In the wake of the Karnataka High Court verdict on hijab upholding the ban on wearing hijab on the premises of educational institutions, the government of Karnataka has taken the decision to introduce the Bhagavad Gita into the school curriculum of the next school year. The government’s decision sparked another controversy in the state after the hijab was banned.
It is true that the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita have tremendous significance. However, it cannot be included as a subject in the school curriculum. It is a sacred book of Hindus like the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. What is the logic of introducing it in schools where pupils belonging to other religions also study? Is it right to force them to study the teachings of the Gita against their will? Education should not be mixed with religion. Education must instill secularism in students, not communitarianism. India is a country of religious pluralism. When the Gita is part of the school curriculum, what about the Quran and the Bible? Should students belonging to Islam and Christian religions study the Gita instead of their holy books? This is another case of religious discrimination and segregation.
Education is provided for character formation and personality development. It widens the eyes of students and develops positive attitudes in them. Although people have the right to follow the religions of their choice, this should not be part of the studies in schools. Religion and holy books are meant to make people morally good while education transcends that. It is not intended to build student confidence. It develops a scientific temperament in students and enables them to perceive things rationally and develop clear perceptions. Invoking religious feelings in school children is dangerous. The sanctity of educational institutions must be preserved; they must never become centers of communitarianism.
Freedom of religion is a right
Shillong, and Meghalaya as a whole, has a predominantly Christian population. Feelings about religion are strong in the country, and the same can be said of our state. While it’s best to have a secular view of issues, some things are hard to avoid. Everything that is advocated by religious communities cannot be considered right or even ignored. It was only recently that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Shillong asked its members and leaders to “visit” some members’ homes. These members are specifically those who have not been in church for a while, so the church has decided to take responsibility and let people know their sins! Many of them, in groups, visit these houses and stand outside the houses, singing aloud songs of repentance and forgiveness. Isn’t this, in a way, to shame the people? Isn’t religion, and going to church, a choice? Must such a promulgation be authorized by church leaders?
Where is the fine line between breach of peace, intrusion, harassment and religious advocacy?
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Hard-earned academic excellence compromised
The year 1972 began with the inauguration of the state of Meghalaya, but not without two Himalayan blunders – the boundary issues and reservation policy which to this day haunt the government and people of Meghalaya, who see no hope that the blunders will be resolved any time soon. We lost the Kupli River to Assam because no chief knew the river law that the three tributaries i.e. Myntang, Mynriang and Umiurem are our birthright. For this, Assam knowingly claimed the low ground for power generation and we managed to get only 6% power for our 3 rivers. And with the HSPDP confessing that there was robbery and looting in the days spent by us on Assam and the give and take reconciliation policy, our people at the borders have lost all hope of the MDA government.
The second blunder is the 40-40-20% reservation policy, raked in by Khnam MP for Shillong North Constituency, Adelbert Nongrum. It was an emotional plea with its “no intention of sibling rift or bad feelings” clarification. He was right, for all of us who were part of the Hill State Movement agreed that academically it is undeniable that the Khasi-Pnar people then had an advantage over Garos. Unfortunately, our leaders who never tasted victory and who were too cheerful forgot to put a timeline on such reservations, say, to 1980.
I became a college teacher in 1974 and retired in 2011. 37 years have given me many opportunities to study the impact of blunder. During admissions to PU Sc (2-year course), the perception was that the 20% non-tribal reservation had lost many deserving non-tribal students to the state, and I thank them for their silent sacrifices.
In 1972, the upper secondary school performance was the platform for all our aspiring doctors. And the competition was at its height. These days, grades 11 and 12 were taught by experienced teachers intentionally planted by the principals as these are the years of teaching conceptual science to meet the challenges of the scientific world.
The new teachers had to come to terms with teaching pure science at the undergraduate level. Of course, many of those who didn’t want to study medicine went to B.Sc. The results were fantastic and these doctors from the 1970s to 2018 have proven themselves. But what has bothered us teachers is that when screening students into different medical schools through the Department of Health Services, the booking policy turned out to be very flawed. Many Khasi-Pnar students with much higher scores were deprived by Garo students of much lower scores. Khasi-Pnar students therefore had to opt for the veterinarian or the BPharm.
If the students had lost to others in engineering or agriculture, it wouldn’t have been such a big loss. But medicine is about treating patients. It is a critical course that requires academic excellence in physics (such as blood pressure theory, clinical thermometers, qualitative explanations of the spygmamanometer, endoscopy, PET scan), chemistry, and biology.
It is a pure waste of a medical seat when selected students who are unable to cope with medicine give up their seats, but not after depriving deserving students of Khasi Pnar. It is unfortunate that DHS never bothers to check the progress of students who are delegated to study medicine. Some take over 5 years to complete, and some even up to 8 years because they fail between semesters!
Adelbert Nongrum, in his argument in the House, did not dwell only on medical seats, but also on government employment. That such a critical issue should be voted down without even discussion is a matter of great concern. What did our so-called “ieid jaitbynriew” MPPs do? And for our MPs from Garo, to not humbly accept that the 1972 reservation policy is a Himalayan mistake shows that the reason and humble arguments of the MP for Shillong North have no place in today’s democracy. And worse, these same legislators would return in 2023!