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The business of knowledge
By Sudhirendar Sharma



In the race to keep pace with the educational imperatives of growing population can quality of education be allowed to be compromised? Prakash Jha's film Aarakshan takes a compelling dig against privatisation in education.


The film Aarakshan hits at commercialization of education

Needless to say, you don't come home after watching the film Aarakshan (meaning ‘Reservation’) with a happy-go-lucky feeling, nor do you come away entirely sure of what you've seen. Reality, like the warped mind of the protagonist, is wholly subjective, and the only thing that is clear, crystal clear, is that, howsoever growing and expanding it might be, tuition cannot be a substitute for education.

Prakash Jha is one filmmaker who has carved out his own niche within a Bollywood system that is both intellectually bankrupt and box office driven. Often labelled a political film director, Jha has found it hard to avoid marketing gimmickry to deal with the subject of his recent flick. The politics of ban on Aarakshan film only justified his commercial wisdom.

Despite losing the plot in the first half, Aarakshan remains an important movie that takes a compelling dig against privatization in education. Though the narrative sets up a simplistic good versus evil dispute and a high-caste versus lower-caste conflict, the screenplay nevertheless exposes the unethical commercialization of education as the core issue.

The film is not as much against the idea of private education, as much against so-called educators driven solely by how much money they can fleece from students, using everything from false promises to deceptive advertising. In the race to keep pace with the educational imperatives of growing population can quality of education be allowed to be compromised?

Between Dr Prabhakar Anand’s (Amitabh Bachchan) principled stand and Mithilesh Singh’s (Manoj Bajpayee) commercial dream, the screenplay underscores the absence of strong regulation as the cause for unethical commercialization of education. Caught in the crossfire, students have become intended beneficiaries as well as unsuspecting victims of modern education.

The return on investment in education, an unheard of expression in the past, has belittled the purpose of education today. India’s historical legacy as a seat for learning is being trashed by private institutions which have perfected the art of producing graduates.

The simmering discontent amongst youth is indeed a cause for worry as business of education is beginning to show cracks. The return on investment in education, an unheard of expression in the past, has belittled the purpose of education today. India’s historical legacy as a seat for learning is being trashed by private institutions which have perfected the art of producing graduates.

Avoiding a reformist position, Jha takes an activist stance to correct the systemic malaise. Given the legacy of weak regulatory framework that has been vulnerable to manipulation by the elite, the script pitches on public consciousness as an essential drive of change. Running a make-shift coaching centre in a cowshed, Dr. Anand draws a distinction between good and evil.

Much as one would have liked, Aarakshan avoids taking an ideological position against the practice of perverted mode of learning. It doesn’t question the mushrooming of coaching centres although the film reflects serious concerns on overblown marketing and corporate competitiveness at the cost of the quality of education that these centres impart to their students.

Though the hollowness of crass commercialization of the education system has been exposed, the script treads a carefully chartered course to sensitize private education from becoming a victim of its own perils. Clearly, the film delivers a strong message to the clients to ensure that the private institutions adhere to quality as their USP and not false promises and venality.

Aarakshan is not a game changer and neither have such claims been made. Yet, it successfully enacts a high-voltage socio-political drama around one of the most controversial policies of caste-based reservations in government jobs and educational institutions, a hitherto untouched theme in popular cinema. It takes the issue head-on, without mincing words.

It has been suggested that the country needs as much as 20,000 more schools and at least 1,150 more universities. In a fiercely competitive environment, organizational unscrupulousness is something that the masses have to guard against.

Not many film-makers have succeeded in creating pragmatic films on societal matters. Jha holds the distinction of doing so and hence expectations from his films are enormous. But the storyteller in him ensures that neither does the film gets preachy nor drifts into a sermonizing mode. It allows its audience to stay on the judgement seat to proclaim the verdict.

That privatization, including that of education, is here to stay. Neither does government deny it nor do people contest it. Instead, it has been suggested that the country needs as much as 20,000 more schools and at least 1,150 more universities. In a fiercely competitive environment, organizational unscrupulousness is something that the masses have to guard against.

Using multiple characters, the film goes on a roller coaster ride of high drama, conflict and rebellion to portray the ground reality of private education, which is built on political patronage and aggressive marketing. While it alerts public to look beyond the swanky classrooms, it cautions the private sector to be wary of profit as the only motive.

Despite its lengthy narrative, Aarakshan communicates an engaging story that is not only inspiring but thought-provoking too. The film needs to be seen from the perspective of what it conveys rather than what the script delivers on the screen. It is a daring story that hints at possible public outrage should unregulated private education be allowed to grow and prosper at the cost of blood, sweat and tears of parents and students alike.

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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