Against Neoliberal Assault on Education in India: A Counternarrative of Resistance

Ravi Kumar

The Indian State has been demonstrating its unwavering committment to private capital and its neoliberal offensive. The education and health sector reflect its anti-people orientation along with other anti-working class measures such as the doing away with old pension scheme, privatisation of airports, neglect of farmers resulting in over 1.5 lakh suicides across country between 1997 and 2005 (Sainath, 2007), etc. On the education front the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a full Planning Commission held on 13th September 2007 showed his commitment to privatisation by stating that “we also need to recognise the role currently being played by the private sector and the policy design must factor this in” (The Hindu, 2007). A leading weekly then revealed that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has been trying to moot private partnership in government schools (Raman, 2008). These developments have been taking place along with number of measures that the government has been adopting (Kumar, 2008) to masquerade its real neoliberal face.

These developments are nothing to be surprised at because they are part of the global campaign of the neoliberal capital. Capital constantly needs to expand itself was acknowledged by Marx when he wrote in Communist Manifesto that “the need of constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere” (Marx and Engels, 1984, p.34). While the countries of the South have been witnessing it in form of structural adjustment, globalisation and now neoliberalism, the countries of the North had been under constant attack of neoliberal capital. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and even United Nations facilitated the incursions by private capital in the countries of the South (see Leher, 2008; Mora-Ninci, Carlos O. and Domenech, Eduardo, 2008; Kumar, 2006a). On the other hand, in countries such as UK, the neoliberal campaign began with the Margret Thatcher regime (Regan, 2007), destroying the remnants of welfarism. Though the large scale process of state withdrawal began across continents during the neoliberal regime from early 1980s, the pre-neoliberal regimes were not socialist regimes but were rather representing the particular epochs of capitalism in those countries, whether UK (Cole, 2008) or India (Kumar, 2006b). It is important, therefore, to understand the education policies in conjunction with the trajectory and stages of development of capital in a country.

Located within a space where capital marches unbridled modifying all possible spheres into profit generating commodified zones, education system in India is under tremendous attack. This attack, which emanates out of the state withdrawal and its substitution by the corporate houses as new rulers, produces much serious ramifications given the dismal and discriminatory condition of education in the country, which is still struggling to make its citizens literate (which means to learn to read and write one’s own name). This new phase, located at a particular moment in the trajectory of capital’s march, is characterised by the neo-liberal assault.

In this moment of crisis discourse and actions about alternatives as well as corrective measures have emerged. Institutions have emerged as saviours in this time of crisis – advocating use of legal means to ensure ‘equity’ in schools. Their initiatives grope for clauses in documents to ensure equality and quality as if those policies are shorn of class character. What kind of alternatives do these groups call for? They are organisations which are driven by the idea that improvements can be brought about within this system. Issue of equality can be resolved without addressing the sources of inequality. Schools, therefore, become autonomous agencies of change and transformation rather than centres which reproduce already existing inequality. Capital is not the issue for them. In other words, world can be changed, i.e., the world of social sector, without challenging capitalism, which is considered as given, immutable, inevitable reality. This has been perhaps a general problem with the liberals across the globe. One can, in fact, replicate what McLaren says about US to Indian situation to a great extent. Like American liberals, the Indian counterparts call for capital controls, controls in foreign exchange, better wages, end to informalisation, safeguard the public sector companies etc. However, they are few who would demand the abolition of capital itself (McLaren, 2005, p.23). Their activities have not only redefined the notion of equality but they have also helped establish that there is no alternative to capitalism and whatever can be achieved in terms of changes within schools, it will have to be within capitalism………..

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