India and Peace Education
– By Devi Rajendran
According to the Global Peace Index 2019, India ranks 141 among the 163 countries on the list. This is really upsetting, because India is the country which endorsed the virtue of peace and non-violence in its Independence struggle, and produced one of the world’s most popular icons of peace. The seeds of peace are to be sown in while growing up. Therefore, peace education is the way out to imbibe the importance of peace and stability in Indians. According to UNICEF, Peace Education is the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behavioural change that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level. For peace education to be effective, it must transform ways of thinking that have been developed over the millennia of human history. The various dimensions of these fields include conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, nonviolence studies, peace studies, peace research and peace science. Harris has defined five types of peace education, 1) Global Peace Education, 2) Conflict Resolution Programs, 3) Violence Prevention Programs, 4) Development Education and 5) Nonviolence Education. Gavriel Salomon opines that the ways we consider peace education should depend on the context in which it originates. It is visible that Peace education as a discipline has gained much momentum in the last several decades. There has been a huge increase in the number of certificate and degree programs offered in response to conflict and violence.
Even though the tremendous increase in peace studies curricula is a global phenomenon, India is late to join in. At a Conference on Conflict Resolution at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Jane Schukoske and Manjrika Sewak reported that there were no institutions in India offering conflict resolution courses, and only very few courses in negotiation or dispute resolution. The Global Directory of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Programs mentions only three offerings in India: postgraduate diploma in Human Rights at the University of Hyderabad, “coursework” in peace studies at the University of Calcutta, a focus on Gandhian philosophy and theories of nonviolence at the Centre for Gandhian Studies. Apart from these, there are only a handful of other options. Now, this makes us wonder as to why is it so? Why have Indian academicians only recently picked up these courses? India, where issues of peace, nonviolence and social change were the cornerstones of independence and development, the land where Gandhi’s the legacy of peacemaking and traditions like Buddhism and Jainism which represent nonviolence are at its core, why is it that it is lagging behind in offering peace education?
The University Grants Commission, the highest body administering higher studies, has encouraged the study of human rights and funded universities and colleges to conduct courses in these areas. Human rights education has developed out of various departments including History, Political Science and Legal Studies. However, compared to other countries, there are very few programs in this field. Furthermore, the number of courses are very less, and the number of students who take up these courses is also not so significant. Regional factors, employment issues and delays in filling up faculty vacancies have all negatively affected the quality of these courses.
It is fair enough for anybody to expect that after going through events like the partition of India, migration and refugee problems, communal conflicts and riots, and Gandhi’s practice of nonviolence at the most provocative situations would make the people of India explore the concept of peace and nonviolence more pervasively. But seems like, that is not the case. On an ideological level, Gandhi’s life and thought attracted the attention of many in India and beyond, but his followers picked up on selected dimensions of Gandhian thought and advocated these causes in a selective manner. Even though scholars in history, political science, economics, literature and philosophy have engaged with Gandhi’s ideas in the post-independent period, they could only take as much as their respective disciplines would allow.
Certificate, diploma and master’s courses were initiated by Gandhian Studies departments and centres, but to meet university standards, courses had to be structured in an acceptable form. The curriculum was largely influenced by collective choices and administrative interests. In most cases, what can be defined as “Peace Education” got incorporated into other arenas or departments and lost its core value. In many cases, Gandhi’s life and thought became the central point in the curriculum, but the analysis of the implications of this thought within a global context was not looked into. Gandhi did discuss education in his writings and in many ways espoused a philosophy parallel to those who see educating for peace as a way to imbibe values and transform societies. Gandhi’s ideas on basic education along with his other views are strongly relevant to peace studies curricula.
Apart from ideological issues, other structural and institutional factors also influence higher education and development of peace studies in India. It is not clear as to how much influence academic thought carries in the political arena. In many third-world societies, researchers and scholars are often considered to be armchair theorists. The academy has much to offer in the understanding and elimination of violent conflict, however, this wisdom is not fully utilised. On the institutional level, higher education in India inherited its features from the British system, the pedagogy and curriculum of which follows a very traditional approach. This includes the policies and administrative structures of the universities, the application of rules and procedures that may lose relevance in a changing context, the system of parrot-fashion assignments and examinations and manners of bureaucratic administration. These overarching institutional forces and rigid disciplinary boundaries make it very difficult to develop alternative pedagogical methods and innovative programs. Typically, administrations have not allowed deviations and innovations to suit the new challenges and necessities in society.
The potential for new departments to innovate around interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary areas are weakening in the Indian university system. As education in the humanities and social sciences is undervalued in certain Indian states, fresh initiatives are very slow to emerge and relative emphasis on science and technical education has limited resources available to promote new courses and ideas for new branches of learning. Moreover, the percentage of Indian population pursuing higher education is only a small faction of the existing population. Such institutional issues make it difficult to introduce topics such as peace studies, whose relationship to the university system and potential for employment remain unclear. Another major hindrance is on the resource level.
Peace education has still not developed its true potential in India due to paucity in funding. The socio-economic situation in higher education has been changing and the employment situation has changed, people are no longer getting jobs with a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree. Therefore, academia has been forced to educate for professional success, sometimes at the expense of intellectual and socially driven pursuits.
In a nutshell, India’s larger economic, structural and ideological challenges make it difficult for peace studies. In fact, the structural violence that peace education seeks to eradicate is the very thing that inhibits its development. Peace is a choice, not an accidental state of being, also is the conscious development of ways to enhance the work of peace. A large part of this work includes peace education and research. It is very important that an educational approach is paved way for that focuses on our insecure world of multidimensional violence, the violence of the status quo and on the centrality of nonviolence, love, compassion, cooperation, service, unity and sustainability of human beings on the Earth. India truly has the intellectual, historical and philosophical potential to be a leader in peace education, yet, in the current vast global and structural inequities, India is still lagging behind.
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