Childhood and Education: Representation in Hindi Films and writers

Radhakanta Barik

 In this paper we want to establish the interface between childhood and education in India. During the Bhakti movement there was an attempt to educate children in a community school managed by the village community.  The scope of this education is narrow in terms of castes and communities.  The purpose of the education is to learn the spiritual texts and certain amount numeracy.  But there was widespread of illiteracy around us.  The traditional schooling was aiming at the keeping occupational skills with a family.  Technological stagnation was there as the technical communities such as carpenters and cobblers were not allowed to get an access to those schooling systems. But it was shift from ancient system where the education was confined to the royal and feudal families. There was prohibition on others to learn which was popularly known as the Akalavya traditon.  This was not happening in the medieval period. Childhood and education were taken seriously during the national movement and by the independent state which got articulated in poems and film songs and literary works in various regional literatures.

Some writings are available on the state of affairs in the context of children. Premachanda and Fakirmohan were contemporaries whose stories are on child rights. As an average Indian looks at child as an extension of family. They don't give autonomy to the child. But Premachanda looks at the child as an autonomous being in his story Idgahar where the child goes with friends of his school but makes a decision independent of his friends and family. He buys a Chumta for his grandmother. In Fakirmohan' s story Revathi, she makes a choice of learning in a school and she makes a choice of her love towards the teacher. Children ' s rights have got discussed at various levels. These stories reflect the state of affairs of child in rural society.  In our literary world there have been attempts made by Indian writers to bring the child from the family purview to give autonomy to child.

 Domain of childhood and education has got expanded to other policy issues such as nutrition and health.  A childhood requires love, food and education and health over all the social security that will give a child to grow with freedom to think boldly. A child requires confidence and independence by shifting from family environment to school environment.  A child world gets expanded slowly by human interaction with other children and teachers to have a view of a society.  Learning of complexities of a society shapes a child’s personality.  A child has an ego and which gets expanded slowly.  This leads to slowly to move another stage of adolescence where dreams start haunting the child. In this process school plays an important role in channelizing a child’s energies.  A school mediates between a child’s family and society to have a glimpse of the world. School plays an important role in reconstruction of childhood.  

Many leading civil society activists: Shanta Sinha, the former Chairperson of Children’s Rights Commission constituted by government and others are of opinion that every child must go to the school. This is the responsibility of the government. This has been worked out under the right to education act but the previous government was committed to take steps in this direction. But the present government retreats in the domain of children's siksha and rights by reversing back to the family. This government is not ready to take any step in this direction. As a young scholar Arathi Sriprakash raises a critical point, “childhood is now more widely recognized as an arena of political struggle, rather than a neutral stage of life…” (2018:  AP: pp31-33)

 As we have discussed the situation of a child in rural society where majority of people live in.  They depend on agriculture and allied activities where child contributes by his or her labour to running the family.  From getting fuel hood, water and taking care of small siblings are some of the activities can be listed. Most of the children while going to school also contribute to their family income by herding cows and providing a helping hand to agricultural operations. In general education creates a capability of a child. It is recognized by all primary education contributes in building child’s capability in terms of increasing the productivity of agriculture and by providing better health status to his or her family.  A traditional society measures the capability of an educated child who has the capability of reading a spiritual text and knowledge of numeracy. These basic learning skills help in improving the capacity of a child to grow into a healthy citizen who can decipher the good and bad in political democracy.

 The problems of urban society for safety and security for a child remain uncertain in Indian cities. As the majority of children live in urban slums of these cities where security of a child remains precarious today.  Their plight has not imagined by our literary people. They do work in various small-scale industries and household industries. Their suffering s have not got attention by our writes like Charles Dickens in England.  The English novelist Charles Dickens's picturisation of child labour made the ruling classes of England of conscious of their problems. It is a collective effort of writers, artists, political leaders and industrial class for thinking of children. This is the way in India people struggling for children rights. Our civil society activists play a decisive role in enacting a law for protecting child rights. The present government has changed the law telling family can employ their children which violates child rights.This is a criminal negligence of the Modi government.

 Sociology of class room in post independent India expresses gender inequality. By allowing woman to sit on the front row of the class room reminded them their role in a society fixed by the tradition of a society. Gender equality is a question of social interaction. There was no interaction among them. A class mate of mine became Physics teacher in a college. While she was a student of M.Sc class, there were twelve students. But no interaction was among them. She met a class mate of her as a teacher of Physics in the laboratory of the college. When he introduced himself as her class mate it was a shocking news for her. Furthermore, she met a class mate of her in the 1972 Ravenshaw Alumina meeting in 2017 she brought her love poems written by her during her college days. It is another shocking news for us that her imaginary boyfriend replied to her in his poetic works.   This may be the extreme case but gender relation was structured in a classroom as an extension of patriarchal relationship of the society. Classroom had no autonomy that time. Hindi film makers are taking women centric films in the present decade.

Let's examine politics of class rooms. Shifting from the front bench to any other seat in the classroom by girls showing their gender identity and their assertion as women. They make a choice today without bothering of teachers and their male class mates is a great stride towards their empowerment. In our time teacher and father played a critical role in making their choice. Their sheer number in class room changes the power politics of class rooms. They actively participate in politics and their preference for their counterparts. During the 1950, there was a love marriage in F M college who met each other in political life. (C K Mohanty: 2004) The same thing happened to Gangadhar Rath and Nirupama Mohanty's love marriage of Ravenshaw college.  Today politics has changed in Ravenshaw college where fifty percent students fall in love. And in the institute of Delhi where I teach all my students declared their going for love marriage. In BHU which is taken as a model university by the RSS, girls are demanding freedom of time to get into the hostel. Girls of Aligarh Muslim University are demanding freedom for studying in the central library. Their choice of dressing is a reflection of class room politics. They opposed the dress code imposed by BJP government of Rajasthan. Politics of class room changing towards gender equality.

The leading Odiya writer created a story on girl's education in Revathi. It reflects aspirations of girls not accepted by family, village and community. Her family abuses her as she goes to school. The community looks her down. The village disagrees with her proposal for going to school. The sociology of class rooms portrayed in the Hindi films came under our discussion were boys. Common schooling was the ideal for the leaders of the national movement. In the book Swedeshi Movement by Sumit Sarkar, the leading historian shows that before1905 every village of Bengal had a school.  (Sarkar:) This brought the involving of people in the movement. Many national leaders experimented in their own ways. Tagore had to leave Calcutta to a rural hinterland created Shantiniketan and Gopabandhu in Sakhigopal and Zakir Hussain in Delhi. Gandhi created his educational philosophy by getting engaged with these leaders. These educational aspirations reflected in Hindi films. Provision of schooling became an ideal for an Independent State. With limited resources state had they aspired to provide education as a part of basic needs though the right to education has been kept as a part of Directive Principles not a chapter of Fundamental Rights. That's the vision of a nation. This is being recognised by Amartya Sen and Haque in preparation of Human Development Index wherein primary education has got the same priority like basic health and minimum income. This is the strength of Nehru Gandhi vision.

  Sunil Dutt a leading film maker in his film Didi there is a reference to primary school. He as a teacher has to answer to the questions regarding caste discrimination and communal tension of a society. In a song “ Hamane Suna tha ek hai Bharat” there is a dialogue between a teacher and students studying in primary school. Dutt, as a teacher requests his students to ask questions; “ Koi saaual to batai”. Children raise a critical question : “Apane Hamako padhai oha saba kahin najar nahin aai”; this question in social science is a valid today. But our text books have not given priority to social issues and not discussing in an open-ended manner. This is a new pedagogic system where dialogue is the basis of teaching in a class room. where in answering a question regarding the caste discrimination he grabbed the problem in everyday life. He argues with his students regarding the importance of work not caste. Work as the basis of creation of wealth in a society where as caste discrimination is as a part of institutional arrangement.   There is another question by a student: “Itne swar sarab hai, Khun kharab Hai”. Why does so much noise and so much killing and violence around us? He as a teacher tries to answer in a political manner that religion and caste have been used by political class as the Britishers have used to divide us.

In another film he grappled the problem of untouchability in Achhut Kanya where confronted the reality in an Ambedkarian frame work where he went for an inter caste marriage in opposition to his mother's wishes. As an actor he was always engaged with society. In his film Mother India, he showed anger against the money lender cum landlord. In another film song defined an artist as a persona with a moving cloud and unsettled one confronting one or the other problem. He became a political leader speaking against communalism as a practitioner of his ideas. As the minister of Health, he made me a member of the High-powered Committee on NACO where he spoke for a human being with a wonderful soul like Milton speaks of ' enlightened soul'. He was a poet among politicians and suffering being among artists.

How school gets imagined in the literary world. The Malayalam writer Vijayan wrote his major work The legend Of Khasak became a land mark work in their literary history. The central character of the story is a primary school teacher and his students. But the striking feature of the novel is this that students of each caste meeting the teacher and the class room turns in to a social world where a sense of equality is being realized on the floor of class room. This is the strength of an idea of equality contrasting with a society based on hierarchy. This is a great moment in the political history of India. Class rooms portrayed in Hindi films carry the idea of equality. This experiment has been executed in a musical manner where students have a novel experience. As a teacher in a multi-cultural class room I request my student to sing a song in his or her language then class room reflects a world of cultural pluralism which I confront while teaching them the preamble of constitution ' we the people of India.' They realize each of them belonging to a different culture and religion speaking in the preamble.

Representation of a child in the Hindi films reflects the engagement of an artist with the wider world. In another song of Raj Kapoor while he is singing on the road picks up a naked child. This is their concern of street children in India like Charles Dickens picturisation of street children. Human concern always goes beyond self-interest. When an artist sings in a Hindi film Dhool Ka Phool a song 'tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega,  insaan  ki aulad he insaan baenga' reflects concern of not his or her religion. This song takes us from particularism to universalism.  According modern research findings show that a child does not have any religion but society slowly socializes the child into a religious being.  These concerns reflect the age of Gandhi Nehru who defines India in terms of ' we the people of India'. Construction of idea of India is a collective effort where teachers of primary schools play an important role. Schools provide space for this experiment. Children going to schools without dress reflects our economic position not an imaginary India where poor, rich, Dalit, Muslims and tribals working out the destiny of India. For instance, in our village school the scale of the achievement was before independence that a child is educated when he or she can read the Bhagabat and has knowledge of numeracy. That's the requirement of an agrarian society but the scale of achievement has got changed that the child would grow into an educated and skilled adult to participate in the modern economy. Raj Kapoor takes the street as a symbol of equality as in those days social institutions be it family or community is based on social hierarchy. In post partition our polity is ridden with communalism. Our basti is a divided one. In such a situation the street emits equality. In his film Shree 420, Nargis and Kapoor participate in a classroom dialogue with small kids in a poetic manner " Ichak Dana Bichak Dana Dane Upar Dana". Construction of modern India is being imagined in a classroom where there is a sense of equality. In a proposition for gender equality he is singing on a street with working class women " Dil kaa Haal sune Dilwala " in the same film. His films with powerful songs are speaking of a progressive India where gender, caste equality and communal harmony are required values which Modi"s India is retreating today. Modi Yogi model of India is showing a different picture. Kapoor’s films represent aspirational India of post independent India where youths used to dream of modern India. Lack of resources have made them committed to a secular and progressive India where imagination of a modern economy through import substitution. Technological collaboration with Russia and Germany gave a foundation to steel plants. This created an image of India in the film Shree 420 where a popular song " Mera juta he Japani.. ye patloon English tani..shar pe laal topi Russi.. phir bhi Dil he Hindustani " It tells the story of an independent path of economic development without becoming a member of American or Russian block. Kapoor singing the song on the street which symbolizes an egalitarian India based on equality and justice. His films talk of Anaadi or common people where discrimination on the basis of caste and religion don't appear. Today's India is just opposite where Modi talking of religion and caste. Perhaps he has not seen those films or Hindutva does not have an aesthetic sense neither Sanskrit nor western.

While showing aspirational India where child plays an important role as his or her parents are suffering for making India a strong and hunger free where the future of child is taken care of. Here the artists, writers and leaders converge in construction of childhood with the help of education, nutrition and health facilities. Image of India has been worked out in the class rooms of schools where education has impinged childhood. 

Mohanty C K, (2004) (ed) Hirak Lipi, Old Students association, F M College, Balasore (This is a journal carries memories of students and teachers of 1950s there is a story regarding the first bench in the class room was reserved for girl students and second bench for the students who have passed out from Zilla School, Balasore.

Sarkar S, (1973) The Swedeshi Movement in Bengal, 1903-1908, PPH, New Delhi

Sriprakash A, (2018) The Political Future of Childhood Studies, Review Article of the book,’Childhoods in India: Traditions and Transformations,’ ed by TS Saraswathi, Shailaja Menon and Ankur Madan, London Routledge, (Economic and Political Weekly, May 26, p31)

Jun 29, 2018

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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