A letter to the President of India
India as a liberal and open society?
Recognize the transforming power of the individuals, institutions and the new technologies!
India as it is, a liberal and open society? Not yet? Not fully yet.
Our Constitution is a great document, it exceeds in its intrinsic qualities, its vision and wisdom that it has stood the test of the times. We have also mature state institutions, our Parliament, our Judiciary and Executive and a free press, now made more free and independent by the growing power of the visual media, the TV networks and the rapid spread of the internet users, give Indians and the Indian ethos a rare power and sensitivity.
Yes, there are certain negative developments, feature of our development, corruption, lack of transparency in the working of the parties as well as the governments. The “unelected” elements in the major party and government distorts our value systems, gives Indian society the odium of a hierarchical and a caste and class-based discriminations. The OBC debate itself betrays politicians’ motives. Perpetuating castes, caste backwardness is another hurdle.
Judicial activism has been without parallel in the world; even the UK and US judiciaries have flaws. Our doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution is a brilliant India’s own discovery. Likewise, the occasional radical interventions of the judiciary in combating high corruption, as in the P.V.Narasimha Rao corruption in the Jians hawala case and also the restrictions placed on the CBI functioning as political tool are some of the instances where we have done a world record.
India compares favorably with advanced societies, be it UK or USA or great countries like Russia and China, not to speak of Europe, Indian democracy is truly an exhilarating experience. This side of the story is not told, widely enough. Our hangups, colonial legacy, colonial mindset still dampens our elite to take the dominant Western views as valid. They are not. Unless we create a society and nation that puts a premium on the creative powers of the civil society, what hopes for Indian democracy and individual liberties?
Is our current crop of leaders able to do anything about it? Not likely, in my opinion. This only drives me to write to our worthy individuals in high places. The thought came to me that our much admired Rashtrapathi will be laying down office in a few months. That thought saddened as well as provoked me. Saddened for a good man will be leaving from our public view. Provocation for the thought that what more he could have done, given the powers and the protocol of his high office.
Reader interested in the actual letter might turn to my personal website. The gist of what I wrote is to say to the Rashtrapathi that like his predecessor, he could have conferred some Bharat Ratna titles on Indians who, known and unknown, might get recognized and thereby certain values might be strengthened in the minds of people. Yes, this is the purport of the letter. Why I mention here?
It is not everyday I think like this.
No, have I thought much also about what I wanted to do by running this magazine in this format either!
Yes, we are human, given our motives and constraints!
I started this magazine, ages ago, in a humble fashion while I was running a rural high school (founded in 1962) in a remote village as a sort of newsletter.
The purpose was to keep in touch with my overseas contacts, then two Peace Corps volunteers, then one Quaker volunteer from the USA were working with me. They attracted so many US and other European visitors to the remote village. So, the need to keep in touch with developments in my school needed a forum.
Now, as I look back and see what are all the changes that have come about in the course of my own life? I have come a long way. The school no more functions, though a government school came along afterwards and serves the local community. But education in general and in rural and urban areas has grown so faster than I anticipated and now, it is all din and so much noise, politics, OBC quotas, politicians with their own sense of wisdom and unwisdom etc! I now run this more as a modest personal journal, serving a dedicated readership that has grown with the magazine, as it seems!
Of course, I have a forum to express my views and also to some extent to give an outlet to some of the deeply held ideas and philosophies, world views and much else. It is as a sort of a humanities journal we run it now. Is there a need for such a humanities journal? In India? At present? It is here I like to share some of my deeply-held convictions.
In India education is still at a much undeveloped state. By education, every one of us, parents, government and the intelligentsia, the middle class, the poor class as well as the upper class feel certain priorities. For the government, it is a public function, to ensure some vague ideals like” education for all”, education as a fundamental right etc. For the parents, education is just for a decent job to their children. For the poor classes, education is an attempt to escape from their poverty. For the middle class, education is a job, with steady incomes, this generation it is an IT job or for others, a management job, with M.B.A.s, it is campus recruitments, as for the engineers too. Last generation, it was government jobs. This generation it is high paying private sector jobs. For the upper classes, education is just a qualification, a decoration of sorts. For really super rich, education has no meaning at all. All our superrich didn’t have any ‘proper’ education at all! Should we name them? Readers can make a count on their fingers for themselves! Yes, that is the irony and beauty of education as an ideal, as a concept and as a tool!
All successful entrepreneurs, from Bill Gates to our own home-grown successful businessmen are all, technically ‘illiterates’ or at best,’ college-dropouts’! Such is the power and ‘uselessness’ of education as a tool of empowerment. So, we are all talking of education in a very narrow and immediate utilitarian sense only.
But a nation is considered advanced or civilized or cultured only when there is a collective search for higher spheres of excellence in their countries. We admire Europe and USA for the capabilities of their people, collectively. There is so much vibrancy to life in the West, every conceivable talent is abundant in those societies, and so more Nobel Prizes go to the Satan elsewhere. Why? So much of supportive environment is there in such societies. More literature prizes go to English language speakers and writers. Why? Because there in those societies there are so much of supportive initiatives, be it learned societies or prizes endowed by big corporations and collective agencies like associations of professions and other such agencies.
Somehow, we in India seem to put a premium on power, status and bureaucracy. Yes, we are a democracy. But we don’t know what its core values. Does individual liberty get any celebration? Not, not at all. See some of the new acts and laws that are put into practice. The right to information act is fighting an uphill resistance. Education as a fundamental right is yet to see the light of the day. Even some of our core political beliefs are not explicit. We seem to be everyone suited for every occasion and expediency! We talk a bit too much. We are at best a talking nation. There is no premium on individual excellence.
Our universities don’t rank in international leagues. Central universities are in shambles, so much politics. One instance is the great university of Tagore himself. I wrote a long article after a recent visit, titled as” Open Letter to the Prime Minister”, sent copies to President and Governor of W.Bengal and to the VC himself. The response comes through internet from across the globe. But not from any quarters that matter! Such is the fear psychosis that prevails in Santiniketan!
We have to encourage a broad-based national level liberal arts education curriculum for the first degrees. Information technology has helped us to transform India as a “software superpower”. But it looks the Delhi political culture is immune to this realization. IT tools are not deployed as widely to solve peoples’ problems. India has to position itself as a nation of peace-seekers. Indians must be seen talking and participating in a host of international concerns. AIDS in Africa, peace in the Middle East, seeking the US out of Iraq etc.
Just now, I read a piece on how Iraqi archeology was destroyed after the war and how the great many humanities skills like expertise in Assyriologists is threatened. Our own historic monuments have to be preserved and protected, better than as they are now. We have to develop our museums, protect our heritage sites, set up a vast network of public libraries and make India a centre for the world’s new civilization endeavors. Much more needs to be done to evolve a more liberal society.
Yes, there are certain issues in what a modern liberal society, a liberal state means. It is not unfettered individualism. It is not as it is in India. There has to be a clean state, uncorrupt bureaucracy and enforcement of laws in the interest of the poor and the deprived, human rights, women rights etc. I dream for such an India of unparalleled excellence. The old civilizations we are so proud of. I am at any rate. So too I am eager to promote such civilisational endeavors to take India forward towards a new millennium where the rest of the world would seek India’s wisdom, the wisdoms of the Indians.
Let us all ask what we have done individually and collectively to realize this goal of a truly liberal and open society of India.
Let this small magazine be a small voice, an echo at least! That keeps me going with my current endeavors.