From Suriya to Superstar, why is everyone in TN opposing NEP?

Chennai: The year was 2010. M Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and his DMK was an integral part of the UPA government at the Centre. A function was organised by Tamil film industry to honour ‘Kalaignar’ and the entire Kollywood was in attendance, besides Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan.

When his turn came to shower praises on the CM, Ajith caused a stir by his remarks that actors were being forced to attend such events and they were threatened with non-cooperation for their future projects if they declined to participate in certain programmes and protests.

The whole auditorium was in shock and pin-drop silence prevailed, till Rajinikanth broke it with his standing ovation to Ajith’s remarks. Later, the Superstar told reporters that it was not easy on the part of Ajith to say something like that in the presence of the Chief Minister and such a big crowd. “I appreciate his boldness,” he added.

History has almost repeated after nine years, with Suriya replacing Ajith and the Centre’s Draft New Education Policy (NEP) taking the place of pressure on actors. But, Rajinikanth’s support remains the same.

Speaking at the audio launch of Kaappaan in Chennai Sunday, Rajini said, “Another face of Suriya was revealed a few days ago. The speech he gave on education and the questions he asked, I agree with several of them. Suriya knows the difficulties of students well.”

According to Suriya, entrance exams like NEET would end up in schools being turned into coaching centres.

“There won’t be any teaching but only coaching. As of now coaching centres in the country make a turn over of Rs 5,000 crore annually. Kasturi Rangan Committee has suggested in the draft that anganwadi schools with teacher student ratio less than 1:10 will be closed. What will happen to students in the remote areas? Where will tribal students go? What will happen to their primary education? They say India’s soul is in its villages. We have close to 60 per cent students studying in government schools across the country,” said Suriya who runs an NGO called Agaram Foundation, which sponsors education of underprivileged students.

Hitting out at the three-language policy, he said, “How will students go to schools if that is the case? If a language is imposed upon them how will they handle it? If we all stay quiet about it, it will surely be imposed upon us.”

He also took a dig at public exams being introduced for classes 3, 5 and 8 students, and listed figures to point out that student dropout ratio in the country has been 40 per cent and such exams will only make things worse.

File photo of Kanimozhi

With BJP leaders now targeting Suriya and Rajini, experts are divided over NEP. Economist Venkatesh B Athreya says commercialisation, communalisation and centralisation were three important dangers posed by the proposals outlined in draft NEP.

“Though NEP has some good ideas and dealt with wide range of issues, it sounds largely hollow as most of the ideas are not practical in the absence of any mention of the funding modalities. Huge resources would be required to implement them.”

DMK MP Kanimozhi goes a step ahead and calls the NEP an indirect way of imposing Hindutva ideas.

“The BJP government has taken up education as a tool to spread RSS ideologies. The draft of the NEP is against the very idea of social justice. The policy has recommended filtration exams for students in classes III, V and VIII, which bars basic right to education. At many places, the draft repeatedly stresses the point of educating ‘Indian tradition and culture’ to students. Indian culture is not homogenous but diverse and how can a single culture be taught to students of the entire country?”

However, MP Joseph, a former Indian and UN civil servant, says in his recent article: “I am unable to find much saffron in the draft New Education Policy. ”

File photo of H Raja

He adds: “There was hardly any matter in it that seemed to be explicitly Hindutva-oriented. Nor did the content have anything significant that could be taken to be cultural or history revisionist. It could well have been a document produced under a forward-looking UPA III government.”

According to Centre for Educational and Social Studies Deputy Director Gowrish Joshi, the draft policy aims at changing the mindset of the people. It wants the education system to be owned by the community. The policy also aims at empowering faculty, give scope for innovation, bringing in flexibility in the system and try to restore the dignity of the teachers.

BJP national secretary H Raja says NEP is just a draft and the Centre sought opinions from the public. “When they talk about a third language, it is optional. Where is imposition here? We need to play an important role in saving the people of Tamilnadu from the groups that are trying to dupe them.”

M Bhaskar Sai