By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Our country seems to be going through a devastating crisis. Several incidents like commul strife, religious hatred, attacks on temples, Churches and other religious places have clearly indicated the importance of secular education in schools and colleges. We often hear of various kinds of vandalism and crimes being perpetrated in diverse religious places. Such horrible and disgusting incidents have demonstrated the intolerance of some people towards others’ religion. They have also shown to what extent man can descend to denigrate some one’s faith. Man seems to have lost all the higher values of life. It is said that God made man in his own image; that is every man has divinity in him. Religion is supposed to unite people. But now we see that religion is dividing people instead of uniting them Whether it is the Upanishads, or the Bible, or the Quran, all religious texts teach the followers the value of love and devotion. Violence is repugnt to every religion. All religious texts suggest various ways to attain God or the Absolute Reality. Hence the aim of every religion is same, only the means are different.
Sages and Scholars through the ages have taught people to respect all the religions. Diverse religions have suggested diverse paths to attain God or reality. Our ways may be different, but God or Supreme Reality is same, for every faith. As Swami Vivekanda stated : “Religion does not consist in dogmas and creeds, temples and churches, rituals and ceremonies . It is the manifestation of divinity, already in man”. Indian Philosophers since ancient era have believed that divinity is potentially existent in every man. But due to various factors the divinity stays dormant and it has to be made actual by every individual by properly following the religious exercises and the moral principles.
From history we learn that education was never regarded as the responsibility of the Government in ancient India. The medieval rulers occasiolly patronized the arts , but education for people in general was never considered as important enough to be the responsibility of the state. It never got any place in the system of governce. As far as we know from the ancient literature, children from the royal households and from the aristocratic families were sent to the hermitages of the famed sages and scholars, who were well-known for their skill and accomplishments. They were venerated by the populace including the rulers. The disciples lived in the hermitages and they were properly looked after by the guru and gurumata as their own children. The pupils were taught religious texts, warfare and everything needed for leading a successful, fruitful and moral life . The state had no control over them and the state control of religious education did not even arise. In that age the study of religion was considered to be an integral part of education and the character of the young pupil was supposed to be moulded according to the religious model. From the ancient literature we learn about Ashramite education. The pupils were taught religion, morality as well as all the necessary things, which will be needed for success and happiness in their future life. Their education was not confined to merely books. It was a practical kind of education, which taught them the rules of life. They had to do hard work according to the command of the preceptor. They were given necessary training to be able to face any situation in future life. Moral, physical, spiritual and practical education was imparted to the disciples. The entire process of education depended on the will of the preceptor and it was totally independent of state interference. The rulers never tried to interfere with the method of education adopted by the gurus.
In that age the students had a very high standard of knowledge. But there was no provision for female education, though some highly intellectual ladies like Gargi, Moitreyee, Jagyase could complete with any male scholar. The disciples in that era, under the guidance of skilled and competent gurus became highly intellectual, moral and dutiful. Spiritually they were highly enlightened. The study of religion was considered to be an integral part of education and the character of the young learners was moulded according to the religious model. The state control of religious education did not arise and it was also unthinkable. Then of course the importance of such kind of education declined and it became extinct.
When the British came to India, they started a new mode of education policy. Initially they accepted the classical pattern. Warren Hastings established the Calcutta Madrasa in 1781 and Beras Sanskrit College in 1792. A few years later, Charles Grant tried to introduce a comprehensive system of English educations, but he failed to do that . Many schools were set up all around the country by the missiories, pre – eminently by William Carey.
After securing firm control over the administration in India, the British took an active interest in education. At the time of the renewal of the East India Company’s charter in 1813, the British Parliament asked the company to allocate at least one lakh rupees annually towards education. People in general were apprehensive about the intention of the foreign rulers. They were afraid that the British rulers wanted to impose Christianity in the country through western education. However, in 1935 it was resolved that the objective of the British government would be to promote European literature and Science amongst the “tives of India”.
The move to impart western education in schools was supported by the leading Indians of that era. But some people were opposed to the introduction of western education. However, this apprehension appeared to be unfounded. The famous dispatch of Sir Charles Wood in 1854, which laid the foundation of modern education system in the Universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay reiterated the sound principle of religious neutrality. The document said: “Government Institutions were founded for the benefit of the whole population in India. Education should strictly be secular”.
Actually it was mainly due to the apprehension of the people that the English rulers were trying to impose Christianity on the people of India, the revolt of 1857 occurred. The British Government suppressed the revolt and after that the Queen’s Proclamation declared: “We declaim alike the right and desire to impose our religious beliefs and mode of worship on our subjects.”
Accordingly the first Education Commission was appointed in 1882 for the smooth running of the education system. The Commission observed, “The declared neutrality of the state forbids it connecting the institution directly maintained by it with any one form of faith, and the other altertive of giving equal facilities in such institutions for the inculcation of all forms of faith involve political difficulties, which are believed to be inseparable.” At the same time the Commission recommended that an attempt might be made to prepare a moral textbook based on the fundamental principles of religion. The word ‘religion’ did not refer to any partionlar religion, as the texts of all religions are fundamentally same.
In 1884, the government of India advanced its response in the following way: “It is doubtful whether such a moral text-book of Morality, sufficiently vague and colourless to be accepted by the Christians, Hindus and Muslims would do much to remedy the defects or the shortcomings of such education”. The position of religious education remained the same till 1947. After independence the government of India appointed the Education Commission in 1948, which was headed by Dr. S. Radhakrishn. It recommended that in degree courses the lives of great religious leaders, notably Buddha, Confucious, Zoroastra, Christ, Ramanujan, k, Muhammad and Kabir be taught. Dr. A.L. Mudaliar was the Chairman of the Secondary Education Commission and the Commission suggested the holding of an assembly at the start of the day’s session with all the teachers and students being present. It also suggested a denomitiol prayer at the assembly. Because of the constitutiol provision of a secular state, the Commission thought that religious education could not be imparted in schools except, “on a voluntary basis and outside the regular school hours… Such instruction should be given to the children of the particular faith and with the consent of the parents and magement concerned.”
In 1959 the Central Advisory Board of Education appointed a special committee to consider the education system. The Committee was in favour of religious and moral instruction in educatiol institutions. The Kothari Commission also recommended education in social, moral and spiritual values. It proposed that a few hours in the time table may be set apart for religious and moral education , “as all religious stress certain fundamental qualities of character.”
But the Intertiol Commission on the Development of Education (1972) set up by UNESCO did not consider it necessary to recommend religious education in its report “Learning to Be”, aimed at developing a “complete man” which implies complete development of the potential inherent in each human being. The Preamble of the Constitution states that ours is a secular state and Article 28(1) proclaims that “No religious instruction shall be provided in any educatiol institution wholly maintained by the state funds.”
It is obvious that religious instruction is forbidden in government institutions. It may be provided by aided or private institutions with certain limitations. But in actual fact, the basic objective of education is to develop the potential in each child to make him a “complete man”, that is , a kind of ideal man with all higher qualities of life.
Every child is born with certain inte qualities, which remain potentially existent. It is the responsibility of true education to bring out the potential and make it actual in every child to make him a complete human being
Education and Religion
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee