Monday 13 February 2012

A future killed with kindness (Sunday Guardian)

Kapil Sibal during the International Health Conference in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI
By M D Nalapat, Feb 12, 2012
Is it any wonder that India has become a huge laboratory for NGOs? After all, even the Union Cabinet reports not to the PM but to the address of the most influential NGO of them all, the edifice known as "10 Janpath". Sonia Gandhi has brought the views of favourites active in "social uplift" into the heart of governance, the common link between all such influentials being the fact that they are either foreign educated or have spent considerable amounts of time in North America and Europe. The influence of such amateurs is present not only in economic and social policy, but pervades education policy as well. Whether out of desire to please Sonia Gandhi and her NGO-prone Heir Apparent Rahul, or because he is himself enamoured of the views of sophisticated "social workers" eager to bring civilisation and rationality to the natives, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has been among the most zealous in enforcing an NGO culture into the working of his ministry, in the process outdoing even Jairam Ramesh in his enthusiasm to ensure that the opinions of international sophisticates morphs into official policy. Sibal's efforts at doing away with the examination system have been zealous. A kindly individual, he dislikes the prospect of a student having to spend an extra year in the same grade, even if that youth suffers from disciplinary problems that make him a bane to his teachers.
Although Sibal himself treats television audiences to a tart turn of phrase, especially when he talks about any individual who is mentally challenged to the degree that he fails to appreciate the immense contribution made by the Congress party to the welfare of the people of India, his administration has made it explicit that teachers are expected to treat students with verbal deference. No shouting is permitted in NGO-ruled India, and certainly no caning. Even if the student be a trifle rambunctious, the teacher should do nothing more than gaze into his eyes, making a silent appeal for better behaviour. Certainly the jailing of some of the teachers of a prestigious school in Kolkata has helped Sibal to ensure that the teaching fraternity behave with meekness towards their wards. A student killed himself, and almost immediately the media pounced on his teachers, accusing them of being responsible. This may well be true, although another version gives a different picture. It sketches a pattern of interest in the dead boy by older students, interest of the kind regarded as common in British public schools. Was it such a form of harassment, rather than the cruelty of his teachers, that motivated a sensitive young life to extinguish itself? Did the Kolkata police ever investigate the "public school" angle to the suicide, by checking on the proclivities of some of the older students who had been in contact with the young victim? Judging by the television channels, there was no investigation into any probable cause other than alleged mistreatment by his teachers, a conclusion that the bereaved parents too seemed eager to embrace. The "guilty", of course, were speedily jailed, a chilling lesson to teachers across the country.
By placing severe constraints on the disciplining capability of our teachers, our NGO-loving rulers are winning the praise of those who have the luxury of seeing the country from afar.
We do not know whether Kapil Sibal is himself a tolerant or a strict parent. Perhaps the former. Unlike the personality who tears into political opponents of himself and his boss, Parent Sibal may be a forgiving individual who keeps turning the other cheek, even while getting slapped. Certainly, by all accounts, his offspring have made successful careers and have avoided the pitfalls of gilded youth. However, one youthful Sibal does not a trend make, and there has been considerable debate even in the civilised parts of the world (those to which Kapil Sibal and Sonia Gandhi send their sons to study) about the impact of Benjamin Spock's reversal of the "Spare the rod and spoil the child" doctrine. The diminution of the work ethic in many parts of North America and Europe, the chasing after privileges and the shying away from work, even the reckless greed of the truly spoilt that comes across in the financial transactions that caused the 2008 crash, all this indicates that perhaps there can be too much leniency in the classroom and at home. That perhaps the "Tiger Mom" is correct in ensuring that her children equip themselves in a manner that would enable them to compete in a world where success may become even rarer than it as been in past eras.
India may be far poorer than Sweden, and have a much more dismal index of gender justice than Denmark. However, by placing severe constraints on the disciplining capability of our teachers, our NGO-loving rulers are winning the praise of those who have the luxury of seeing the country from afar, and of never having to be affected by the results of the social experiments being conducted in India by politicians and officials in thrall to the sophisticates who suffuse some of the more tony NGOs, those that have instant access to the highest reaches of power. As in the Kolkata case, when the media and police gave chase in only one direction — the teachers — rather than in other corners of a schoolboy's life, India has become a dangerous place for those with convictions, as the four who read out snatches of Salman Rushdie's turgid prose at the Jaipur Literature Festival are finding out. It has become almost ridiculously easy to generate a storm of negative stories about an individual, and to get miscellaneous busybodies to file FIRs and prompt the police into action, often on pretexts that would be laughed at in genuine democracies. A Hindi teacher in Chennai is the first martyr to the policy of sparing the rod, or indeed any chastisement at all, in our schools. She will not be the last.

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