Being a patriot at heart, I was excited this Independence Day, especially for the prime minister’s address to the nation, his last before the 2019 parliamentary elections. I was anxiously waiting to know whether this government, which came to power four years ago proclaiming ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’, had been able to meet its targets and implement its larger than life schemes. As a newly turned adult, with lots of ambitions and aspirations, the major focus point for me in the entire address was to be the progress achieved in the field of education.
The prime minister began his speech soon after the hoisting of the flag, and gradually mentioned each of the government’s achievements in almost every sector, from technology to sanitation and hygiene. It was a long speech, but still I waited for my point of concern. The prime minister discussed the reforms made in Jammu and Kashmir, where he mentioned the ongoing construction of IITs and IIMs (not at all discussing any other college) as an instance of the ‘developments’ worth mentioning in the field of education.
The prime minister’s achievement once again shattered all my expectations, leaving me stunned and disappointed. As a student of the humanities I felt somewhat inferior after his address, as it introduced me to yet another ‘class differentiation’ which sets the hierarchy of courses and subjects, keeping the science and technology students at the top of the ladder, rather like the Brahmins who lead the hierarchical order of the caste system prevalent in India. It compelled me once again to accept the fact that educational institutions which produce scientists, engineers and managers are the epitome of excellence, hubs of intellect and synonyms of success, and therefore it is a sensible idea to ‘invest’ in them and increase their number, rather than wasting money on other useless institutions which will only engage students in courses that can never secure their ‘future’ and guarantee them the desired ‘success’.
Any student in India who hails from a middle class family must choose from a limited range of career options. They can be an engineer or a doctor. It doesn’t matter at all what they really want to do. Their liberty can extend up to choosing ‘commerce’ instead of ‘science’, but never dare to think of studying ‘social science’ as this is something only dumb people left with no other options do.
The private engineering and medical colleges in India charge a huge amount of fees which is not easy to afford, so it becomes really necessary to pass the entrance exams to gain entry into reputed institutions like the IITs, IIMs and AIIMs. Here begins the cutthroat competition for reaching the ‘success centre’. Every year, millions of students willingly or unwillingly involve themselves in this reckless preparation for ‘success’ and undergo a lot of anxiety, tension and pressure.
No barometer in the world could measure the amount of pressure any medical or engineering aspirant goes through. And, in this way ultimately the joy and curiosity of learning loses its essence. When after all this ‘racing’ the students finally make their way to their ‘dream place’, they are introduced to a much more cruel and selfish world. They encounter endless problems on a daily basis, which at times depress them, and they end up taking their lives. Across the country IITs have seen a rash of student suicides and depression turns out to be the major cause behind this. According to a National Crime Records Bureau report, in 2015 in India 8,934 students committed suicide – that’s 25 every day – and according to another report in 2012 the suicide rate in India was among the highest in the world. A large proportion of these suicides were in the age group 15-29.
But, even after so many unwanted consequences, why do people still desire to reach these institutions? If we analyse it carefully, three major reasons come to the picture. The first two are ‘career security’ and the ‘status and intelligence symbol’. According to thousands of families across India, the IITs, IIMs and AIIMs are the utmost parameters of success and only people with high levels of intellect can reach there.
The third and the most important reason is the ‘investment concept’.
Many people are heard making sexist remarks like, ‘Women are not very good at subjects like science and mathematics. They are not made for engineering.’ And the data boost their confidence to make more such comments. According to recent statistics only 6.7% girls passed the IIT advanced joint entrance exam in 2018 out of the 31,021 who appeared for it, which clearly means the rest of them were boys who will now get into IITs and become ‘successful’ professionals with a good pay package after completing their graduation.
There exists a deep rooted conservative, patriarchal mindset in Indian society that Science is for brilliant students, primarily boys. Avijit Pathak, who teaches sociology at JNU writes in his article ‘A Sick Society that Manufactures Failures: the True Face of Education in India’ that ‘Science/ commerce is seen to be superior, practical and lucrative, but a negative orientation is attached to arts/ humanities – these ‘soft’/ ’feminine’ disciplines, it is thought, have no ‘future’, and ‘intelligent’ students are not supposed to opt for these branches of knowledge.” He stresses the fact that the humanities are considered to be feminine in nature and is mostly not for males.
A desirable salary after graduation makes the males eligible enough to bring forth their bride with wealth, as there exists a completely different barter system in India in which one must give money as well as their most precious asset, and get nothing in return. In Indian society we have a defined ‘rate chart’ of boys at the time of marriage, and the guys from IITs, AIIMs and IIMs are at the topmost positions followed by others. Indian parents take a lot of trouble to teach their sons and wait for this day to compensate their expenses from the parents of the girl.
In this way, boys with engineering and medical degree are major investments for their parents. In a nation where the propitiousness of the star under which a girl is conceived still decides her conjugal prospects, this is not really astounding, but it is extremely shameful, and it is the need of the hour to abolish such malpractices and to have a much broader horizon of thought, one that doesn’t confine success within the premises of IITs.
These conditions demand our immediate attention and it is very necessary to take the action required to change them. We need more and more educational institutions like JNU, Jamia Milia Islamia, and the IIMCs, which apart from producing successful professionals keep the core of education intact. This core is none other than the ‘space of learning and exploring’, and for that, first of all, we need to eradicate all sorts of bias and prejudice that exist against the humanities and social sciences.
We should try to enjoy learning without boundaries instead of making it a burden or a ‘status symbol’.
(Bhavna Jha is a student based in Ranchi, Jharkhand)