New National Education Policy should specifically address backwardness of Dalits and Adivasis

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Excerpts from the letter by PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd), former secretary to Government of India, Ministry of Welfare, to Dr Kasturirangan, chairman, Committee for Preparation of Draft National Education Policy, Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India:

While there are many aspects to the National Education Policy,  it is vitally important the new National Education Policy and your Recommendations on it specifically deal with the educational development of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the educational development of the Scheduled Tribes (STs), centrally and prominently (and not marginally and casually as has been usual).

These two classes of people are at the lowest level at every stage of education (as also in all parameters of development in other areas, viz., economic, occupational, residential, health-and-nutrition-related etc.). The gap between the SCs and STs at the lowest end and the Socially and Educationally Advanced Classes [SACs], i.e., the non-SC, non-ST, non-Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBC) [NSCTBCs] at the top end, is the widest.

Even in the educationally most advanced State of Kerala, one of the States where social reform and social change have progressed more than in most regions of India, even at the lowest rung of education, viz., literacy, the following figures for the different social classes show that illiteracy among SCs is nearly 5  times and among STs nearly 4 times the illiteracy among the SACs/NSCTBCs.

eduAt the higher end of education, viz., Graduation and Above, in the population of age 15+, even in the metropolitan city of Delhi, right under the double-nose of the Government of NCT of Delhi and of the Central Government, the following Table shows the percentage of Graduates and Above among SC males is as low as 1/5 to 1/6th of that among the SACs/NSCTBCs and among SC females a meagre 1/25th of that among SACs/NSCTBCs.

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This lowest educational level of the SCs and STs is not only unjust to them, is not only the continuation, through the seven decades of our Independence, of their educational deprivation through the centuries of our history, but also deleterious (along with similar lag in every other development area) to the optimal advancement of India as a whole.

Conversely, their educational progress, enabling them to reach the level of the SACs/NSCTBCs at each stage of education (along with similar equalisation in other areas such as economic, occupational, residential, health-and-nutrition-related, etc) is a sine-qua-non for securing the rapid advancement of India, which is the goal of the Government. If this is not done the demographic dividend which we are all talking about and setting much store on, will turn out to be a demographic nightmare.

The SCs and STs constitute more than a quarter of the population of India.  They contribute the majority of the manual labour force of India. Without their progress to the level of equality, India’s optimal progress is impossible.

As is usual in India, through different Governments under different Parties and/or Coalitions, no significant action has been taken on and no serious attention has been given to this Report.

In view of the terms of reference, the Task Forces of the Ministry of HRD have dealt with SCs and STs. The emphasis that the Ministry gave to SCs and STs is justified by the fact that they are the most deprived.  But, it is also necessary to also take into account the educational needs of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs), also referred to as Backward Classes (BCs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), with particular attention to the More, Most and Extremely Backward castes of the SEdBCs, who too are the victims of the Caste System, though not to the same extent as SCs.

The educational level of the SEdBCs is much below that of the SACs/NSCTBCs though not as low as that of the SCs and STs. Their level is between the SCs and STs, on one hand, and the SACs/NSCTBCs, on the others, and closer to the SCs and STs than to the SACs/NSCTBCs.  This is the position of SEdBCs in all other educational parameters and also all parameters in other areas. The SCs, STs and SEdBCs together constitute 2/3rd to 3/4th of the population of India and contribute almost the entire physical labour force of the country.

Therefore, India’s optimal advancement requires, in addition to the measures for enabling the SCs and STs to reach the level of Equality in every educational parameter with the SACs/NSCTBCs, also measures for enabling the SEdBCs to reach similar equality.

It is my experience during these decades that Committees and Commissions on important issues ignore issues of SCs, STs and SEdBCs and suggestions made for them.

Note on Action Points required in the light of the developments subsequent to the Reports of the Task Forces of the Ministry of HRD

  • High Quality Residential Schools in Every Block

In the Budget speech of the Finance Minister introducing the Budget for FY 2018-19 he has said that “Ekalavya Schools”, of the standard of Navodaya Schools, will be set up by 2022 in every Block where tribals constitute the majority population and which have not less than 20,000 tribal residents.  This is welcome in respect of STs.

Presumably what he meant was that there will be one such school for boys and one for girls in each such Block. There is no outlay provided in the Budget for this. It is hoped that this lacuna of Budget provision will be removed so that this important scheme can have a flying start in this year and so that the target data of completion, viz. 2022, is successfully fulfilled.

But, the need for such high quality residential schools in every Block of the country for the SCs has been lost sight of, though this was one of the important Recommendations of the Report (2008) of the Group of Ministers on Dalit Affairs under the Chairmanship of the then Finance Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee.

The issue of such residential schools of high quality for SCs and STs, which is contained in the Task Force Reports, needs to be emphasised strongly in the Report of the Kasturirangan Committee.

Para 2.5.7 of the Task Force Report contains a reference to the then Minister for HRD Shri Kapil Sibal’s observation in the Round Table Conference on Educational Development of Women, SCs, STs and Persons-with-Disabilities (PwDs) held on April 16, 2012 that there is need to set up Residential Schools and Colleges for disadvantaged sections like the SCs, STs, Women and PwDs.

But, as usual with our political and intellectual leadership, this observation has not been followed up with concrete and practical steps, budgetary outlays and implementation. I have pointed out the importance of such high-quality residential schools (along with other issues) in the three meetings of the  National Monitoring Committee (NMC) for the Education of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), set up by the Ministry of HRD in 2012, of which I was a Member, chaired by three successive HRD Ministers, namely, Shri Kapil Sibal,  Dr Pallam Raju and Smt. Smriti Irani.

This remains to get the holistic attention of the Government. The Kasturirangan Committee must point out this as an example of the hiatus between what is professed and practice, between noble statements and specific action.

  • Scholarships

There is a new alarming development of recent years. Huge amounts of arrears of Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) and Maintenance Allowance have piled up in the last three years. As a result, a number of SC and ST students have been forced to drop out at advanced stages of their higher education. Many others, who have managed to hang on, have to prosecute their studies under conditions of severe stress and distress on account of non-payment of fees to their educational institutions and non-availability of maintenance allowance.

Post-Matric Scholarships, introduced through Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s initiative as a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in 1943 and extended to STs after Independence, is an open-ended scheme. The concept of “Open-endedness” is that the Government is committed to provide whatever funds are required, even though in excess of the outlay in the BE, and the additional outlay should then be formalised in the RE.

The present Government is rightly paying tributes to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and paying homage to him.  It will be in keeping with this that his concept of “open-endedness” continues to be honoured as it was till recently.

Delay in timely disbursement of PMS to SC and ST Post-Matric students hampers the full achievement of the purpose of inclusive development and fuller development of India’s human resources, for which this scheme is intended.

I have pointed out these to the Finance Minister through my letters.  The Kasturi Rangan Committee’s Recommendations in this regard will help. It is to be emphasised that, as mentioned in para 3.3.9 of the Task Force Report on Educational Development of SCs, Scholarships and Maintenance Allowance are released at the beginning of each month or quarter.

  • Legislation for Reservation for SCs, STs and SEdBCs in Private Educational Institutions to Secure the long-evaded Implementation of the Constitution (Ninety-third) Amendment 2005 inserting new Clause (5) in Article 15

This is dealt with in para 3.1 of the Task Force Report on Educational Development of SCs. The following are the further developments in this regard:-

At the 3rd meeting of the National Monitoring Committee (NMC) for the Education of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) held on 21.12.2014 under the Chairpersonship of HRD Minister Smt Smriti Irani, the official note circulated showed that all official action for enacting this legislation had been completed in the office of the Ministry and all that was required was a political decision from the Government. I pointed out this specifically to the Minister in my remarks at that meeting. This legislation is yet to be enacted.  The Kasturirangan Committee may emphasise this.

In para 3.1.4 of the Task Force Report, there is reference to the issue of Constitutionality of the Constitution (Ninety-third) Amendment of 2005 in the High Court. The subsequent development is that the Supreme Court has upheld the Constitutionality of this Amendment in the Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust vs Union of India case on May 6, 2014. Thus, there is nothing standing in the way of enacting the legislation for which the Ninety-third Amendment was passed by the Parliament. The evasion that has already taken place during the pre-2014 Government and the post-2014 Government and any further delay is a breach of the Constitution.

  • Human Rights Education

This has been dealt with in para 2.4.3 of the Task Force Report on Educational Development of SCs. This needs greater elaboration.

Our syllabus should contain a frontal attack on the Indian Caste System (ICS), i.e., Caste System-with-“Untouchability”.  It has to be pointed out his system is anti-national, as described by Dr Ambedkar in his historical Address of 25 November 1949. It fractures the consciousness of Indians, while a large nation like ours needs a common national consciousness. Consequently, Indians approach each issue as fractured groups, instead of adopting a common national approach to each issue. The injustice perpetrated by the caste system against the SCs and STs and, though not to the same extent, against the SEDBCs, must be brought out.

Its continuing consequences in the shape of wide gaps in every parameter of development, welfare and life – economic, occupational, educational at every stage, housing-and-residential-related, health-and-nutrition-related etc. — between the SCs and STs at the bottom end and the SACs/NSCTBCs at the top end, and the SEdBCs coming in between, closer to the SCs and STs than to the SACs/NSCTBCs, must be underlined. The fact that this hampers the goal of optimal development and advancement of the nation as a whole must be emphasised.

This is necessary as an inoculation against the poison of caste system, caste attitudes and caste insularities, which are bred in the family, in the village and urban mohalla and by the peer group.

At the same time, Social Justice measures, including but not only Reservation, for the SCs, STs and SEdBCs need to be continued, in order to eliminate the wide gaps which have been created by the centuries-old caste system and continued in the decades of Independence and, therefore, it must be pointed out that all, including those who are not provided reservation because they do not need it and, therefore, the Constitution has not  provided for it, should extend their wholehearted cooperation with the Social Justice policies for SCs, STs and SEdBCs.

The following is a telling example of the great harm done by the caste system-with-“Untouchability”:-

In 1980, China’s GDP, both in absolute and per capita terms in PPP dollars, was smaller than India’s. Until 1991, India’s GDP per capita was higher than China’s.  Since then the gap between the two economies has continuously widened, and now the Chinese economy has become 4 to 5 times as large as India’s economy.

An important reason for this is that China has managed to bring some level of Social Equality though full-scale land-reforms, and ensuring equal access to equal education for all sections of society, while these precisely are the two major areas which suffered neglect in India on account of the caste system-with-“Untouchability” and the caste-limited outlook of the Indian elite dominating politics, political parties, Governments and all institutions including educational institutions (Source: Times of India, 18.09.2014 under the head “Statoist”).

A few years back, a Chinese Think Tank gloated over the fact that India is caught up in the mouse-trap of caste. Those who do not wish India well are gloating over India’s inability to escape from this mouse-trap.  It is the patriotic duty of all Indians to rectify this.

This subject should be an important part of the syllabus in every level of education, in doses calibrated as suitable for different levels of education and different ages of the students.  It is to be administrated in its most elaborate form at the higher secondary level and higher education and in institutions for the training of teachers, and officers of the IAS, IPS, IFoS (Indian Forest Service) and other services.

The Kasturirangan Committee may lay emphasis on this and make full and detailed recommendations on this.

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