The Social Watch

Dr Rajeev Joshi

For thousands of years the man has tried to measure time – the movement along ‘fourth dimension’. The devices, used to measure and keep track of this movement, have refined from candle-clock, time-stick, sun-dials, verge escapement mechanism etc. The pendulum clock, invented in 1656, was easily reproducible and became integral part of household appliances. Now various versions of digital clock are still much cheaper and much more easier to assemble. The clock till now only showed time or the ‘fourth’ dimension.

However, “Ahmed’s clock”, currently in news, shows a totally different dimension, viz., ‘social dimension’ – the position where the society has reached, what postures various sections are taking, what influences are acting on the society. There is an urgent need to analyse various aspects and issues to understand this position along the social dimension.

Ahmed Mohammed brought a device which suddenly beeped in the school. Teacher thought that Ahmed was trying to use an object which “looked like a bomb”, school authorities “sensed a danger”, police were alerted, Ahmed was arrested. It is mentioned in some reports that ‘the police overreacted’. The police too must have “sensed a danger”.

The ‘anti-Islamophobia’ group too “sensed a danger”, certain sections of media and President Obama “sensed a danger” of ‘Islamophobia’ and elicited knee-jerk reaction. MIT, Facebook, Twitter and Google offered sops to Ahmed.

Others, particularly those who felt that ‘Islamophobia’ did not play a role in the action against Ahmed, too “sensed a danger” !

Is this sort of Anxiety Disorder? And that too is it of a wide-spread type?

Some reports say that almost every American would have prima-facie felt that it looked like a bomb. There is mention of one Josh Welch, who was punished, at tender age of 7 years for a Pop-Tart in the shape of a pistol. Then there is one Kendra Turner who was suspended for saying “Bless you” after a student sneezed. There are similar stories about other students also.

It is not known if the hyperactivity problem of Josh was given due primacy over the punitive action or correcting ‘behavioural’ issues of Kendra was given primacy over her suspension from classes.

It is mentioned that, Ahmed was asked by engineering teacher not to take the device to other places. (It may be that because the engineering teacher was taken into confidence, that teacher did not “sense a danger”.) According to the police, Ahmed was “passive aggressive”, and didn’t give “reasonable answer” as to what he was doing with the case. Unlike with the police, Ahmed reportedly cooperated with media. The behaviour of Ahmed may not be up to expectations, but are any corrective steps taken? This is not known.

The cases mentioned so far revolve around students. It may therefore be of interest to see the process of education, which moulds young mind into a responsible adult.

In India, the role of education, as explained in Sanskrit dictionary by V. S. Apte, remained restricted to training of a particular subject only. Except for ‘Panchatantra (5 techniques)’ or ‘Hitopadesh (beneficial advice)’, there is hardly any discussion on social dimensions of education. In fact, fertile land in ancient India gave enough room for hereditary dominance by the few. The story told by the 21st angel in ‘Sinhaasan Battishee’ (stories by 32 angels decorating a throne) imparts message that personality and qualities are inherited and therefore inborn, and that education plays no role at all.

May be due to limited resources, ancient Western world felt need to use resources primarily for improving society. Process of education had a social dimension. The Latin word ‘E+duco’ means progress in a particular direction. The word ‘educare’ means to nurture. The French word ‘elever’ implies growth in upward direction. Encyclopaedia Britannica description that “Education can be thought of as the transmission of the values and accumulated knowledge of a society. In this sense, it is equivalent to what social scientists term socialization or enculturation”, emphasizes that education is necessarily a process of socialisation.

From Plato to Rousseau, Paul Natorp, Immanuel Kant and others, many thinkers have stressed the role of ‘social pedagogy’. Pedagogy aims at nurturing a sense of well-being & self-esteem. It necessarily includes not only improving children’s skills and physical well-being, but also paying attention to aspirations and anxieties of children and to promote their mental, emotional well-being. Developing communal responsibility, respect for human rights and social justice and making children aware of interdependence of various social units are integral parts of education.

But what is the ground reality in the Western world, where lot of research, thinking and discussions have taken place on the entire process of education in real sense. The initial reaction of Richard Dawkins was “If the reassembled components did something more than the original clock, that’s creative. If not, it looks like hoax”. Similarly, if the initial reaction of Ahmed’s teacher was “it looks like hoax”, it may not be uncalled-for. Taslima Nasreen had rightly said that the anxiety of his teachers “is not unfounded.” But the problem is much deeper.

Lot many Ahmeds, Joshs, Kendras and others may be on the wrong side of social values. But what role are the teachers playing? Are parents, neighbours, teachers, and the State administration as well, paying attention to aspirations and anxieties of children? Are they promoting their mental, emotional well-being? Are they inculcating communal responsibility, respect for human rights and social justice in minds of the children and making them to realise interdependence between various social units? Are those with all sorts of emotional disturbances taken into confidence rather than being taken into police custody?

It may be that parents, neighbours, teachers, police and others are under stress. Why are such tensions on rise? The number of factors responsible for such stress is large. But some of them are more important. There are financial reasons. The social reasons have become more acute after 9/11. This naturally raises some questions. Who promoted Laden? Who promoted Saddam? Who attacked Iraq under false and baseless pretext of chemical weapons? Was the ‘Game Theory’ applied eyeing only the short term gains? Those at the helm of power did not anticipate possible repercussions and after-effects of this myopic policy. Have leaders tendered apologies for their misadventures? Have other leaders at least criticised these policies? Is there a sincere attempt to address basic issues? Unless basic contradictions are resolved, their superficial reflection will never abate. The society advocating personal freedom should ask for freedom from anxiety, social tensions etc.

The end may justify the means, but the old question again arises – What is THE end? Long term view should be taken so that even the day, when the ‘Red Giant’ steps into our courtyard, is made a happy event.

India has a lot to learn from this. At what position are we in the ‘Social Watch’? Muslims are living under insecure atmosphere. But instead of solving the problems, militant, aggressive and divisive forces from both Hindu and Muslim groups are creating and aggravating insecurity in major as well as minor communities. Hanging of a convict was made a high tension, sensational and emotional drama. Such actions will give certain preliminary advantage to respective leaders, but similar to what is happening in the other parts of the world, in the long run these aggressive postures and conflicts will endanger social well-being.

Chosen-few from Marathas, Patidar-Patels and others have cornered more share of the power than the percentage of population of their respective castes, but the ordinary mortals in those castes are by-and-large neglected. To ensure votes from their neglected brethren, emotional appeals are created by demand of reservations to Marathas, Patidars and others. It may not be mere co-incidence that the demand to cancel the reservation policy comes from Gujarat, the home state of Narendra Modi. It is not surprising that RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat and VHP as well, have mustered courage to support demand to review the reservation policy after this demand is revived from Gujarat.

The religions began with message of peace but followers have resorted to all sorts of violence. It may be difficult for many to realise futility of religion, but at least religion must be restricted to personal spheres and religious preaching should not dominate government policies. The religion must be confined to individual’s home, far away public life.

All these craving for immediate and short-lived gains must be controlled. There is urgent need to promote rationality in the minds of people, as the society plays major role in ‘educating’ pre-school children and imparting informal education to other children. It is definitely an uphill and difficult task. It will take decades to complete. But the torch for promoting social awareness must be held high.