A reminder to the Sage of Bengaluru

You went to a Catholic college but most Indians must be Naxals, dear
Sri Sri, because they went to government schools?


Mukund Murari Singh of Haridwar and Ravi Shankar Ratnam of Bengaluru
do not know each other, but Singh does not like what Ratnam says. In
a rejoinder on the internet to well publicised speech of Ratnam,
Mukund Murari Singh rubbished his claim that students who go to
government schools end up as Naxalites. “Dear Mr Sri Sri, I did my
schooling from Government Schools (Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan)
across the length and breadth of India. I also completed my
engineering from a Government College (IIT). I assure you, none of my
classmates or me have ended up as Naxals. Ignorant statements like
these reek of upper-class ignorance and indifference. Sincerely, Proud
Indian and a Patriot.”

Ravi Shankar Ratnam, as everyone knows, is the name Sri Sri Ravi
Shankar was born with before he heeded a complaint from Pandit Ravi
Shankar, the Sitar maestro, not to copy his name. In 1990, the former
student of Maharishi Yogi shed the Ratnam, added two Shris and
founded the Art of Living movement, going on to open an ashram and an
NGO in Geneva, the city of the United Nations offices. His official
website, and his hagiographers, will of course not tell you such
interesting titbits. They are busy rewriting a nice persona for him.
His official bio notes he was a child prodigy, reciting the classics
at age four, and graduating in Physics at age seventeen. A little
research unearths the fact that he studied at St Joseph’s college in
Bangalore, as it was then, and graduated at the more normal age of

Sri Sri, to use the name h gave himself rather than the one his
parents did, is not unknown to controversy. He has drawn much flack
for his absolute support to Hindutva and to the “sants” of the Vishwa
Hindu Parishad, the same ones who so strongly supported the demolition
of the Babri Masjid and the hate campaign against Christians. Sri Sri
will not be remembered for any major campaign in support of the Muslim
victims of the 2002 Gujarat violence or the 2008 pogrom against
Christians. He also has a controversial position on Kashmir, taking a
hyper nationalist and religious line that entirely ignores the
suffering of the Muslim population of the valley at the hands of not
just the terrorists, but the Army and paramilitary forces garrisoned
there for their protection. When the chips are down, Sri Sri has the
exact same position as any other Hindu religious persona in the corral
of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

It is not surprising that with his ideological mooring, Sri Sri takes
a “nationalist” position on political dissenters and those who rebel
against administrative and political situations that lead to large
scale internal displacement, cast violence, usury in farm loans and
the alienation of forests and tribal lands to Indian and national
monopolies. This is the conclusion I reached after a solitary
interaction with him at Vellankani during an annual general meeting of
the Conference of Catholic Priests of India not too long ago. It is a
moot question if the god man understand the factors that have led as
many as nine states of the Indian union, as an effective ground for
the Maoists, the contemporary inheritors of the Naxalite image. One
is tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt in statements he
makes. Specially since he has backtracked, as explained in his
statement made in the holy city of Haridwar on 24 March., when he
clarified that not “all” students of government schools were becoming
Naxalites. “Children who have joined the Naxal movement, most of them
have come out of the government schools. This same statement has also
been said by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Rural Development Minister, on
January 22, that the Maoists have recruited these children from tribal
and government schools. But I never said that all students coming out
of government school are becoming Naxalites, there have been some
really talented students who have come out of these schools as well.
The lack of spiritual and moral education in government schools has
made the students of these schools more vulnerable to join the
Maoists. The truth is that I never said that all such students are of
violent tendency, but those children who have shown such tendency have
not come out of mission schools where moral and spiritual education is
imparted without generalizing it.” he added.


This certainly was an improvement on his original reported statement
which, simplified further by news agency reporters and headline
writers, had said that state-run schools are turning into a breeding
ground for Maoists. “I feel that all state-run schools and colleges
should be privatised and that the government should not run any
school. Often it is seen that students from government schools end up
as Maoists or militants,” news agencies had reported him saying at
Jaipur. The threat of spreading extreme ideologies stemmed from a lack
of quality education. “All regions, which are inflicted with Maoists
and militancy do not have good schools. If students are able to get
education instilled with Indian values, they will never deviate onto
the path of violence and corruption,” he had said at the silver
jubilee celebration of Adarsh Vidya Mandir Jaipur in Ambabari.

The Adarsh Vidya Mandir school is run by the RSS. The RSS, through its
Ekal Vidyalaya programme, has promised to set up a school each in the
country’s 500,000 villages in India. It already has several thousand
of such schools. It is another point that at the village level
schools, the RSS has kept its academic programme out of official
scrutiny. The educational standards, teachers qualifications – in many
schools, there is just one teacher – and the curricula and pedagogy
have never been examined by the state and central governments and
their agencies. Religious minorities have charged these schools with
the teaching of a warped Indian history and a focus on hate for
minorities and against those who do not fit the Sangh definition of
nationalism and patriotism.
The guru could not go unchallenged. Teachers present at the function
protested,, as did others. The Art of Living volunteers present at the
main gate got into a heated argument with the protesting teachers who
demanded a public apology for the remark. Police present in the
auditorium swung to action and disperse the teachers outside the
venue. A criminal complaint was later filed by local lawyers –
Surendra Dhaka, Jai Prakash Sharma and Manu Pancholi – in a lower
court charging Sri Sri with the offence of spreading hatred in society
and defaming people passing out of government schools. “We also feel
that his statement is anti-Constitution as it goes against Article 21-
A where the government is bound to provide free and compulsory
education to children of the age group six to 14 years,” one of the
petitioners said. “Ravi Shankar is reproducing the ideology of hate as
presented by Golwalkar and Savarkar which schools like Adarsh Vidya
Mandir teach in the country when he said that Adarsh schools should be
set up everywhere in the name of Bharatiya Sanskriti,” said Kavita
Srivastava, general secretary of PUCL

Sri Sri has however still not clarified that when he talks of private
schools full of culture and tradition and values, he is referring to
just Christian, or Muslim and, more plausible, Hindu missionary
schools including such as run by the RSS, the RK Misison and the Anlgo
Vaidic societies, or is he talking of private schools run by
mercenaries, fly by night operators, and big corporations who run high
income chains, branding their schools as so much merchandise. Of the
last, the Delhi Public School society is one example, with schools in
every state, practically, an several abroad. One school in Delhi
offers its rich clientele – there is no other word to describe the
families who send their wards here – not just education with a
laptop for everyone in the totally air conditioned building, but
also such extra curricular as golf, horse riding and polo and,
indoors, billiards. The fees is perhaps Rs 50,000. A school in
Bengaluru, I was authoritatively told, charges Rs 10,00,000. Even a
school run by the society named after the philosopher Jiddu
Krishnamurthy charges Rs 100,000.

The Sage of Bengaluru – his ashram is in the countryside outside the
IT city – could more fruitfully have called for a learned and
constructive debate on how to reach quality education to every child
in the age group of 6 years onwards covered in the Right to Education
Act, in effect to every young citizen of India, be he or she be born
in a hut in a hamlet or in a hospital in a metropolis.

As the data goes, less than 20 per cent of children go to private
schools. Researchers Geeta Kingdom and colleagues say “In India,
human capital formation has traditionally occurred in government
funded schools but since liberalisation in 1991, private schools
increasingly offer an alternative. According to household survey
data, private schooling participation in rural India has grown from
10% in 1993 to 23 percent of the student population in 2007; this is
much higher than in most developed countries. Private school
participation is considerably higher in urban India. The high demand
hints at dissatisfaction with government schooling and the superior
results of private schools suggest that these schools may do a better
job, on average, than government schools.

They however record that private schools in India have generally less
qualified teachers than government schools and operate using much
lower levels of capital. However, private schools operate within the
market and as a result have strong incentives to be competitive.
Private schools hire teachers who often do not have a teaching
certificate and pay them a fraction of the salaries of government
schools, but they hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. The heads
have far greater control over hiring and firing of teachers and thus
are able to exhibit tighter control, have higher attendance and only
retain effective teachers.

Observers note that the “opportunity for the business of education in
India” is huge. India has the world’s largest population of school
going children at over 200 million. There are only about 75,000
private schools in India. While some of the ultra rich schools have
found avenues to bend the law by sharp auditing practices, schools
have to, by law, remain non profit. Human Resource Development
Minister Kapil Sibal is on record saying those seeking to make profits
out of schools “can take a hike”. According to a research report
published in January 2009 by IDFC SSKI, only $180 million of private
equity investment has taken place in the formal education sector —
from playschools, to coaching classes, online tutoring and digital
content for schools.

According to research studies, of the total schools, about 87.30
percent schools are located in the rural areas. The number of primary
schools has increased 8,09,108, influenced by the impact of Sarva
Shiksha Abhiyan under which a large number of schools have been
opened. As of 30th September 2008, as many as 1,26,335 primary and
48,994 upper primary schools/sections have been opened under
Government management since the inception of SSA.

The condition of schools run by the government is improving from its
dark ages in the 1970s and 1980s before Operation Blackboard and other
Missions were launched. There still remain many schools without
blackboards About 88 percent of the 1.29 million schools that impart
elementary education in the country now have drinking water facility
in school. And 67 percent schools in the country now have access to
common toilets in 2008-09 compared to only 62.67 percent in the
previous year, government data shows. More than 50 percent of total
1.29 million schools now have girl’s toilet compared to 50.55 percent
in the previous year. 14 percent schools have computer in schools
with percentage of such schools as high as 85.88 percent in
Chandigarh, 85.84 percent in Delhi, 79.93 percent in Kerala and 89.74
percent in Lakshadweep compared to only 0.68 percent in Bihar and 3.59
percent such schools in Uttar Pradesh.

Researchers say enrolment both at the primary and upper primary level
of education has also increased significantly. The enrolment increased
from 101.16 million in 2002-03 to 131.85 million in 2006-07 and
further to 134.38 million in 2008-09. Over a period of time, enrolment
in upper primary classes has also shown consistent increase. From a
low of 37.72 million in 2004-05, it has increased to 53.35 million in

A very significant research finding is that at the primary level, the
share of Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribe enrolment with respect to
total enrolment works out to 19.94 and 11.68 percent respectively.
Notably, at all levels, government schools are the main providers of
educational needs of both SC and ST children. The share of OBC
enrolment in the elementary classes is 42.26 percent. The apparent
survival rate (to Grade V) improved to 76 percent in 2008-09. This is
also reflected in retention rate at primary level which is estimated
to be 75 percent.
The national government educational data is staggering in all
segments. The total number of teachers in 2008-09 suggests that about
5.79 million teachers are engaged in teaching in schools imparting
elementary education in the country. The data also shows appointment
of a large number of teachers across the country consequent to the
Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.

The curricula – much of it approved and formulated by the National
Centre for Educational Research and Training, NCERT, brings a certain
uniformity is the standard of education. It is no one’s point that the
government’s – both state and central – educational programme can be
at par with the best in the private sector. But many government
schools, especially those run by the centre, compete effectively with
their private counterparts in the results for the Class Tenth and
Twelfth board examinations. Much remains to be done to make education
a reality for every single child, and even more remains in the areas
of higher education, vocational studies and brining technological
courses to rural India, but the progress has been significant.

And there is no data available from the Bureau of Police Research and
Development has no data that would go to show that students of
government schools, and colleges, join the Maoists any more than
anyone else.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will, perhaps, next time not take on the very,
very large alumni of government schools, or the collective might of
the teaching faculty.
– The writer is a prominent human rights activist & former Editor of Mid Day (New Delhi).

Neeraj Nanda

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