There is a news item in my paper today that says the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has drawn up a new model curriculum for engineering and management courses that makes it compulsory to learn a smattering of Indian/Vedic values. That set me thinking, and several rather disquieting thoughts came into my mind.
First, teach ‘values’ to people in college, when, as any psychologist will tell you, their values have already set hard for life? Don’t you teach values in very early life, and that too more by example than by precept, if they are to be any use at all?
Second, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows what kind of values children who grow up fixated on engineering and/or management school later in life are being taught at home, isn’t it? That one gets an education only, repeat only, to get a job; that engineering and management is the quickest and safest way to at least a moderately paying job, that to get into those colleges all you need to learn is a bit of physics, chemistry and math (not much of that either, if daddy is ready to shell out a goodly sum of money!) – everything else is useless, language, literature, history, geography, economics, civics, leave alone something so esoteric and impractical as ‘values’? Don’t they also learn among values that it is fine to cheat through exams all one’s educational life, just as long as one doesn’t get caught, and naturally carry on living by those values for the rest of their lives? Don’t they learn that it is fine to forget everything one has crammed before exams afterwards, because knowledge is useless, only the exam scores matter? Don’t most of them condone, or at least quietly go along with the disgusting practice of ‘ragging’? Don’t they habitually use dirty language? Such kids will suddenly start learning values like honesty, hard work, thrift, cooperation, courtesy, punctuality, cleanliness, kindness etc etc in college? Why on earth should they? How can they be made to? What sort of fools expect them to?
And what exactly are Indian/vedic values? If values are worth the name, aren’t they supposed to be universal? Are Indian values all very healthy and worth teaching – extreme forms of patriarchy and casteism, for instance, open defecation, blind worship of the old, deliberate confusion of myth and history, mindless cruelty to animals, the tradition of kowtowing to people in power to their faces and constantly plotting to stab them when their backs are turned, arranging big fat weddings to show off one’s ‘success’…? (the ‘authorities’ quoted have said that our epics are great sources of good values. Look up my essay on the Mahabharata in this context. The Ramayana I won’t even deign to discuss, and the Arthashastra, another of these people’s supposed gold mines, recommends that the king spy on everybody all the time, including his own family members. How’s that for a good ‘value’?) And what kind of rubbish is a sentence like this – ‘Indian culture is largely focusing (sic) on collectivism where family and work group goals dominate over individualistic needs and desires’, and that, feel the authorities, is not only missing in conventional management literature but sorely needed by our budding engineers and managers. Well, as any semi-conscious Indian could tell you, as countless writers from Saratchandra Chatterjee to Arvind Adiga (who in The White Tiger has famously called the traditional Indian family an asphyxiating, soul-destroying chicken coop) have shown, the above assertion is pure bunkum: Indians typically neglect and treat the weak in their families, children, women, the old and the handicapped, with monstrous cruelty while paying lip service to family love and mutual obligations, and westerners, who mouth far fewer pious platitudes far less often, actually show far more collectivism and concern for the common weal: witness everything from how they keep their surroundings clean, insist on stern laws to prevent abuse of the weak, and provide social security to those who cannot fend for themselves. Whom are we trying to fool?