Commemorating the educational spirit of Gandhi through a new ONAM

  • By M. Nageswara Rao
  • October 30 2019
  • Author wonders why India’s educational system does not teach its ancients texts and invokes Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to remove this avidya, and bless us with Bharatiya knowledge.

India’s Central Reserve Police Force is the world’s largest armed police force. It is also one of the finest armed police forces that the country is proud of. Upon joining this great Force in the year 2005, I was quite amused to see the weird slogan “CRPF Sada AjayBharat Mata Ki Jay” written on all its official signboards. Amused is actually an understatement, for, it proclaims that CRPF would never be victorious; and glory to Bharat Mata! This was a linguistic revelation, in more ways than one.


Article 351 of the Constitution directs the Union of India to develop Hindi language by drawing “…. for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit …..”. This is not new, for, Sanskrit has always been the primary source of vocabulary for all Bharatiya languages, much like Latin for European languages. But when Sanskrit is not taught and learnt as part of public instruction, it is impossible to achieve this constitutional objective.


Our forbearers kept our civilisational knowledge, texts and ethos alive through their steadfast attachment to Bharatiyata in the midst of invasions, strifes, wars and untold existential crises. However, our collective 'avidya' or agnotology during the last century or so, stands testimony to the ‘induced ignorance’ explosion amidst ‘information’ explosion by means of ‘macaulayism’. 


‘Macaulayism’ is colonization of the Indian mind by systematic wiping out of traditional and ancient Indian education, indigenous culture, and vocational systems and sciences via education system. Our collective avidya is so manufactured, maintained and disseminated both as a process and as a purpose to deracinate us with an obvious aim that is tragically oblivious to us.


We have been a knowledge-based civilisation. For several millennia we produced a huge body of knowledge and literature on a variety of subjects, primarily in Sanskrit. Our Rig Veda is the world’s oldest known text. Our Mahabharata is the world’s longest poem ever written. More than their antiquity, the breadth, depth, sophistication and the invaluable knowledge and insights of our ancient texts is overwhelming. 


It is, therefore, baffling that we don’t teach any of our great ancient texts –– Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Arthasastra, Panchatantra etc –– as part of our public education system. Any people would be proud of such priceless civilisational treasures. We have, instead, banished them from public instruction. In any other country such a thing would be considered as a national shame, nay a civilisational high treason. Here, am distraught to say, we take pride in doing so.


Education became a fundamental right (RTE) with insertion of new article 21A in Constitution. As RTE is scalar in its purpose and agnostic about content, macaulayism simply vectorised it by filling the vacuum. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that our formal education has become synonymous with our deracination. With ubiquitous English medium schools and education, our mother tongue illiteracy is competing with our deracination.


More than a century ago, Swami Vivekananda commented about missionary education thus: “The child is taken to school, and the first thing he learns is that his father is a fool, the second thing that his grandfather is a lunatic, the third thing that all his teachers are hypocrites, the fourth that all his sacred books are lies!” It is not any different now, except that that child became a great grandfather of civilisationally uprooted self-loathing progeny.


The celebrated Ananda K Coomaraswamy alerted long ago about perils of the colonial education thus: “A single generation of English education suffices to break the threads of tradition and to create a nondescript and superficial being deprived of all roots — a sort of intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West, the past or the future. The greatest danger for India is the loss of her spiritual integrity. Of all Indian problems the educational is the most difficult and most tragic.”


On 20th October, 1931 Mahatma Gandhi said, “I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished.” Gandhi’s comments prompted the venerable Dharampal to undertake extensive research and publish his seminal work “The Beautiful Tree” on pre-British Indian education.


A peep into the Constituent Assembly Debates on language policy can help us comprehend as to why and how we sunk into such a linguistic abyss. Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra brilliantly articulated the case for Sanskrit as official language as: “…… have become dead to all sense of grandeur, you have become dead to all which is great and noble in your own culture and civilisation. You have been chasing the shadow and have never tried to grasp the substance which is contained in your great literature. Nobody can get away from Sanskrit in India. Even your proposal to make Hindi the State language of this country, you yourself provide in the very article that that language will have to draw its vocabulary freely from the Sanskrit language. You have given that indirect recognition to Sanskrit because you are otherwise helpless and powerless.”


Being the civilisational man that he was, Dr Ambedkar rightly felt that the rich and resourceful Sanskrit alone would be the best route to our civilisational renaissance. He was equally aware that no other Indian language possessed such enormous versatility as did Sanskrit to qualify as medium of science, arts, law and governance. He also probably saw through the game plan to retain English forever through constitutional subterfuge. Therefore, to the Constituent Assembly he sponsored Sanskrit as official language but later withdrew it, perhaps under opposition. His apprehensions were amply corroborated from the later day undeclared public policy of banishing Sanskrit from public education to prevent any civilisational resurgence.


Ambedkar was proved right. Bereft of motherly nourishment by Sanskrit, Hindi and other Bharatiya languages became linguistically malnourished orphans. India fell between the stools. We lost the millennia old Sanskrit – the bedrock of our ancient civilisation – in about half-a-century, whereas Israel revived the long dead Hebrew during the same period. What a damning contrast! And Hindi, uprooted from Sanskrit, lost its vitality to organically keep pace with the increasing needs, remained ‘officially the official language’, even as the colonial English continues to rule the roost.


Onam is a popular festival to commemorate annual visit of virtuous King Mahabali to satisfy himself about the wellbeing his praja. Likewise, beginning with the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, we should start a new ONAM invoking Gandhi’s atma to annually visit us to take stock of our educational well-being so that the pervasive avidya, civilizational deracination and mother tongue illiteracy that our education system has been creating, can hopefully be contained, at least in deference to the Mahatma.


It is worth mentioning that I am embarrassed to write in English, but have no option when presented with a fait accompli.


Author is a serving senior IPS officer, and the views are strictly personal.

Also read

1. Beautiful Tree by Dharampalji – to read extracts

2. Education in the vision of Swami Vivekananda

3. Education – words of Sri Aurobindo and Mother

4. Indian Foundations of Modern Science

5. Talks on Maths in Metrical Form

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