Of Phule, Ghokale and Shinde – things have changed so little!!

“With regard to the few primary schools that exist …….. , I beg to observe that the primary education imparted in them is not at all placed on a satisfactory or sound basis. The  system is imperfect in so far as it does not prove practical and useful in the future career of the pupils” and at the end of a letter on higher education “I request …. to be kind enough to sanction measures for the spread of female primary education on a more liberal scale” No, this is not another ‘Status of Education’ Report by this or that outfit – it is from the evidence submitted to the Education Commission in 1882 by Jotirao Phule.

I do feel a sense shame in admitting that I have not read the works of many of the great names from our recent history. But then, I am fairly certain that I am amongst the majority. My school education was in the early  years after Independence and was still fairly British centric. There were no Indian textbooks, and although Indian History was taught, it did not deal in any detail on the late 19th and 20th centuries, for reasons that are not hard to understand. But I did enjoy History, even back then. And much of my knowledge was gathered from Nehru’s  very readable”Letters from a Father to a Daughter”  and the less readable Discovery of India. [At some point I also read Winston Churchill’s ‘History of the English Speaking People’ , which was super readable and well written].  So while Jotirao Phule may not even have featured in the school books, Phule, Tilak, Gokhale were names that cropped up in various accounts of  Independence. And as for, Tarabai Shinde, I must admit I heard the name for the first time yesterday.

Ramachandra Guha’s “Makers of Modern India’ has been on my shelf for the last few months. I picked it up yesterday, as one of my routine non-fiction breaks between the fiction books. I had been under the impression that the book was a series of biographies on the various persona involved in the freedom struggle.  Instead it turned to be a short essay on the role of each individual selected by him (his reasons for selection are interesting, since Patel is not in his book), followed by a selection of their writings. It is remarkable how many of these men (and few women) were prolific writers. And as Guha, points out in his Introduction, they were writers because they were thinkers and of course, they needed to get themselves heard through their writings.

Phule’s  evocative and heart rending 1883 essay on the ‘Condition of the peasantry’,  Ghokale’s 1906 essay on Hindu-Muslim co-operation (the year that Muslim League was formed) and  Tarabai Shinde’ 1882,  essay “A comparison of men and women” are contemporary and forward thinking. This was Shinde’s only publication, but a must read for all the feminists of today.  She has brought out all the issues that women face, in graphic terms, quiet remarkable for the time. And then it struck me that in spite of all the advances over a century and more – scientific, technical, social etc..-  so little has changed for so many! Thank you Ramachandra Guha.

Postscript: Is it that our present leaders do not write (except sensational biographies) because they are not thinkers!! POOR US

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