Unveiling the blueprint of a totalitarian Brahminical state through the National Educational Policy.
“That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” – Noam Chomsky
Among the key features of fascism is the fact that the fascist regimes appropriate the angst and aspirations of the masses, and warp them to suit their own agendas and serve their own ends. The incumbent fascist regime of BJP-RSS is no exception to this rule.
India’s education policy has remained neglected, underfunded and in dire need for a systemic upheaval ever since it was last updated more than three decades ago. As such, a strong need was felt across the country to radically restructure the education system to make it more accessible, inclusive and qualitatively enhanced.
The proposed New Education Policy (NEP), passed by the Modi government on July 29, 2020 plays to the gallery precisely on these collective anxieties with respect to the education system. And the foundations for this policy have gone on to be laid over the years since this regime has come into power.
The massive fund cuts in public universities and drastic fee hikes, withdrawal of grants for basic educational resources such as library facilities and scholarships, the introduction of privatizing in hostel facilities, failure in the effective implementation of constitutionally mandated reservations in seats and appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff, dismantling of existent sexual harassment redressal bodies like GSCASH and failure in establishing any other redressal mechanism for sexual harassment or caste discrimination have been some of the various moves that this government has essentially forced down the throats of students across the country.
The devil, they say, lies in the details, and the insidious implications of the NEP lie not in the grandiose empty promises that have been made in the draft, but in what has been deliberately left unsaid. A dissection of this purposefully ambiguous document is necessary to demonstrate its underlying political agenda.
The NEP glosses over the smartly-coined catchphrase of ‘public-philanthropic partnership’ to introduce intervention into policymaking and funding decisions by private players while circumventing the term itself. The section of NEP dealing with standardizing school education very carefully destabilizes regulation in order to lift “restrictions and encourage innovation” in school education.
But what it is clearly making way for is a freehand to organizations like RSS to establish schools that will propound their ideology in the garb of ‘education’ to students from marginalized backgrounds. We have already seen this pattern in the shutting down of government-funded schools in the most remote areas and the opening of Saraswati Shishu Mandirs in their stead in these regions.
It is also known that in the past, BJP governments have used disaster relief funds to establish RSS schools in their states. It goes without saying that the ‘philanthropic’ model will give the private players great control over the education sector, either as direct participants or as donors who will have the last word in running the educational institutions that they financially aid.
We must ask what a ‘cultural’ organization like RSS was doing in policy-making matters, why it had been consulted in formulating the draft NEP, and why its leading functionaries have expressed satisfaction at the fact that, as per their own admission, ‘over 60%’ of their recommendations were incorporated in the draft NEP. The reduction in the syllabus and topics removed in the recent past highlights the kind of education envisaged by the present regime.
The policy on the medium of instruction in school education is in the mother tongue/ home language/ local language/ regional language up to fifth grade is another ploy of furthering their agenda. On face value, it may seem to promote and preserve diverse languages, but marginalized communities will be the worst affected as they will have to struggle to deal with the English medium when they try to enter higher education, while those with privileged caste-class positions will be more advantaged.
The furthering of their communal designs by the emphasis laid on learning Sanskrit in schools is also effectively aimed at the materializing of brahminical supremacy in already unequal educational spaces.
For a policy that is going to play such a crucial role in determining the future of this country, it is shocking to find no concrete mention of affirmative action for inclusion like reservations, which are mandated by our Constitution.
Oppressed communities have strategically been grouped under the politically ambiguous category of ‘Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs)’, without defining a single step that will focus on their inclusion into educational institutions. The consistent demand for implementation of reservations in private educational institutions by marginalized communities has conveniently been omitted. Instead, all provisions of scholarships have been categorized as ‘merit-based’.
We have already seen this regime implement the ‘EWS’ reservation in recent past, which has been a backdoor foray into doing away with reservations for oppressed castes altogether.
However, the institutionalization of exclusion of students from socially oppressed backgrounds does not stop at excluding reservations. ‘Multiple Entry and Exit Points’ is a provision within the proposed policy, which stipulates that a student is allowed to exit a degree course midway, and is liable to a diploma and a certificate in the case this happens. This step is purportedly to grant some recognition/certification to the students discontinuing their degree courses.
However, what it is actually proposing in the garb of ‘flexibility’ is evading the structural problems of why dropouts happen in the first place. We know that unless compelled by financial constraints, institutional discrimination or social pressure, nobody actually voluntarily chooses to drop out, and those who do, are the ones who do not have to be worried about financial stability. Moreover, the step can prove disastrous for women students pursuing higher education.
As per a survey by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, about 40% of female students drop out of schools and colleges owing to a plethora of constraints, chief among them being the burden of household chores and early marriages. Discontinuing higher education midway in exchange for a diploma will further incentivize the practice of women students being compelled by their families to discontinue their education, and get married. The question which remains evident is what job opportunities exist for such dropouts with diplomas or certificates.
Silencing the marginalized is also strategically propagated with the idea of establishment of multidisciplinary colleges which will close many small colleges/deemed universities which had been catering to students living in remote areas. Clubbing together of smaller institutions into one multidisciplinary university will make these spaces inaccessible, especially to women, Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalized groups.
The reference to these groups, especially trans-persons and differently-abled persons, is only cosmetic as no concrete infrastructural or policy level development has been discussed. For all the noise around “multidisciplinary approach”, there’s careful silence around disciplines like women’s studies, social discrimination and alike, which shows disinterest in actually dealing with the issues of marginalization in a qualitative manner.
The suggested online education format further exacerbates the exclusion of these communities, without substantially addressing the aggravating digital divide in the country.
Another extremely conspicuous absence that can be noted in the draft is of any sexual harassment sensitization or redressal mechanism, which is imperative to create a safe environment for women and oppressed genders to study in at educational institutions, reflecting the inherently patriarchal nature of this regime.
Among the proposed changes within the draft NEP is also the setting up of a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), which is set to replace the UGC. This is a bid to push for further centralization and bureaucratization of higher education institutions across the country.
The new body gives the Ministry of Education exclusive and complete control over the grant of funds to universities and colleges, making it easy for the government to siphon off public funds into private universities that are owned by corporates while de-funding the existent models of public education.
The absolute opacity in the distribution of funds in the Policy effectively facilitates this neoliberal roadmap. We have already seen this executed in primary education as well as rapidly taking place in higher education as well. The introduction of HEFA loans for educational institutions and the scheme of ‘graded autonomy’ explicitly indicate a push for public institutions towards self-financing, which can lead to drastic fee hikes and the consequent dropping out of all those students who will not be able to afford education.
While the UGC had four teacher representatives out of ten members, the HECI has only two teacher representatives out of 12 members, which indicates the complete bureaucratization of higher education that is to follow, resulting in the scuttling of academic freedom. Centralization of research funds disbursement and the opacity in coordinating funds across disciplines hints in this direction as well.
The bureaucratization achieved through this body, as well as through the proposed body of ‘Board of Governors’ in higher educational institutions, envisages that universities will effectively fall in line with the incumbent regime’s whims. This aim is furthered by sidelining democratic decision-making bodies in HEIs like the Academic Councils and Executive Councils, and completely doing away with the participation of student representatives in such democratic processes.
Understanding the NEP is as much about reading into what it lacks, as it is about reading what it says. The scheme of ‘internships’ for students is being touted as an innovative step towards employment training.
But what such a proposition actually translates into is scuttling of child labour laws to prepare an unpaid workforce, whose labour can be utilized towards furthering the interests of the market. Similarly, the intent of ‘vocational training’ in skills for students is also aimed at turning education merely as a tool that can be used to turn every individual into a cog in the wheel of the corporate capital.
This will essentially shut out the development of any form of critical thinking, which will then prepare compliant citizens for the regime to rule over. The constant persecution of student activists by this regime and their utter distaste for healthy cultures of debate and discussions through student politics and unionization in HEIs speaks volumes about how threatened this regime feels with critical thinking in education.
BASO vehemently rejects this anti-education policy and appeals to the students and teachers across the country to demand its retraction. Any policy that deals with education must take into account the opinions of all the stakeholders that will be impacted by the policy and must be a step towards strengthening of democratic values, accessibility and inclusivity of the most oppressed in the country.