Speech made by C Rajagopalachari on the occasion of the opening of the new building of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bombay on August 8, 1949.
Source: Speeches of C. Rajagopalachari, Governor-General of India, Printed by the Superintendent, Governor-General’s Press, 1950.
Mr. Munshi is mainly responsible for my presence here among you today, I thank him and his colleagues for the honour of being associated with this pleasant function. Mr, Munshi, like many another among us, has been attached to a profession which does not give scope for his talents and natural tastes to find proper expression or satisfaction Mr. Munshi’s love of Indian culture and Indian classics and his taste for research and scholarship could not however be suppressed or overwhelmed by the Law Courts. Busy as he has been in Court and Parliament, his love of Indian culture and scholarship has found expression in his work for the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. His dissatisfaction with present-day University education in India and his strong conviction that something is wanting therein led him to take the initiative, to discover kindred spirits and sympathizers and with their help to found this institution Those who are acquainted with Mr. Munshi’s personality, his energy and his impatience of delay would see nothing surprising in the rapid execution of the plans in respect of this Bhavan. But judging by normal standards, it is remarkable.
When I refer to Mr. Munshi, I do not forget the energetic part played by Mrs. Munshi. Mr. Munshi has referred to her services in a fine manner and I congratulate him on overcoming his natural embarrassment in the cause of truth.
Dealing with primary education, whether it be reading, writing or arithmetic or learning through work or education through joy, whether the child should be soaked in symbols and inured to bewilderment and pain from the earliest period of his life or should be allowed to deal with things and play and work making little difference between the two and finding joy in both—whether we call our method Project Montessori or Basic or any other dear name, the education of our children must be planned so as to suit our present conditions, for obviously we cannot change these in order to suit our pet ideas. If you sit down and apply common arithmetic to your plans and to the national income on which you must ultimately draw for executing any or all of your plans, you will find most plans going to pieces in the process of calculation, and in sheer desperation you have to put your head into the sand ostrich like and refuse to see what is before you.
Elementary education is perhaps not very relevant to our function today But it is not altogether unconnected. What Samskriti or culture can we hope to conserve if our children are not brought up wisely and well? In spite of all the processes of unsettlement reform and reorganization of society in India through Acts of Parliament and Welfare movements and associations, the threads of essential labour on which the nation’s life hangs have been fortunately kept unbroken by family tradition. Most children still assist in the work of their fathers and mothers and they learn the family trade without school or institute and learn it well. Farmer, carpenter, cobbler, sweeper, smith, weaver, shopkeeper, cart-driver, all these millions of humble folk, unconscious of the ambitions and the ideologies of bigger people, carry on as if nothing were happening and so we live on. We may build our castles in the air with impunity because the real house we live in down below has been maintained by the humble and the unlettered, unmindful of our endeavours at higher level The food is grown, the cloth is woven, the sheep are shorn, the cows are grazed, the shoes are stitched, the scavenging is done, the cart-wheels and the ploughs are built and repaired, because thank God, the respective castes are still there and the homes are homes as well as trade schools and the parents are parents as well as masters to whom the unaspiring children are automatically apprenticed.
Under these conditions which no one but a mad man would disturb, what is the plan we ought to follow in the elementary schools we have established and are adding to shall we force all children, that is, those we can lay hands on, away from family apprenticeship to the trades of their parents, and compel them to spend all their time in the schools we set up such as they are—and we know just how efficient they will be with our best efforts—and make it impossible for them to learn the trades of their parents, for they cannot later in life learn these satisfactorily, nor can we hope to teach these in the schools which we set up through the hurriedly trained teachers there installed in authority? The thought alarms me for I see too clearly the mischief that must result from such a step. But I am needlessly afraid. For I am certain that in spite of our best efforts quite a number of children will fortunately escape our tyranny and the old system of family apprenticeship and traditional occupation will continue despite our efforts. How shall we reconcile our laudable object of spreading education with the need for continuing traditional occupations and family apprenticeship? I am a moderate man, a man out for healthy appeasement of all kinds and so I venture to suggest to the crusaders of compulsory primary education whether we cannot be content with three days in the week for schooling. During those three days you may do with the children just as you like. But give the children a chance during the other four days to work with their parents. Let us see what happens. There would be thus an insurance against error. We shall so to say advance, keeping the communications in the rear intact. Those who do not have to follow the trade of their parents or who have none of that kind, whose parents plan for parasitism or for government service or competition and gambling of various kinds may use the free four days in any way they like. The humble folk however will use these four days of the week for following the occupation of the parents and take schooling during the other three days which I think should be quite enough.
This would double the capacity of our schools and our teachers for it would mean they could take two sets of children in the week leaving one day off for rest from labour.
The financial problem would be greatly eased by this arrangement and the pressure of symbols and word-building on the tender brains of the pupils will be less. The four days off will give time to recuperate and furnish opportunity for the boys and girls to assimilate and to apply and to benefit from the schooling. Indeed I think this would improve the quality of the instruction and the assimilation all round.
I do not like the alternative of cutting up the day into two halves. The school as well as the family occupation should have the benefit of mornings as well as afternoons. The farmer boy and girl ought to go to school on three full days and get the benefit of it, and be with parents and cattle in the field or in the family workshop during four full days. We should not take away the morning or the afternoon conditions altogether from either school or family.
Thus much for primary education.
The colleges in India are full to overflowing. At the beginning of every academic year there is a great scramble for admissions, Matriculates putting forward claims and counter-claims on all possible grounds including caste and community. Judged from figures, our universities must be declared to be completely successful. Yet it must be confessed that almost everybody is certain that the universities as they are today are unsatisfactory. Professors, students, Members of our Parliament, the general public, the various Public Service Commissions, all agree that the stuff manufactured in the universities is not by any means good enough. The demands of the State are not met although in numbers there is no question of insufficiency. There is deplorable inadequacy in quality.
Democracy’s claims and all-embracing pretensions notwithstanding, sound leadership is the fundamental of national achievement and it must come from the products of our universities. We cannot seek for it elsewhere. A revolutionary leader or saint may appear by a miracle now and then in the history of a nation and reshape their affairs and their character. But the day-to-day work that is required for the steady evolution of progress depends on the continuous supply of leaders to manage men and guide the affairs of our people throughout the country and this does not belong to the world of miracles. We want, not one, but thousands of men of character placed in position in the thousands of districts throughout the country. It would be no exaggeration if we admit that the gap between the needs of the times and the quality of supply from our universities is a yawning gulf. The men and women who come out as graduates have to learn everything and personality has still to be shaped only after employment somewhere. This is most unsatisfactory when the burden and responsibility of the public services have increased beyond the wildest imagination of the previous generation of our public men. The most important equipment that a young man must get before he leaves his university is personality, not learning but character. Unfortunately the atmosphere of our colleges is far too much vitiated by intellectual and moral confusion for anything like this to be attempted. There is not that guidance available which is essential for the building up of personality in the young men and women studying in the universities. Brain power is of a very high order and a tremendous quantity of learning is put in, but the essential stuff is wanting. The explanation offered is that there is confusion, both intellectual and moral, in the world around and this is reflected in the universities. But is it enough for universities to reflect outside confusion instead of making up for it? The function of the universities must be to reform, not proportionately to represent society, but to do something to restore moral values and intellectual orderliness where there is anarchy.
The universities, I once again emphasize, must give the nation the leaders, teachers and administrators who are required in this complicated age to fulfil the duties devolving on the State and to guide society in its cultural life. Folly must be replaced by reason, passion must be put aside in favour of reflection, ideals must be installed where caprices govern, principles must prevail, not opportunism. All this cannot be hoped to be accomplished for us through some mighty sudden miracle. It is the function of universities to produce young men and women who will be able to find joy and fulfilment of spirit by guiding the people up this glorious mountain path.
Young men today are the sport of random and confused thought that finds expression in ephemeral printed matter of whose undependability even the victims are not unaware In the great experiment which India has in the evolution of her destiny undertaken to make in our generation, there is nothing more unfortunate than the present state of our colleges and universities. They were planned and built in a past generation and it is no fault of theirs if they do not suit our times and have not gained but rather suffered by the revolutionary technique that was evolved for the speedy attainment of freedom.
Had our philosophy and our culture which formed a great bulwark that protected India through past ages been intact, the mischief arising out of the inadequacy of our universities might have been of relative unimportance. If our Vedantic culture had been kept alive, not in scholarship alone but in the hearts of men and in their deeper understanding, no deficiency in school or college education would have mattered or resulted in serious harm. Unfortunately this ancient inheritance became in later times a rapidly diminishing asset. Little of it I fear is left now. Otherwise we would not have witnessed the vast quantity of greed and selfishness that prevail and have made the aims of our National Government so difficult of achievement. The discipline and restraint and the sense of moral values which Vedantic culture implies have been almost completely jettisoned by the steady and unrelenting educational plans pursued during the last fifty years, which alas did not furnish us with anything in place of the old inheritance that was thrown overboard.
All learning should develop personality otherwise it is worthless in every sense. On the other hand, if this aspect of university aims be kept in mind, every variety of study would be rich in fruit. Be it science, technical training, economics, history, law, domestic science or whatever else it might be, it would—each one of these—be an ample field for making a boy or girl a leader of men provided that, along with intellectual equipment, the development of personality were attended to.
I am not unaware of the difficulty of moral training. We cannot get the right type of personalities to live and move among the youth gathered in the universities, whose very life and deportment would without direct instruction or compulsion of discipline be an inspiration. We get teachers vastly competent in every other respect The greatest reluctance is generally felt in introducing anything in the scheme of school or college education which may be mistaken for denominational religious teaching. One must recognise the validity of the reasons and apprehensions that lead to this. But we may easily overdo all this. We cannot afford to exaggerate our fears and rest content doing nothing. The crisis is far too real and grave. We cannot take a simple negative attitude on account of our hesitation.
I feel there is a way to achieve the object. A comprehensive scheme creating opportunities for studying and understanding various religions and philosophies including what goes by the name of classical humanism in the Western universities, namely, the thoughts of Greece and Rome would, all taken together, furnish an atmosphere and an incentive which will enable our boys and girls to seize the truth and assimilate the culture and philosophy of our own land without exclusive direct effort organised for that purpose. The indirect approach may achieve what may not be directly undertaken. Let our boys be encouraged to interest themselves in the literature of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and the classics of Greece and Rome. Then, no one need ask them but they will recapture for themselves the Vedanta, for it is still available for recapture by anyone born in India and blessed with enlightened pride. When straying from the studies prescribed for me when I was young, I read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and chapters in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and later I acquainted myself with the thoughts of Socrates, Marcus Aurelius and Brother Lawrence, the joy and reverence within me swelled towards the Upanishads, the Gita and the Mahabharata though no one incited me to it. All spiritual search is one and God blesses it wherever it is done and by whomsoever. If I am today a devout though very imperfect Hindu Vedantin, it is not less due to my contact with some of the sacred books of other people than to the contemplation of what our own great ancestors have left for us. Not by total exclusion of all religion and spiritual thought out by all-embracing acquaintance and appreciation of spiritual thought of all kinds shall we be safe and shape ourselves properly.
I have said all this believing it is somewhat relevant to this occasion. I congratulate Mr. Munshi and all his good and eminent co-workers and associates of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for their great work and splendid achievement, in which the opening of this new mansion is an additional landmark of progress. I feel much honoured in having had something to do with it, however, symbolic.
May the labours of the Vidhya Bhavan in the cause of culture find true fulfilment.