PUCL Bulletin,

July 1995

One quarter--free three quarters-slave
Promise of universal primary education not kept

The greatest tragedy, and all the greater because a wholly avoidable one, that has befallen our country is the non-implementation of the programme of universal primary education and not putting this social welfare programme first on the list of priorities. For this the builders of the new India during the period 1947 till the sixties are squarely to blame.

[Except Kerala, the picture is grim all over. In U.P., for example, one third of male children and more than three fifths of female children are illiterate. It is the same in respect of school attendance for India as a whole, more so for U.P. In rural areas more than quarter of boys and more than half the girls have never been enrolled. India is not only behind China, Sri Lanka and South Korea, but also behind "low income countries" (as defined by World Bank) including sub Saharan Africa (see also, Amartya Sen's D.T. Lakdawal Memorial Lecture under the auspices of ISS, a summary of which was published in the April'95 issue of the PUCL Bulletin; and also ILO Reports)].

Idealism of any kind has since the mid-sixties been replaced by utterly vulgar scramble for power, and diabolical political activities. In such a foul atmosphere progress of any kind is unthinkable.

Our leaders, almost totally and perhaps deliberately, chose to forget the fact that it is, to use Abraham Lincoln's words, dangerous to have a nation which lives half-free and half-slave. In fact, in the case of India it is not half, but more than three quarters of our India that consists of slaves. Our leaders also chose not to take any cognizance of the fact that slavery thrives on illiteracy - and that the precondition for any progress, apart from cultivating a culture of respect for the human person, in any field including realisation of civil rights, in the eradication of illiteracy and the 'divinely ordained' hierarchical order of our society. Non-recognition of the basic fact has rendered India vulnerable in almost all fields.

Our leaders did not adhere to the very simple and rational approach: first thing first. The first thing was to make the one social welfare programme, namely universal and compulsory primary education successful. (Article 45 of the Constitution, had directed the State in 1949 "to endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education until they complete the age of 14." It took another 44 years for the Supreme Court of India to appreciate the fact that nothing has been done and that the provision of this Article be made part of fundamental rights. Again, there is no indication of any action that is to be taken against the State for violating this right.) If we had successfully carried out only this welfare programme, all other problems would have remained under control and India would have been on the march forward. (As an example, we may refer to Kerala where because of high rate of literacy employment of children has been on the decline.) Instead, the stark reality today is one of intractability.

Illiteracy has been adverse affects: the freedom and welfare of the people; social change; health care; large scale female infanticide (only very recently an NGO has given a detailed account of this inhuman and criminal act in four districts of Bihar); abysmal poverty; economic disparity; population control; eradication of social evils like discrimination based on caste and sex; child marriage; child labour (India contributes the largest share in the child labour force in the world - it exists not because of poverty; it is all the more tragic to note the fact that almost 90 per cent of child workers employed in the notorious match factories in Sivakasi are girls) - the list is indeed vast. These problems will remain intractable so long as children are not sent to school - their only rightful place.

In 1947 India's destiny was designed by leaders many of whom were first rate intellectuals; they were well-versed in world history. They knew, or ought to have known, that the emperor of Japan in the mid 19th century concentrated on only one welfare programme with a view to tackling all other problems - he introduced universal primary education; that Britain too realised its importance and made primary education compulsory in 1870. Our leaders knew that is how they achieved a break-through in population control. Our leaders also knew that the evil of child labour disappeared from these countries, thanks to their successful implementation of this one single welfare programme. And yet our leaders exhibited a singular lack of will to make this successful in our country. Is it because it has not been our tradition to care for the poor, the deprived, the depressed?

Today the Government of India, through the National Human Rights Commission have started publicising introduction of human rights education as a subject in schools and colleges. The reason for this public relations activity is well-known - pressure from funding agencies and countries because of human rights violations. Conviction does not appear to be a factor. Otherwise the Government and other concerned agencies and institutions would have shown a sense of urgency - this sense of urgency is conspicuous by its absence even on the part of human rights activists - in ensuring that all children received atleast primary education. We have known over these years that shibboleths have been our leaders' and planners' mainstay.

Lack of funds is often cited as the main reason for failure in this sector. The country has money, however, for all "programmes". The Prime Minister went to France the other day with a large retinue. Agreed, the cause was laudable - to give a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi. One wishes, however, that the Prime Minister and other politicians had indulged in a little less hypocrisy by following Gandhiji's teachings and programmes, here in India, one of which is his basic education scheme (popularly known as the Wardha Scheme of Education) which aimed at imparting elementary education to all children. (we dare not mention Gandhiji's insistence on observing morality in politics!).

We have the money, for example, to send teams of ministers and members of Parliament on a world tour with the ostensible purpose of assessing the use of Hindi in our Missions abroad - the whole tour costing about rupees one crore. We have crores to spend on "security" of VVIPs, both present and past. There is no dearth of money for our foreign mission people who are "required" to live in style, observing all pomp and show, hiding under the carpet the reality of India's poverty. Funds have never come in the way of ministers visiting foreign countries - according to published reports, no less than 21 ministers have been on foreign trips or would be travelling abroad during this summer. This number does not include the President, the Vice-President, and the Prime Minister. One non-functional Cabinet Minister (on perpetual medical leave with pay) is being sent to London for medical treatment. There is no problem in spending money lavishly on our M.Ps and state legislators - they enjoy almost everything free of cost; over and above these they get a handsome pension for life after they have served a term of only 4/5 years. Add to all these the scandalous and diabolical scams involving thousands of crores of rupees. Who can say India is a poor country!

Well, everything except children's education is unavoidable expenditure; compulsory primary education can wait, for the abuse of the child is God's gift! Human rights activists may consider whether it is possible to bring about a change in the scenario including that of human rights so long as this willful and criminal neglect of the child persists. - R.M.P. (15 June,95).


June, 1995 issue of PUCL Bulletin, "The International Day of Tolerance", pp 2-3: The following in page 3 be read as follows: "Also, we can and must, draw inspiration from the values of tolerance of the Bhakti movement that flourished in the medieval period…" "one does not need to be a scholar or an etherial intellectual to know that …". The printing mistakes, "the Middle Ages" and "ethical" are regretted. - Printer


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