Education, Development, and Change
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Resistance and Education


by
Dr Shahid siddiqui
 The News, September 17, 2007

I am a man and all that affects mankind concerns me.
– Bhagat Singh
 
History of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile, and coercion. To control the colonized, all possible methods are used ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonizers, in order to maintain their hegemony, suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies. The politics of education and language can be seen at its best in the Minute by Lord Macaulay. It is important to analyse the vision of education proposed by a British representative for the colonized. Macaulay proposes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect.” With this vision, a new education system came into being, which is still in vogue in Pakistan. The essential purpose of this system was to produce a class of obedient servants who would conform to authority and never think of challenging it.
 
This system of education was later found fit by the different rulers in Pakistan as it lacked the essence of critical thinking and questioning. The dominant groups in power prefer the status quo scenario as it always suits them. A change in status quo would mean a shift in power, which is not a palatable idea for them. Killing softly, the education system has managed to change the over all priorities of individuals. The ultimate aim of graduating students, now days, is to earn maximum money. What happens to the society, country, or their fellow human beings is none of their business. This education system has completely etherised the youth, whose whole educational activity has been confined to colleges and academies.
In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said says that imperialism always found resistance in different parts of the world. The nature of resistance could be varied from place to place. One of the resistance symbols in India was Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh earned tremendous popularity as an activist who killed a British police officer, Mr Saunders, mistaking him for Scot who was responsible for the death of Lala Lagpat Roy’s death. Bhagat also dropped home-made bombs in the legislative assembly. He was hanged in 1930 when he was only 23 years old.
How could Bhagat escape the effects of Macaulay’s brand of education that aimed at producing tamed and timid Indians? What kind of learning helped him to challenge imperialism? What was it that gave him the commitment to shout ‘Inqilab Zindabad’ even when he was going to the gallows? Bhagat Singh was born in Lyallpur (presently known as Faisalabad), a city of Punjab on September 27, 1907. So September 2007 is his 100th birthday. He didn’t have to wait for school, for his education as a great source of learning was at home. His father and uncles were there to inculcate in him the flame of freedom, a flame that would lead him to his explosive role in the freedom movement.

How was Bhagat’s education different? Bhagat went to the DAV school and then National College in Lahore. It was here that Bhagat’s theoretical underpinnings were strengthened. The idea of National colleges was conceived by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi knew the central role education can play to weave the mental texture of the Indian youth. It was here that young Bhagat met Professor Jai Chandra Vidyalankar who taught him history. Professor Jai fuelled Bhagat’s passion for the freedom of India. It was the clear vision of the National College and its committed teachers like Professor Jai that were responsible for inculcating the devotion and love for purpose in Bhagat.
Young Bhagat was fully immersed in the love for his country. His top priority in life was to rid his country from the colonisers. When his parents planned his marriage, he wrote to his father, “This is not the time for marriage. The country is calling me. I have taken oath to serve the country physically, mentally and monetarily (tan, man, dhan).” When his father insisted, Bhagat wrote another letter, “You are caring for Dadi (grand mother), but in how much trouble is our Mother of 33 crores, the Bharat Mata? We still have to sacrifice everything for her sake.”

It was not just learning from school, but learning from home, friends, and books that contributed in the formation of Bhagat’s personality. Bhagat Singh was an avid reader. His love for books continued until his death. He had a fine taste in poetry and Iqbal was his favourite poet. In his prison diary, he quoted a number of verses in English and Urdu. Even his last letter to his younger brother, Kultar, was studded with verses. I quote onr here: Meri hawa mein rahe gi khyal ki khushboo-ye mushte khak a fani rahe, rahe na rahe (The fragrance of my thought will remain forever, even after this mortal body gets perished).
At a very young age, Bhagat started writing articles. These articles were on serious topics and showed a mature stance of the writer. He was not just an emotional person, rather his life was driven by the force of informed ideology in which he had unwavering faith. The essence of education is its ability to change and the journey of change is continuous and life long. In one of his articles, Why I am an atheist, he talks about the value of continuous study, “Study was the cry that reverberated in the corridor of my mind. Study to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by opposition. Study to arm yourself with arguments in favour of your cult. I began to study and my previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification.”
This is the kind of education that has its link with emancipation, freedom, and change that leads an individual to reflect and act, that not only takes care of academic skills, but also introduces an individual to the larger scenario of society and its problems, that broadens the horizons of the learner from narrow self interests to broader social obligations. It is this political nature of education that prepares individuals to challenge the forces of injustice and coercion. The kind of cold, and calculated education that is in vogue these days may lead the learners to get good jobs and serve their own interest, but it is incapable of producing people like Bhagat Singh. In his jail diary, he wrote his favourite quotes and verses. Theses quotes reflect his choice and personality. Here is one quote found on page 43 of his jail diary. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” In 1930, when he was only 23, Bhagat gave his fresh blood to nurture the plant of liberty. He couldn’t see a free country, but he will always be remembered by those who sit under the shade of the tree of liberty.

The writer is a Professor and Director of Centre for Humanities & Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics. Email:shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com