Farming and the Politics of Education in India
Challenges of 21st Century
by Remigius de Souza
“Blessed are those who sow and do not reap.
…wrapped in the mantle of oblivion
— their destiny’s offering unuttered to the end.”
– Avrahn Ben Yitzank  (Israel)
THERE IS A BACKLOG OF SIX LAKHS “FARMING” SCHOOLS for more than 600 million people in about six lakhs villages in India. This could have been a top priority five decades back during Nehru’s era when we were 400 million people. And there would have been neither the school dropouts nor the numbers would have increased. Now we are 1100 million people.
Farming, here, means agriculture, aquaculture and horticulture/ forestry, and all their related fields including law and marketing. The curriculum, of course, should be appropriate to the regions – coastal, hills, wetlands, plains, deserts forests – and their biodiversity, the people and their skills, cultures and languages, besides literacy and biotechnology. It must necessarily be field-based, not merely “back-board-books-based” in a classroom. Now in the changing times this is an urgent need.
Instead we are still chewing the same old bitter almond/ bone of “literacy” for more than fifty years; by now two generations have passed. Indeed we are not learning from our mistakes while blindly imitating the West. We can learn the lessons in the people.
It is said, there are about 400 million people still illiterate. May be another 400 millions are marginally illiterate. They both are far from the “recognised” formal education. Leave aside the 100 million or more marginalized and the displaced that end up in the slums in cities and towns; 300 millions who are below “poverty line”; and those who suffer diseases, malnutrition, die by starvation, and commit suicides. In the modern changing times their survival  and life  is at stake.
By the direct proportion to places and people in rural India (and the migrants in urban areas), the managers of country’s affairs should have started farming schools, colleges and universities, by the rule of majority then, and now.
As the count goes, the anticipated six lakhs schools should lead to sixty thousand colleges and six thousand universities spread over entire country for higher education in farming disciplines to enhance people’s farming skills, knowledge understanding and practices. To supplement these, the Farming Training Institutes (FTIs) similar to Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and polytechnics should be started for the adults and the school dropouts.
This may not be easy task, not as easy as election campaigns or evacuating the villagers for the so-called development projects. It also cannot be a regimental application of a formula. The policymakers, legislation, administration and educationists etc. have to work hard, reach out to people and places. It demands decentralisation and rigorous fieldwork.
Perhaps for them, the ruling minority, it may be lucrative, glamorous and/or easier to build mega-dams and to fly spaceships than to implement literacy and relevant education the indigenous-way for the agrarian society – fisher folks, the tribal, peasants, landless labourers, and the people of the twelve traditional vocations – in rural India. Perhaps they think that the legislations, such as compulsory primary school education with mid-day meals, free housing, food for work, or some agrarian reforms etc are good enough to bring welfare to the people.
WHY THEN THE MAJORITY IS STILL LANGUISHING WITHOUT EDUCATION, in this modern age? The “trickle-down-education”, it seems, is synonymous to “trickle-down-economy” and “trickle-down corruption”! Or perhaps the major hindrance is that once the farming education from primary level is started it becomes an “official recognition” of the “people’s skills” of this unorganised sector; soon they would turn into an organised sector like industrial workers. After all, the (past) colonial masters, their colonial and post-colonial subjects – the products of British-made education – have groomed the politics of education for past two centuries.
Education is a basic need and everyone’s fundamental right. Even the animals and plants in their own kingdoms don’t fail. Development, in the true sense, is a “bottom-up” process, not the way it is today – “top-down” – coming down from the power centres. Land–waters–forests are the lifelines of India’s agrarian society.
The (existing) formal education from primary schools upwards, particularly in the rural areas, should diversify their streams to farming education. They should prepare the students for the “brown-collar” vocations to practice at their homestead rather than “white-collar” or “blue-collar occupations, which are already saturated and are facing unemployment and lay-offs.
The urban euphoria of arts-science-commerce is spreading in the rural areas. These streams lead to higher education in engineering, medicine, law, accountancy, management, ET/IT and their branches for those who can afford or have merits. Biotechnology is the recent buzzword on the campuses.
The hybrid seeds with chemical fertilisers and insecticides were introduced in the market in the mid-20th century. For ages the Indian farmers had been practicing organic farming, which boosted biodiversity. By the time farmers realised that because of this new biotechnology the soil had lost its vitality, potency, besides other ill-effect, it was too late. Many indigenous pest-resisting seeds were already lost. The frogs disappeared from the paddy fields. It has been ecological disaster. Ironically the West is now demanding organically grown food grains and fruits, with certification.
Biotechnology in its present new avatar that comes from the corporate world may prove to be a tsunami for the Indian farmers after the wave of hybrid seeds. From GM seeds to eugenics, it is shrouded in controversies, including ethical, moral, and ecological issues, which nobody can resolve with absolute authority. And the scientist will not come to agreement on these issues. Now it is reported that butterflies and bees are vanishing from the GM plant Crops (see: Down To Earth, Issue 30April 2005, New Delhi). The only authority could be the farmers who work on the field, if they are equipped.
DEMYSTIFY BIOTECHNOLOGY FIRST! It started with domestication of plants and animals some 10000 to 7000 years ago. India, in that era, was one of the few centres across the globe. Then the agricultural revolution started. The scientists are still speculating how the domestication was done. It is said that because of her rich biodiversity India still has some wild varieties. A word goes around that many herbs are being sold, stolen or smuggled out. This is fallout of inequity and lack of education.
Since the rise of civilization the tribal and farmers have faced several assaults by invaders and rulers. Yet they maintained ecological balance, until the British Raj came, until Swaraj came. Now they are without say in their own matters!
Traditional farming involves many levels of biotechnology, whether food or medicine; it is a part of farming. With the right to access to farming education, as basic infrastructure, and having known the ground realities, the farmers would excel in evolving appropriate ecological biotechnology than the urbanites and the corporations that monopolise it.
There is neither a “global village” nor the Indian village is its part. It is a misnomer. There is only a “Corporate Global Village” which looks down on the Indian farmer as a “vast untapped market” to be exploited to plough back its investments on the scientists, research and products. It is greed and perversion than altruism.
Someone in the West has numbered a thousand uses of bamboo. Unfortunately there is no documentation of the farmers’ skills of all the regions. Such a record may run into a million, and several volumes of thousand page each; India’s Intellectual Property Rights.
It is vital that before bringing any strategy, policy, project or law in force, the government must assess its fallout, how it will affect all the sections of the society, land and waters, not only the privileged class, and prepare appropriate instruments to rehabilitate them.
Farming education obviously should aim at preservation, restoration, recovery, management of land, waters, forest, biodiversity and people’s traditional skills. This should be entrusted in the hands of the local people as equal partners and custodians. This is our precious capital that can’t be squandered or ignored by impulsive actions or decisions. The posterity will never spare us. There is no finality (with them); there is no authority (with us). The bubble of development bursts every time we continue with this dichotomy: “they” and “we”.
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1 Quote from “Silence Artist” (book review) Poetry Review Vol 39 No3 Autumn 2003 UK.
2 Survival: To live sanely (as defined by J. Krishnamurti)
3 Life simply means be alive.
4 Late Barrister Nath Pai, MP was on the enquiry commission to investigate corruption. He once told us about one of the findings, that the corruption starts at the top. The author has never seen the report.
(This paper was published in Janata weekly, Mumbai.)
Remigius de Souza