Should we blame racism for the state of education in India?

“Do you agree to these rankings of universities in which Indian universities are slipping? “, a bright, young colleague of mine asked.

“You might find my views on this topic somewhat shocking”, I hinted, “In fact you might even find them a bit tangential in the beginning.” I added

And the same views I am about to share in this post.

I said tangential because my views do not relate to the authenticity of the survey in question. Instead, they relate to whether any real difference exists in the quality of education in India viz-a-viz Europe or the US. And if it does, where are the reasons probably rooted? Has it got something to with races? Is racism a reality? Does it still exist?

We are seemingly as far as we could possibly be from the question my colleague asked.

Race is one of the most controversial and divisive words in the contemporary world in pursuit of racial equality. Talking about racial equality is not only trendy but also essential for the survival of social-economic agendas. “Racist’ tag can spell doom for politicians, professionals, academicians and so on. Even the U.S has had a history of racial divide and discrimination. Recent killing of Trayvon Martin a black teenager from Florida and the subsequent acquittal of his killer (a white man) has racial hues.

I wish to deal with this issue without biased emotions and with complete objectivity. So first let us list the most significant achievements of human kind.

Some of them are : exploration of sea routes between continents (that paved way for the first wave of globalisation), invention of gun powder, cannons, laws of motion, thermodynamics, genetics, steam engine, industrial revolution, gas engine, automobiles, aeroplanes, nuclear energy, computers, internet, cell phones, google, facebook, twitter, Microsoft…and so on.

These achievements have been the engines of the progress of mankind. Can we imagine our lives without any of these? There is one link common about all these inventions…some WHITE man …a Caucasian. The contribution of other races cannot be neglected as a lot of achievements have been of collective nature. In fact we may argue that most of the top organisations in the west have immensely benefited from the intellect and efforts of multiple races especially after the World War II. Still, thinking about majority of great inventions is accompanied by the name of a white man.

Does it prove anything? May be it does not. But the message is too overpowering to be ignored. Why do we have so few names from the other races in the list of scientific, cultural, business & management, strategic achievements?

Is this an outcome of racial differences or the very cause of it?

The possible reasons for this could be the different approach to knowledge. It’s challenging to figure out from where this difference arose. But I intend to speculate on this.

The basis of races has so far been skin color and facial and anatomical features. I agree to the majority view in this regard that these differences can not be enough proof of and basis for a broad categorization of humans and subsequent discrimination.

One of my main contention is that different races namely Caucasians (whom I will refer to as whites), Negroids  and Mongoloids have different world views. By world view I mean an individual’s perception towards life, knowledge, relationships, religion, art, body, soul etc.

True, that race is generally acknowledged as partially a social construct and the society can shape the world view of its subjects. But individuals preceded a society. So, logically it can be argued that dominant views of powerful individuals formed the basis of a society which in turns mold the views of its subjects. But despite numerous instances of colonization of non white lands by whites we don’t have instances of these non white populations naturally adopting the white man’s  world view. I think that apart from socio-cultural factors, there might have been genetic factors too.

In other words I am claiming without any empirical evidence that world view is an inheritable trait and that too a strong one. The white race is endowed with what I call scientific world view. Their approach towards knowledge is that it flows from out to within and does so only when it is properly analysed,  organised and documented. It believes in carefully going through the documented knowledge. It also believes in examining the surroundings again and again, tirelessly and endlessly in order to refine the existing knowledge. The analysed and organised form of acquired knowledge makes it possible for the thinkers and scientists to carry the good work forward. All this certainly doesn’t mean that others are totally devoid of this approach. It simply means that this trait is predominantly and abundantly visible among whites.

Now let us turn to the second category of achievements, philosophies and domains which are quite different to the ones listed above.  Yoga, Yin and Yang, Tao and te Feng-shui, Vastu, Hindustani music, Carnatic music, martial arts, Zen, Buddhism , Jainism, Bhakti. These are achievements that ask for intellectual abilities of the highest order. At the same time they need a spiritual world view. The approach is more wisdom centric than knowledge centric, with a basic belief that wisdom flows from within. The documentation of these achievements cannot be compared to that of western achievements. Else we would not be at loss thinking about the void post discovery of zero by Aryabhatta. Still, remarkably, we have been able to pass knowledge through generations. Here I would like to mention that it is rather difficult to imagine a white being naturally comfortable with the above ideas.

Also I must categorically state that I am not comparing one great individual of any race or color with another of a different race. I am comparing the dominating world views. As a contemporary example I would like to cite the preference for reverse engineering so much prevalent among the mongoloids as epitomised in Xerox vs Canon and Apple vs Samsung. This approach although can be applied by the whites too but this tendency is not very marked.

The biggest manifestation of the world view is the education system, which is both the source and the biggest beneficiary of the systematic exploration and documentation of knowledge.

This research based education and exploration comes as naturally to a white as yoga to an Indian and martial arts to a Chinese.

I would also like to observe one more difference. The Caucasians have predominantly believed in broad level sharing of knowledge which not only originates from documentation of knowledge in form of research papers but also facilitates it. In other races there is general tendency to hide rather than share knowledge. May be it was to safeguard the misuse of knowledge. But I believe this approach has greatly limited both the quality and the quantity of knowledge creation in these societies.

I shall now talk about the racial order.

In this regard my basic belief is that social orders analogous to racial order are prevalent at micro and  macro level ubiquitously. Across the world and across the societies, some sects, some ethnicities, some castes have almost always enjoyed a higher order than the others. Racial order is only the most momentous and therefore most prominently highlighted.

The underlying reason behind such orders is the feeling among some group or sect or section that we are superior; superior by natural endowment, superior by our contribution to the society, superior by our achievements etc.

Wherever a social order has existed, the higher group has always exploited the lower order to further its own interests often with a view that those interests will benefit the society as a whole.

All this seems to be pretty obvious as we can relate it to the events around us in India.

But we find it very difficult to apply it to races.

I can think of a white man who feels that “the world belongs to the whites as we are naturally better endowed, we have contributed more to the development of this world. It’s because of us that the world is living a modern life. We are superior and it must be understood and acknowledged by the others.” I can think of another who feels “This is exclusively for whites, so keep off”.

But is this not similar to feelings of a higher caste or a higher sect? When such feelings exist at micro level around the world, they are quite likely to exist at macro level too.

What is more important here is that it’s the other races that have lapped up the values, family system, education system, sports, music, dance, life style of the whites and not the vice versa. If you were a white won’t you take it as an endorsement of your superiority?

Value is directly linked to demand. Whatever is in demand assumes more value. If we want to dominate we need to produce something that is in great demand.

I believe this also explains the US dominance over the rest of the world. First, it exported wheat (is still the largest exporter of wheat), then automobiles, arms and ammunition, information technology, movies, music and now shale.

I believe that the perceived social importance of what one produces to a great extent determines his/her importance in the society.

The same applies to races and nations.

If we really want to move up the racial order, we must reform our basic approach towards knowledge. Our education and scientific outlook at research level is rudimentary. Our current education system which was put in place by the British, is still centered around creating employability (which was their purpose) rather than creating path breaking knowledge.  The number of patent applications can be used an indicator of the current status in this regard.

Thus it can be said that racial differences are to a great extent, huge differences in the achievements that can obviously be attributed to colour. True that the expression of superiority on the basis of color or caste or nationality is inhumane but sadly it is human too. Even the US president Obama has been criticised for the recent “exceptional” comment about the US.

The world is now relatively comfortable in masking the inherent belief in racial differences and checking the manifestation of this belief. But the belief itself is still deeply rooted.

The only way to bridge the racial difference is to bridge the gap in achievements by upward movement of other races. There are only two ways to rise up. Either we start producing or inventing what is in great demand or we create great demand for what we have created and invented for centuries. The former sounds more reasonable.

When great ideas like photography, movie making, Google, Facebook will start originating in non-white countries, and that too in great numbers, the gap will start closing. This can happen only when our world view and education becomes predominantly research and innovation oriented. This is because great ideas in great numbers cannot miraculously happen; they have to be patiently bred by creating highly favourable conditions. Conditions that have existed in White dominated continents and nations since centuries. Today the US is the most fertile ground for great ideas simply because it is the best incubator for creative minds.

We must aspire and strive hard to be such a place. And for that to happen we need to change our approach to education and research.

Coming to the answer to the question asked by my colleague, once this change happens, it will also reflect in the university rankings.

I sincerely hope that it happens soon.

12 responses to “Should we blame racism for the state of education in India?”

  1. 1)—How did the word Race come into vogue?
    The fall of constantinople in 1453, changed the face of not only Europe but the entire world in the due course of time. The succession of events precceding the fall of constantinople did effect the entire world in one way or the another. Before this historic event “Europe was Christendom and Christendom was Europe”. Rise of Nation States in Europe, Renaissance , Reformation , Geographical discoveries and a plethora of events resulting from the fall of Constantinople kick-started the process which Sir has highlighted in para 6.
    Among the various fileds of study “ the field of linguistics— preeminently German”, also flourished during this period (1820—1900). The main point to be noted here is that “this”, was very typically an ‘evolutionist social science’, and by contemporary standards of its age a highly successful one, both among scholars and the general public. It encouraged the concept of “Racisicm” among the latter—in context of the Germans, the speakers being identified with the “Aryan race”.
    Technically speaking the word Race as a concept was used by the Physical Anthropologists to differentiate human groups physically –Negroes , Mongols , Caucasians. This did not in itself imply any belief in racial inequality, superority or inferiority , though when married to the study of the “evolution” of man on the baiss of the pre-historic fossil records, it did. For man’s earliest identifiable ancestors —notably Neaderthal man—were clearly both more ape-like and culturally inferior to their discoverers. But if some existing races could be shown to be closer to the apes than others , would this prove their inferiority?
    Races which represented an earlier stage of biological evolution or of socio-cultural evolution , or both were looked as ‘inferiors’, and their inferiority was proved because in fact the superior race was superior by the criteria of its own society: technologically more advanced, militarily more powerful, richer and more ‘successful ‘ . this idea of racial superiority was taken over by the middle class for inetrnal and international purposes. This idea is can best be explained as a mechanism by means of whch a fundamentally inegalitarian ideology socitey based upon a fundamentally egalitarian ideology rationalised its inequalities , and attempt to justify and defend those privileges which the democracy implicit in its institutions must inevitably challenge. Liberalism as a norm has no logical defence against equality and democracy , so trough the ages the illogical barrier of race was and is erected: science itself , liberalism’s trumph card, can proove that men were/are not equal.
    Those race –or groups of people who represent the stage of childhood or adolosence in the development of civilisation were themselves ‘child-like’ and were treated like children by their mature ‘parents’—the harbingers of modernism i.e. the whites.

    2)—–Why is it that in most cases it’s the white man who does so i.e the invention and discoveries—- the examples of cited by Sir.
    I would like to add that, the concept of Humanisim which propogated scientific and emperical evidences against blind traditional beliefs ingrained the western society from the 15th century onwards and the idea was carried further in the later centuries and is stil evident in the modern times. They—the intellegentsia, challenged traditional beliefs and practices on the basis of liberal rationality. On the contrary in the case of east or third world , the forces of tradtion were/are still overwhelmingly powerful, and often reinforced by resistance to “progress’, and Western Expansion. For example , Japan even created a new state religion , Shintoism, out of traditional elements , largely for anti—Western purposes. Even the westernisers and revolutionaries in the third world have felt and feel that the easiest way to success as a politician among the masses was to accquire the role or at least the prestige of a buddhist monk or a Holy man/woman of his/her religion. The topic can be strecthed dissected nerve by nerve and fibre by fibre with arguments and counter arguments supported by facts. I have exculded the role of religion and marginalisation in the west due to liberal rationalism—it does has its side efects probably negative in some/many aspects. A thin line of balance is the needed, –the proponants of “ white mans superiority “ do overlook this aspect. Overall , ramification stil/and will exist.
    Again in terms of Indian context this idea can be extended to the formation of the caste system and class system , which have been prevelant since ages. But it is evident at the micro—level. Overall , ramification stil/and will exist and need to be debated with concrete results. We need more space for this.
    But yes, ‘facebook’, coming from somebody from the Oriental, Africa , the Latin or any third world country, can reverse the “white man superiority”, notion.

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