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New Govt of India policy seeks to 'centralise, commercialise, communalise' education

Counterview Desk

The civil rights network, All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE), which is to observe Constitution Day on November 26 as Reclaiming Social Justice Day, has decided to hold a large number of programmes to oppose the “dilution of Constitutional framework of social justice and equality" by the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, accusing the “right-wing Brahmanical/ Hindutva and patriarchal forces” of seeking to “destroy the Constitutional guarantees of equality, social justice and measures for affirmative action like reservations and other welfare measures.”
Issuing a concept note on the Constitution Day, AIFRTE said, on November 26 it proposes to hold not just rallies/press conferences/ seminars/ public meetings on NEP 2020 and social justice issues at the local/ institutional/ district/ state levels, but also social media campaign on Facebook, Youtube and virtual meetings via Zoom under campaign hashtags #RejectNEP2020ReclaimSocialJustice and #RejectNEP2020SaveFuture.
Offering common posters for the campaign, AIFRTE has asked supporters to record short statements, even as “adopt creative means like cartoons, poetry or paintings etc. and share their digital versions in the social media tagging them with MPs, MLAs, CMOs, PMO, President”. 
The concept note insists, NEP2020 as a policy “demands to be rejected” because it sees education only as a means of indoctrinating children and youth. It adds, NEP2020 wants education fall in line with “the Government's agenda” to “centralise, commercialise and communalise” learning so that “critical thinking, scientific approach and the desire for social transformation are discouraged." 

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1. Concept of Social Justice must be seen as the basis, or ground, in society for the legal provision for social justice. The concept cannot be exhausted by the legal provisions as these will invariably leave room for struggles for further enhancement of the social concept.
2. This means that the focus must remain on systemic inequality and discrimination. It cannot be reduced to mere individual discriminations which should be routinely handled by the law/administration. When the unjust treatment of persons, either as individuals or in groups, is the result of centuries of socio-historical oppression and carries the weight of the social structure of discrimination, then the solution too has to be found through social intervention. It is not adequate to merely devise technical `efficiency' mechanisms and schemes for increasing competition to advance `merit' etc.
3. The concept of social justice is the very opposite of pre-feudal and feudal forms of hierarchy of status and oppression. India is a diverse country with many historical and cultural differences. Although caste divisions underlie the dominant forms of oppression in many parts of the country, its historical diversity also provides examples of types of egalitarianism and more subtle forms of inequality especially among the different tribal and adivasi communities.
The right-wing Brahmanical/ Hindutva and patriarchal forces in India are determined to destroy the Constitutional guarantees of equality, social justice, and measures for affirmative action like reservations and other welfare measures. The Hindutva ideology is blatantly being promoted by the present regime to privilege one religion above others, upper castes against `lowered' castes and patriarchy over gender equality. There is an urgent need to build peoples' movements to resist these regressive policies.
Social justice is also rejected by contemporary neoliberal theory and practice which only looks at the exchange value of persons, services and products in the market-place. Whereas after World War II, with its devastating effects on humanity, the Universal Charter of Human Rights was adopted so that equality of rights should be recognised for all members of the human race, the ideas of human rights and of justice for all are not respected by neoliberal policies. Our struggle against neoliberalism is therefore an important part of the contemporary struggle for social justice.
4. The Indian Constitution, under the able leadership of Dr Ambedkar as Chairperson of the Drafting Committee, reflects this understanding as it specifically refers to all forms of systemic discrimination based on caste, class, gender, religion, language, tribal/adivasi affiliation, and disability. It seeks to remove these forms of discrimination through the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which are given primacy in the Preamble itself. Fraternity is particularly important as it provides for justice in our social relationships amongst each other. Social justice is an end in itself, a value that strengthens social interaction. 
5. Principles of social justice are not aimed at merely providing `equality' for those who are deprived and denied. These principles are concerned with discriminating in favour of those who have and are being denied their rightful status and dignity in society, as well as in their individual lives. This is important because absence of social justice leads to severe economic discrimination and disempowerment of more than 85% of our population. Dalits, Adivasis, the most backward OBCs, religious and linguistic minorities, women, transgenders and the disabled suffer not only from social & educational backwardness and cultural oppression, but also from economic deprivation, poverty and hunger. They remain grossly under-represented in all aspects of social, economic and political life. 
6. The principle of Reservation in ensuring access to education, to employment and to career advancement is therefore a crucial element (though not the only one) in undermining and removing social injustices. Ideological or policy steps or decisions which aim to discredit and withdraw, instead of extending steps for positive discrimination, must be recognised as an assault on the Constitutional values and principles. They represent serious attempts to push back the struggle for social justice.
7. The other very important issue if we are to move to a society based on social justice from the present highly discriminatory social order, is the establishment of a state-funded, well-equipped and compulsory Common Neighbourhood School System (CSS) for all children upto Class XII. It must provide education of comparable quality for all.  
Common meals strike at the very root of socially discriminatory practices associated with caste, class, gender and disability
8. To be truly effective, the CSS needs a comprehensive and creative overhaul of the entire curriculum and syllabi so that the contribution of productive classes/castes and of children raised in such environments is fully recognised, appreciated and integrated in the education system. 
9. Education in the mother tongue is also a necessary guarantee of social justice. It does not resort to `elite' languages for instruction (which is a first choice for market-oriented private, commercialised schooling). It respects the children's own knowledge systems and community life. It draws mother tongue language teachers, who have a close link with the community, into the system -- improving their employment opportunities and setting up possibilities of a good system of engagement with parents etc.
10. Finally, provision of the entire nutritional requirements of children must be provided in school with breakfast, lunch and afternoon tiffin. This state-funded nutritional programme should be well-staffed and equipped with its own cadre of trained personnel. This is also necessary to further the achievement of social justice in our society as common meals strike at the very root of socially discriminatory practices associated with caste, class, gender and disability. 
11. NEP2020 is a policy which demands to be rejected because it sees education only as a means of indoctrinating the mass of children and youth to fall in line with the Government's agenda of preparing a work-force that will labour in the low-paid jobs market and satisfy corporate requirements. NEP2020 recommends, and in fact has already started implementing, changes that aim to centralise, commercialise and communalise education so that critical thinking, scientific approach and the desire for social transformation are discouraged. Dissent and democratic functioning which are so important for a dynamic education system find no place in this policy.
12. Social Justice is a direct casualty of NEP2020's agenda. Reservation and positive discrimination are ignored or discredited. "Merit" is used to provide an excuse for not planning for removing injustice. Systematic forms of social exclusion (caste, class, gender, religion, disability and regional inaccessibility) are not even mentioned as the reason for `underrepresentation' of large categories of persons. 
Social and political commitment and increased state funding for extending a quality education for all is actually given up as privatisation and commercialisation of education on the one hand, and vocationalisation which will only consolidate caste-based occupations on the other, are systematically promoted.

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