New pathways to social sciences - posers and arguments
Sometime in the middle of last year, an year of such infamy, of disease, deaths and economic collapse, the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) did manage to stir the nation and animate the media which otherwise was so consumed by the havoc the pandemic had unleashed. Education much like health is an area where India lags not just behind the west but even its post colonial peers like China, Singapore, Korea. However India still manages to nurture a minority of students and boasts of select institutions like IITs, IIMs whose bar to entry is high but yet several thousands enter its portals and make their way to big companies and universities abroad. This irony is much like health where India boasts of some fine world class doctors and hospitals but both sit oddly with poor learning levels, incompetent teachers, malnourishment and limited access to basic primary healthcare. Coming to research and patents too India is a laggard with little to boast about compared to neighbouring China or its Asian peers like Japan or Korea.
Whether the NEP 2020 presents a studied response and guideline to such a key quandary is open to debate. However I'm here more interested in what the document has to offer regarding social sciences, a domain where I can claim some expertise and understanding. In my view while the NEP references to social sciences are many and repeated, it overall appears to just batch the importance and issues connected to it more under a generalized rubric and argument:
"The world is undergoing rapid changes in the knowledge landscape. With various dramatic scientific and technological advances, such as the rise of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, many unskilled jobs worldwide may be taken over by machines, while the need for a skilled workforce, particularly involving mathematics, computer science, and data science, in conjunction with multidisciplinary abilities across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be increasingly in greater demand. With climate change, increasing pollution, and depleting natural resources, there will be a sizeable shift in how we meet the world’s energy, water, food, and sanitation needs, again resulting in the need for new skilled labour, particularly in biology, chemistry, physics, a griculture, climate science, and social science. The growing emergence of epidemics and pandemics will also call for collaborative research in infectious disease management and development of vaccines and the resultant social issues heightens the need for multidisciplinary learning. There will be a growing demand for humanities and art, as India moves towards becoming a developed country as well as among the three largest economies in the world."
|For copy of NEP 2020 click here|
"Furthermore, in addition to their value in solutions to societal problems, any country's identity, upliftment, spiritual/intellectual satisfaction and creativity is also attained in a major way through its history, art, language, and culture. Research in the arts and humanities, along with innovations in the sciences and social sciences, are, therefore, extremely important for the progress and enlightened nature of a nation."
In several instances and one given above, one senses social sciences inclusion as being perfunctory and it emerges largely in context of interdisciplinarity or as a pad up to sciences and technology, to make them humane and culturally sensitive. The dominant leitmotif of NEP 2020 is its constant reference to interdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity between subjects in trying to champion a notion of liberal arts:
"The very idea that all branches of creative human endeavour, including mathematics, science, vocational subjects, professional subjects, and soft skills should be considered ‘arts’, has distinctly Indian origins. This notion of a ‘knowledge of many arts’ or what in modern times is often called the ‘liberal arts’ (i.e., a liberal notion of the arts) must be brought back to Indian education, as it is exactly the kind of education that will be required for the 21st century."
While many would also see a very instrumental notion of knowledge layering the text as also little reference to social schisms of class, caste and gender that social sciences need to explain, to me there's little seriousness or even reference to the crisis that afflicts social sciences both at the level of schools and higher education. That social sciences has become intensely ideological, whose pedagoy is very simplistic informed by outdated curriculum set by various SCERTs and equally flawed textbooks is not referred at all. There's no reference to the epistemology of history, sociology, political studies and the misunderstanding that prevails among the public at large and even when efforts are made to render the discipline robust like in universities such as JNU. This contemporary understanding and application of social science has given much needed traction to a beleaguered domain which was/is otherwise stuck in bland empiricism, misplaced positivism, competing with physical sciences to establish its knowledge and methodological status. Further emaciating the domain was political centred narratives, disembodied framing of socioeconomic, political and cultural matters where each social science disciplines were/are operating in silos.
However it may be argued that a policy document may not focus on such epistemological or ontological specifities and it will be dwelled upon in the curriculum document which is to come soon. Yet particularly social sciences required certain more focused policy and curricular guidelines while highlighting the dismal current scenario. Notwithstanding NEP's seeming emphasis of social sciences it actually appears platitudinous and hardly points to any robust direction. The inter-disciplinarity of knowledge it continuously stresses upon, I wonder if it really surfaces from a deep understanding of ontology of knowledge. That knowledge in today's context is flaking and fragmenting is certainly implied and indeed stated but the hows and whys of it are not dwelt upon and the document rather simplistically talks about the need for knowledge integration. One therefore wonders if all the talk of inter-disciplinarity and liberal education is more a rhetorical stance? For knowledge disciplines when viewed in context of modernity, its historicity by default should furnish all disciplines in a more holistic sense. Science for example does not remain complete if not understood in context of history, sociology or politics. Similarly professions like engineering, medicine, law, management or even skills like carpentry or masonry in modernist framings intrinsically demands certain holism to render it more credible and in consonance with the epistemic status of each discipline that have been theoretically and philosophically arrived at in the course of enlightenment, post enlightenment, modern and post modern epochs.
The paradigmatic and epistemic issues in contemporary social sciences - its curricular implications
Be that as it may, lest I may be seen to merely repeat a typical liberal, left-secular view here, even as I see the latter's liberating influence on social science epistemology, I yet counter and contest the seemingly progressive discourse that informs the pedagogy and curriculum in some institutes and universities of higher education other than JNU. This theoretic and epistemic frame also influenced National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005, the NCERT history and political studies textbooks and further those textbooks of Eklavya, Kerala and Telangana state governments. The dominant knowledge framework in these do suffer from an Eurocentric bias. The social sciences that arises in such textbooks is mostly based on conflict perspectives with its overemphasis of societal schisms and a very reductionist view of Hindu faith to the point of negating its vitality and the legitimacy not to speak of delegitimizing politics based on centripetal possibilities of Hinduism. Indeed Hinduism itself is reduced to a mere invention of colonial shenanigans and just a faith of Brahmins and upper castes where svarnas schemed (and still scheme) over two milleniums and more to keep everyone under thralldom of caste and patriarchy. This then makes Hinduism brutally oppressive, exploitative particularly of the working classes, women and tribals. Agency if revealed in yet endorsing the Hindu faith and its so called Brahmanical texts of Vedas, Smritis, its epics and Puranas, its rituals, customs and practices is merely explained as false consciousness and upper caste guile at work. Further the Indian nation is seen purely as a modern emergence in the course of the nationalist movement whose ideals and values framed our constitution and thus India was born on 15th August, 1947 and solemnized formally on January 26, 1950.
|Works of Nilakanta Sastri and nationalist historians are no longer regarded credible in contemporary historiographies.|
|Though well thought out and help taking children away from the linear, chronological and political centred history that is default in public's mind, epistemically and historiographically Ncert's history textbooks narrations implicitly reinforces that Hindu identity amounts to nothing and an ahistorical conception.|
A new premise, a new possibility - a curricular juste milieu to ideological extremes
I give an example as to how simplistically pre Islamic milinneia and beyond is characterised as Hindu by those looking at all encompassing Hindu narrative. As such Hinduism in popular discourse is not seen as a institutionalised faith and merely as 'a way of life' but with certain geographic connotation. Its ancient Vedic and Puranic texts, epics, myths incorporated much of the Indian subcontinent. Therefore even as several corporate groups, with different set of rules, customs and practices existed which did not necessarily buy into Vedic prescriptions and its cosmologies, (Sramanism as referred to which included the Buddhist and Jains) they can yet seen to be Hindu. They were indigenous to India's sacred geography.
However in my view this rather nebulous and amorphous primordial narrative, notwithstanding certain merits does not fully explain the evolution of Hinduism. This refrain of Hinduism being non-institutionalized, a mere way of life is rather overdone. For as matters panned out, beginning from the Gupta period in North or the Kadambas, Gangas in South circa 300 lCE and then on) certain systematization, normalisation of beliefs, rituals, practices involving homogenisation of disparate groups is to be noted. This process also incorporated Buddhist and Jaina faith and we see it played out through a political process where a new ruling classes who controlled the agrarian surplus, across the subcontinent established new states. ( i.e. the Guptas, Harsha, Pratiharas, Chalukyas, Pallavas, Rashtrakutas, Cholas, Palas, Hoyasalas etc between 400-1300 CE). The state building era prior to early mediaeval (from 600 BCE to 200 CE) of the mahajanapadas, the Mauryas, Kushanas, Satvahanas were way more multi cultural, multi ideological with Buddhist and Jaina beliefs and customs having greater influence on the ruling classes. Whether one can look at Jainism and Buddhism too as Hindu is another point but the independent meanings Buddhist and Jaina symbols, philosophy and doctrines acquired were certainly presented as distinct and independent from Vedic rituals and practices by the ruling political classes. This is something that cannot be denied. In the latter eyes and indeed in the eyes of people at large Buddhism and Jainism were distinct from Hinduism in such sense. But they were certainly Indic.
However from forth and fifth century CE beginning from the Gangetic North and more specifically the Deccan and the hinterlands off the Konkan and Coromandel coast the Vedic rituals and cosmologies incorporated newer forms of worship, cults, myths, cultural groups which aggregated into something distinct and unique which resembled the Hinduism we all know and identify with today. Notwithstanding certain regional nuance and differences amongst them across the subcontinent which were also linguistic, they largely adhered to set socio-cultural patterns which among other things involved construction of temples and land grants both for temples and priestly classes, the transaction of which were also recorded as copper plate and stone inscriptions. Hinduism became more defined, distinct and discursive through gradual dessimination and acceptance of several customs, rituals, myths including its social hierarchies i.e. caste across communities and regions.
While few then would have responded to being identified a Hindu and more to their respective caste, language (where again as several studies suggest these essentialist markers too have been anything but poros, evolving and malleable) or region, yet the lack of such identity consciousness does not in any way negate the historical process of a broad homogenising patterns that emerged from what is often referred to as early mediaeval epoch. After all, historical interpretations are weighed down by the present and we don't but have a choice to escape the historical forces in whose vortex our being is shaped. However this realisation or awakening was an enlightenment and post enlightenment and modern phenomenon as what Hegel proferred, notwithstanding his Eurocentric bias, the dawning of historical consciousness. Yet even in modernity notwithstanding claims of criticality and reflexivity how many can claim complete recognition, cognition and understanding of the present factoring all its complexities? There certainly must be forces operating upon us and yet how enabled are we even today to name and identify them? Maybe we can intuit but probably only ksome hundred years later a new vocabulary and method to articulate such experience may emerge. But that would not amount to the non-presence of certain realities and its experience we are not quite able to lay our fingers on and verbalize.
Here I take issues with all the so called liberal-secular and allegedly scientific approaches on Hinduism by the likes of Romila Thapar, Sheldon Pollock, Manu Devadevan to name a few whose basically constructivist approaches are very selective. But I also dispute the indigenous, so called Hindutva school whose spirit of criticism of such historiography and the sociology backing it may have credence but who refuse to engage with the past in much rigor and intellect. In their anxiety to legitimise their political claim they push Hinduism to farthest antiquity. Not that despite certain weaknesses in their arguments or even accepting that Hinduism's antiquity is comparatively recent, Hindutva politics is weakened. A Hindu awakening today asserted through a version of cultural politics ( which is unfairly branded as communal at best or fascist at worse by lazy, opportunistic and selective liberal-secular-Marxist intellectuals) is to me a more articulate and identified expression of a process that commenced certainly by 6th century CE if not earlier.
Hinduisms' institutionalisation was indeed disimilar to Abrahamic faiths which as much defined those adhering to different beliefs as heathenistic, paganistic and kafirs even as the latter also eulogised the singularity of their own prophets. There were no crusades or jihads in Hinduism. In such a sense our understanding of institutionalized faiths itself needs change and be a lot more flexible keeping Hinduism and its historic evolution in mind.
I haven often taken issue with so called progressive Indian social sciences in my previous posts and therefore stop in repeating my refrain here, particularly their historiography which smudges the horrors of Islamic rule and paints only the syncretism and pluralism that emerged in the wake of Islamic political sovereignty over India. The left-secular school further paints Hinduism and many of its customs, myths, rituals in deeply reductionist ways using frameworks to look mostly at social and cultural schisms through selective deliberations on class, caste, power and gender, an essentializing prism. Scholars like S N Balagangadhara, Makarand Paranjape among the few have critiqued such paradigms and highlight how misplaced and misleading such scholarship on Indian history, society and culture is. And they are not eugolizing Hinduism in purely romanticist, Indological, bigoted fashion but using scholarly rigor. It's also not an argument for an very didactic curriculum and text books that prevails focusing merely on discrete facts of history, society and polity.
A greater and sympathetic view of pre-Islamic history and culture but one which is scholarly and rigorous of Indic thoughts, is through a new, painstaking and nuanced development of a pedagogy which brings to attention the philosophic and normative implications of several Indic customs, rituals, beliefs and practices which as such are summarily dismissed as being anachronistic, obtruse and one of blind faith and superstition. The second possible way of bringing about the validity of these faith related practices is to render aspects of our history more sociological by bringing in structuralist, functionalist and interactionist framework that expands the possibilities of social sciences beyond one of conflict, schisms and discord alone.
|The knowledge and understanding that works of anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (top seen interacting with people of Trobarian islands) and sociologist Emile Durkheim help us to relate to societies, notwithstanding their ethnocentrism, its pasts and present in ways that Marxist history do not.|
2021 social science curricular guidelines for schools - a suggested framework, reasonings and defense
1. We need a social science curriculum and corresponding textbooks that continues to use several of the premise from NCF 2005.
This involves premises like :
a. Society, its people and communities are shaped by factors of economy, polity and culture. It's therefore more important to identify and realise such process rather than merely knowing certain discrete facts like nomenclatures, definitions, chronology, events and decontextualized concepts. Individual glory or infamy or neat categorizations of events, people, and mere dwelling on causation does not make social sciences.
b. History in particular need not be a mere chronology of political events. There are several other aspects of our pasts that explain our present better like an understanding of culture, economy and social life. And such culture and society brought in for interrogation need not be instances of the so called great tradition alone to the exclusion the 'little tradition' but to examine both in certain dialectics.
c. The social world of a child cutting across demographics, should form the base for social science and an entry point to understand society - its past, present and future possibilities.
d. The past is not something fixed and fossilized to be therefore merely remembered and understood as discrete facts. The past actually answers to current anxieties, concerns and questions of an individual or of a society or community as a collective. So therefore there may not be one histories or one sociology but of several kinds. This again does not imply manufacturing of facts and making social science bereft of any certitudes, entirely relative and subjective. It needs to be underscored that sources and methods of inquiry and analysis has to be robust and rigorous which best contests if not eliminates other arguments or perspectives and are grounded in certain knowledge frames. Here again we need to reckon that no knowledge frames are absolute and impervious to change and evolution. Finally it needs to be recognised that certain ambiguity and tentative nature of knowledge vis a vis the physical sciences do not render social science knowledge any inferior or less credible. After all it is studying humans who by default are subjective and meaning making beings. Sciences too are not immune to subjective renderings.
e. Political studies should be much more than workings of the government and more about unraveling the political self of an individual. Familiarising the child with the constitution and how it vests the state and its elected government to ensure liberty and justice is one important curricular aim. But the curriculum should enable a critical comparison between the ideal and the normative and the actual affairs on the ground based on a child's own experiences and understanding of governance and institutions like police, municipalities and panchayats, public hospitals, public works department etc. meant to fulfill equity and justice. The textbooks therefore similar to the current Ncert and Eklavya's should provide realistic encounters of governing institutions and not present government and governance in abstracted mode.
|NCERT's political studies book is very creative & lively and its premises should be retained in the new curriculum ands textbooks but ideas of secular-liberal and socialist need to be brought for debate.|
g. Where this curriculum needs to depart from the earlier iterations is to work out possibilities of bringing the notion of dharma uncoupling it from an usual reductionist understanding that the mention of the very term may entail. The idea of Dharma carries deep resonance amongst the cross section of the masses at large for its understanding emerges not just from Vedantic thought but from a wide spectrum of Indic thought which includes Thiruvalluvar's Kural to the vachannas of Basaveshwara, the couplets of Kabir, discourses of Nanak and the temporal Buddhist and Jaina doctrines. And it is not an archaic and anachronistic concept of dharma that we invoke here. Dharma in ways I argue is much more than either a normative injunction that we assume or even a niti, an utilitarian doctrine that embeds Arthashastra. It's a modern rendering of dharma which is to be unravelled dialectically. What we recall here is integrity, righteousness and inter-subjectivity that embodies the historicity of modernity which equally factors the well being of the community, state and society over the self to which as such the citizenship notion responds to as well. Dharma is both the Aristotlean phronesis and the dialectical praxis. But dharma is also something more which answers to one's spiritual quest too and where its karmic injunctions are brought about in context of the ethical and emancipatory possibilities that embed modernity.
h. As indicated, several insights from sociology and anthropology applied to make sense of customs, rituals, kinship, relationships can pedagogically be used to make them less esoteric and relatable to students of middle school. Applying what is called both etic or emic categories to frame customary practices establishes how meanings are made through rituals, festivities, practices that transpire in the everyday. It's through these mediations that society across the world sustains itself. Modernity appears to have negated the utility and efficacy of these rituals and practices but as several studies emphasize, modernity transmutes the form and structure of such patterns, events, processes of social intercourse and interaction but not their substance. So for example while fairs and temples in the way they existed in the past performed not just an economic and functional role but also a social role, these continue in our malls and theatres today fulfilling similar purposes. Worship of the divine and in a pantheon of divinity and fetish of symbols and objects too continues today but further expanded and expressed using different symbols and objects but all within registries that deal with anxieties, uncertainties, status, access, etc that remain timeless.
The pedagogy of such a perspective of course has to be comparative where the utility of many practices are not justified by merely using certain western epistemic categories of thoughts. Comparison and contrast of such beliefs and practices sanctioned within discourses justified through indigenous texts and traditions is imperative. They therefore are open to doubts and criticism even as the curricular intent is to enable the young school goers to recognise certain eternal quality and meaning to many customs, rituals and faith which are often dismissed as unscientific. That Indic traditions permit its own rejection in contrast to the Abrahamic faiths and the former' customs and practices are intrinsically pluralistic in itself becomes a cause to be cherished and therefore protected. Indeed in such a sense democracy and Indic faith are complimentary.
i. It's also time that both in history and political studies we also have a pedagogy that dwells on understanding enterprise and commerce. The different inventions, technologies and also the management and organisational thoughts and efforts that led to innovations, possibilities and changes in manufacturing and service should rendered into a curricular aim.
j. The current Ncert and Eklavya textbooks carry themes across history, political studies and geography which look at all the struggles of the disenfranchised classes and communities who have borne the brunt of the shifts to new political economy. The brutal excesses of the dominant classes past and present with their perpetual desire of accumulation and profit and the way the oppressed communities of class, caste, gender have struggled and still struggle to make themselves counted for a life of dignity, opportunities and fulfillment is an important saga that also needs to be embedded in the curricular plan. What else but such processes would explain the schisms and its stark visibility in villages and city slums bereft of clean drinking water, assured power supply, sanitation, good nutrition, basic health living in midst of garbage and filth that so permeate our society in which majority of us still socialize? It's such struggles that have brought to fore accountability and responsibility of both the state and propertied classes that otherwise are wont to aggrandise all power and capital in their hands for limited social ends.
Rendering the above into a pedagogy is truly going to be a challenge. For enabling this we will need
i. Intelligent, imaginative and skillfully written social science textbooks.
ii. A carefully thought out, content rich and intense teaching training program for social science teaching. The teaching to really be effective has to be comparative across space and time. ( Incidentally NEP does dwell considerably on teacher education. A teacher education curriculum document should focus specifically on training teachers for social sciences)
iii. There's also the need to come up with several activities and games to deal with social sciences in such thematic and conceptual mode with Indic emphasis as well. (something that was tried during my association with Apf. my previous essay on this click here).
Conclusion - The above perspective by no stretch is arguing that the late mediaeval and early modern period when much of India came under Islamic political rule be either smudged or be merely painted as one litany of horrors that Indic cultures were subject to. Indeed the syncretism and pluralism of society that India witnessed from later mediaeval was unique and unparalleled anywhere in the world, something that needs to be cherished too even as several architectural and tangible aspects of Indic vintage were obliterated. As a matter of fact the non-tangibility of Indic civilizational heritage itself is misconstrued to negate its historical validity and existence. Therefore there's no question of smudging not just the harmonious aspects of Indo-Islamic culture as also any attempt to underplay the unique singularities in domains of political economy, arts, literature, culture that India was witness to in this epoch. To conflate the 'Islamic period' and the period under colonialism as one as alien and imperialist as many Hindutva proponents are wont, would be to misread history and mislead sociology too. The colonial epoch in contrast was deeply enervating of the economic vitality of the Indian populace even as the pre-colonial India was rack rented by a rapacious state.
Yet as the school of historical and sociological scholarship largely Marxist that weighed itself very heavily on the NCF 2005 and NCERT's new social sciences textbooks had it that Hinduism was invented by the colonialists knowledge frame and insidiously sowed the seeds of discrete Hindu and Muslim identities, is barely tenable. For the freedom movement spearhead by the Congress which sought to present an amalgamated union of faiths, castes and creed under an modern ideology of secularism came to naught with partition and creation of Muslim majority Pakistan. Indian constitution continued repose in a secular credo is explained by what would seem to validate India's credibility to compete and position itself as an modern industrial nation state as its secular European and North American peers. Along with secularism in the social domain, in the economic domain it was socialism in India's march to modernity. Both today are being called out for its obsolence. A reification of the flawed secular practice if not the ideal is evident. For secularism had become an emotive mobilizational tool to secure the franchise of religious minorities. Politicisation of Hindus was considered false and bogus since it had no precedent in history and only a deracinated Hinduism was considered true and real. If at all, only Gandhi's attempt to politicise Hinduism based on paternal support to Muslims was acceptable to the liberal erudite classes. Tilak was always the antideluvian obscurantist who though a Congressman was effectively Hindutva's first modern political ideologue. The morality ethic of always defending the few, the weak and the marginal further rendered any questioning of politics carried forward in the name of minority welfare very delicate and undignified, almost an intellectual taboo. While numerous strictures and questions were raised on Hindu practices no encumbrances were meant to limit the preaching and practices of Abrahamic faiths by the state. Such politics that the Congress and the left had perfected only increased the anxieties of Hindus and it was only a matter of time before the contradictions in the professed secular model was called out. The Hindutva cause that today the BJP champions is in the given context is no surprise and nothing inherently obnoxious about it. However it does so rather crudely more from a sense of victimhood and whataboutery but its historical logic indeed needs to resuscitated with intellectual rigour and built legitimately. Yet the discourse in India fashionable among the liberals and so expounded in media that regards Hindutva politics as an aberration and contrary to what modern India and its democracy stands for. This itself is more troubling. To have historical and sociological scholarship rallied to merely debunk a Hindutva view (and often limited to critique capitalism, private property and commerce as well) is very dangerous to the very discipline of social sciences itself.
Its not my plea either to reject the Marxist and a liberal framework in its entirety and that there's no need for secularist ethos to guide the sensibilities of the young and the future of India. But it cannot be based on maligning a faith, a social and belief system by what appears as a selective and unconcealed in its prejudicial knowledge system coming into play.
In effect we certainly need a school curriculum not to speak about a curriculum in colleges and universities that brings a prismatic correction into the reckoning that enables social sciences to be a useful, practical and non-partisan discipline above narrow political, ideological and epistemological anxieties. Hence a new curriculum and newer textbooks with freshness and rigor. However whether the current government can come out with something so nuanced and pedagogical creative and imaginative, going by its own limited cerebral bandwidth and past experience, chances are very slim.