Virtuous Versus Demoniac Life: How the Legacy of Colonial Education System Continues to Erase the Soul of India
A young couple in their teens living together without marriage, old parents living in senior homes away from the families of their children, excessive indulgence in fast foods, and an incessant desire to maintain an ultra-luxurious lifestyle. Does it sound familiar to the culture of the West? Not anymore, as it is now increasingly becoming a global culture, thanks to the colonial education systems that continue to erase the soul of native lands.
The architect of the education system during the British Raj in India, Thomas Babington Macaulay saw India as an uncivilized country that needed to be civilized. No branch of Eastern knowledge, according to him could be compared to what England had produced. Who could deny, declared Macaulay, that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” Mahatma Gandhi argued that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. It made them see Western civilization as superior and destroyed the pride they had in their own culture. There was poison in this education, said Mahatma Gandhi, it was sinful, it enslaved Indians, it cast an evil spell on them. Charmed by the West, appreciating everything that came from the West, Indians educated in these institutions began admiring British rule (NCERT, 2021).
In this context, this paper presents a comparison of virtuous versus demoniac life outlined in the ancient Indian scripture of Bhagwat Gita. Then, it alludes to how the colonial education system intentionally avoided making the traditional Indian literature a part of their curriculum in the British Raj. Finally, it makes a point in highlighting how Indian education specialists trained in this colonial system for several generations failed to make any substantial change in the curriculum, and the most recent National Education Policy 2020.
Legacy, Colonial, Education, Curriculum
The ancient scripture of Srimad Bhagwat Gita contains 700 verses recited by Lord Krishna to Arjuna about 5000-6000 years ago. The verses delivered in the battlefield of Kurukshetra (modern day city in Haryana, India with the same name) motivate Arjuna to take up the battle against his own brethren (Kauravas), who led a demoniac life and repeatedly humiliated the five Pandava brothers (Arjuna was one of them). In the process, the Lord explained much in detail the ways to lead a virtuous life, especially through “Karma Yoga”. This term is different from the conventional asanas (physical exercises) that the word yoga is normally associated with in common parlance. Karma Yoga means working dispassionately for the welfare of all without any expectation of results in return. Such a person gradually attains a state of inner consciousness, which leads to a blissful virtuous life.
Virtuous versus demoniac life
According to Lord Krishna, every human being has three attributes viz. goodness, passion, and ignorance. One must learn to minimize the attributes of passion and ignorance while increasing the attribute of goodness to lead a virtuous and blissful life. The Gita contains details about goodness, passion, and ignorance attributes in human beings, which the below table captures in terms of specific verses (shlokas) (Gita Supersite, 2021).
Table 1: Comparison between the attributes of goodness, passion, and ignorance
Characteristics and stages in the life of a person with demoniac nature (high degree of the attribute of passion)
The Gita captures the progression of life of a person with high degree of the attribute of passion as under (Gita Supersite, 2021):
16.4 Vanity, arrogance, pride, anger, rudeness, and lack of wisdom are the qualities of persons of demoniac nature.
16.7 A person of demoniac nature does not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness/ hygiene nor truthfulness is found in their conduct and behavior.
16.8 They say that this world is without truth, without any foundations, without God, has come into existence without any plausible cause, but it is due to lust and greed only.
16.9 With this perspective, these idiots having lost their souls and flourish by engaging in horrible and unbeneficial deeds for the destruction of the world.
16.10 Taking shelter of lust, insatiable vanity, fully absorbed in passion, adopting bad intentions due to illusion, and having impure resolve, they engage in action.
16.11 With immeasurable worries and anxieties till the time of their death, in this way, certainly they become dependent upon sense gratification as the supreme goal of their life.
16.12 Bound by hundreds of shackles of hopes, always given into lust and anger, they endeavor to amass wealth illegally for the purpose of sense gratification.
16.13 Such persons think - “This wealth has been gained by me today. I shall gain this according to my desires. This is also mine. My wealth will increase in the future.”
16.14 They further think – “That enemy has been killed by me. I shall kill others also. I am God. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful and happy.”
16.15 “I am the wealthiest, with renowned relatives and friends. I am like no other. I shall perform sacrifices, give charity and thus I shall rejoice” – in this way, such persons are deluded by lack of wisdom.
16.16 Perplexed by numerous anxieties, entangled in the snares of desires, infatuated to sense gratification, they sink into the miseries of hell.
16.17 Conceited (excessively proud of themselves), impudent (not showing due respect for another person), filled with pride and intoxication of wealth, they perform sacrifices in name only, with ostentation (showoff) and regardless of the injunctions.
16.18 Bewildered by ego (a sense of self-importance), strength, arrogance, lust and anger, the demoniac person blasphemes and becomes envious of the Lord, who is situated in their own bodies as well as the bodies of others.
16.19 Those who are envious of the Lord and are cruel, who are the most worthless in this world, the Lord perpetually casts them into various demoniac species of life.
16.20 Despite repeated birth amongst various demoniac species, such fools can never attain the Lord and gradually sink down to the most abominable existence.
16.21 Lust, anger and greed are three gates leading to this hell; therefore, one must give them up.
16.22 A person who has escaped these three gates of hell, strives for self-actualization, and thereafter goes to the supreme destination.
Before the British came to rule India, the traditional Indian education system had the Bhagwat Gita, the Ramayana, the Vedas, the Shastras, the Upanishads, and the Puranas as the core of its curriculum to build the virtues of goodness in the young minds while suppressing the unwanted attributes of passion and ignorance. Small schools outside cities, towns, and villages called Gurukuls/ Ashrams thronged the Indian landscape. These gurukuls were run by teachers (Gurus), who selflessly taught their pupils various Indian ancient scriptures, honed their skills for survival in tough circumstances, and preached about ways of leading a happy, healthy, and prosperous life.
The Colonial Education System in India
The British Raj started in India in 1858 and culminated in 1947 when India became independent. Even before the formal rule of the British in India, the East India Company (EIC) had started its occupation of native lands in the Indian Ocean region (including India) from its inception in 1600. Having established themselves firmly in the Indian land, the British instituted a commission to transform the Indian education system to suit their agenda of ruling India forever. One way of achieving this goal was to unleash a foreign (European) curriculum, preferably in a foreign language (English), and make learning by rote the only mechanism to assess the “memorization” capacity of Indians. This way, the British Raj intended to keep the young Indian minds occupied in “the banking of education” for eventually recruiting them as clerks to man their offices. The clerical mind is best suited to obey the orders of the oppressors and helps extend the rule of oppression (Freire, 1972).
The below two excepts clearly provide a peep into the contrasting views of the so-called experts of the British Raj and Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi:
The architect of the education system during the British Raj in India, Thomas Babington Macaulay saw India as an uncivilized country that needed to be civilized. No branch of Eastern knowledge, according to him could be compared to what England had produced. Who could deny, declared Macaulay, that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. (NCERT, 2021)”
Mahatma Gandhi argued that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. It made them see Western civilization as superior and destroyed the pride they had in their own culture. There was poison in this education, said Mahatma Gandhi, it was sinful, it enslaved Indians, it cast an evil spell on them. Charmed by the West, appreciating everything that came from the West, Indians educated in these institutions began admiring British rule (NCERT, 2021).
Clearly, Macaulay missed out completely to understand the depth of ancient Indian scriptures and the values/ morals therein, which seem to have made no sense to a European guided by Darwin’s obnoxious theory of “Survival of the fittest” and competition as a way of life (Darwin, 1859). The first step in invalidating the merits of these texts was to declare them as myths, meaning ‘a widely held but false belief or idea’. Ironically, the prophesy of Gandhi above materialized seamlessly as a result of the British education system implanted in India during the British Raj. His stance has been vividly vindicated as the “poison” has literally spread in the whole fabric of India. Many young Indians deem their own sacred texts as myths and do not even hesitate to ridicule them.
The profound impact of the colonial education system is evident today in India and rest of the former colonies of the West in the whole world. A young couple in their teens living together without marriage, old parents living in senior homes away from the families of their children, excessive indulgence in fast foods, and an incessant desire to maintain an ultra-luxurious lifestyle. Does it sound familiar to the culture of the West? Not anymore, as it is now increasingly becoming a global culture, thanks to the colonial education systems that continue to erase the soul of native lands.
The traditional joint families constituted by grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, uncles, aunts, spouses, children, and grandchildren that were the hallmark of India have been converted into miniscule families of just husband and wife. As if it is not enough, the matrimony between husband and wife is also no more lifelong. Just like the West, divorce rates are increasing in India. Obviously, this is expected when the individualistic culture dominated by “competition” and “survival of the fittest” percolates down to the level of family: father competing with son, mother competing with daughter-in-law, brother competing with sister, wife competing with husband for dominance, so on and so forth. The downward spiral for people with high degree of passion, as explained in the Gita, has been personified in today’s world.
Present day education system in India
Any rational mind would assume that after undergoing centuries of oppression under the British Raj, the Indian education system would have experienced a radical change after India became an independent nation on 15th August 1947. From the starting of British rule in 1858 till it ended in 1947, several generations of Indians subjected to the colonial education system had already been “conditioned” to the Western culture. The new team of Indian “experts” on education system after independence from the British Raj saw nothing wrong with the colonial education system. A few cosmetic changes were done to make it appear more local, but there was no fundamental change. The complacency of the experts is evident from the fact that the need for a policy was first felt in 1964 when Congress MP Siddheshwar Prasad criticized the then government for lacking a vision and philosophy for education. The same year, a 17-member Education Commission, headed by then UGC Chairperson D S Kothari, was constituted to draft a national and coordinated policy on education. Based on the suggestions of this Commission, Parliament passed the first education policy in 1968 (Chopra, 2020). It means for 21 years after independence, Indians continued to be subjected to the colonial education system without any change whatsoever. The next change in the education policy came about in 1986 (after good 18 years), which was further revised in 1992.
The recently introduced National Education Policy (Government of India, 2020), which was a revision of the policy after 18 years, claims to be a game-changer. However, a closer look reveals no further than incremental changes in line with the West. How come otherwise seminal works of Indian literature like Ramayana and the Bhagwat Gita find no place in it? The illustrious scientists and educationists having studied in the West see no merit in them to make them a part of the curriculum. Furthermore, most nation states including India are still wary of the Western powers, who do not like any critical perspectives on colonization, West-instigated wars (including the two World Wars), and the importance of religion in the lives of people.
Some critics may point out that the ancient Indian texts form the core of a particular religion in India, unbeknown to the fact that no religion of the present day existed when these sermons were delivered verbally about 5000-6000 years ago. For reference, Christianity can be deemed as having commenced with the death of Jesus Christ (2021 years ago, as the Anglo-Saxon calendar starts with 0 A.D. - the year of death of Christ). The rulers of Europe in medieval times intentionally avoided including religious text as part of their curriculum for they feared the might of the Roman Catholic Church, which had more influence on the public there than them. However, this was not the case in the British colonies like India. The Hindu religion has no single religious authority unlike the church. Indeed, the verses in these texts are meant for all humanity to lead a virtuous, stress-free, and healthy life.
The way forward
The Western lifestyle and culture has gradually overtaken the whole world due to the colonial education system implanted during the reign of the Western powers. Ironically, the nations have largely continued to follow the same education system without any significant change even after independence. There is a huge resistance to change in the educational space, given that several generations educated through this system are enamored by this philosophy of education, which basically promotes accumulation of wealth (at the expense of others), greed, lust, and competition (by eliminating/ disregarding others). The tremendous anxiety, depression and loneliness experienced by people in this mode of life leads to terrorism, wars, and human-made calamity. As explained in Gita, this approach of exploitation of every resource (including the natural resources of our planet) eventually leads to disaster for humanity.
This approach must change for the better – cooperation is the basic premise on which humanity and all life on the planet Earth thrives. The narrative must change from competition to cooperation, as aptly recognized by illustrious scientist Professor Lynn Margulis (Feldman, 2017), who contended that all living things are a result of cooperation between micro-organisms. A new world curriculum is required that is based upon knowledge from all over the world and harnesses the potential of technology in providing a personalized, flexible and enjoyable learning experience to everyone.
Chopra, Ritika (2020) Explained: India’s National Education Policy 2020, The Indian Express, July 31, 2020. Available online: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/reading-new-education-policy-india-schools-colleges-6531603/ (accessed on 4 Dec. 2021 at 10:04 a.m. IST)
Darwin, Charles (1859) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London : John Murray
Feldman, John (2017) The film - Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution, Bullfrog Films, Reading, PA, USA. Trailer available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxWJsJetG10 (accessed on 4 Dec. 2021 at 10:59 a.m. IST)
Freire, Paulo (1972) Pedagogy of the oppressed. [New York]: Herder and Herder. Harvard (18th ed.)
Gita Supersite (2021) Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Available online: https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/srimad?language=dv&field_chapter_value=16&field_nsutra_value=4&etsiva=1&etpurohit=1&etgb=1&etssa=1&choose=1 (accessed on 4 Dec. 2021 at 11:06 a.m. IST)
NCERT (2021) Grade 8 Textbook – Our Pasts-III, Chapter 7: Civilizing the “Native”, Educating the Nation, National Council of Educational Research and Training, pp. 81-92
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