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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Dr. Rajendra Prasad: Education And Our Present Needs

(Source: Speeches of President Rajendra Prasad, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting)

I must, at the very outset, express my sense of obligation to you for having afforded me this opportunity of addressing a few words to the graduates who, after qualifying from this University, are about to assume the responsibilities of life.

At the present moment, both Bharat and the world are faced with very difficult and complicated problems for the solution of which, both the experience and the sobriety of the elders and the irrepressible enthusiasm, burning hopes, aspirations and energy of youth are needed. It is no exaggeration to say that the responsibility for rebuilding the world lies mainly on their shoulders.

It is also quite evident that it is in their own interest to take up this task of reconstruction with a strong determination. Their success in life will depend mostly on the eagerness and skill with which they set themselves to the task.

It is your good fortune that you were able to make your mental and moral preparation for shouldering this responsibility in this University. It is a universally accepted truth that students unconsciously and, as a matter of course, derive as much knowledge from their social and cultural environment as they do from the lectures of their professors and from their textbooks.

The richer this environment is, the more cultured and civilised docs the life of the students become. Naturally, the boys and girls of this University must have derived an invaluable cultural benefit by having lived and studied here, for, the environment of Delhi has some special qualities which are not to be found elsewhere.

It is an incontrovertible truth that every nook and corner of this great city of Delhi reflects history. The echoes of the centuries reverberate in the historic ruins in its environs. There are, no doubt, many cities of great historic importance in Bharat, but among them all, Delhi is unique. It is the meeting point of three important currents of history which, after originating in different places of the world have joined, in this historic city, to become one current which enriches and would continue to enrich the cultural life of Bharat’s people.

The most ancient and undoubtedly the main current is the one which has been flowing from Vedic times (or perhaps even before) in our country and the life-giving waters of which have been satisfying the spiritual thirst of our people through all these centuries. It  has enriched our life by inspiring it with lofty ideals, associated with great names which have become by-words in our sacred literature and ancient history, a synonym for faithfulness is Harishchandra; for sacrifice, Dadhichi; for surpassing pity, Shivi; for charity, Kama; for statesmanship, Rama; for disinterested service, Krishna; for ahimsa, the Buddha; and for dharma chakra, Asoka.

There is not a single aspect of our life into which the ennobling and enriching effects of this current have not penetrated and it would not be an exaggeration to say, that, consciously or unconsciously, it is determining the direction of our life and thoughts even today. The other current is the one which had its source in Arabia and reached Bharat about a thousand years ago.

Flowing through the centuries, it joined with the first current. In this very city was born the composite language, dress, art, literature and ideology which are now the common property of the Hindus and the Muslims. It gave us Kabir’s Anhad Nad or the ‘Music of the Universe’ as also Jayasi’s love epic. It also gave us in marble the Taj—in eternal, unchanging form—the great sorrow of Shahjahan.

Similarly, a few centuries ago, the third current came to our country from the distant West and mingled its waters with the others in Delhi. It has activated our life, enlarged its dimensions and given it a new pattern by means of modem science. In this way, each of these currents has enriched and ennobled our culture.

You have had occasion to live and study at the confluence of these historic currents and naturally must have had the opportunity of immersing deep into their life-giving waters. At least, let me hope that you have fully availed yourself of that opportunity.

Delhi is the confluence point not only of these currents of history but also of the currents of people coming from different regions. People from all parts of Bharat are settled here, so much so that there is not a single region or State of Bharat whose domiciled citizens are not to be found in Delhi.

It would not be incorrect to say that if any one wants to have a bird’s eye view of our multilingual country with its many diversities, it would be sufficient for him to have a glimpse of Delhi, for, it is in every sense a microcosm of Bharat. Such a person would find here every phase of Bharat—the old and the new; the North and the South; the East and the West.

This is not all. Recently, during the last three years one has come into contact, in this city of Delhi, not only with people from different parts of Bharat but also of America, Russia, England, China, France, Burma and other countries of the world. Thus, Delhi is a city having a cosmopolitan culture and society.

You too must have come into close contact with people of different regions of Bharat and of the world by virtue of your having lived and studied in this city. Naturally, you must have had a practical realisation as to how necessary it is for the future of our country that these three currents of history should flow unitedly in order to carry life and vitality to every one of our villages and cities, our homes and factories.

You must have also clearly understood the great necessity of a unifying bond among persons of the different regions and communities of Bharat which, though thinner than air, should be stronger than steel.

I feel very strongly that we are face to face with the twin problems of cultural and regional harmony and we have to solve them with all the earnestness and care that we can command. It is my feeling that a university like that of Delhi and its students and graduates can play a very important role in the solution of this problem.

It is needless for me to say that the University of Delhi has the same composite form and character as Delhi, because it is the cultural centre of the city. This University has students coming from all parts of Bharat. Again, there are in it young men and women affected by one or more currents of history—it has people with both old and new-fangled ideas.

Naturally, there is the problem of establishing harmony in the life and mental outlook of its students, belonging as they do to different cultures and traditions and different communities. Moreover, it is its responsibility to send young men and women who have achieved an integral harmony, as pioneers and soldiers of cultural and regional harmony to every part of Bharat.

This is the duty of this University as also of other universities of Bharat, not merely for the sake of their internal harmony and smooth working but also for discharging their obligations as educational institutions.

The main object of education, in my opinion, is the establishment of a twofold harmony in every individual—harmony within his own self and harmony with other living beings in the whole world. It is no doubt true that in appearance every individual human being appears to be a single personality for the simple reason that we do not see him having two faces or eight hands and feet. But if the inner structure of an apparently single personality is examined, it would be found that instead of there being one, there are several beings in it.

Our ancestors had imagined Devas, Asuras and human beings having ten, five or four heads. That was not a mere fantasy devoid of all reality. Behind it, there was the great psychological truth that in every individual, however well-integrated he may appear on the surface, there is always the possibility of there being a number of different personalities.

This possibility arises simply because there does not exist a permanent and unbreakable natural harmony between the reason, the will and the physical appetites of an individual. Harmony in these different aspects of personality is brought about through training and knowledge. The establishment of such a harmony through knowledge, action and love used to be termed as Yoga in our country.

It must also be remembered that harmony once established by means of Yoga is not established for ever. The Yogi has to be ever vigilant to maintain this harmony through hard discipline and perseverance. If he fails to remain alert and vigilant even for a single moment he may lose all that he may have achieved through the hard labours of a lifetime and may find himself in the grip of the Devil. It was for this reason that there was a saying in this country that it is either the Yogi or the Bhogi who remains awake and sleepless.

The truth is that the Yogi never sleeps for he has to remain ever awake and alert in order that this inner spiritual harmony, by virtue of which alone his life finds fulfilment and he himself acquires perennial bliss and knowledge of the truth, should not break even for a moment. I believe that what was termed Yoga by our ancestors is what the universities have to provide to their students at the present time, for even modern educationists admit that the object of education is the establishment of a complete inner harmony so that there should not remain any split personality in the individual.

The danger of such a split personality exists ordinarily in every society and community, but it is much greater in a society in which there are several cultures, historical traditions and social systems. As I have already said, these diversities exist in our country and consequently there is every danger before us that the personalities of millions of our countrymen may remain split and dissociated.

As long as that is the case, our society and country would remain a victim of internal jealousies, dissensions and differences and thus would not be in a position to achieve progress and prosperity. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary for us that we should take immediate steps to free our country from this danger as early as possible.

It is, of course, very plain that this danger cannot be eliminated by the policeman’s baton or the soldier’s bayonet, nor can it be eliminated by means of the law or law courts. If it can be eliminated at all, it is only through good education and this can be done only by our universities.

Unfortunately, however, the universities which exist in our country were established at a time when the aim of education was considered to be such knowledge of the English language, literature and law as could enable the educated people to find service in offices or to practise law in the courts. It was for this reason that in almost all the Bharatiya Universities, English was kept as the medium of instruction and English literature as a compulsory subject.

It is really an irony of history that the literature of our own country was an optional subject, while the literature of England was a compulsory subject for us. There has been practically no change in this respect even today. In most of the Universities, English language and English literature continue to be compulsory subjects.

I have absolutely no prejudice against English nor am I indifferent to the beauty of English literature. I myself, in my student days, thought it proper to study for the highest degree in the English language and literature. Whatever beauty they may possess, nobody can deny the fact that the result of people being compelled to study them compulsorily, while being permitted to remain ignorant of and indifferent to their own literature, has led to the development of the cramming habit among our students.

There has been a long-standing complaint that they are habituated to cramming. But, I do not think that this is so because of any radical difference in their mental or physical make up as compared to that of the young men of other countries. I think that it was due to there being no harmony or contact between the education imparted in the Universities and their daily life that these students became strangers to their own traditional beliefs and their own culture and language.

These Universities were undoubtedly situated physically on the land and under the sky of Bharat, but in their spirit, they had more in common with England or Europe than with Bharat. What was taught to them in these places had absolutely no relevance to their home or to the life of their country. Consequently, it was not possible for them to remember their lessons as a matter of course and with ease. They had to stuff their minds with strange knowledge by a kind of violent effort.

Naturally, they could not but take to cramming. The inevitable result of this practice was that they lost that creative power and that self-confidence which had enabled Bharatiyas for centuries past to make valuable and unrivalled contributions in the spheres of science, literature, art and religion.

It was by virtue of these that they had carried the message of Bharatiya culture and religion to every comer of the great continent of Asia and to distant lands across the seas at a time when there were no safe and easy means of communication, nor such effective instruments of propaganda as man has at his disposal today.

As a consequence of this alien system of education, our educated people began to have split personalities, so much so that they could not see any other purpose in their lives except that of mere living. No one can compute the great cultural loss our country has had to suffer on account of this purposelessness.

It may appear at first sight rather surprising that quite a good number of the English members of the Indian Civil Service could find time, in spite of their heavy official duties, to devote themselves to the writing of books on history, political economy and other social sciences, while, with a few honourable exceptions, hardly any Bharatiya in the same service had any interest of that kind.

I think that this was due mainly to the fact that these English Civilians did not suffer from split personalities as did the Bharatiyas and, in any case, not to the same extent as the latter and consequently they were not subject to the mental inertia of which the Bharatiyas were victims. Whereas, it should have been the function of our Universities to bring about the development of harmonious personalities in our people, they continued to cut them into parts by their insistence on the English language and literature and by the neglect of whatever was Bharatiya.

Naturally and inevitably, this led to the rise of a class of Bharatiyas which, while living on the soil of Bharat, yet lived in an atmosphere which was English, so much so that even its family life, its language of speech, correspondence and study and its mode of dining and dressing became foreign.

Having been more or less completely Anglicised, these people did not suffer to the same extent from the split personality that used to develop among other educated people. However, even they did not remain entirely free from this evil.

Besides the loss that our people have had to suffer in the intellectual sphere on account of this kind of education, there was also a heavy loss in the social sphere. The people educated in these Universities came to develop a kind of indifference, if not contempt, for those Bharatiyas who had remained entirely unacquainted with English literature and culture.

The result was that in every city of Bharat, a kind of cultural wall began to arise, on one side of which lived the spiritual children of England and on the other the people of Bharat. These cities were already divided into the worlds of the rich and the poor, but now came to be divided also into the worlds of the English-educated and the non-English-educated. The result was that the collective endeavours and efforts towards a common good, which could otherwise have been made, were no longer possible.

Moreover, suspicion and jealousy began to arise between the people living on both sides of this wall. There also developed a tendency among them to mock and ridicule the people living on the other side. While the life of the city thus came to be divided, the life of the village was practically ruined as a result of this system.

It was plain that the  number of people who had taken to English ways of life could not be large in the villages, for the simple reason that such a mode of living involves heavy expenses and the people of the rural areas did not have any surplus money. Moreover, the villages did not have the facilities and amenities which our English-educated people considered necessary. The natural consequence was that the bond between educated Bharat and village Bharat went on loosening.

Such a gulf had never before arisen between the urban and the rural populations in the history of Bharat. In the past, learned people used to visit the villages and many of them even lived there. The life of the rural areas used to be on quite a good level of culture and civilisation on account of its contact with the intellectuals of the age and as a result of the recitation of stories from sacred literature.

Naturally, therefore, there was no big gulf between village culture and city culture. There could be inter-dining and inter-marriage between the people of the villages and the people of the cities as there was no difference in the style of living, dressing and dining. If a city girl was married into a rural family, she did not have to face any kind of discomfort or inconvenience because of the difference in the mode of living of her parents and her husband’s family.

But, during the British period, the cultural gulf between the city and the village widened to such an extent that if a girl from a city were to be married into a village family, she would have to face any amount of inconvenience and discomfort due to cultural disparity. The bonds that subsisted between the village and the city began to weaken all the more and a situation arose when the only relation that remained between the two was that the village people went to the city to sell their produce and to bring back cloth or money from there.

This widening gulf between the city and the village weakened the country all the more. Another loss which the village suffered on account of this system of education was that all the capable and skilled people of the villages began to desert their homes and settle in the cities.

A talented young man from a village, who was able to acquire English education, was so steeped in the English way of life that he could not even think of living any more in his former surroundings. The result of all this was that the universities became a kind of blotting paper for soaking all village talent. Only such persons continued to live in the villages who were deficient either in intelligence or in craftsmanship. Whereas, formerly, the talent of the village used to be devoted to the improvement of its economic and social life, it now began to completely migrate from the villages in order to settle down in the cities. Thus, as a result of this educational system, our villages became the abodes of darkness and illiteracy.

The universities, whose duty it was to spread light and learning and enrich life all around, ended with producing the kind of people who sucked away all life and joy from the countryside.

Whatever may have been the economic and political importance of this educational system during the British period, it does not and should not exist any more. Our greatest problem today is how to fill up the cultural and economic gap which exists between us and the other countries of the world. If we neglect this problem too long, not only our independence but even our existence will be in jeopardy.

In order to make up for this leeway, it is essential that each one of us singly, and our whole nation unitedly and perseveringly, should dedicate ourselves to the achievement of this objective. But, this will be possible only when the chasms and gulfs which exist at the present moment between the inner structure of our individual personality and communal life will have been completely filled up.

The first step which we must immediately take is to establish complete harmony among the historic traditions of our country. It is quite evident to me that this can be brought about only by the mingling and merging of the European and the Arab currents with the main traditional current of our land.

I say so, not because I believe that the indigenous tradition is superior to that of Arabia or Europe from the cultural or moral point of view. I think there is no question of better or worse before us in so far as this matter is concerned. The only reason why I advocate this course is that the indigenous tradition is the basis of the cultural life of our people.

No one can deny that the life of at least ninety per cent of our people rests on its foundations. Therefore, even if the European or Arabian traditions or currents be taken to be better than the indigenous one, it would be quite futile on our part to seek by force to divert the course of the indigenous current in order that it may mingle with the currents that entered our country at a later stage of our history.

The mingling of the former two with the indigenous current would imply only that they would contribute their special features to the indigenous current in order that these may penetrate or percolate into the life of every Bharatiya.

I would very much like the poems of Ghalib and the dramas of Shakespeare to become the property of as large a number of Bharatiyas as possible, instead of remaining the property, as they are today, of a few only. At the same time, I would like that those who, at present, look with contempt upon the indigenous culture should at least make an effort to see whether its artistic and literary creations have any value and beauty of their own or not.

I think that it should be the duty of everyone living in this country not to have any contempt or indifference for the great artistic and literary creations of these several cultural currents of our country. On the contrary, they should, with all eagerness, drink deep from them. When I refer to the dramas of Shakespeare and to the poems of Ghalib, I do not in the least imply that every Bharatiya should be compelled to read them in the English language or in Hindi overladen with Persian.

Of course, those who would like to read them in such languages may do so with pleasure. But, I do imply that those, who are not acquainted with these languages, should have access to these artistic works in their own languages and it should be the duty of the universities to see that the artistic creations of European and Arabic culture are made available to their students.

This also implies that the text books taught in the universities or in other educational institutions should have lessons which give their readers an idea and understanding of these historic traditions and their artistic creations. If we succeed in inducing all our brethren to march together in this matter, we shall very soon succeed in realising the objective of establishing an internal and social harmony. It is my conviction that the wall separating our masses and our intelligentsia can be demolished and the gulf existing between them bridged.

In this connection, I would like to say that the greatest contribution which Gandhiji made to our life was to restore, by means of the Charkha and Khadi, by third-class travel and by the Bharatiya way of dressing and living, the sundered bonds between our intelligentsia and our people. By restoring their lost unity, he gave to our people a power, an enthusiasm and a vigour which they had not had for centuries.

We have to be careful that this restored unity may not be lost again through our folly. There are, at the present moment, some educated people who think that the Indianisation which Gandhiji had brought about was quite alright for carrying on the battle of freedom against the English, but that under the changed conditions of today, it is not only quite unnecessary but is also even retrogressive and reactionary in character.

I think that these people have failed to see that nothing could do greater injury to our society than the sundering of the bonds that bind the heart of our people to the intelligentsia. I realise full well that we have to spread knowledge, literature and art as widely as possible, but I am not prepared to admit that the easiest way to do so is to cut off the bonds that bind us to the masses.

I think that scientific studies can be pursued with the same success while dressed in Bharatiya style as they can be in any other dress. I cannot see how the delight of literature can be lost if it is studied through a Bharatiya language. I would therefore urge as emphatically as I can that our Universities should no longer remain indifferent to the Bharatiya traditions and that they should make Bharatiya literature a compulsory subject of study for their students.

At the same time, they should make all possible efforts that a Bharatiya language or languages should become the medium of education at as early a time as possible. It is only when we are able to do so that the split personality which exists today in our individuals and our groups would be completely eliminated.

Secondly, I feel that the time has now come when universities, instead of being the blotting paper of village talent, should be the institutions which would enrich village talent by their own contributions, This would happen only when the style of living in the cities is not entirely different from that of the villages, I do not, in the least, imply that we should import the evils of village life into the cities, but I do feel that there is no overriding necessity for that ostentatious and fashionable way of living which is found in the lives of the students of our Universities today.

The life in the Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi was almost like that of the villages though completely free from all its evils. I think that we have to make an effort to introduce, to some extent, that type of life in our Universities also. If we are able to do so, I am sure, the students would not have any mental or cultural reservation in going to the villages to live there and to make the villages progressive units of culture.

Moreover, if such a change takes place in the viewpoint of universities, the cultural wall that now divides the cities into two halves and the gulf that exists between the city and the village will be completely eliminated. It would also stop the migration of talent from the villages to the cities and would eliminate the split character that is found today in the personalities of our educated people.

It is the duty of those who are in charge of Bharatiya Universities, to bring about this revolutionary change in their character. If they admit that the universities exist for the service of the Bharatiya people, if they believe that it is through these educational institutions that the torch of knowledge and the devotion to ideals can be carried into the life of the common people and if they consider it their duty to train soldiers who are to bring about a revolutionary change in the life of the common people of Bharat, they must take effective steps in the direction of bringing about such a change in the university system.

At the same time, I would urge on you, the Graduates, that in order to discharge the obligation that your countrymen have placed on you by providing you with education, it is your duty to dedicate yourselves to their service.

You have to carry light into millions of homes and cottages. You have the torch which shines all the brighter by kindling other torches. You have the wealth which increases the more it is given away. You can fill with new life, every child of this country by giving wealth and spreading light.

March on with strong determination and firm steps and by discharging these duties, fulfil the expectations that history and your country have of you. It is my heart’s desire and prayer that God may give you the strength and wisdom to come out successful in this great test of life.

– Dr. Rajendra Prasad

(Address delivered in Hindi at the Twenty-Eighth Convocation of the University of Delhi on December 9, 1950.)

(Source: Speeches of President Rajendra Prasad, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting)

(This article was published on on June 14, 2019 and has been reproduced here in full.)

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