EQUALITY, FREEDOM & FRATERNITY: INDIAN UNIVERSITY EDUCATION SYSTEM – A CRITICAL APPRAISAL
Veteran Major P M Ravindran
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC, REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: -
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all;
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
- The Preamble, Constitution of India
Equality, liberty and fraternity- three terms made popular by the French Revolution are now recognised the world over as the touchstones of a welfare society. They have of necessity found their place in our Constitution also though only in its preamble. On 2nd September 1953, while making a statement in the Rajya Sabha (Parliament) Dr. Ambedkar gave this following clarification: “People always keep on saying to me, so you are the maker of the Constitution. My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to, I did much against my will. I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it. It does not suit anybody.” Earlier, on 19 November 1949, Seth Damodar Swarup had said in the Constituent Assembly of India itself that 'this Constitution … may be heaven for the lawyers, and may even be the Magna Carta for the capitalists of India, but so far as the poor and the tens of millions of toiling, starving and naked masses of India are concerned, there is nothing in it for them.'
Almost 70 years down the road, does anybody need any validation for Seth Damodar Swarup’s assertion?
Interestingly, the Preamble of the Constitution is considered only as a legitimate aid in the construction of the provisions of the Constitution. And, rightly so! But those who have been given the authority to interpret the laws, to be specific, our judges, had introduced ambiguity even in the interpretation of this simple concept. Two factors have been introduced: one, that if an enactment is itself clear and unambiguous, no preamble can
qualify or cut down the enactment*1 and two, the Preamble of an Act, is not recognized as part of the Act because it is not enacted and adopted by the enacting body in the same manner as the enacting provisions. The second factor was wrongly applied to hold that the Preamble of the Constitution was not part of the Constitution by our apex court in the Berubari Union case in 1960*2. But in 1973, when the constituent history of the Preamble was brought to the notice of the court in the Kesavananda Bharati case *3 it held that the preamble to the Constitution was part of the Constitution and the observations to the contrary in Berubari Union case was not correct!
The Part and the Whole
Equality, liberty and fraternity being the objectives of governance in any and every welfare society, its analysis in the context of a limited sphere of activity- Indian University Education System- can be considered as an effort to understand only a part of the whole. And it cannot be done without at least conceptualizing the whole.
Equality, liberty and fraternity in the Society.
To understand to what extent the concepts of equality, liberty and fraternity have taken roots in our society let us start from where Seth Damodar Swarup left.
Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative index for measuring the state of development in a country. It combines factors like life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living. India stands at 133rd place amongst 195 countries as per the list published in 2008 based on data of 2006. In comparison China is at 90th place, Sri Lanka at 104th, Iran at 84th place, Egypt at 116th place and Congo at 130th place. As per 2016 HDR
*1. Powell v Kempton Park Race Course Co and Attorney General V HRH Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover ( AC 143 at 153 and  AC 436, 467-68)
*2. Berubari Union and exchange of Enclaves, AIR 1960 SC 845, 856
*3. Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461
(Page 200) India stands at 131 with medium human development. In comparison Vietnam is at 115, Iraq at 121, Bangladesh at 139 and Pakistan at 147*4.
We are told that we are the third largest economy in the world (behind the US of A and China). What we were not told is that our per capita GDP (PPP) is only $1709.4 per year against the world average of $10,150.8. In comparison the U S of A has $ 57,466.8, China has $ 8,123.2, Vietnam has $2,185.7, Iraq has $4,609.6, Bangladesh has $1,358.8 and Pakistan has $1,468.2*5. Interestingly, as per a similar report by IMF *6 India does not figure in the list of first 50 either in the nominal or PPP rankings for 2016 or the projected figures for 2020. Luxembourg and Qatar are at the top positions on nominal and PPP basis, respectively in 2016. With per capita income of $105,829 Luxembourg is 10.26 times richer than world's $10,313. But in PPP terms, Luxembourg is only 6.24 times richer than world's $16,329. In PPP terms, Qatar has GDP per capita of 129,727, 7.94 times higher than world. It is at 6th position in nominal ranking.
Our infant mortality rate is 55 per 1000 live births. In comparison the rate is 23 for China, 11 for Sri Lanka and 53 in Nepal. The world average is 48.8 per 1000.
Our literacy rate is 65.2% and places us at 159th out of 195 countries. The rate is 93% for China, 90.8% in Sri Lanka and 71% in Egypt.
As per UNDP list India has 28.5% people below the poverty line. In comparison, China has 4.6%, Egypt has 16.7%, Malaysia has 15.5% and Sri Lanka 25%.
Is there anything in the above figures for us to be proud of?
*4. Human Development Report 2016, United Nations Development Programme
*5. World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files accessed at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD
*6. International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook (October-2016) accessed at http://statisticstimes.com/economy/projected-world-gdp-capita-ranking.php
India became independent in 1947. No doubt the colonizers had looted us thoroughly before they left and to be sure they did not leave us in any better shape than when they had come as is touted by some quarters. China became independent in 1950. China had been devastated by Japanese occupation from 1935 to 1945 and 38 years of civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Yet China is far ahead of us in every sphere. Why is it so? The answer is simple. China has had more effective governance than what we have had. The Chinese leaders were more nationalist than ours. Our people in government have rarely been able to put the interest of the nation above that of self, dynasty or the party. My interventions using the Right to Information Act have convinced me sufficiently to assert that all our public servants are idiots or traitors unless proved otherwise!
To quote theirreverent1 *7 ‘We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, our banks destroy our economy, our citizens live in willful ignorance and reek of cowardice.’
Justice gone missing.
Of all coincidences, this is one coincidence-‘Justice’ missing from the subject here and in real life too (as I believe and can vouch for)- that caught my attention right from the word go. Yes, that’s right. Justice, ensuring which is the fundamental duty of any government, is really missing in our society. While equality, liberty and fraternity go hand in hand, they can do so if and only if they are founded on the factors that can be identified as social, economic and political justice. What prevails in our country is only a shadow of political justice in that the electorate gets to vote periodically for a candidate of their choice, to represent them in the government. However, after the vote is cast whether any of these representatives really represent the interests of those who elected them is a big question. If I were to answer that question honestly, it would be a big NO!
*7. Comment at http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/why-does-the-u-s-government-treat-military-veterans-like-human-garbage
Of social and economic justice one would be justified in doubting if they exist at all. Even in a fully literate and politically conscious state like Kerala where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have led the government every alternate 5 years, reports have appeared in the media of certain sections of the society being treated as untouchables even as late as in the last six months!
On the economic front, there have been reports that in India more than half of its GDP is with less than 1 percent of the population!
Aravind Kumar, Jurist and lawyer, rightly wrote*8 that ‘Justice is an intrinsic human need. We suffer much privation but we cannot suffer being wronged. Absence of justice, we must not forget, is one of the causes of crime.’
And Renuka Narayanan, journalist, wrote*9 that ‘When we transformed from subjects to citizens, we forfeited our rights it seems, since what happens in our country now in the name of law is often rank injustice.’
The National Commission to review the working of the Constitution, a judiciary-headed, judiciary-heavy body*10, which submitted its report in 2002, has stated that 'Judicial system has not been able to meet even the modest expectations of the society. Its delays and costs are frustrating, its processes slow and uncertain. People are pushed to seek recourse to extra-legal methods for relief. Trial system both on the civil and criminal side has utterly
*8. 'Needed high speed legal redressal'-Aravind Kumar, Jurist and lawyer, Pioneer, Kochi,01 Aug 2006
*9. 'Human rights, the genesis of justice is from religion' under 'Faith Line' by Renuka Narayanan, The New Indian Express of 20 Dec 2004
*10. A 11 member Commission (including the chairman) of whom 4 (M.N. Venkatachaliah, the Chairman, B.P. Jeevan Reddy, R.S. Sarkaria and Kottapalli Punnayya) were judges of the Supreme Court/High Courts, 2 (Soli J. Sorabjee and K. Parasaran) were advocates, 2 (P.A.Sangma and Sumitra G. Kulkarni) were political nominees, 2 (Dr.Subhash C. Kashyap and Dr. Abid Hussain) were bureaucrats and just one (C.R. Irani) was a representative from the media! A citizen’s review of the Report is available at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.in/2011/03/report-of-ncrwc-citizens-review.html
broken down.' Also, 'Thus we have arrived at a situation in the judicial administration where courts are deemed to exist for judges and lawyers and not for the public seeking justice'.
The above quote would be incomplete without reproducing here what Dr.Subhash C Kashyap has written in his Notes to the above Report: 'The Chapter 7 of the Report is titled 'The Judiciary'. This chapter particularly is seriously flawed and distorted. The much needed Judicial Reform issues have not been even touched or these got deleted in the final draft.'
Thus, ‘the whole’ can be summarized in the following words:
Law makers without any prescribed qualities, qualifications or experience, their men Fridays (popularly known as bureaucrats, who are required to help them in decision making by collecting and collating data and maintaining records) without any accountability and a judiciary which has the scope for the most whimsical decision making being held not only without accountability and beyond criticism but also protected by a totally illogical and weird armor called contempt of court, are the essential features of our Constitution, the Bible for our governance!
The Educational System Muddle
Muddle? It is certainly not an approved manner of approaching the main topic. But then why should one beat around the bush? Apart from enforcing law and order, health and education are the only services that the government of a welfare state should have taken upon itself to deliver directly to the people. But how has it been India? Right from telephone and gas connections to road, rail and air transportation the government has had its fingers in every possible commercial activity and, I may add, with disastrous consequences!
There are, or may be there should be, three objectives to higher education: one, fine tuning the art of learning (by self and as a continuous process), fine tuning social skills and acquiring competence needed to earn ones living, or in other words, finding a job. And in the context of the subject being discussed, there is a need to ensure that there is equality of opportunity to access higher education, the liberty to choose any subjects of one’s choice and to interact freely with each other as members of a fraternity.
Education as a Right.
It was only 62 years after independence that this country got its Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The Act, notified in the Gazette of India on 27 Aug 2009, provides for free and compulsory education for all children in the age group 6 to 14 years. The National Education Policy is still in embryonic state. While the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) was set up by the UGC in 1994 to accredit universities and institutions of general higher education as well as to certify for educational quality and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) was established by the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) in 1994 to accredit programmes and institutions, themes and questions for Policy Consultation on Higher Education were released only on 21 Mar 2015*11. But while we wait for policies let us look at what has been happening on the ground in the past.
Access to Higher Education- the admission process
National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) was made compulsory for admission to MBBS and BDS courses with effect from academic year 2016. This was a step in the right direction but due to the last minute promulgation of the orders resulting in opposition from various quarters it was made mandatory only from the academic year 2017 with the final seal of approval coming from the apex court. But in Tamil Nadu, a student, S Anitha, who had got 1176 marks out of 1200 in the Plus 12 committed suicide because her dream of becoming a doctor had been dashed to the ground. Tamil Nadu had been using the marks of Plus 12 as the only yardstick for MBBS admissions. But in neighbouring Kerala the problems arose from a different source- the apex court decision empowering private medical college managements to charge Rs 11 lakhs as fees per year for 85 percent of the seats and Rs 20
*11. Annexure –II, Themes and questions for Policy Consultation on Higher Education,
Consultation Process for New Education Policy, Departments of School Education & Literacy and Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. Can be accessed at the website of MHRD
lakhs for the remaining 15 percent seats reserved for NRI students! But that is not the only issue. There are confusions galore there. But it is nothing new because ever since self financing colleges were introduced in 2002-2003 by the AK Antony led UDF government admission time has been harrowing for both the students and their parents. Antony had permitted such colleges with the promise that two self financing college will be equal to one government college, implying that 50 percent seats in each college will admit students with fees as in government colleges. But the managements of such colleges renegaded quoting apex court orders that there cannot be two different fess structures in the same college as it would amount to cross subsidy! Soon a Committee was constituted with a retired judge of the high court heading it, to fix the fees and monitor the admission process. Now there were four different fees- General merit quota, General non-merit quota, management quota and NRI quota in the same college and not a murmur of protest has been heard. The disputes at every admission stage thereafter have been on the distribution of seats and rate of fees. And here, since we are on the topic of equality, freedom and fraternity in Indian University Education System there are two questions that need to be addressed- why have AIIMS and JIPMER been excluded from NEET? And why have similar common entrance examinations not been introduced for other professional courses?
Quality of higher education- Ranking institutions and disciplines.
After entrance examinations comes the quality of education in our institutions of higher learning. A 16-member Core Committee, appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, under the chairmanship of Secretary (HE), evolved the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) over a period of one year during 2014-15. And the Department of Higher Education under MHRD has come out with their rankings for 2017. Prakash Jawedkar, Minister for HRD has expressed the intention of the government to ‘divide the universities in three categories - A, B and C -on the basis of various criteria including their NIRF rankings’*12. NIRF however covers not merely universities but also colleges and
*12. India Rankings 2017, National Institutional Ranking Framework, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
even discipline wise ranking is provided. Right now getting the ranking is a voluntary process and hopefully it will be a necessary factor for educational institutions to even survive in the competitive world of commercialized education.
Cost of higher education-prohibitive.
While standardizing admission criteria and ranking of institutions/disciplines provide a level playing field as far as having access to education of one’s choice is concerned, the issue of affordable cost remains to be addressed. In this context the decision of the apex court to allow private medical colleges to charge Rs 11 lakhs per annum as fees is a blow to the aspirations of students hailing from amoung more than 90 percent of the population. At the same time it has been reported in the media that amoung the top 20 rank holders in the All India Civil Services Examination of 2017 nineteen are engineers and also that engineers constitute half of all those who cleared the exam*13! While there may be nothing objectionable in individuals changing tracks but the current figures really question the logic of selecting the right person for the right. The skill set required for pursuing a profession like engineering and conducting the business of administration are definitely not comparable. So the present situation offers a new perspective on our education system and available job opportunities. One perspective is that for engineers the available job opportunities in the field of their expertise are less lucrative than being a administrator with the government. But think of the administration in government and the skill set required for it and one feels compelled to question the selection process and the compensation offered. Suffice to say that the babus in government, led by the members of the Indian Administrative Service, primarily need a skill set- making briefs and answering comprehension questions that one acquires in the high school- to enable decision makers to make the right decisions with the least effort. And the cost to the exchequer for such a mundane job should be definitely enviable to make engineers opt for it ditching their first love!
*13. 19 of 20 UPSC toppers engineers, constitute half of those who cleared exam: Govt, India TV, 3rd Aug, 2017.
Reservations- murdering equality, liberty and fraternity in one stroke.
I have read reports about foreigners mocking India for its Hindu rate of growth and now we ourselves are acknowledging that we have become a country where everyone is competing to be backward. Whether politically correct or not there is no gainsaying that reservations only breed incompetence. In a fast and competitive society it would be fatal to compromise on competence to perform whatever one is required to perform. Equally true is the fact that there is a need to provide support to those who had been on the fringes of the society in the past and need to be brought into the mainstream. And the only way of doing it is by helping them acquire the competence they need to perform the tasks they would like to perform. To illustrate, if an adivasi boy or girl wants to become the Collector of his/her district, train him/her to qualify in the Civil Services Exams on his/her own steam. Reserving a few posts of District Collector for an incompetent person will be a sure shot way of ruining not merely the district administration but the whole district!
Campus Politics or breeding ground for criminals for political parties?
Campus politics is sought to be encouraged with the view of grooming the future citizens for fulfilling their responsibilities in a democratic society. But on ground it can be seen to have got reduced to a recruiting ground for criminals in political parties. The destruction of public property can alone suffice to brand the campus politics as an irresponsible and anti social activity and ban them. Students can b seen going on rampage for reasons like increase in concessional bus fare, tuition fees and of late even for their right to destroy the country! How many times has anyone seen or heard students protesting vehemently for regular updating of syllabus, better libraries and facilities for extracurricular activities, regular classes and timely conduct of exams and announcement of results?
Education vs Employment Opportunities.
As per a report*14 13.3 per cent of India’s population in the age group of 15-29 years were unemployed. Yet, as our unemployment figures continue to rise, almost every industry, be it manufacturing, technology, hospitality or corporate, is facing a shortage of skilled workforce. The same report continues: 47 per cent of Indian graduates are not qualified for any industry job and more than 70 per cent of our engineering graduates are not employable! According to Aspiring Minds National Employability Report, which is based on a study of more than 1,50,000 engineering students who graduated in 2015 from over 650 colleges, 80% of the them are unemployable.
Interestingly, Kerala, with it’s higher than national average literacy rate, has an unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent, which is much higher than the national average of 2.3 per cent. According to Labour Bureau's "Third Annual Employment & Unemployment Survey 2012-13" released on 29 November 2013, unemployment rate amongst illiterate youth is lower than educated youth.
3 Reasons Employers Say They Don’t Hire Youth. *15
Youth Seem Too Entitled. Employers frequently say that whether they’re high school dropouts or college graduates, youth today seem too entitled. No matter their station in life, they think they should have rewarding work, ideal workplaces, fair pay, good benefits, and substantive advancement opportunities. In return, they don’t want to work as hard, as long, or as meaninglessly as their parents or grandparents did.
*14. Unemployed or unemployable? By Ketan Kapoor in the Hindu dated 22 Dec 2013 at http://www.thehindu.com/features/education/careers/unemployed-or-unemployable/article5486730.ece#!
*15. Why Youth Are Unemployable Posted by Adam at https://adamfletcher.net/why-youth-are-unemployable/
Adam Fletcher is a speaker on engaging young people in business, education, and communities. He is also the author of several books, including Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Learn more about him by visiting adamfletcher.net.
Youth Are Too Apathetic. With their obsessive amount of piercings, tattoos, and poor clothing, employers say youth constantly show that they are indifferent to common workplace expectations for appearance. Reflecting that indifference, youth today don’t respect the predominant Protestant Work Ethic that has dominated successful businesses around the world for more than 400 years. Many bosses say that young workers’ apathy shows in monumental ways when they simply don’t exert the energy needed to get the job done.
Youth Just Aren’t Ready. Despite all their education and education reform, tutoring, youth programs, and other entitlements youth enjoy today, employers consistently report that youth aren’t showing up for work ready to get the jobs done. Instead, they’re under-skilled and less-than-willing to learn what they need to in order to perform the most menial labor.
Learning to Earning…
In order to create employment opportunities for blue-collar jobs, to begin with, the National Skill Development Council (NSDC) has planned to target 25 million youth for training in various skill-based jobs over the next 10 years*14.
While government still needs to work out to remove hurdles to economic activity by not only merely simplifying regulations but going for smart regulations, the quality of public education must be enhanced and licence raj should be totally dismantled to enable entrepreneurs exploit fleeting opportunities that they come by. The increase in wages in China had opened the door for export-led garment industry and other labour intensive industries of India to generate millions of jobs. According to a report of World Bank “Stitches to Riches?” even a 10% growth in garment price of China will create 1.2 million jobs in the Indian garment industry*16.
*16. Youth want jobs not quota, it will not remove frustration of unemployed people
By Radhika Rathore, 2 May, 2016 at https://www.naukrinama.com/youth-want-jobs-not-quota-it-will-not-remove-frustration-of-unemployed-people/
8 Steps to Youth Employability*15
Accept Responsibility. If you actually believe youth are unemployable, you are actually responsible for that condition, as well as for addressing it. If just 10% of all adults everywhere accepted responsibility for doing something different, youth unemployment would become rare around the world. No matter if you are a parent, a teacher, a police officer, business owner, politician, store manager, or simply a neighbor, you have a role to play. Read on to learn what that is.
Teach Young People About Mindsets. From birth, teach all young people everywhere to be willing to learn. Build lessons in how we think into early childhood development programs, and mandate all educators teach about learning styles and mindsets, and more.
Promote Practical Hopefulness. Many adults have largely given up on young people today, whether they recognize it or not. Instead of piping false hope across social media and television, we have to promote practical hopefulness that engenders real action.
Create Partnerships. As they enter their teen years, actively engage every young person in every community in an equitable partnership with an adult, whether as a mentor, in an apprenticeship, or otherwise.
Build Connectivity. Throughout their youth, continuously connect and reconnect every young person throughout their community through active learning, volunteerism, and otherwise.
Redo Education. Re-envision the core curriculum of schools to focus on practical, applicable skill-based and knowledge-building learning, rather than large topical swaths that are seemingly devoid of practical applications to students themselves. Student voice should be at the center of ALL education.
Promote In-person Internet. Weave together online identities with in-person identities. With the ubiquity of the Internet today, its increasingly vital that young people move seamlessly within their social networks, whether on the Internet or in real time.
Foster Entrepreneurial Lifestyles. Entrepreneurship is about more than work; its about life. More commonly than ever, society accepts that change is the only constant. Teaching young people to make the most of that is one of the best ways to make youth employable.
Stop Fighting Change. There’s so much resistance to diversity, to people who aren’t white or wealthy or male or straight or educated or accessible to the mainstream. We must stop fighting the impending changes our world inevitably holds for all of us, and instead embrace them ALL. We can guide and move some change, but at the least, we must simply accept it.
Make Lifelong Learning An Accessible Expectation. There is a lot of value to teaching oneself and learning what you want to, when you want to. However, in our increasingly commodified societies we’re making lifelong learning more and more expensive and inaccessible. We should throw the doors everywhere open for everyone, all the day. Andrew Carnegie knew the value of this; we should acknowledge that’s more important today than ever.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do is the first thing on this list: Accept responsibility, because from that place we can change the world.
Equality, freedom and fraternity are not merely some ideals to be touted by opportunists when it suits their convenience. They are mindsets to be imbibed from the day one starts interacting with the society. We are not living in an ideal world and that is why we have set up a system of governance with well defined tasks and empowered and equipped to fulfill those tasks. The cost to the citizen for sustaining the government is considerable. The accountability and transparency required in government functions are practically nonexistent. The subversion of the Right to Information Act, the only pro-democracy, citizen friendly law of the country, could be a case study for how every public servant in this country continue to treat the citizens as subjects, quite often worse than the way they were treated even by the colonists! The youth of today, in our educational institutions, have the onus of retrieving the situation for themselves. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar*17, Hindi poet, essayist, patriot and academic, had once said that when youth walk, the ground beneath should tremble. But it would be important for them to also understand that everyone’s freedom ends where the other man’s nose begins. And also about what Jesus Christ said about doing unto others what you expect others to do unto you! And lastly, lest one is totally mistaken for a pacifist, here is our poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore guiding us through an exhortation: "Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not cave in."
*17. His poem ‘Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai’ (Vacate the throne, for the people are coming) was used by Jayaprakash Narayan to inspire the people during his fight against the Emergency. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramdhari_Singh_Dinkar