Depravity natural offshoot of prevailing morality

| | in Oped

Crimes against women have grown because we have overlooked developing a moral spine in our youth. The violation of womanhood has become so commonplace that these days only the most ghastly forms of rape deserve our attention

In 1996, value education was introduced in the school curriculum as part of a wider “Bharat Vaibhav Anushthan”  in Delhi. But the imparting of humanist values was not done through a separate academic discipline, but smoothly dovetailed with the existing pedagogy.

For instance, the Hindi textbook for Class 2 students had a short story which introduced them Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, the great 19th century social reformer. The story began with a gentleman at a railway station looking frantically for a porter (“coolie”). Soon, a modest looking man noticed his distress and came forward to help him. The traveler was relieved to find a “coolie” and directed the diminutive to follow him to his destination. On arriving, it turned out that the man was a guest of Vidyasagar and the “coolie” was none other than the host of the gentleman.

The story had a profound effect on young minds. The simple narrative of about 700 words revealed to the students the virtues of modesty and self-help. The intention of those who planned this curriculum was to carve in their growing minds a permanent respect for men like Iswarchandra.

Apart from being a great Sanskrit scholar and philanthropist (he was fondly called “Daya-sagar” or “ocean of kindness”), he was also India’s first feminist.  The education planners of the then Delhi government briefed teachers to relate to their charges soon after the first reading of the short story how Vidyasagar freed women from the pernicious system of child marriage and gave his own son in marriage to a child widow.

Similar interventions were introduced at all levels of secondary and senior secondary education during that decade. Simultaneously, yoga was made mandatory in government schools. Children took to yoga asanas enthusiastically. A large public show was organized in Jawaharlal Nehru stadium to showcase the physical fitness of the new generation of Delhiites. Without good health, the joys of life cannot be experienced - and what better (and inexpensive) way can there be for permanent freedom from modern day illnesses than through yoga? Soon, the private schools of Delhi dropped their suspicions and introduced yoga classes in their programme. The most enthusiastic respondents were the Catholic Church-run schools.

Another widely popular exercise introduced was “Sukriti” — a value education calendar. Each school student was given a year planner and told to evaluate himself against a list of good actions each day under the keen eyes of their parents. This became such a hit that even older students who were not included in the programme began participating albeit in informal ways.

But good times never last. A band of politically motivated academicians raised the bogey of “saffronisation” against this pedagogy. Though there was no reference, implicit or otherwise, to religion, these influential intellectuals forged a powerful movement to discredit value education as part of some “communal agenda.” When the government changed, they dismantled the curriculum and introduced a system focused on producing a generation of mindless, valueless consumers of the products of the free market economic model. Value Education was discarded, and replaced by a soulless pedagogy with emphasis on materialism and utterly biased exposure to national culture and history.

Sexual aggression is not a standalone — it is part of the culture of greed, avarice and artificial desires which propel the market economy. Neo-liberalisation sanctions the if-you-have-it-flaunt-it principle. Therefore, modesty, the virtue celebrated in the 1990s through the Vidyasagar story, became an undesirable quality. Women are encouraged to show off their bodily endowments. In the process, sanction is given to the commodification of women. In the 1970s, feminists (a tribe that included men) began a long campaign against many of the media images of women like advertisements using women for selling goods unrelated to them. They were largely successful after a decade of struggle when the Advertising Standards Council of India issued strictures against using the female form for advertising products which have nothing to do with them. But, regretfully, all those norms have been cast outside. Today, not only are women commodified, even prepubescent girls are sexualised.

Today Delhi is known as the “rape capital”. Between the December 16 gang rape of “Nirbhaya” and the April 19 gang rape of five-year-old “Gudiya”, there have been at least 370 rape cases reported. When the “Gudiya” case happened, some people lamented “Nothing has changed” in frustration over the pointlessness of rousing national opinion post-December 16.Indeed, nothing has changed and nothing ever will change unless we take the right lessons.

Let’s, first and foremost, why did we react in the way we did to the December 16 and April 19 cases and not the hundreds of other rapes?  I think our senses have been so deadened to the everyday humiliation of women in hundreds of ways that we fail to react unless the incidents are particularly gory and bizarre. “Nirbhaya” became a rallying point not because she was gang raped in a moving bus, but because things were inserted into her body to aggravate her sense of shame. The same was true of the “Gudiya” case.

Secondly, though the media glare compels the administration to apprehend the culprits, the intellectual elite always succeeds in deflecting public attention from the enabling factors. Take the discourse on pornography for instance. Though it is technologically possible to block pornographic websites — wherever their servers are based - from Internet users in India, we saw on TV the other night how the Minister of State for IT,  Milind Murli Deora, ruling it out. Again, a popular TV channel sought to diffuse mounting public rage against pornography by getting a porn star to “remove misgivings”.

Third and most important, why is there such a planned attack on our samskars, our heritage of giving women high respect? In Shivaji’s empire, his mother, Jijabai, issued a whip making the women heads of their households. Shivaji had so much respect for women that after each battle he ensured that the womenfolk found in the enemy’s camp were respectfully sent home.

The samskars are deliberately misinterpreted, and the tragic irony is that modern day women participate in perpetuating the myth that their status has vastly improved whereas the true history shows otherwise.

I am sure there will be more ghastly rapes in Delhi in the days and weeks to come. The first step against the rape culture is yet to be taken. It’s a soft step — value education — but the only one that can work in the long term.

Dr Harsh Vardhan | Former Education Minister of Delhi

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