Republic Day 2014. One of India’s many great virtues is that since gaining independence in 1947 it has maintained a commitment to democratic principles. There have, of course, been occasions when this democracy has developed cracks and has appeared vulnerable but the majority of people here have a well-developed sense of justice that has sustained the systems fostered by Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalachari and other early leaders of the free nation.
Having said this, nothing is perfect. Gross inequalities continue to dominate this society, just as they do others across the globe, including my own. Whole communities remain marginalized as a result of poverty, disability, culture and caste, and inclusion remains a distant dream for many. What role can education play in effecting change? Is the burden so great that we as teachers, can have no impact upon redressing the inequalities that persist?
Today on India’s Republic day the words of one of the founding fathers of modern India’s democratic principles continue to have relevance to the situation here.
“My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organise; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality.”
Dr.Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
Ambedkar himself knew what it was to experience oppression and disadvantage. The fact that he is now revered as a major influence upon post-independence democracy here in India, is a tribute to the fact that an individual can rise from the more down trodden echelons of society to have an impact upon a whole nation. Despite its many challenges Indian democracy remains an example of what can be achieved with the determination of people committed to its cause.
Marginalisation and oppression still exist here, as elsewhere across the world. If this situation is to change we would do well to heed the words of Ambedkar and his call to us to educate, agitate and organise. But such actions require clear thinking leaders who are prepared to take selfless action for the benefit of others. Today a group of individuals who have already devoted much of their lives to supporting the development of education for change came together to provide leadership and to contribute a tiny first movement that hopefully may develop into a greater force for change over the years to come.
Representatives from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu came together today to constitute a forum for support of the development of inclusive education. These individuals whose collective experience of working with disadvantaged, disabled and marginalised children over many years have given a commitment to work together in support of teachers and parents. Amongst the group were experienced teachers, parents and social activists whose influence has already been seen to have an impact upon the lives of children and their families. Today they formulated plans for ensuring that those teachers and parents who often find themselves working in isolation gain greater support as they endeavour to create a more inclusive education system in the country.
As an observer at this gathering I felt honoured to be present at the beginning of something which I feel may well develop into a significant vehicle for furthering the cause of inclusion. These are individuals who are most certainly prepared to educate, agitate and organise. I have no doubt that they will face many obstacles along the way, but I look forward to seeing them confront the challenges ahead and feel certain that they will contribute to the development of a more just society similar to that which Ambedkar and the other founding fathers of the republic originally envisaged.
So on this Indian Republic Day – India Inclusive Education Forum – Jai Hind