Activists, intellectuals discuss the threat of NEP 2020 on Constitution Day

The AIFRTE celebrated Constitution Day with an online discussion on the new education policy and its impact on various sections of society

On November 26, the  All India Forum for Right To Education (AIFRTE) organised a webinar titled  ‘Reclaim Social Justice Day’ where its member denounced the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and demand the for immediate release of Prof. Anand Teltumbde and other intellectuals arrested on trumped-up charges. 

During the event, AIFRTE organising Secretary Vikas Gupta read a resolution that denounced the NEP for its impact on social justice.

“NEP 2020 is a policy which demands to be rejected because it sees education only as a means of indoctrinating the mass of children and youth to fall in line with the government’s agenda of preparing a work-force that will labour in the low-paid jobs market and satisfy corporate requirements,” said the resolution.

The complete resolution can be viewed below:

Gupta said that the notion of social justice is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. However, over the last six years, there is increasing intention to demolish the constitutional values by demolishing the public sector of health, food, employment.

“To tackle this, the AIFRTE began organising state-level meetings to start a nation-wide centralised campaign for the protection of such constitutional values. The organisation will finalise a calendar from November 26 to December 26 that will list campaign days,” he said.

Similarly, AIFRTE Presidium Member Professor G. Hargopal read another resolution that demanded the immediate release of intellectuals and activists arrested for Bhima-Koregaon violence. Remembering Anand Teltumbde as an important member of the AIFRTE, he said the arrest of one of India’s best analysts shows the current state of an individual’s fundamental rights.

He also talked about the role of the NEP 2020 after considering laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA.)

“The NEP comes at a critical point in time. Education and knowledge raise critical questions. The government wants to stifle voices of university students and teachers. JNU has become a test case. Soon, this will happen to all universities. The AIFRTE is intervening to reclaim the purpose of education, reclaiming production of knowledge because knowledge has to help people in realising their rights and justice,” he said.

Over the course of the webinar, many artists and professionals in the field of education talked about their concerns regarding the current government and its educational policies.

Member of Maharashtra’s Insaaniyat Ki Pathshala Lokshahir Sambhaji Bhagat said, “You very well know who has changed the NEP. Their nature, their personality, you know that. This government is clearly a fascist government. They want to uplift brahmanvad and other uppercaste-mentalities. They are willing to allow the corporate to usurp this country. The government cannot bring about democratic changes because of their Brahmanical nature,” before singing the song to indicate the devious nature of the central government.

Later, former Chairperson of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women Prof. V. Vasanthi Devi talked about caste and Tamil Nadu in the context of the NEP. She said that the policy threatens Ambedkar’s vision of caste.

“Upper class soc is trying to build a single Hindu majority while marginalising religious minorities particularly Muslim.  Dalits are treated as less than humans, tribals are looted. Education has fully come into the market. The underprivileged have no scope of buying the product from these exorbitant markets,” said Vasanthi Devi.

She pointed out that Tamil Nadu stood as the biggest challenge towards the realization of a Hindu rashtravad since it has the highest level of reservation in higher education.

Nation Convener of the Safai Karamchari Andolan Bezwada Wilson also warned that the NEP along with recent new economic policies worked to strengthen an anti-minority environment that only caters to corporate companies.

“We can’t say that policies and politics are separate. Sanitation workers’ children are becoming available as cheap manual labour because they can’t afford to go to colleges. Children were forced to engage in online education. How will a large number of children who do not have a smartphone avail education?” he said.

To illustrate his point, he talked about the LSR student who died by suicide because she could not afford to pay her fees or keep up with online education due to a lack of amenities such as a laptop.

“Minority children can change their social status only through education. But now this manusmriti attitude is making clear that we will be restricted to menial jobs,” he said.

Building on this concern of a lack of proper educational facilities, member of Jan Jagaran Abhiyan Madhusudan Sethy from Odisha said that the government should introduce a system of accountability that makes education available to all. Further, the government should also employ more teachers and build roads leading to schools. Yet schools continue to close down in the state.

“Education should consider the entire population of India. Considering that, understand the disparity wherein a farmer’s child gets a different education from a politician’s child. The NEP that only talks about privatization will lead to destruction,” he said.

Sethy also said that he witnessed six protests in Odisha on Thursday that demanded the withdrawal of NEP 2020.

Madhya Pradesh’s Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sangathan Madhuri pointed out the current formal education system compels Adivasis to abandon their traditional manners to become more like urban folk.

“When an Adivasi child enters educational premises, the first thing they learn is that their own community is uneducated and superstitious. The educated people encourage Adivasi children to abandon their traditional ways and become like urban people,” she said.

Near identical sentiments were voiced by former Vice President of Naga Student Federation K. Elu Ndang who talked about the exclusion of North-East people from the education system.

He pointed out that India has no idea about its topography or about northeast culture. Many Northeast states lag in the field of transport, communication and internet connectivity. He questions how online education would develop in such situations.

“Till today India fails to refer to Northeast states for any decisions and thus fails in overall development. We are not considered an integral part or equal partner of this country,” said Ndang referring to the lack of Northeast representation in the national curriculum.

Another educational activist Firoz Ahmed from Delhi associated with the Lok Shikshak Manch talked about how the NEP 2020 would complicate the already precarious process of affirmative action in Muslim communities.

“The NEP uses the word ‘merit’ many times but it does not talk about integration and scholarships,” he said, pointing out that this sharply contrasted results of a recent survey conducted by the organisation that showed most families in Delhi hoped for integrated schools despite the violence in February 2020.

Highlighting yet another flaw in the new policy, the webinar also welcomed a teacher from Lokayat, Chandigarh and a student activist to talk about women’s issues and the lack of their mention in the document.

Amandeep Kaur who has worked as a professor in a university in Amritsar, Punjab warned that the corporatisation of education as stated in the NEP 2020 would only exclude women from the field. During her lectures, she said girls were heavily monitored and berated by their parents for working on their phones for a long period of time.

“Parents would not let girls talk on the phone for long hours thinking they would be talking to boys. We received calls from parents who complained about the long lecture sessions. Many girls were unable to attend classes due to financial constraints,” she said.

Thus, she argued that the idea of online education with a larger reach used an incomplete picture of what is actually happening in society.

Similarly, member of Delhi’s Pinjra Tod organisation Supriya Kumar criticised the new education policy for failing to address the inequalities in society.

“We are fighting the State’s attempts to apply NEP 2020 that will produce a mass of students as cheap labour in society. New liberalism is reshaping brahmanism and patriarchy. Social justice needs to prepare against it,” she said.

She said that this also threatens campus democracy. Public universities serve as a space where larger casteist patriarchal exclusionary state of government can be reproduced. She alluded to the many attacks on JNU students warning that the universities’ insistence that students not go beyond what is taught in classrooms is particularly alarming.


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