By Ashraf Thachar
In my childhood, I, a Muslim, along with my Hindu friends from my own rural locality, spoke passionately and frequently about education, career and life. In reality, we didn’t know much about any of those things. We always ended our conversation with laughter. Even when we encountered words such as ‘Babri Masjid Demolition’ and ‘Gujrat Riot’ during our school days, it didn’t challenge our fond friendships. However, unknowingly such polarizing discourse was leaving its disturbing trail on our impregnable minds.
Now I am completing my graduation from Madeenathunnor College, located in Calicut. I read articles in which I constantly encounter words such as fascism, extremism and communalism. Such words have almost become part of our ordinary lexicon. As a grown up educated Indian, I despair at the intolerance I see around me. I also know my limits in fighting against such extremism. Since I’m not very active in politics, I am not sure how I will be able to make a crucial intervention in the domain of our democracy. I also see terms like ‘communal amity’ have gained new acceptability in our vocabulary. We are keenly looking for instances of co-living in a secular and multicultural country, which is facing a crisis.
However, since children are not bothered about the insecurity of time and space, they still tend to be kind humans, who love their neighbors, irrespective of religion and culture. They promise new hopes and ideas for the betterment of our future.
Former Indian president, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, was one of the few, who tried to creatively identify and unleash this innocent potential of children in overcoming barriers. In his addresses to the nation, he often requested the parents of these children and their teachers to ignite fine virtues of harmony and optimism in them. In his view, only children were capable of significant innovative ideas because they were hardly encumbered by thoughts of impossibility in life. In contrast, the grown-ups happen to be more pessimistic to the changes they plan to bring about.
In his book, Ignited Minds, President Kalam quotes a question that he encountered during his visit to a school in Assam. The question was: ‘Why cannot water from the Brahmaputra, which is in flood much of time, be diverted to Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu which are starved of water?’ He had inescapably failed to answer the question. He stated that even the Indian Prime Minister would not have been able to answer this question. This potential for fresh thinking in children can also be found in the lines of late French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, who wrote: ”If the protests of children were heard in kindergarten, if their questions were attended to, it would be enough to explode the entire educational system.”
Such instances show the innocence of these children, who are not weighed down by or bothered about separatism, factionalism, and inhumane non-cooperation. If we manage to preserve their innocent curiosity and innovative potential through a humanitarian and secular education system, these children would be able to outlive, as Kalam mentioned, our self-centered and factional thinking. They are capable of pushing back all the negativity of our bureaucracy and governance. This can most illuminatingly carve out an enriched Indian future with all its diversity. Since as a society, we are becoming more and more intolerant, separatist and communal, as a mature democracy, we have a responsibility to learn from our children. More importantly, we must devise ways to channelize their innocence and humanity.
Before this fire of intolerances and polarization consumes us as a whole, we must allow our children to live with our amazing diversity. Here the responsibility lies mainly with the government and other educational institutions. Pedagogy and curriculum that the higher authorities wish to implement should be crafted with an awareness of our current reality. The state-sponsored education system has an added duty to propagate our diverse history and culture. The children must be taught that in a secular country like India, there are only two options in the way we live: either we live with the diversity or we fight a constant war with each other. More worryingly, we have recently witnessed the Rajasthan government’s proposal to purge Urdu writers from its curriculum.
If we fail to recognize this dangerous flame of intolerance or deliberately encourage them, it will consume our democracy, pluralism, and secularism. Then, our children will be reduced to the clashing army in Mathew Arnold’s poem:
“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night” (“Dover Beach”)
Muhammad Ashraf Thachara Padikkal is completing his graduation from Madeenathunnor, Calicut, Kerala. He is an interviewer, writer and independent research fellow, specializing in the areas of Sufism, Islamic studies and cultural anthropology. He is also interested in tradition, philology and subaltern literature.
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