NATIONALISM AND EDUCATION
It was Sri Aurobindos influence on the Indian National Congress, in the first decade of the century which made the organisation include Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education in its programme. He wrote editorial in the Bande Mataram, more than once, urging the party to give sufficient attention to education, which was divided in two groups. One favoured running a chain of national schools, parallel with the government schools and the other group was much more ambitious. It wanted its ideas to infiltrate all the government schools!
The grotesque defects in the system of education that prevailed in India pained not only patriotic Indians, but also some Englishmen. For example, wrote W. W. Hunter, "Your State education is producing a revolt against three principles which, although they were pushed too far in ancient India, represent the deepest wants of human naturethe principle of discipline, the principle of religion, the principle of contentment." He said further, "What are you to do with this great clever class, forced up under a foreign system, without discipline, without contentment and without God ?"
In his well-known work, Indian Unrest (1910), Valentine Chirol observed :
"The fundamental weakness of our Indian educational system is that the average Indian student cannot bring his education into any direct relation with the world in which, outside the class or lecture room, he continues to live. For that world is still the old Indian world of his forefathers, and it is as far removed as the poles asunder from the Western world which claims his education."
Hemendra Prasad reviews the situation in his foreword to A Phase of the Swadeshi Movement : National Education (1953) by Prof. Haridas Mukherjee and Prof. Uma Mukherjee, thus :
"But they had to encounter immense difficulty in introducing a system of national education chiefly because the alien Government stood in the way. The Government would not recognise any system of education which was not stamped with their approval and, consequently, was not likely to serve their end. The door to the professions was barred for those who were not the products of the system which had a denationalising effect on the people. It created a huge hiatus between the educated and the masses; for, the educated considered themselves a separate class and developed what may be called superiority-complex. As an inevitable result the desire to diffuse the fertilising waters of intellectual knowledge from their great and copious fountainheads at the Universities by a thousand irrigating channels over the whole length and breadth of the landdeteriorated and learning was not connected with the living forces of societythe masses were not made a sharer in the classic traditions of the lettered world."
"In 1906, the National Council of Education was founded in Calcutta. The Bengal National College and School started its working career since August 15 at a rented house at 191/1, Bowbazar Street, with Aurobindo Ghose as its first Principal and Satis Chandra Mukherjee as its first Executive Head or the Superintendent.... Aurobindos name alone proved a very valuable asset to the Bengal National College and added enormously to the prestige of the institution in public eyes. But as he soon became,particularly since October 1906,more and more involved in active politics and in the conduct of the famous Bande Mataram,he could not turn up regularly in the college whose life-force was, in fact, Satis Chandra Mukherjee, the silent inspirer of Young Bengal."
That was a turbulent time. The freedom movement was gathering momentum. The character of the Indian National Congress was to undergo a radical change at its historic Surat session in 1907, the nationalists meeting under the Presidentship of Sri Aurobindo and the government bringing the charge of sedition against the Bande Mataram and then arresting him in connection with the Alipore Conspiracy Case (1908).
But the need for a greater experiment in national education continued to be felt by him. In the Bande Mataram of 24 February 1908 he wrote, under the title A National University:
"The idea of a National University is one of the ideas which have formulated themselves in the national consciousness and become part of the immediate destiny of a people. It is a seed which is sown and must come to its fruition, because the future demands it and the heart of the nation is in accord with the demand. The processes of its increase may be rapid or it may be slow, and when the first beginnings are made, there may be many errors and false starts, but like a stream gathering volume as it flows, the movement will grow in force and certainty, the vision of those responsible for its execution will grow clearer, and their hands will be helped in unexpected ways until the purpose of God is worked out and the idea shapes itself into an accomplished reality. But it is necessary that those who are the custodians of the precious trust, should guard it with a jealous care and protect its purity and first high aim from being sullied or lowered."
Sri Aurobindo, no wonder, could not give his time to the educational movement and the functioning of the College founded by the National Council seems to have deteriorated because of the people managing it trying to dissociate it from the general national fervour sweeping the country and making it purely academic in character. The anguish Sri Aurobindo felt found expression in an article entitled National Education, published in the Karmayogin (January 1, 1910), the weekly he edited after his acquittal in the Alipore Conspiracy Case and before leaving for Pondicherry :
"National Education languishes because the active force has been withdrawn from it; it does not absolutely perish because a certain amount of Nationalist self-devotion has entrenched itself in this last stronghold and holds it against great odds and under the most discouraging circumstances. A certain amount only,because part of the active enthusiasm and self-sacrifice which created the movement, has been deliberately extruded from it in obedience to fear or even baser motives, part has abandoned in disgust at the degeneration of the system in incapable hands and the rest is now finding its self-devotion baffled and deprived of the change of success by the same incapacity and weakness at headquaters.
"The National Council of Education, as it is at present composed, has convicted itself of entire incapacity whether to grasp the meaning of the movement or to preserve or create the conditions of its success. To the majority of the members it is merely an interesting academic experiment in which they can embody some of their pet hobbies or satisfy a general vague dissatisfaction with the established University system. To others the only valuable part of it is the technical instruction given in its workshops. The two or three who at all regard it as part of a great national movement, are unnerved by fear, scepticism and distrust... It is folly to expect that the nation at large will either pay heavily or make great sacrifices merely to support an interesting academic experiment, still less to allow a few learned men to spoil the intellectual development of the race by indulging their hobbies at the public expense... Unless this movement is carried on, as it was undertaken, as part of a great movement of national resurgence, unless it is made, visibly to all, a nursery of patriotism and a mighty instrument of national culture, it cannot succeed. It is foolish to expect men to make great sacrifices while discouraging their hope and enthusiasm. It is not intellectual recognition of duty that compels sustained self-sacrifice in masses of men; it is hope, it is the lofty ardour of a great cause, it is the enthusiasm of a noble and courageous effort. It is amazing that men calling themselves educated and presuming to dabble with public movements should be blind to the fact that the success or failure of National Education is intimately bound up with and, indeed, entirely depends upon the fortunes of the great resurgence which gave it birth. They seem to labour under the delusion that it was an academic and not a national impulse which induced men to support this great effort, and they seek to save the institution from a premature death by exiling from it the enthusiasm that made it possible. They cannot ignore the service done by that enthusiasm, but they regard it merely as the ladder by which they climbed and are busy trying to kick it down. They are really shutting off the steam, yet expect the locomotive to go on."
At Pondicherry, with the appearance of the monthly Arya, Sri Aurobindos vision and reflections on all the great issues of life and of Yoga and spirituality found a distinct medium for their serialised presentation. He wrote "A Preface on National Education" (1920-1921) in which he clearly analysed, in the backdrop of the 20th century, how a national outlook of education can be synthesised with the modern development. He says "National education was not a mere change of control of the educational institutions, the authority passing from the hands of the Westerners to Indians. "I presume that it is something more profound, great and searching that we have in mind and that, whatever the difficulty of giving it shape, it is an education proper to the Indian soul and need and temperament and culture that we are in quest of, not indeed something faithful merely to the past, but to the developing soul of India, to her future need, to the greatness of her coming self-creation, to her eternal spirit."
"There could be questions on the idea of a national education. Is it not true that the training of good citizenship is the same in the East or the West? Is it not true that man is same everywhere and his needs are common? Education should have a universal character and not limited by any concept. No nation can reject the discoveries or inventions in science because they were possible in another country. We cannot dismiss Galileo and Newton and stop with Bhaskara, Aryabhatta and Varahamihira. We cannot revive the syllabus followed at Takshashila or Nalanda. After all we live in the twentieth century and cannot revive the India of Chandragupta or Akbar; we must keep abreast with the march of truth and knowledge, fit ourselves for existence under actual circumstances, and our education must be therefore upto date in form and substance and modern in life and spirit."
To such possible observations, Sri Aurobindos answer was:
"All these objections are only pertinent if directed against the travesty of the idea of national education which would make of it a means of an obscurantist retrogression to the past forms that were once a living frame of our culture but are now dead or dying things; but that is not the idea nor the endeavour. The living spirit of the demand for national education no more requires a return to the astronomy and mathematics of Bhaskara or the forms of the system of Nalanda than the living spirit of Swadeshi a return from railway and motor traction to the ancient chariot and the bullockcart. There is no doubt plenty of retrogressive sentimentalism about and there have been some queer violences on common sense and reason and disconcerting freaks that prejudice the real issue, but these inconsequent streaks of fantasy give a false hue to the matter. It is the spirit, the living and vital issue that we have to do with, and there the question is not between modernism and antiquity, but between an imported civilization and the greater possibilities of the Indian mind and nature, not between the present and the past, but between the present and the future. It is not a return to the fifth century but an initiation of the centuries to come, not a reversion but a break forward away from a present artificial falsity to her own greater innate potentialities that is demanded by the soul, by the Shakti of India."
That a policy of national education did not mean merely infusing in the student the spirit of the nations culture, aspirations and other qualities peculiar to it, but something more, to make the student a worthy unit of humanity, was emphasised in the next part of the essay :
"It follows that that alone will be a true and living education which helps to bring out to full advantage, makes ready for the full purpose and scope of human life all that is in the individual man, and which at the same time helps him to enter into his right relation with the life, mind and soul of the people to which he belongs and with that great total life, mind and soul of humanity of which he himself is a unit and his people or nation a living, a separate and yet inseparable member. It is by considering the whole question in the light of this large and entire principle that we can best arrive at a clear idea of what we would have our education to be and what we shall strive to accomplish by a national education. Most is this largeness of view and foundation needed here and now in India, the whole energy of whose life purpose must be at this critical turning of her destinies directed to her one great need, to find and rebuild her true self in individual and in people and to take again, thus repossessed of her inner greatness, her due and natural portion and station in the life of the human race."
If this were allthough this is profoundly idealthen this could apply to the ideal system of education emanating from any culturally advanced country of the world. But making a good individual, a good citizen of the country and an ideal citizen of the world could not be the end for the perfect Indian vision of education. Since times immemorial India has discovered as the final goal of life a point beyond the visible horizon of life. It has defined life not as a span of existence bracketed by birth and death, but as a spirit launched into the infinity, at the same time capable of experiencing the infinity in this world of finites assigned to him. A Nachiketa who demanded of the God of Death the power to unravel the mystery of death, a Markandeya who could totally identify himself with the Eternity so that the appointed time for his death came and passed without the powers concerned being able to locate him as a mortal individual, a Savitri who could alter the destiny of her husband by the dint of her love sharpened by askesis, an Arjuna taught to view things and happenings through his inner eye, from the point of view of his soul and thereby look upon as gross a situation as a battle as an opportunity for Yogaare examples testifying to this attitude of ushering in the alchemy of infinity into the finite life.
It is this aspiration to know the hidden realities which gives the spirit of India, as reflected in its literature, philosophy and traditions, often distorted though, an exclusive feature. An education to be truly Indian must light in the consciousness of the student the flame of this quest.
Hence, said Sri Aurobindo:
"India has seen always in man the individual a soul, a portion of the Divinity enwrapped in mind and body, a conscious manifestation in Nature of the universal self and spirit. Always she has distinguished and cultivated in him a mental, an intellectual, an ethical, dynamic and practical, an aesthetic and hedonistic, a vital and physical being, but all these have been seen as powers of a soul that manifests through them and grows with their growth, and yet they are not all the soul, because at the summit of its ascent it arises to something greater than them all, into a spiritual being, and it is in this fact that she has found the supreme manifestation of the soul of man and his ultimate divine manhood, his paramartha and highest purusartha. And similarly India has not been understood by the nation or people as an organised State or an armed and efficient community well prepared for the struggle of life and putting all at the service of the national ego,that is only the disguise of iron armour which masks and encumbers the national purusha,but a great communal soul and life that has appeared in the whole and has manifested a nature of its own and a law of that nature, a Swabhava and Swadharma, and embodied it in its intellectual, aesthetic, ethical, dynamic, social and political forms and culture. And equally then our cultural conception of humanity must be in accordance with her ancient vision of the universal manifesting in the human race, evolving through life and mind but with a high ultimate spiritual aim,it must be the idea of the spirit, the soul of humanity advancing through struggle and concert towards oneness, increasing its experience and maintaining a needed diversity through the varied culture and life motives of its many people, searching for perfection through the development of the powers of the individual and his progress towards a diviner being and life, but feeling out too though more slowly after a similar perfectability in the life of the race."