Selling out

Print edition : October 06, 2006

A Student Federation of India protest against the self-financing colleges' opposition to the Bill, in Thiruvananthapuram. - S. GOPAKUMAR

Private freebooters are holding the talented youth of India to ransom, while the state wastes its funds on luxuries.

INDIA'S wealth lies in its vast human resource, those unexplored reservoirs of talents and faculties as yet untapped by education through the instrumentation of schools and colleges. These institutions are unapproachable for the extensively agrestic, slum-soiled, rag godly urban and densely downtrodden demographic multitude, owing to want and poverty. Primary, secondary and, rarer still, higher education and professional degree courses nurture personality development. Alas, admission to schools and colleges is purchased by the rich from private managements of what are dubiously labelled as self-financing institutions. The state, guilty of insouciant dereliction of duty, has withdrawn gradually from its constitutional obligation to offer egalitarian education facilities to the have-not sector, leaving the gates open to non-official agencies which are often motivated by profit. In the ages past, noble, though private, educational institutions used to invite the rich and the poor and all worthy youth aspiring for higher education. The Church, with evangelist motivation, had a Christian yen to impart instruction but it had no defiling passion for money-making by using education as a commodity. The nation owes a tribute to the Church for its education mission among the people fee or no fee. The dollar had little purchase over the social soul of the bishopric.

A bizarre metamorphosis has maligned the hallowed home of learning. A new class of educational adventurists has unblushingly mushroomed. They, using the alibi of holy nomenclature to hide their commercial agenda, meet the demand for high degrees in professional colleges for which inflated tuition fees are the price. The Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, forsaking its paramount duty of providing for its young generation higher education for a reasonable fee and no capitation fee, has abdicated its cultural trust in favour of privatisation. What, then, about Socialist slant in the Preamble? Our governments have, without qualms, violated the principle of fair education: running an adequate number of universities for a just fee, or if private alternatives are the choice, getting an undertaking from non-state managements, before granting them permission to start a college, that they would not take capitation fees and agreeing to charge tuition fees at government rates.

Whatever the court may issue as its oblique ipse dixit, higher education should never be commercial. It is rape to fleece capitation fees from financially unable but meritorious candidates. Alas, Christian, Hindu and Mammon-worshipping institutions and corporate managements, except a few morally principled institutions, are delinquents. This is thanks to the economic policy and the priorities of cowardly commercially-interested governments, that have withdrawn from imparting knowledge without which citizenship is not meaningful for `We, the People of India'.

Now, in Kerala, education is aggressively dominated by so-called self-financing colleges. Privatisation, whose preference for money over man, is the de facto rule. Universities are governed by an empire of free-booting private adventurers, individual, institutional and corporate. Godist enterprises collect lawlessly large sums of money from indigent Indians for admission to courses and professional colleges. Has the state (executive or legislature) no voice, no authority to make education open for the humble Indian in our corrupt world of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation? It is a tribute to the Kerala government that the State has valiantly woken up to enact a creative law to regulate the promotion of higher education. To establish social justice in the higher education sector a reformative, regulative law is a must. Thus, in unblushing contra-constitutional deviance, the state, with diminishing values, has granted access to higher education to billionaires and cut out half a billion humans who belong to the weaker sector.

The Constitution obligates the state to provide equal educational opportunity and economic justice to every citizen. If the Socialist Secular Democratic Republic retreats from providing learning facilities for the weaker section it is treason. So the first commandment is for the state (Central and provincial) to create by legislation social and economic conditions which will never deny the weak or the have-nots the right to higher and professional studies. The state should not be bullied and tempted by the wealthy, and charge capitation fees affordable only to capitalists and inflated tuition fee which baffles parents save the mega-affluent. (Affluenza is this pathology.)

Social and economic justice being fundamental rights, poverty and backwardness must be overcome by the state by taking positive initiatives such as granting loans and scholarships and evolving schemes to secure admission for the poor subject to merit. Non-state colleges must close down if they cannot run educational institutions without mobilising resources illicitly from students. Alternatively colleges could draw on donations or popular charity - did not Mahatma Gandhi and his `do or die' struggle for Independence move forward only by people's benefactions? It is a matter of socio-economic justice that they do not charge capitation fee, which is skullduggery, and instead admit students on the basis of merit. Institutions of higher education should and be compliant with public sector transparency and public audit and offer large concessions for weaker sections.

Here comes the first commandment of Swaraj: Man, valuewise, is more than money. Self-financing is an alibi for freebootery, an anathema in the hallowed halls of universities. For Swaraj, we need a patriotic student foundation. We, the people of India, shall preserve this vision and its actualisation as a socialist, secular, democratic Republic, guaranteeing equality and justice. Fundamental rights, social, economic and political, belong to the humblest and the highest in their developmental potential. Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends. The first duty of a university is to teach basic wisdom, not a hollow knowledge, nor vapid piety. Vivekananda put it powerfully: "Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man". Economic justice and social equity being the title deeds of the lowliest, the state must provide schools and colleges which will offer to the finest talent of the feeblest humans in the country college admission to acquire an achievable high degree. The state shall be bound to start as many institutions as are necessary for our people. What we want, as a priority, is food and knowledge, not more shining motor cars, expressways, air-conditioned sky-scrapers It is absurd to plead bankruptcy for the first charge on the state, namely, people's education, but to borrow with abundant liberal readiness for extravagant luxuries and urban development with high technology and low employment. It is a commandment that the state does create higher educational facilities, directly or through just arrangement, with public-spirited capito-philanthrophic or godist institutions committed to unfolding the mental, moral and spiritual faculties everyone latently possesses. Private institutions should not be permitted to run high-level colleges unless they undertake to include people of the lowliest means but possessing the highest talents. After all, the nation is great only when even the last of its members shares its treasury of education, where the poor are free, and merit has priority. Wealth without merit shall not buy entrance, nor the socio-economically weak be told no because of empty pocket.

Today, a slew of dominant castes and communities have parochial domination. An agglomeration of churches of a multitude of faiths and a miscellany of godless materialist masses, each with its narrow politics, corrupt tactics and terrorising strategies, organise colleges and professional schools, and together they make Indian education cyclopic. So many caste-based, religiously-rooted communally-oriented colleges pollute student minds.

Government and non-official tuition fees must be moderate. India is culpable for suicides committed out of penury. The money of privatisation governs education. This shall not be. Many a celebrated Ramanujam misses life's mission because our rulers are sinners and pro-rich policy shapers.

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