The emperor has no clothes!

By Vimala Ramachandran

Vimala has been working on school education for over 30 years as a researcher, administrator and advocate for meaningful education for all children in India. She currently works with ERU Consultants Pvt. Ltd.

On Cutting Chai (that is quite kadak) this morning, we are posting two pieces sent in to us by Vimala Ramachandran. One piece was penned down earlier this year whereas the other just this morning. In both instances, the poetry has sprung spontaneously as a reaction to the respective events. First, a lecture by Madhav Chavan, Founder of Pratham, at the Annual Anil Bordia Memorial Lecture at Jaipur. For those interested, here is a link to a recording: . And the second, the morning of December 19th, 2019.

The Emperor has no clothes

The rush is on
To reach as close as possible
To hundred percent
In examinations…
Schools report high rates
Of transition
From one grade to the next
From one level to the next

As we dig deeper
We are shocked to see
Engineers who are clueless on the factory floor
Doctors who are are misfit in the real world
Children who score high
Are unable to read with understanding

We see everyday
Young people who were rejected
In the formal system
And finding new spaces

Is our formal system
Or shutting its ears and eyes
To the real world
Around them?

Degrees have no value
As it does not guarantee
Knowledge or skills
Or aptitude
Or the courage
To say I don’t know
And willing and ready to learn

We are also aware
Of informal channels
To acquire skills
Access information
Build knowledge
Innovate to survive

We watch with alarm
When a few years in school
Turns them away from their land
Their looms
Their cuisine
Their potter wheel
Their art, music, folk
Their passion for a sport
Or determination to do something
New and different

Are school / university
Keeping us back?
What can schools actually do
Build creativity
Self esteem and confidence
To negotiate the world
They live in
With strength

Or have we
Closed our minds
To technology
And what it has done
And continues to do
To our relationship
To information and
To enhance
Our ability
To learn in our own way
And not the age old hierarchy
Of levels and grades
And linear path of learning

Those who have the passion
Learn regardless
Of gates and gatekeepers
It is high time
We shed the burden of tradition
In education
And see around us
And respond
And learn

In our life time
We saw education
Transform from a need
Of every human
To a demand for degrees
And certificates
Never mind
If they certified neither
Ability, knowledge or skill
But just the time served
In schools and colleges

India 19 December 2019

The air is thick
The atmosphere tense
Young people across the country
Voicing their protest
In an orderly manner…

Yet, police out in full force
Roads barricaded
Fences erected
Hundreds arrested

Why are the young students
Middle age and elderly citizens
Recording their strong reservation
To the Citizenship Act…

Is the act as innocent as it is being made out
To protect minorities from some neighbouring countries
Or is it linked to the citizenship register
That seeks to shift the burden of proof
On people, asking them to prove they are Indian?

What is this all about?
Is it to create a sense of fear
Among some minorities in India
Among those who do not see eye to eye
With the dispensation
That holds the reins of power
In India today

Many are struggling to come to terms
With a kind of hyper aggressive Hinduism
That claims all Hindus are the same
United in belief…
Reality belies this belief
Hindus and indeed Indian are a diverse community
Speaking different languages
Stratified into different castes and communities
Worshipping different Gods
Wearing different kinds of clothes
With different customs and traditions
And diverse food habits

Don’t we know
Many communities
Historically and from ancient times
Eat beef and pork
In the northeastern part of India
Beef and pork is the food of many
For the very poor and marginalised
It is perhaps the only affordable protein
Why paint India and Hindu as vegetarian
When an overwhelming majority are not

Intolerance is in the air
Compelling flashback
To the rise of fascism in Europe
And even today
The resurgence of the anti-immigrant
Racist and often anti-all-others-not-like-me

India is not alone
This wave is sweeping across the world
Frightening to think
Where it will lead us…

As the poor get poorer
The billionaire club
Gets richer
The middle classes struggling
To maintain what little they have
Young people searching for some work
To keep their body and soul together

They point towards “others”
Taking jobs away
So that they get the votes
Of those who are frightened
Of what future holds for them
They point towards
New monuments and temples
Being built
To correct what may have happened
Several hundred years ago
Building borders is the new normal
To divide people
And confine people
To their own “nation”

Brexit, Mexico border
Global rhetoric against
Frightened immigrants
Fleeing war, poverty and persecution

In this time of distress
The populist leaders
Elected with huge majorities
Seek to divide
Voices that seek
To ask why

Protest, we must
Speak, we must
Steadily, and persevere
Keep at it
For it will be a long drawn out
Battle for survival
Of basic human values
Of dignity, empathy and love

Yes, it will be a long long struggle
Till such time
As those who vote for such leaders
See for themselves
That their lot has not improved
And will not improve
Through hyper-nationalism

This is certainly
Not a time for slumber
Wake up, we must
Stand together with everyone
Every community
Every caste
With every protester behind bars

This is not the struggle
Of any one community
Or region
Or religion
It is about India
About the India we all dream of…
About a world that
And a compassionate society.

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