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Red Herring

The Kerala Government’s Education Bill is strong but necessary medicine. Its several ingredients are meant to cure various specific ills which afflict Primary and secondary schools in the State. For this reason it need not be paraded as a model for all other States to emulate. For the same reason it cannot be fairly examined outside the context of the concrete conditions obtaining in Kerala. What are these conditions? Whereas in India as a whole nearly 80 percent of the people are illiterate, in Kerala nearly 80 percent of the people are literate. This is a unique achievement for which the credit is shared by the former princely. States of Travancore and Cochin and by missionary and private organizations. Another distinguishing feature of Kerala is that it is the most densely populated and perhaps the poorest State in the Republic. This means that while there are proportionately more schools and teachers in Kerala than elsewhere in India, the economic plight of the teachers is worse than elsewhere. A third distinguishing feature (and one which seems to be at the root of much of the criticism of the education Bill currently before the Kerala Assembly) is that the State has a Communist instead of a Congress Government. Shri Shriman Narayan really should not be so angry if the Namboodiripad Ministry strays now and again from the Congress line.

It is about time Congressman accepted the reality of a Communist Government in one of the States in the Republic and extended it the courtesy due to a Government which is in power by the consent of the people, not through the grace of the Red Army. It will not do constantly to attribute the worst motives to the Kerala Ministry and question its bona fides at every turn. There is no reason to disbelieve Shri Joseph Mundassery, Kerala’s Education Minister, when he says that the Bill is protective legislation designed to safeguard the interests of teachers employed in schools under Private management. Those familiar with Kerala know the scandalous practices prevalent today. In many school a candidate’s religion weighs more heavily than his academic merit in obtaining a teaching appointment. The proposed panel of teachers attacks this anti-secular practice. It is also known that many school managements pay their teachers salaries substantially lower than the figures shown in account books; economic necessity compels the teachers to sign the bogus receipts. The Bill proposes that all teachers in aided schools be paid directly by the State. Maintenance grants will be given to such schools, and their staff is to receive the same pension, provident fund, and other benefits as those enjoyed by teachers in Government schools.

The right of the State to take over those schools which do not satisfy the minimum requirements laid down cannot reasonably be challenged. If unfettered private enterprise is not justified in the economic field, even less can it be justified in the educational field. The Bill authorizes the Government to take over any category of aided schools, if it considers it necessary in the public interest. Compensation is to be paid on the basis of the market value of the school’s physical assets at the time of taking over. Since the Praja Socialist party and the Revolutionary Socialist party support the measure, we can take is that the majority of people in Kerala welcome the Education Bill. To accuse the State Government of trying to pack the teaching profession with Communists is to drag a red herring across a bold and essential legislative measure.

The Kerala Communists are only too aware that their State is in India, not in Eastern Europe. They have to face the polls every five years, and they know it. Whatever their desire, they really have no choice but to work within the Constitution. Equally important, they have every right to push ahead with any policies which may be unpalatable to Congressmen but which do not violate the Constitution. There is no cause for hysteria. In particular, the Congress general secretary, Shri Shriman Narayan, would serve his party’s interests better by focussing his attention on the shortcomings of the Kerala Congress instead of denouncing the Namboodiripad Ministry. When he takes the Kerala chief Minister to task for saying that the police should not interfere in labour disputes, or attacks the Education Bill as a measure designed to benefit communists, he is remarkably successful in winning friends for his political enemies.
(The Free Press Journal-20th July 1957)