This was presented as a paper at a symposium on Peace Education organised as part of National Conference on Indian Psychology, on 6 February 2011 at the India International Centre.
This piece seeks to underscore the cleavages that exist in our society, explore the foundations upon which the edifice of intolerance has risen and to look at the tools, like education for peace and harmony, with which we try to dismantle this citadel of intolerance.
Peace education, you would agree, cannot be confined merely to teaching the message of Love and brotherhood, our text books have been teaching this message for as long as I remember and my memories of our text books go back, at least to my senior school days in the mid sixties, almost 45 years ago.
If telling students in their classes that we should all love each other because we are all Indians and that we are all equal was enough then we would not have many of the problems that we are confronting today.
Can any of us say with any measure of certainty that those who have been teaching these texts are free of these social biases or that those who have grown up reading these texts are completely purged of the discriminatory ideas that are so much a part of our daily existence? Don’t you remember the teachers who questioned the intelligence of students and suggested that since no one in their family had ever been to a school they too should follow their family traditions, or the teachers who constantly referred to the feeble intelligence of their girl students?
If class lessons were all that was needed to turn us into loving, understanding, peaceful and caring citizens, then all that the secular state had to do was to ensure that every child gets into schools, give them a secular, scientific and modern education and hey presto, all our troubles will be over.
Life unfortunately is not as simple; we live and grow up in a society that thrives on discrimination and hate. How do you explain the role played by educated young people, in their thousands, in the arson and killing of the Sikhs in 1984, or in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, or in 2002 genocide of Muslims in Gujarat. Do you recall the images, flashed on television screens across the nation, a plush sedan, driven by a woman halts in front of a store being looted in Ahmedabad, the woman gets off the car, walks in, grab all she can, deposits the loot in her car and drives off nonchalantly.
Are these youth a product of our Secular Education System or the progeny of the various parallel streams of sectarian, anti-secular, denominational educational networks mushrooming and thriving all over the country. The world view that this parallel system of education propagates has been documented by serious academics for years and we know of the interventions made by this anti-secular, anti modernist world view to remove as much of the secular content from NCERT text books as possible.
I am arguing that this anti-secular, anti modern world view is deeply entrenched in the discourse of a perfect and glorious past that informs the self image that we have created for ourselves, and regardless of what we write in our NCERT text books, eventually it is this self image that is communicated to students, through moral education classes, through parents and other elders’ remarks and through our own conduct.
In our day-to-day conduct we constantly betray our strong casteist, communal, narrow nationalist and jingoist biases. To quote one instance, since we are nowhere in football world rankings, our children support cult teams from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, etc., and no questions are asked, but catch someone supporting the Pakistani cricket team she or he immediately becomes an agent of an enemy nation. How can you support the Pakistani team, aren’t you an Indian? Since when has supporting a player or a team become a test of one’s patriotism, what happened to the constant declarations that sports are a celebration of the human spirit and that they help us rise above narrow loyalties?
And just by the way shouldn’t the millions of UK citizen NRIs supporting the Indian teams in England be charged for extra-territorial loyalties?
I am pointing to a malaise, a malaise so deeply rooted in our psyche, in our social discourse, in our self image, in the very idea of India that we have created that no amount of democratic, secular, humanist, pacifist, messaging is going to overcome our inherent biases.
Unless of course we are ready to lift the carpet and expose every bit of dirt that we have kept hidden for years, for generations. It is what we do not talk about that is the problem.
Do we seriously think about or discuss the values that we are communicating to our children, the mythologies that we have built about the great tolerant traditions of India and the intolerance of all those who we have chosen to identify as the “other” the outsider, the aggressor. We do not discuss these issues because we have created a world of make-believe about who we are and have stopped looking inwards, we do not introspect and do not try to confront the cleavages that are everyday tearing apart our society.
I will give you a few examples as illustrations of what I am driving at.
Once I reached office rather early to finish a note that was urgently required. I had been in office for a while before the cleaning lady arrived, I asked her to do the other rooms first and as she was leaving I asked her to fetch me a glass of water. She froze. Assuming that she will turn around to tell me that it was not her job, I said forget it I will get it myself. Her response was totally along unexpected lines and it shocked me and that’s why I am sharing it with you. She said, ‘of course I’ll get you water, I have been here for 15 years, no one has ever asked me to get them water. This was in Delhi, in the heart of the Capital of a country that banned untouchability in 1950 and this happened in a government office, part of the Human Resource Development Ministry.
A friend of mine, my junior by a year, did his M.Phil and PhD in Adult education and was teaching at Pune University, he was visiting Delhi after many years and came to meet me when he heard that I was a consultant with the National Literacy Mission and this is what he told me.
While working for his M.Phil he used to visit the Directorate of Adult Education (DAE) regularly to collect all literacy material being published by the DAE, the publications officer was a JNU alumni and my friend would drop by, go to his office, collect the material, have a cup of tea with his senior and leave.
As he walked in to meet me years later, some of the senior officers who were sitting in one room and having tea saw him and invited him for tea, my friend was rather surprised because these people did not take any notice of him earlier. As he sat down with them, they said that they were sorry because they had treated him very shoddily in the past and had for all these years prevented his participation in all discussions and deliberations related to literacy, they said that this had prevented the literacy campaign from benefiting from his vast experience. My friend said that he knew nothing of this but wanted to know why they objected to his name and they said we thought you were a Scheduled Caste. My friend asked them but why did you think that? and he was told, you always met Mr. Jambulkar and he is an SC, so we assumed that you too must be one of them.
This in a central government office that has been set up to ensure that all adults in this country become literates and we all know that the bulk of the illiterates in this country are women, minorities Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. And here is this bunch of Literacy officers who prevent an expert in the field of literacy from contributing to the campaign because they think that he belongs to a scheduled caste. The year was 1994, 44 years after the listing of caste discrimination as a punishable crime.
I was shown two municipal taps in the late 80’s off Asif Ali Road, near Ajmeri Gate in Baghichi Tansukh Rai, the Jatavs drew water from one of the taps and were not permitted to use the other.
Every day young couples are killed for falling in love and ignoring the caste, gotra divide, hundreds gather and
pass orders of execution, the orders are carried out in front of the entire village and next day when the police arrives and the bodies are discovered there is not a single witness.
And we say there is no casteism in our society as if we do not exhibit the worst kind of casteist behaviour in our daily lives, we keep separate tea cups for our household maids and tell ourselves that it is for hygienic reasons. We insist that there is no caste discrimination in this land; in fact many have told me that they were not even aware of caste differences, till the Mandal commission. What utter nonsense, pick up any newspaper, go to the matrimonial pages and you would be assaulted by long lists of eligible Grooms or Brides Kashtriya, Kanyakubjh Brahmin, Saraswat Brahmin, Vaania, Agarwal, varshnay, Chitpawan, Iyer, Iyengar, Khatri, so on and so forth but how many ads are there that say caste no bar. I have met highly educated people defending the Gotra system as scientific and telling me, we don’t support these killings but why do people get into these relationships.
No matter how anti-caste discriminatory our school texts are, which child can escape from this nonstop onslaught of the casteist discourse?
Another illustration or two from another field, there was this recent report in many papers including Mail Today about this growing trend of young married girls travelling to Bangkok or Hong Kong, getting in-vitro fertilisation of several eggs through their husband’s sperm, letting the fertilised eggs grow in test tubes, putting the fertilised eggs through a sex determination test, selecting the one that is going to grow into a boy, getting it placed in the womb and travelling back after a 15 day vacation. The total cost Hong Kong $ 50,000 or thereabouts.
People from this class earlier travelled to Europe, to get a test done and if needed undergo an abortion and return after a so-called vacation. Incidentally the worst gender ratio in Delhi is in the posh south Delhi colonies and I am prepared to bet that the best gender ratios will be found among the poorest, the Minorities and the Dalits living in the slums.
And how are we doing it in Rajasthan, Punjab, West UP and Haryana, the worst states in terms of gender ratios? They have been smothering the newborn girl child for so long that they are now buying tribal girls from MP and Bihar as brides, if they produce a male child; they are accepted in the family or pushed out of their temporary homes to fend for themselves.
What chance for boys growing in this environment to be respectful to women, to not demand dowry, to not use women as mere playthings. No matter how powerfully you put forward the ideas of gender equality in the school text-books, the world outside the school, tells them something totally opposite and reinforces it every day.
I could go on but I’ll stop here. I’ll not talk about the problems that I faced in finding a house on rent in this city. It took me eight months to find a shelter in an urban village, eight months of daily drudgery to find one man in this city of landlords, who could not be bothered about my faith or lack of it.
I have been voting since 1971, every time I shift home I take care to get my name transferred to the new area and then in late 1992 my name was struck off the rolls, mine and my wife’s. It took me three years to get it back on the rolls, All this while I was living in the same house, people who came after us were on the list, those who had not lived there for years were on the list, I and my wife were the only two names removed. The ration shop agent told my 12 years old daughter that he will not give rations to Pakistanis.
My daughters! Pakistanis! Granddaughters of a freedom fighter who spent two and a half years during the freedom struggle, great granddaughters of a man who opposed the formation of Pakistan and was stabbed by a deranged Muslim fanatic. But let us move away from my personal traumas and come to the end of this tirade.
What I have said is what I know to be true because I am witness to all this. I am privileged, I am fairly well known in this city, I am fairly well connected and I refuse to be ghettoised and that is why I refuse to live in the walled city and in the ghettoes for Muslims like Batla House, where I can be picked up and killed and no questions answered. But think of those who have no voice, do not have the wherewithal to be invited to such rarefied gatherings, think of the women who are raped and killed, the girls not allowed to be born, think of those not permitted to draw from your well, not allowed to sit in front of you, not allowed to be your neighbours and think of the self-image that we have created for ourselves the image of a peace loving, tolerant people. We kill because someone overtakes our car, because a girl does not like us, because someone professes a faith different from ours, because someone marries without our permission.
We are a society that lives a false life, what we profess and what we practice are mutually exclusive. Unless we are ready to confront this disconnect and do something about it, there is little that all our efforts at peace education will achieve. I am sorry if I sound like a pessimist, I find little to be optimist about.