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K Kamaraj and the Midday Meal Scheme July 25, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Sundaram, Manu , Comment

Manu Sundaram

Kumarasami Kamaraj (1903 – 1975) was a political leader, freedom fighter and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Kamaraj is widely remembered in his home state of Tamil Nadu for the reform policies introduced during his tenure as Chief Minister (from 1954 to 1963) which  revolutionised the education system. In honour of his contribution, the Government of Tamil Nadu has declared that the birthday of Kamaraj (15 July) be celebrated as ‘Education Development Day’.

Kamaraj, admired for his simplicity and integrity, had a long and illustrious political career as Member of Legislative Assembly from 1954 to 1967 and as Member of Parliament initially from 1952 to 1954 and then from 1969 to 1975. He also served as President of Tamil Nadu Congress from 1940 to 1954 and as President of All India Congress from 1963 to 1971.

The story of Kamaraj’s political ascendancy mirrors the socio-political changes in Tamil Nadu. The rise of Kamaraj – a member of the backward Nadar caste – to the highest echelons of the Tamil Nadu politics took place alongside the growth of the Dravidian movement against caste-based oppression and the creation of opportunities for people from downtrodden classes.

As President of the Tamil Nadu Congress, Kamaraj oversaw the election of four Chief Ministers namely T Prakasam, Omandur Ramawamy Reddiar, Kumaraswamy Raja and Rajaji. During the tenure of Rajaji, the Government closed down nearly 6,000 schools citing financial constraints. Furthermore, Rajaji introduced a hereditary-based vocational education scheme which required students to learn the traditional caste occupation of their families. This scheme immediately met with strong opposition from all political quarters and Rajaji was forced to tender his resignation. Following this, Kamaraj was chosen to be the Chief Minister by the Congress Party. (more…)

Modern politicians and ‘new India’ May 21, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Sundaram, Manu , Comment

Manu Sundaram

In India, politicians evolved out of the national struggle for independence from colonial rule. Pandit Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr Ambedkar, who belonged to this group, were eminent scholars and possessed high intellect. More recently, grassroots leaders who espouse the cause of their communities and classes have blossomed from bottom up. This has been a result of the political empowerment of the backward classes and thereby giving raise to Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, etc. Both set of political leaders have been a product of their times and have in common a significant mass following. Their support bases have unflinchingly thrown their weight behind their leaders every five years in the toughest election campaigning anywhere in the world.

Shashi Tharoor and Sonia Gandhi. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh, source: Press Trust of India.

Now, an alien set of political creatures have appeared on the scene, claiming to be ‘modern politicians’. This includes Shashi Tharoor, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Jairam Ramesh, all of whom have been educated at elite institutions, posses a progressive outlook and global vision. This group is exceedingly popular with urban India that watches 24-hour news channels, blogs and prides itself as the ‘new India’. Both the modern politicians and new India feed off each other in a symbiotic manner. When news breaks, the modern politicians oblige with an opinion, which is subsequently amplified into a ‘national debate’ drawing in opinion-makers and experts. The entire show is carefully stage-managed to shock, provoke and ultimately cater to the sensibilities of new India.

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India: Anna and the Dravidian Movement February 15, 2010

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Manu Sundaram

Let Tamil be your dream of victory, let Tamil culture be your armour,

Let wisdom be your weapon. Let virtue be your guide and companion.

C.N. Annadurai (Former Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu)

C.N. Annadurai (or Anna for short), regarded by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as one of the country’s finest Parliamentarians, was a stalwart of the Dravidian Movement. To his supporters and followers he was known as “Arignar Anna” (Arignar in Tamil means genius) for his outstanding intellect and razor- sharp wit. He was also the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu when he led his party to victory in the state assembly alections in 1967. Arignar Anna’s tenure as Chief Minister was all too brief: he died, while still in office, in 1969.  But during this stint, he managed to elevate and embolden the Dravidian Movement like no other leader.

The Dravidian Movement first started as a social reformist struggle against caste-based discriminatory practices in India during the 1920s. After Independence, the Union Government of India started phasing out English and instituting Hindi has the official language. Protesting against this, the leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) took to the streets to register their opposition. Students and activists turned up in great numbers in response to the clarion calls of Arignar Anna and other Dravidian leaders. Renowned for his oratorical eloquence and leadership abilities, Arignar Anna held numerous meetings and demonstrations to fight against the imposition of Hindi on the Tamil speaking population in the South. During one such meeting, Arignar Anna was told of the argument that Hindi should be made the official language due to its “numerical superiority” as it was spoken by the majority of Indians. To this, Arignar Anna responded: “If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous?” (more…)

Waiting for India’s education revolution January 18, 2010

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Manu Sundaram

The past decade has witnessed policy initiatives and political interest that have rejuvenated the education sector in India. Lofty rhetoric of earlier politi­cians being replaced with action plans; and hollow promises substituted with time-bound strategies. In many ways, the new year will be an indica­tion of the long-term development inclinations of the present political establishment.

Now is the opportune moment to pause and reflect on the ground cov­ered by policies of the past, and delib­erate on the directions for the future. However, this alone will not suffice. Like the Green Revolution and White Revolution soon after independence, the country needs to urgently review its approach to education if it wants to satisfy the growing demands of a literate population competing in the global market. Innovative, far-sighted and bold approaches that will revolu­tionise Indian education are the need of the hour. (more…)

Counterpoint: in response to ‘Can privatisation help?’ December 24, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

The article titled ‘Can privatisation help?’ reviews the challenges in implementing the Right to Education Bill. In doing so, the authors weigh up the role of private education providers in meeting our goal of universalizing education, and in conclusion, provide two major findings: a) “The cost of private schooling limits the accessibility and has negative implications for the breadth and depth of school accessibility across socio-economic groups”; and b) “A well equipped and functioning government school sector will encourage a quality private school sector.”

While the discussion on the Right to Education Bill is timely and welcomed, educationists and policymakers must take note of the misdirected conclusions, arising from wrongful interpretation and omission of research, in this article. In fact, recent research has unearthed strong evidence directly contradicting the hypotheses suggested in the abovementioned article. (more…)

Indian Parliament roundup, 7-11 December 2009 December 14, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

The week at the Indian Parliament provided a glimpse of the tumultuous past and the tentative future of the nation. The fate of India as a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual society was at the centre of Parliamentary discussion and deliberation.

On 7 December, the Lok Sabha initiated discussion under Rule 193 (Parliamentary discussion with no voting) on the Liberhan Commission Report. The Liberhan Commission was a one-man Commission—retired High Court Justice Liberhan—that was constituted to look in to the events of 6 December 1992 at Ayodhya. After 17 years and multiple extensions, the Report was submitted in July 2009 and generated great controversy after citing Mr Kalyan Singh (Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh), Mr LK Advani (Leader of Opposition), Mr AB Vajpayee (Former Prime Minister of India) and much of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership, among those responsible for demolishing the disputed structure. The disputed structure may be referred to as the Ram Janma Bhoomi Babri Masjid (RJBBM) complex which was demolished by karsevaks (cadres) of the RSS, to facilitate the building of a Ram Mandir, despite the protest of Muslim groups. (more…)

Indian Parliament roundup, 30 November – 4 December 2009 December 7, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

This week, the Central Universities (Amendment) Bill 2009 was passed through the Lok Sabha. This Bill amends the Central Universities Act 2009 which deals with the setting up and running of centrally funded universities across the country. The Central Universities Act 2009 had proposed to establish a Central University of Jammu and Kashmir, based in Srinagar. Following protests by Kashmiri youths, the Government promulgated an ordinance – the Central Universities (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 – to establish separate universities for the Jammu and Kashmir divisions. This Bill seeks to replace the ordinance and provide Rs 240 crores for each university to start operations before the next academic year (commencing June 2010). The Government of India has launched a concerted effort to greatly expand the number of higher education institutions on the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and Yash Pal Committee Report. While speaking on the floor of the Lok Sabha, the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapal Sibal, stated that the Government aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio for higher education from the present 12 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020.

Following extensive negotiations between India and the United States of America on the issue of climate change, the Lok Sabha witnessed an enthusiastic discussion on the topic, under Rule 193 (which provides for a discussion without voting). The Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, outlined three non-negotiables for India at the Copenhagen Summit: (more…)

Indian Parliament roundup, 23-27 November 2009 November 30, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

The following is a roundup of some of the interesting and far-reaching outcomes from the Indian Parliament for the week of 23 November to 27 November 2009. The article includes legislative and parliamentary processes that may or may not have caught the mainstream media’s attention.

The winter session of the Indian Parliament got off to a brisk start with the Government coming good on its election promise to extend reservations to women in urban local governance bodies (i.e., municipalities and corporations) to 50%. This enhancement to the already existing 33% reservation was done to “ensure their increased representation and participation,” said the Union Minister for Urban Development Mr Jaipal Reddy while introducing The Constitution (One-Hundred and Twelfth Amendment) Bill 2009. This move is significant as it follows an identical increase in reservation for women in rural local bodies (i.e., panchayats) in the previous session and sets the stage for the much anticipated introduction of women’s reservation in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Currently, there is no gender-based reservation in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies and the earlier attempt to introduce the One-Hundred and Eighth Constitutional Amendment met with stiff resistance and dramatic scenes within the Parliament.

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Right to Education: reservations, reimbursements and repercussions November 16, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

By passing the landmark legislation guaranteeing elementary education as a fundamental right, the Indian Union Minister for Human Resource Development – the Hon’ble Kapil Sibal – has stirred the education system into action. Even though The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 was passed by both Houses of Parliament unanimously and expeditiously, it met with opposition from sections of civil society.

While the single-minded commitment to universalising education is commendable and bureaucratic efficacy desirable, the challenges facing the operationalisation of the Right to Education, as it is commonly known, are extraordinary. Nearly 200 million children aged 6 – 14 years, comprising students currently enrolled in government and public schools along with those who are ‘out of school’, will be affected by the legislation.

Section 12 of the Right to Education – reservation of at least 25% of seats in government-aided, private unaided and special schools for children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups – provides the clearest indication of the Government’s vision of social inclusion. This section stands out as the harbinger of educational equality by creating opportunities for underprivileged children to study in private schools. Some liberal commentators have welcomed this provision since it resembles a voucher scheme, while a number of school leaders have rallied against the implementation of this Section on the grounds that it interferes with the management of private unaided schools. A closer look at the prospects and pitfalls of this contentious section in the Right to Education bill is presented here. (more…)

Education policies for the most disadvantaged: lessons from the Indian urban poor August 13, 2009

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Manu Sundaram

Is it possible to provide equitable and quality educational opportunities for a country with over 440 million citizens under the age of 18? The government of India believes so and has over the last decade launched some ambitious programs to provide ‘free and compulsory’ elementary education. The planning, implementation and success of such programs will play a critical role in determining the fate of the world’s largest democracy. Some big challenges confront Indian education and enterprising solutions to these challenges are already in play, but there is still scope for new policy ideas.

Sundaram_Image145

Challenges

With over a million children between 6 and 14 years of age forced to abandon schooling to seek employment and supplement family incomes, the challenges facing Indian education are Himalayan. The Parliamentarians Group for Millennium Development Goals (2004) noted that nearly 70% of students from disadvantaged communities (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) drop out before completing 10 years of formal schooling. An unscrupulous nexus between politics and education – drunk on a potent cocktail of disproportionately powerful teacher unions and mind-boggling levels of bureaucracy – has also contributed to the debilitating state of the current education system in India.

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