A reminder to the Sage of Bengaluru

You went to a Catholic college but most Indians must be Naxals, dear Sri Sri, because they went to government schools?

Sri Sri Ravishankar

NEW DELHI, (John Dayal) — Mukund Murari Singh of Haridwar and Ravi Shankar Ratnam of Bengaluru do not know each other, but Singh does not like what Ratnam says.  In a rejoinder on the internet to  well publicised speech of Ratnam, Mukund Murari Singh rubbished his claim that students who go to government schools end up as Naxalites. “Dear Mr Sri Sri, I did my schooling from Government Schools (Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan) across the length and breadth of India. I also completed my engineering from a Government College (IIT). I assure you, none of my classmates or me have ended up as Naxals. Ignorant statements like these reek of upper-class ignorance and indifference. Sincerely, Proud Indian and a Patriot.”

Ravi Shankar Ratnam, as everyone knows, is the name Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was born with before he heeded a complaint from Pandit Ravi Shankar, the Sitar maestro, not to copy his name. In 1990, the former student of Maharishi Yogi  shed the Ratnam, added two Shris and founded the Art of Living movement, going on to open an ashram and an NGO inGeneva, the city of the United Nations offices. His official website, and his hagiographers, will of course not tell you such interesting titbits. They are busy rewriting a nice persona for him.

His official bio notes he was a child prodigy, reciting the classics at age four, and graduating in Physics at age seventeen. A little research unearths the fact that he studied at St Joseph’s college in Bangalore, as it was then, and graduated at the more normal age of twenty-one.

Sri Sri, to use the name h gave himself rather than the one his parents did, is not unknown to controversy.  He has drawn much flack for his absolute support to Hindutva and to the “sants” of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the same ones who so strongly supported the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the hate campaign against Christians. Sri Sri will not be remembered for any major campaign in support of the Muslim victims of the 2002 Gujarat violence or the 2008 pogrom against Christians. He also has a controversial position on Kashmir, taking a hyper nationalist and religious line that entirely ignores the suffering of the Muslim population of the valley at the hands of not just the terrorists, but the Army and paramilitary forces garrisoned there  for their protection. When the chips are down, Sri Sri has the exact same position as any other Hindu religious persona in the corral of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

It is not surprising that with his ideological mooring, Sri Sri takes a “nationalist” position on political dissenters and those who rebel against administrative and political situations that lead to large scale internal displacement, cast violence, usury in farm loans and the alienation of forests and tribal lands to  Indian and national monopolies.

This is the conclusion I reached after a solitary interaction with him at Vellankani during an annual general meeting of the Conference of Catholic Priests of India not too long ago. It is a moot question if the god man understand the factors that have led as many as nine states of the Indian union, as an effective ground for the Maoists, the contemporary inheritors of the Naxalite image.

One is tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt in statements he makes. Specially since he has backtracked, as explained in his statement made in the holy city ofHaridwaron 24 March., when he clarified that not “all” students of government schools were becoming Naxalites. “Children who have joined the Naxal movement, most of them have come out of the government schools. This same statement has also been said by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Rural Development Minister, on January 22, that the Maoists have recruited these children from tribal and government schools. But I never said that all students coming out of government school are becoming Naxalites, there have been some really talented students who have come out of these schools as well.

The lack of spiritual and moral education in government schools has made the students of these schools more vulnerable to join the Maoists. The truth is that I never said that all such students are of violent tendency, but those children who have shown such tendency have not come out of mission schools where moral and spiritual education is imparted without generalizing it.” he added.

This certainly was an improvement on his original reported statement which, simplified further by news agency reporters and headline writers, had said that state-run schools are turning into a breeding ground for Maoists. “I feel that all state-run schools and colleges should be privatised and that the government should not run any school. Often it is seen that students from government schools end up as Maoists or militants,” news agencies had reported him saying at Jaipur. The threat of spreading extreme ideologies stemmed from a lack of quality education. “All regions, which are inflicted with Maoists and militancy do not have good schools. If students are able to get education instilled with Indian values, they will never deviate onto the path of violence and corruption,” he had said at the silver jubilee celebration of Adarsh Vidya Mandir Jaipur in Ambabari.

The Adarsh Vidya Mandir school is run by the RSS. The RSS, through its Ekal Vidyalaya programme, has promised to set up a school each in the country’s 500,000 villages in India. It already has several thousand of such schools. It is another point that at the village level schools, the RSS has kept its academic programme out of official scrutiny. The educational standards, teachers qualifications – in many schools, there is just one teacher – and the curricula and pedagogy have never been examined by the state and central governments and their agencies.  Religious minorities have charged these schools with the teaching of a warped Indian history and a focus on hate for minorities and  against those who do not fit the Sangh definition of nationalism and patriotism.

The guru could not go unchallenged. Teachers present at the function protested,, as did others. The Art of Living volunteers present at the main gate got into a heated argument with the protesting teachers who demanded a public apology for the remark. Police present in the auditorium swung to action and disperse the teachers outside the venue. A criminal complaint was later filed by local lawyers – Surendra Dhaka, Jai Prakash  Sharma and Manu Pancholi – in a lower court charging Sri Sri with the offence of spreading hatred in society and defaming people passing out of government schools. “We also feel that his statement is anti-Constitution as it goes against Article 21- A where the government is bound to provide free and compulsory education to children of the age group six to 14 years,” one of the petitioners said. “Ravi Shankar is reproducing the ideology of hate as presented by Golwalkar and Savarkar which schools like Adarsh Vidya Mandir teach in the country when he said that Adarsh schools should be set up everywhere in the name of Bharatiya Sanskriti,” said Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of PUCL.

Sri Sri has however still not clarified that when he talks of private schools full of culture and tradition and values, he is referring to just Christian, or Muslim and, more plausible, Hindu missionary schools including such as run by the RSS, the RK Misison and the Anlgo Vaidic societies, or is he talking of private schools run by mercenaries, fly by night operators, and big corporations who run high income chains, branding their schools as so much merchandise. Of the last, the Delhi Public School society is one example, with schools in every state, practically, an several abroad. One school in Delhi offers its rich clientele – there is no other word to describe the families who send their wards here – not just education with a laptop  for everyone in the totally air conditioned  building, but also such extra curricular as golf, horse riding and polo and, indoors, billiards. The fees is perhaps  Rs 50,000. A school in Bengaluru, I was authoritatively  told, charges Rs 10,00,000. Even a school run by the society named after the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthy charges Rs 100,000.

The Sage of Bengaluru – his ashram is in the countryside outside the IT city – could more fruitfully have called for a learned and constructive debate on how to reach quality education to every child in the  age group of 6 years onwards covered in the Right to Education Act, in effect to every young citizen of India, be he or she be born in a hut in a hamlet or in a hospital in a metropolis.

As the data goes, less than 20 per cent of children go to private schools.  Researchers Geeta Kingdom and colleagues say “In India, human capital formation has traditionally occurred in government funded schools but since liberalisation in 1991, private schools increasingly offer an alternative.  According to household survey data, private schooling participation in rural India has grown from 10% in 1993 to 23 percent of the student population in 2007; this is much higher than in most developed countries. Private school participation is considerably higher in urban India. The high demand hints at dissatisfaction with government schooling and the superior results of private schools suggest that these schools may do a better job, on average, than government schools.

They however record that private schools in India have generally less qualified teachers than government schools and operate using much lower levels of capital. However, private schools operate within the market and as a result have strong incentives to be competitive. Private schools hire teachers who often do not have a teaching certificate and pay them a fraction of the salaries of government schools, but they hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. The heads have far greater control over hiring and firing of teachers and thus are able to exhibit tighter control, have higher attendance and only retain effective teachers.

Observers note that the “opportunity for the business of education in India” is huge. India has the world’s largest population of school going children at over 200 million. There are only about  75,000 private schools in India. While some of the ultra rich schools have found avenues to bend the law by sharp auditing practices, schools have to, by law, remain non profit. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is on record saying those seeking to make profits out of schools “can take a hike”. According to a research report published in January 2009 by IDFC SSKI, only $180 million of private equity investment has taken place in the formal education sector — from playschools, to coaching classes, online tutoring and digital content for schools.

According to research studies, of the total schools, about 87.30 percent schools are located in the rural areas. The number of primary schools has increased 8,09,108, influenced by the impact of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan under which a large number of schools have been opened. As of 30th September 2008, as many as 1,26,335 primary and 48,994 upper primary schools/sections have been opened under Government management since the inception of SSA.

The condition of schools run by the government is improving from its dark ages in the 1970s and 1980s before Operation Blackboard and other Missions were launched. There still remain  many schools without blackboards About 88 percent of the 1.29 million schools that impart elementary education in the country now have drinking water facility
in school. And  67 percent schools in the country now have access to common toilets in 2008-09 compared to only 62.67 percent in the previous year, government data shows. More than 50 percent of total 1.29 million schools now have girl’s toilet compared to 50.55 percent in the previous year. 14 percent schools have computer in  schools with percentage of such schools as high as 85.88 percent in Chandigarh, 85.84 percent in Delhi, 79.93 percent in Kerala and 89.74 percent in Lakshadweep compared to only 0.68 percent in Bihar and 3.59 percent such schools in Uttar Pradesh.

Researchers say enrolment both at the primary and upper primary level of education has also increased significantly. The enrolment increased from 101.16 million in 2002-03 to 131.85 million in 2006-07 and further to 134.38 million in 2008-09. Over a period of time, enrolment in upper primary classes has also shown consistent increase.  From a low of 37.72 million in 2004-05, it has increased to 53.35 million in 2008-09.

A very significant research finding is that at the primary level, the share of Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribe enrolment with respect to total enrolment works out to 19.94 and 11.68 percent respectively.  Notably, at all levels, government schools are the main providers of educational needs of both SC and ST children. The share of OBC enrolment in the elementary classes is 42.26 percent. The apparent survival rate (to Grade V) improved to 76 percent in 2008-09. This is also reflected in retention rate at primary level which is estimated to be 75 percent.

The national government educational data is staggering in all segments. The total number of teachers in 2008-09 suggests that about 5.79 million teachers are engaged in teaching in schools imparting elementary education in the country. The data also shows appointment of a large number of teachers across the country consequent to the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.

The curricula – much of it approved and formulated by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training, NCERT, brings a certain uniformity is the standard of education. It is no one’s point that the government’s – both state and central – educational programme can be at par with the best in the private sector. But many government schools, especially those run by the centre, compete effectively with their private counterparts in the results for the Class Tenth and Twelfth board examinations. Much remains to be done to make education a reality for every single child, and even more remains in the areas of higher education, vocational studies and brining technological courses to rural India, but the progress has been significant.

And there is no data available from the Bureau of Police Research and Development has no data that would go to show that students of government schools, and colleges,  join the Maoists any more than anyone else.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will, perhaps, next time not take on the very, very large alumni of government schools, or the collective might of the teaching faculty.

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