Swami Agnivesh and Rev. Valson Thampu
The tragedy of Gujarat brings home to us the crying need to protect school children from the virus of communalism. The kind of questions that children have asked us in the course of our innumerable visits to schools in Delhi, since our visit to Gujarat a month ago, point to the frightening reality that parents are infecting their children with communalism. It is shocking how blissfully unaware they are of the arsenic they are pouring into young minds in the most formative stages of their growth. This silent and hidden tragedy amounts to a veritable intellectual genocide spreading far beyond the borders of Gujarat.
Already millions of children are wilting under the burden of parental ambition driven by the psychology of what Freud calls ‘substitute gratification’. Parents, who could not fulfill their extravagant ambitions, use their children to attain their goals and dreams vicariously. This sanitized and institutionalized cruelty robs children of their childhood and the joy of learning. The ‘burdened child’ is the insignia of this age. Education has becomes a sphere of masked atrocities. But this is nothing compared to the crippling effect of communalism on the intellectual and moral formation of children.
Communalism, to state the obvious, is driven by hate which is purely and necessarily negative and what is negative can only disable. It is like a pull backwards, when you want to surge ahead. But the pull backwards on the body is nothing compared to the pull backwards on the mind. This is especially so in the sphere of education. It does not have to be argued that what helps a child best is the love for a subject. Love cannot be selective. Love or hate is a matter of the total orientation of one’s personality. A child who is encouraged to hate a person simply for belonging to a different religion cannot help being negative to every manifestation of differences, including different subjects and different possibilities. Intellectually, hate is a mental prison whereas love is liberation. If hate, rather than love, is made the shaping principle of a child’s outlook, it is tantamount to breaking the wings of that child in terms of the capacity for growth and excellence. If, for example, a child happens to hate a subject, the thing to do is to enable him to love that subject if he is to excel in it.
The intellectual negativity of communalism will lead to the incapacity for rational argument, for objective search for truth or systematic study. Communalism, especially of the aggressive kind, involves a collapse of reason and a corresponding allergy to truth. It manufactures or entertains prejudices and propagates them through emotional affinities activated by an unthinking religiosity. It is because of this that even adults today lack the rational capacity to see that all communal projects are a threat to the religions that they pretend to promote. The communal outlook, thus, destroys the capacity for objectivity which is the goal of education to nurture. Education is not a matter of cramming increasing quantities of information. It is, more importantly, a matter of disciplining and culturing the mind, of cultivating informed taste, including the taste for truth and justice. All these fall by the wayside, as soon as the capacity for objectivity is eroded by the spread of communalism.
Communalism perforce corrupts the human person. Central to the philosophy of education is the conviction that personality-formation is an essential goal in education. Character is the bedrock of personality. Hence the adage, ‘Character is destiny’: destiny like individuals and nations. Character, says Erich Fromm, the famous cultural anthropologist, involves the overcoming of crude and cruel instincts and impulses, rather than a willful or indoctrinated surrender to them. Anger and hate, selfishness and meanness, come along the route of instincts and impulses. A person of character empowered by the values of spirituality and promptings of conscience tries to rise above these crude instincts. Communalism glorifies the abject surrender to them. At the same time, it denounces and punishes expressions of nobler sentiments. The readers can recall instances from the on-going Gujarat carnage how some of the Hindus, who stood by their Muslim neighbours, were punished brutally for their betrayal of Hindutva. Communalism leaves no space or scope for the expression of our nobler selves or sentiments. It directs all our energies and passions towards what is mean and inhuman. That being the case, it is a potential nightmare that parents continue to prejudice their children in favour of a communal disposition. Yet, these are also the parents who move heaven and earth to get their children admitted to the best of schools, preferably convent schools, being eager, by their own confession, that these schools should help their children imbibe sound values.
Given the domination of the spirit of hate, communalism can only be a disruptive force as far as relationships are concerned. This happens mainly in two ways. First, the ascendancy of power over love in communalism makes individuals want to relate to others only in terms of domination. Those who see relationships as an opportunity to exercise their will to power will be restless and unstable except in the company of those who are happy to be enslaved. Relationships thus degenerate into master-slave mechanisms. In this process companionship becomes a casualty. Second, the prejudice inherent in communalism permits us to relate to others only in terms of labels. This degrades our affinities to mere ‘herd instinct’. Even within this, we tend to be uncomfortable with those who are not our clones and carbon copies. It is part of the mystery and beauty of creation that every human being is unique and no two persons are alike. Given the fact that differences inhere in nature and society, it is inevitable that the rise of the communal spirit disables us from creating and sustaining steadfast relationships. Communalism is perforce disruptive of community.
Parents should not lose sight of the cruel irony here. Now, in the flush of their youth, they see themselves as self-sufficient people who simply do not need to care what happens. But this is not forever. Come old age and they will need not so much the implosion of ideology as much as the touch of feeling hands and caring hearts. Those who today corrupt the hearts and minds of their children would then look in vain for them and will be left in pain when they find none. By corrupting the personality of their children, by freezing the fountainhead of love and compassion in them, they are scripting a tragedy for the evening of their life. It is part of the unforgiving logic of life, says William Shakespeare, that the ‘poisoned chalice we invent will return to plague the inventor’. There never has been an exception to this rule and it might be wise to ensure that its wisdom is not lost on us.
The children of this generation are potential geniuses. From the last to the present generation, there is a quantum leap in aptitudes and talents. But if this promise is to blossom into performance, it is essential that the minds and hearts of our children are not corrupted by the communal virus. Communalism is to the educational formation of a child what HIV/AIDS is to the physical integrity of a person. The human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) infiltrates our defense system and subverts our physical well-being from within, making us vulnerable to every infection in the surroundings. The communal virus invades the intellectual and spiritual systems of our personality and makes us vulnerable to whatever is mean and bestial in the mixed-up world of good and evil that we live in. In such a state we acquire the outlook that John Milton, the English epic poet, ascribes to Satan who says, “Evil, be thou my good.”