old. In fact, suicide terrorism, before the Iraq War 2003, was dominated by the LTTE of Sri Lanka which is now a defunct Hindu Communist organisation. Hezbollah, a Shia group in Lebanon resorted to terrorism after the Israeli invasion in 1982. Indira Gandhi was assassinated when she ordered the violent removal of Khalistani (Sikh) terrorists from Harminder Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar. Taliban, which subscribes to Deoband School in India and emerged only to reconcile the tribal infightings in Afghanistan, had not employed terrorism before the American invasion in 2001. They were actually supported by CIA against the Soviets and Hollywood had dedicated the movie Rambo III to Mujahedeen of Afghanistan. The assassin of Governor Salman Taseer of the Punjab province in Pakistan was eulogised by the largest Sufi School.

Terrorism, therefore, is neither a monopoly of Muslims nor Wahhabism. It is always, without exception, a desperate reaction to military aggression by a foreign or a mainland government. Presence of a ‘conflict zone’ or excessive ‘military intervention’ is always the cause of terrorism. Religious fundamentalism is hardly the cause. The above explanation is not a justification for terrorism but an empirical cause of its rise, understood through several years of academic research. Two wrongs, of course, do not make a right. It only aggravates the problem.

The Ulterior Motives

When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was preaching in Mecca and nothing seemed to stop the spread of Islam, some Meccan chieftains offered reconciliation to him. They promised to make him the king if he could accept only a few aspects of their paganism, if not all. In our times, a prominent leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had once said to his karsevaks that the only problem between Hindus and Muslims is about the mode of practices and rituals. If Muslims, he said, can understand that there isn’t much difference between qawwali and bhajan or between idol worship and grave worship, then all differences would disappear.

Dr. Zakir Naik, along with the mainstream Schools of Islamic Thought outrightly rejects both qawwali and grave worship as infringements to Sharia (as a result of monotheism). But mainstream media believes that non-clerical and non-practising Muslims are the proper representatives of Islam and Sharia, just because they are rich or famous. This is a grave logical flaw and can be very dangerous if similarly applied to extremists, who can also acquire riches and fame (though bad fame).

The Portuguese imperialists, in Sri Lanka, had used the divide and rule policy to weaken the Buddhists and Hindus, even as both the belief systems are based on Dharma, Karma and Moksha. In a similar move today, fascist divisive forces in India are working to weaken the Muslims along sectarian lines, even as they all believe in Monotheism, Prophethood and Final Judgement. These are the fanatics who judge people’s right to citizenship by the religion of their ancestors.

Suggestions

If India is to flourish as a great land of peace and prosperity, then the government and media should refrain from targeting sections of the society. The police and intelligence agencies must stop the policy of making scapegoats to conceal their inefficiency of catching the real culprits. Journalists of different inclinations need to strengthen their integrity and learn to acknowledge and tolerate the conflicting religious views instead of ignoring them and lobbying a majoritarianist approach. Indian journalists and scholars need to independently report and analyse international affairs instead of copy-pasting articles (and geopolitical narrative) from Western media. Until that happens, the best Indian talent will continue to migrate away from the misinformed lot, only to be later appeased by a demagogic leader at the Madison Square Garden.

What is a Kafir? The Confusion in English Regarding the Quranic Use of the Word ‘Kafir’

Abdullah al Andalusi

One of the common confusions regarding the understanding of Islam in the English language, is namely the use of the Arabic word ‘Kafir’. The problem has arisen because some Muslims and (most) non-Muslims lack understanding of Quranic idiom and confuse and misunderstand how the Quran contains recurring Arabic words that have different meanings in different places despite being the same word.

Islamophobes like to capitalise on this by falsely accusing Muslims using the word ‘Kafir’ in its legal sense when referring to people who do not call themselves a Muslim, as ‘using derogatory words for non-Muslims’, and when Muslim theologians discuss the punishment for kuffaar (plural of Kafir) in the hereafter, Islamophobes ignorantly accuse them of ‘condemning all non-Muslims on earth to hell’.

Additionally, some people who are not Arabic speakers nor educated in the nuances of Quranic Arabic get confused when those self same theologians discuss the punishment…

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WATER WARS

Cathy Sultan blog

The issue of water or the lack thereof is an urgent one for many countries in the Middle East. Water-fueled conflicts paint a dark picture of a future without adequate freshwater supplies.

Israel’s voracious consumption and lack of environmental responsibility has turned its water problem into a crisis. To continue its settlement expansion, Israel needs new sources of water, by any means necessary.

For decades, Israel has seen permanent occupation of South Lebanon and continued access to Lebanon’s Litani River as the answer to some of its water problems.

The 170-kilometer-long Litani River, with its 2, 290 square kilometer basin, is located entirely within the borders of Lebanon. The river’s proximity to Israel, a scant four kilometers, makes it very tempting for Israel to exploit.

I document in Tragedy in South Lebanonthat in a 1920 letter to Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann then head of the World…

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