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A need for new role models

Let students discover their ideas and ideologies not by prescription but by exploration
12:00 AM Mar 14, 2024 IST | ASHOK KAUL
a need for new role models

When politicians or professionals teach religion, it is divisive and disturbing. When humanists and artists and teachers  discuss religion in holistic mode, it is reformation. University stands for difference, dissent, compassion and values ideas for possibilities and pluralities.


That is why a university person is a universal person. It was supposed to be away from politicians. Let students discover their ideas and ideologies not by prescription, but by exploration. Employability was within its degree.


It was an unending quest for the mode of pluralities that is known as knowledge system. Indeed we find requiem to that university in an era where ideas are valued which would sell products and create markets.

It needs a strange set of semiotics, that requires bringing historical memory in it. Undoubtedly, there is loss of conversations. Student’s arguments and teacher’s patience to move beyond set modules are thought to be wastage of time. Of late, it has been bankruptcy of communication, essentially that students sense classes are useless, other than their tutorials linked with competitive examinations that make them nervously engaged in a time slot.


What a loss it is that unrestricted freedoms of a class room and erudite scholars engaging in plenty in yester-years have become footnotes of market narratives. It has come to a close to a significant degree. If, by chance you pickup an old recorded book discussion or hear author’s conversation, you find the canvass it holds and interest in life it generates. We had plenty of it in 1960s and 1970s, but hardly recorded.


Today we miss it all with a sense of huge loss. Imagine your home, neighborhood and class room conversations of 60s and 70s, when institutional new middle class had happened to generate, the wisdom of pluralities would come to us through a respected person in the neighborhood or through a committed passionate teacher in the school.


The homes were complete universities and schools would be complementary to child’s socialization. We were not modernized then. All efforts were to retain that moral universe that came to us, through reformists imbibed by subalterns and common people.


Many of my generation, who were students of N.M. Higher Secondary School of Bandipur in 1960’s would remember the standard of discussions and panel conversations that is hard to find in modern organized panel discussions, sponsored by market and corporate world on charged entries. My school memory became legible when I heard panel discussion on professor Uberoi’s   book Mind and Society.

What Ashish Nandi argued brilliantly, as if, our less educated teachers would discuss it then in our schools. I remember a panel of well respected teachers, Somnath ji, Mamsaheb, Baskar Nath ji, Misri ji and observations by Senior Nerkak and junior Nerkak and Zargar sahib would often engage students who were great in debating; like, Gulam Qadir, Shanti Swrup Kaul, Ghulam Ahmed Najar, Nazir Ahamd Mir and Nizam-ud-Din on different topics under the leadership of Principal  Kazmi sahib.

Principal Usman Fazli sahib continued that tradition until early 1970s. I remember in one of the symposia on ‘Science: curse or blessings’ continued for two days in autumn golden sunshine. The arguments which we think are new that science has turned to scienticism, we had heard it in those unrecorded conversations.

Still fresh in my mind, Som Nath ji, that extraordinary teacher and erudite scholar put it, 'Science playing scienticism has betrayed its claim of truth’. For, science was thought to be the final truth of validation.

Our knowledge system in those days in schools, besides curriculum was holistic. The boundaries of the disciplines were marked, but what would be intrinsic was that truth, beauty and ethics were blended in it.

That would make any discipline, including mathematics a subject of humanities. Prof Shaban sahib in his initial years had come to our school for some years to make mathematics most interesting subject, liked by all. Like Ner Kak’s Physics, Shaban sahib’s mathematics teaching would run like a coin in each household of the students of that era.

There was nothing like phobia of disciplines. Literary Circles were established. My father Pt Ved Lal Raz, Hussani sahib and Shama sahib were in the core committee. Chaman  Lal Koul and Ghulam Qadir were its secretaries. It had outreach to town and literary ‘Bazam Adab’ was at its blooming niche.

The consequences were that those who took science  on the basis of their image of being meritorious students lost interest in science, went to humanities, did well in their career.

And many who developed taste for science  achieved whatever they wanted in their professions. N.M. Higher Secondary School was social-moral experimentation, a grooming ground for holistic socialization of a student.

Teaching was not limited to codifications; learning was open quest, institutionalized in homes and schools. It is how citizenry without knowing it technically was formed on the basis of moral social universe.

This moral universe became causality in early 1970s with the rise of new rich class. The sudden inflow of easy money from politics and unexpected bloom of apple industry generated a new rich class in Sopore that shadowed the developing educated middle class elsewhere, including Bandipur.

The centre of referent shifted from city to apple rich town of Sopore and its neighboring areas. Political discourse changed its fulcrum from city centre to rich town periphery.

This uneven distribution and uneven growth created classes that needed an institutional sustaining and political leadership; in absence of that it created spaces for exclusiveness. Religion went to religiosity for new orientation, nature to be conquered and public mind to be conditioned and put in surveillance.

The neo-rich class needed an identity that it had money without status, it resorted to radicalize the public space and set its hegemony. The traditional political elite lost power. Old discussion that had epistemic ingredient of wisdom and public morality turned into new religious political discourse, which altered the moral authority in homes and institutions.

Globalization promoted it with market mechanism and disillusionments. It has taken health away from the state hospitals and disempowered fundamental disciplines. Private hospital, coaching centers, rise of religious cults replaced the traditional teacher of school, college and university. Digital mystification and market falsehood replace regenerative politics.

Non-standard normal behavior is post truth. We have lost inclusive moral universe. What do we need now; we need leaders like, old teachers, full of compassion and knowledgeable, as role models. They can generate trust in the system.

Prof. Ashok Kaul, Retired Emeritus Professor of Sociology, BHU.