Education, Social Behaviour and the Inconvenient Truths

By Vijayshree Kurumilla. Vijayshree is a writer from Hyderabad, India

What if, I belonged to a forest dwelling tribe and the only thing I believe and trust in, are the elements of Nature – the wind, the sun, the earth and the rain. I worship them and believe only in what Nature had taught me. We are very closely bonded with our land, our rivers, our trees and birds; just as we are with our own kin. Precious mineral resources were found in my home, and the Government had labelled us extremists, just for having the courage to stand between their machines and the forest. After labelling us as extremists, they get a license to erase our presence or our protests against the inevitable destruction of our home. Any activists, lawyers, reporters coming to intervene and show the world the heinous crimes committed against us, the so called primitives or savages by the civilized forces, are arrested and disappear. So, the war goes on without any witnesses, until not one of us is left to defend our home and nothing is left for us to defend.

I have no choice after losing my home, but, to move to the towns, to be ‘civilized’, like the rest. I have come to the city with dreams, that education will let me find the voice, which had got lost in the greed of the men who took everything from us. I’ve come to find in education, the equalizer that it was supposed to be.

I do not know anything about social behaviour in the cities. We always had a give and take culture in our ‘primitive’ society. When we took something from Nature, we gave it back, more than what we took. In the city, I come to a school, and find the teachers are overburdened, with academic syllabus. Most of the parents, expect their children to excel in academics, become a software engineer, and earn a lot of money. The truth is: education is seen in the end, as a ticket to earning money.

For the poorer sections, they foster a dream of getting their children to study in the best college or university and find a job, to help them come out of the rut that poor people live in. Schools in a way, do, teach social behaviour in a subtle way. They even have lessons to tell the students what is right and what is wrong. But what is really missing, though, is the human touch. They are taught, in a mechanical sort of a way, where everything is meant, for scoring, in the exams. The parent’s idea of what constitutes social behaviour will differ from each family, so a teacher may not really know, what is acceptable to all. We are not living in the times, when children were meant to be seen and not heard. Now they are the customers so anything taught by a teacher which is out of the box, is bound to be scrutinized and found fault with, if it does not fit, into someone’s idea of what social behaviour is.

I sometimes wonder whether duplicity and hypocrisy pass off in the name of social behaviour. A poor lawyer is arrested for stealing books from the court hall, and a newspaper finds it worth reporting the minute details of his purported crime, along with his name and address, unmindful of lifelong consequences to him and his family. The same paper has a page 3 section, where one finds amongst a crowd of faces, a fraudster, who had swindled banks and taxpayers, to the extent of millions of money, partying around and smiling at the cameras. The irony is more than evident.

I came to University and here, I’ve made friends, with others who are not from the forest, but are part of a system, where, by birth, you are branded with a caste, and your place is set in this world, based upon what your ancestors were branded with. So my friend, who was born in the lowest of the branding, was considered untouchable in his home town and he came to the University, believing, that education will cast away the remnants of such dubious branding. Like me, my friend trusted in the moon and stars, and hoped that one day he will become a great scientist, who will study the same stars. But my friend faced hurdles at every step in the university. Some of the professors who were supposed to have helped him in his dream, only mocked it, taunted him for having aspired, beyond the level, he was supposed to confine himself to. My friend fought for his scholarship, for every step he had to take, to fulfil his dream, but in the end, he gave up, knowing he was only fighting a losing battle. People who hounded him at the University want friends like mine to swallow the poison of discrimination and not be bitter about it.

After seeing the prevailing system which victimized my friend, I cannot help wondering, ‘Does a bird have a country, a race, a colour, a religion, a caste? Then why do we, the so called intelligent humans have all of this, and worst still, cannot accept what is different from what we belong to?’. What is appalling is the empty headedness that our education system is producing; this is nothing but a factory which provides fodder to the corporations to carry on their business, profitably.

No one wants to know about the war without witnesses taking place in my home, because we are the inconvenient people, the roaches who have to be sanitized in the name of development, where everyone should look like a uniform, factory manufactured product, without any brains or emotions, except for the ones, which are planted by people, for whom, the truth, is the most inconvenient one and they’d rather see it buried in the rubble or turned to ashes, the way they turned my friend, who believed in the stars, into.

I want everyone to be treated equally. I want my trees, forests, rivers, mountains, birds and animals, protected. I want my children to grow knowing no deception of this world, but only the innocence of the moon and the stars. I want empathy, humanity, knowledge of farming and its hardships, to be passed on to my children. When forces come to destroy our homes, I want them to raise their voice, fight for their rights, and that of their habitat. I want them to always tell ignorant people the truth, even if it will always be, unpalatable, to those calling the shots and finally, they should know that, no institution is bigger than humanity.

This is the social behaviour which is acceptable to me. Not the one which cauterizes someone stealing books as a thief while holding aloft someone who swindled millions out of banks, and tax payers.Just as I am writing, it is raining with lightning and thunder. It is raining on a parched, thirsty earth. All the lights are gone; all the air conditioners have gone silent. Rain or shine, people scurry to the shade of a tree, however small it might be, and yet, the tree is the most inconvenient presence. It has to go, to make way for the road, and more roads.

Now if you substitute the tree with the forest and the road with the mining company, you will understand why the forest is inconvenient for some people. People like me, living in there, are only nonexistent. What is not seen, does not exist, what is different from one, is a suspect. What counts is one’s unquestioning allegiance to the established order in the society. Swift is the punishment for breaking the order or speaking against it. You will not just be shown your place, but also, made an example of, in no time at all; If this is the social behaviour, then we and generations to come should be spared from being subjected to learning of the same, in our schools and universities.

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