The fantastic series of events shaking Tamil Nadu (pop.78 million) beginning with the mysterious prolonged illness and death on December 5 of J. Jayalalithaa, a popular former film star, AIADMK supremo and three terms chief minister of this southern seaboard state alternatingly ruled by the AIADMK and DMK — political parties with utterly corrupt and incompetent leaders emanating from the make-believe world of Tamil pulp cinema for three decades — has captured the public imagination nationwide. This drama is indicative of the depths to which Indian democracy has plunged because of neglect of public education.
The plots and sub-plots in the scramble for political power in Tamil Nadu, which despite the foolish policy experiments of the AIADMK and DMK, has emerged as a hub of the textiles, automobiles and IT industries, would surely have defied the best efforts of script-writers of popular Indian cinema. Only nine months ago, the AIADMK of which Jayalalithaa has been the undisputed leader since 1991, was — against all expectations — swept to power in the state’s legislative election of 2016. This despite her conviction together with her close friend and adviser V.K. Sasikala and two of the latter’s relatives in a case of corruption — possessing wealth and assets disproportionate to known sources of income (s.13 (1) (c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988) — to four years’ imprisonment and fines by a special Bangalore-based criminal trial court.
This conviction (which was promptly appealed) notwithstanding, the people of Tamil Nadu voted the AIADMK to power with a sweeping majority, perhaps because the dynastic DMK which had ruled from 2006-2011, had also been embroiled in scams and scandals.
The long duration for which the patently corrupt and intellectually bankrupt leaders of these two popular pulp cinema-based parties have ruled — and ruined — Tamil Nadu, a state which in the early years after independence was reputed for its great universities and excellent public administration, not only raises doubts about Indian democracy based on universal franchise without any qualification, it also highlights how through reckless interference with the country’s primary, secondary and higher education systems, post-independence India’s wily neta-babu brotherhood has dumbed down the citizenry into an electorate of amoral simpletons unable to distinguish between right and wrong, and lacking reasoning and logical thinking capabilities.
The history of education under almost four decades of AIADMK-DMK rule in Tamil Nadu is a litany of populist interventions which has ruined the academy, in particular K-12 education. The consequence is that the people have lost all judgement and reason as the clamour for Sasikala’s election as AIADMK supremo despite her conviction having been confirmed by the Supreme Court, shows.
Messing with Children’s Minds
Alarming reports are emanating from across the country about state education boards inserting propaganda, ‘alternative facts’, mistakes and inaccuracies in shoddily and haphazardly produced textbooks, especially prescribed liberal arts and humanities texts. There seems to be little awareness within society that textbooks invested with hate, lies and malicious religious, caste and ideological propaganda can severely damage young minds and disrupt community harmony.
According to news reports from the BJP-ruled state of Rajasthan (pop.75 million), a member of the state’s legislative assembly has proposed to the Rajasthan University syndicate that the history of the battle of Haldighati (1576), in which the 40,000-strong army of Mughal emperor Akbar defeated the forces of Maharajah Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar, be rewritten to reverse the well-documented historical outcome. A year ago, a social science textbook prescribed for class VIII students of government and private schools affiliated with the Rajasthan state education board erased all references to Jawaharlal Nehru who played a major role in establishing independent India as a secular democracy as the country’s first prime minister for almost two decades (1947-64). Two new chapters of the textbook titled National Movement, acknowledge the contributions of Subhas Chandra Bose, Veer Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, and one Hemu Kalani among others, but there’s no mention of Nehru. According to a chilling news report, an environmental science textbook prescribed by the Delhi education board recommends sealing of a kitten in an airless box to test the outcome of prolonged oxygen deprivation.
While there’s some quality and accuracy in textbooks commissioned by the Delhi-based NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) and school texts published by companies such as Cambridge and Oxford University Press, Pearson Education, MBD and Navneet Education, the textbooks committees of state governments are packed with ill-qualified kith and kin of the local neta-babu brotherhood who tend to commission and approve substandard, errors-ridden and ideologically motivated textbooks for children from low-income households condemned to attend government and government-aided primary-secondaries.
This phenomenon is getting traction with the proclivity of BJP governments at the Centre and in the states to appoint ill-qualified sangh parivar ideologues and sympathisers, to high office in academic institutions. Combined with normative teacher indifference and indiscipline in the country’s 1.20 million government schools, this is the prime factor behind plunging learning outcomes being reported in Pratham’s authoritative Annual Status of Education Reports and other well-documented studies.
Commissioning, evaluating and publishing school/academic textbooks is a responsible and serious undertaking. Casual, arbitrary approaches to this serious endeavour could mess — and is already muddling — the impressionable minds of tomorrow’s leaders of government, society and industry.