Although it is heartening to go through a recent circular from the Education department regards making major cut on the otherwise too heavy school bags that burdened the young school children, it however remains to be seen how far managements of schools, especially the public schools, cooperate in implementing the directive, in letter and spirit. . The Union HRD Ministry has reportedly asked States and Union Territories to frame guidelines so that students in classes I and II are required to learn only mathematics and languages. No homework should be assigned to them; their schoolbags should not weigh more than 1.5 kg; neither should they be asked to bring additional books and material to school. For classes III to V, environmental studies can be added as the third subject while the schoolbag weight should be only in 2-3 kg range. Similar guidelines have been framed in the past, notably by CBSE in 2016, but these were widely disregarded because these were never legally binding. The Central government’s oft-stated stand is that school curriculum load must be reduced, the focus should be on a child-cantered, process-oriented and constructivist approach, and learning by rote must be done away with. However, there is no law as yet to regulate schoolbag weights. The Rajya Sabha did pass the Children’s School Bags (Limitation on Weight) Bill in 2006, stipulating among other things that the schoolbag should not weigh more than 10 percent the weight of the child, that school lockers be provided, and that kids in nursery and kindergarten should not be made to carry schoolbags at all. Schools flouting the rules should be fined up to Rs 3 lakh, the bill stated. And therein matters have stood, with the Centre content to keep the ball in State governments’ court as Education happens to be on the Concurrent list. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has long been suggesting measures to ensure the 10 percent cap on schoolbags. These suggestions include ban on asking schoolkids to carry books outside NCERT or SCERT syllabi, drawing up time-tables so that every subject is not taught every day, and making study material available in classes. The Bombay High Court in 2006 had ordered the 10 percent cap on weight of schoolbags; a decade later, when the court asked Maharashtra government how the cap was being implemented, it was informed that a committee had been set up to look into the matter! It is a fact though, that States like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana have taken some steps to lessen the load on school students.
In May this year, the Madras High Court took strong exception to subjects like computer science and grammar prescribed for class I students, while reminding the Central and State governments that “students are not weightlifters” to be toting heavy schoolbags. On homework, the HC bench noted: “Young children are notably lacking in ‘executive control’, the ability to concentrate, to follow directions, to control impulses and keep details in mind. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect KG students, first and second class students to do homework or assignment on their own. Homework for class I and II children have to be prohibited.” Many guardians would surely agree, considering that it is they who mostly end up doing the homework for their wards. As for the physical toll, an ASSOCHAM survey in 2016 found that over two-third of school children are on their way to become chronic sufferers of back pain and even turn into hunchbacks, thanks to lugging schoolbags weighing around 45 percent of their body weights. And it is not just heavy reference books that they find so burdensome — according to the survey, the absence of lockers in schools forces students to carry art kits, swimwear, sports gear and so on. What has to be kept in mind is if state authorities backpedal over the latest guidelines, these too will fizzle out like the earlier ones. Another aspect highlighted by some reports is the dogged resistance to such moves by a section of school managements and guardians. Their argument is that homework makes students revise, and thereby retain, what has been taught in school, while guardians can assess the academic progress of their wards.
Plight of Indian Muslims
Islam is the second largest religion in India, with 14.2% of the country’s population or roughly 172 million people identifying as adherents of Islam. Over the centuries, Muslims have played a notable role in economics, politics and culture of India, however 70 years after independence the overall condition of Indian Muslims is pathetic.
Poverty illiteracy and ghettoization has marred Muslims for decades now. Ghettoisation among Indian Muslims began in the mid-1970s when first communal riots occurred. It got heightened after the 1989 Bhagalpur violence in Bihar and became a trend after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Soon several major cities developed ghettos, or segregated areas, where the Muslim population moved in. This trend however, did not help for the anticipated security the anonymity of ghetto was thought to have provided.
During the 2002 Gujarat riots, several such ghettos became easy targets for the rioting mobs, as they enabled the profiling of residential colonies. This kind of ghettoisation can be seen in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and many cities of Gujarat where a clear socio-cultural demarcation exists between Hindu-dominated and Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods.
In places like Gujarat, riots and alienation of Muslims have led to large scale ghettoisation of the community. For example, the Juhapura area of Ahmadabad has swelled from 250,000 to 650,000 residents since 2002 riots. Muslims in Gujarat have no option but to head to a ghetto, irrespective of their economic and professional status.
Increase in ghetto living has also shown a strengthening of stereotyping due to lack of cross-cultural interaction, and reduction in economic and educational opportunities at large. Secularism in India is being seen by some as a favour to the Muslims, and not an imperative for democracy
The Sachar Committee Report explored and commented upon a truly wide range of random issues and concerns, often with a view to forcefully place the Muslim viewpoint on those issues in the public sphere. This included making observations on the high birth rate in the Muslim community in comparison to Hindus: the committee estimated that the Muslim proportion will stabilize at between 17% and 21% of the Indian population by 2100.As per the 2011 census, the population of Muslims is nearly 15% and rose by over 2% over a period of only ten years.
The Sachar Committee highlighted and presented its suggestions on how to remove impediments those preventing Indian Muslims from fully participating in the economic, political, and social mainstream of Indian life. The report was the first of its kind to reveal the “backwardness” (a term used in Indian academic and legal discourse for historically dispossessed or economically vulnerable communities, not meant to be pejorative) of Indian Muslims. An issue highlighted was that while Muslims constitute 14% of the Indian population, they only comprise 2.5% of the Indian bureaucracy. The Sachar Committee concluded that the conditions facing Indian Muslims was below that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Report brought the issue of Muslim Indian inequality to national attention, sparking a discussion that is still ongoing. The Committee recommended setting up an Equal Opportunity Commission to provide a legal mechanism to address discrimination complaints, including in matters such as housing. In response to the Committee’s findings, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram proposed an increase to the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation’s (NMDFC) budget, citing new duties and expanded outreach that the institution would take on to implement the Committee’s recommendations.
However, no such recommendations have been implemented and Muslims continue to suffer in India even seven decades after independence.
Our bond with divine grace
As Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee explains, the Sufi comes into this world to love and serve the divine and this destiny is stamped within the heart in fire.
Eros makes his home in men’s hearts, but not in every heart, for where there is hardness he departs.
Look in your own heart,” says the mystic, “For the kingdom of God is within you.” He who truly knows himself knows God, for the heart is a mirror in which divine is reflected. Just as a steel mirror, if coated with rust, loses its power of reflection, so do our inward senses which are the eyes of the heart. When this visual heart becomes numb to the celestial impulses owing to the dross of material impressions it no longer remains a clarified beacon. Our quest for the numinous becomes barren and we experience tremors of the dark night of the soul.
The heart has long been the starting point for many spiritual schools, but for a mystic, the heart is a fixed referent for true enlightenment. The heart announces the first sign of life and its silence signals the message of the death of the physical body. The mystic regards God as the real agent in every act, and therefore takes no credit for his good works nor desires to be recompensed for them.
The heart is normally veiled or stained by sins, tarnished by sensual impressions, pulled to and fro between reason and passion: a battlefield on which the armies of God and the devil contend for victory. Through one gate, the heart receives immediate knowledge of God, through another it lets in the illusions of sense.
No previous society has offered seekers so many different ways to chase after Nirvana, so many different paths to spiritual epiphany. One powerful way is by polishing the heart. When we polish the mirror of the heart with daily spiritual practices — we can see beyond the illusion of our transient world and perceive the vast and luminous landscape of our true nature. This is one practice that in time can help us make the marriage between our being and our humanness. By its very nature, living in the world leaves a material impression on our heart, while our thoroughness of being and our impulses of love unveil it. The clear heart is the best guide to living. It is the mirror of our inner state, as also a hologram of all. As Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee explains, the Sufi comes into this world to love and serve the divine and this destiny is stamped within the heart in fire: “We bring this purpose into the world, and when our heart is awakened we feel this need of the heart, this call of the soul.” This divine remembrance awakens the slumbering soul to its real purpose and the journey home begins.
The mystics have discovered that, in addition to the mind, the heart is a very most important centre governing our spiritual consciousness. With diligent practice, teachers have perfected the techniques that moderate the heart, cultivating profound intuition and realisation. The polished heart becomes a mirror that catches the light of truth and reflects it in one’s consciousness. The surest way of achieving this sparkling quality is by focusing attentively on God and negating the ego. From then on the seeker starts to experience God, and see him with the inner eyes of the heart.
In the words of Hildegard von Bingen: “It is the heart that sees the primordial eternity of every creature.”
Rising tension in Kashmir
AS the Supreme Court is likely to hear the petitions against the continuation of Article 35-A of Indian constitution on Thursday, a wave of unrest is sweeping the trouble-torn state. Ahead of the hearing, On Wednesday, Kashmir is reeling under a protest strike called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). The rotest strike shall continue on Thursday as well. Apprehensions that the top court might dilute Article 35-A is a matter of concern for all shades of political opinion—separatist as well as pro India. While National Conference and PDP has already warned of serious consequences if 35-A was abolished, the latest to voice his concern is Sajjad Gani Lone. The Peoples’ Conference chairman, who has close political affinity with the BJP, said on Tuesday that the alienation in Kashmir was due erosion in special status Jammu and Kashmir had under the constitution of India. The separatists are already up in arms. That has made the continuation of Article 35-A and 370 of Indian constitution as a joint case for the political leaders in Kashmir.
Article 35A of the Constitution gives special rights to Jammu and Kashmir’s permanent residents. It disallows people from outside the state from buying or owning immovable property there, settle permanently, or avail themselves of state-sponsored scholarship schemes. It also forbids the J&K government from hiring people who are non-permanent residents. While separatist have asked people for a decisive struggle, pro India groups like National Conference and PDP too have joined the chorus. Former chief minister Mahbooba Mufti has cautioned New Delhi that any move to do away the special status of the state would have dangerous consequences.
National Conference patriarch and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah too have expressed similar views. On Wednesday normal life was paralyzed under shutdown called by separatists. The shutdown would continue on Thursday as well. Jammu and Kashmir government, which is presently headed by the Governor N N Vohra in absence of an elected government, has submitted to the Supreme Court to defer the hearing till an elected government was put in place. The state counsel, Shoab Alam, in a written plea to the Supreme Court, has said that “The present matter involves a sensitive issue regarding a challenge to Article 35A of the Constitution of India… It will therefore be requested that the matter may kindly be head when an elected government is in place”. Voices of opposition against revocation of 35-A have come from Jammu too.
Sometime back around 300 lawyers of different courts in the region, last year, supported the continuation of the 35-A as it safeguarded the rights of the people of the state. The people in power at the centre should understand the emotions of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with regard to the state’s individual character. “Azadi” or “right of self-determination” may not be the slogan of every state subject of Jammu and Kashmir but the special status that the state enjoys under Article 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution is closer to heart to every resident of Jammu and Kashmir. Saner voices at national level, who have some knowledge of politics and power in Kashmir, too have warned of the threats involved in tampering with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. Some newspapers have editorially commented that India would have no legal claim on Kashmir if Article 370 is removed. It would be in India’s national interest that the central government listens to saner voices. BJP which is ruling at the centre should think beyond the arithmetic of election gains. The party may get some votes in the name of 35-A but it is ultimately India that would lose.