This philosophy professor shows what is wrong with our language, education policy

There are outstanding autobiographies by dalit or Buddhist writers in Marathi. Sharad Baviskar’s acclaimed autobiography Bhoora is very different, it gives you so many insights into issues of language and the Indian educational system, he is trained in philosophy and French and English language. He is professor in the centre of French and Francophone Studies in JNU, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

He has grown up in absolute poverty in a village in Dhule district, born in a Kunbi, not a dalit community, he spoke only the local Ahirani language at home, worked as a labourer, his mother too was a farm worker. But she had a lot of wisdom and she influenced him greatly. This is an amazing story of a man who to a good extent is self taught and so well that the French embassy in Delhi hired him to teach French for its courses and then sent him to Paris for further course though he had no degree or diploma in the subject.

Bhura Sharad BaviskarHe had not only studied French language on his own but also its literature and philosophy. He has also done Masters in English from the Institute of Foreign and English Language in Lucknow. and got three other Masters degrees including in JNU and in Italy and elsewhere.

As a student from a disadvantaged background but with high comprehension abilities he has acquired a deep understanding of the deep inqualities, prejudices in our educational system, the faultlines in private universities are well exposed with his stint in Amity University which is run like a business and students are asked to join like devotees in the celebration of the life of one of its worthies.

He is teaching in JNU for more than a decade and is fascinated by it, he devotes almost a hunded pages to it, he is greatly disturbed by attacks on it, it is a great institution, some forces now do not want to see so many poor students learn in an atmosphere of great freedom and inquiry and research.

So many poor studens draw inspiration from his life, they appreciate his book but some of them say they stop reading the JNU part. That is because the anti JNU propaganda is so successful it has created false ideas among many about the wonderful institute spread over a thousand acres, it is a great centre of learning with a high proportion of teachers and students, almost one teacher per ten students.

He is a fervent supporter of people’s struggles, has talked to students about the teachings of Phule and Ambedkar and he has a deep social concern. All this has led to the management making a chargesheet against him.

His book has run into a record tenth edition in a year and is published by Lok Vangmay Griha which is celebrating its golden jubilee now and is famous for its publishing progressive literature. June 23 marked its golden jubilee and that was the day the tenth edition was launched with Kumar Ketkar, prominent journalist and M.P., Dr Bhalchandra Kango, chief of Lok Vangmay and its parent organisation People’s Publishing House, Rajan Gavas, Marathi novelist, Urmila Matondkar, actor, and Alka Dhupkar journalist, as speakers apart from the author himself.

If you want progressive literature in Marathi, Lok Vangmay’s shop below the former Blitz office near Fountain is the place to go to.

PPH, the parent company, now based in Delhi, it was in Mumbai earlier, publishes hundreds of books each year in different languages, all focussed on progressive causes.

In the pre independence era PPH published such major writers as Rahul Sankrutyayan, D.D. Kosambi, Gorky and so on, as Rajan Bavdekar pointed out.

As a speaker too Baviskar is very special, there is always something new he tells you, he knows the world of the deprived India as well as some of the best institutions in the West, there are so many references to books old and new, one keeps getting fresh insights.

How weak our education system is at the grassroots can be understood from his book early on when he describes how rampant copying was in his school, it was known as the copy school. Once there was a raid by an anti-copying squad and there was so much commotion.

The better part is that there are pockets of quality education. In Jaihind college in Dhule where Baviskar studied, there is a very good English language laboratory with a lot of audio visual material from the BBC, Oxford, Cambridge, English and Foreign Language Institute, Hyderabad. That was because of the enlightened principal Dr K.B. Patil, who had a doctorate from Canada, and whom Baviskar often mentions with much gratitude. Baviskar on his own made full use of the lab, spending hours in it, often alone.That I think changed the course of his life.

His career gives a lie to the propaganda that it is necessary to start primary education with English medium in school. A boy from a disadvantaged family would not have done well had he been exposed to English medium from the first standard. He does not say this himself but it is clear from his background. Elsewhere he has supported the view that English should be the medium in view of the employment market. That is fair enough. But that come always come at a later stage in school, not from standard one.

The importance of English is obvious. The problem is the contempt with which a section of our upper class looks down upon our regional languages. Another problem is that an inferiority complex is created when children do not have a standard accent in regional languages or English.

By a good coincidence I am reading Shanta Gokhale’s autobiography thanks to the book lent by Shekhar Hattangadi, prominent journalist, film maker, critic.This gives a different insight into the language issue.

Shanta writes in the very first meeting her future husband Viju Shahane, an Indian Navy officer, told her he did not speak Marathi. This shows the deep faultlines in our attitude to language. Shanta did not make this point but makes the important point that his attitude was surprising considering that his maternal uncle was Madhav Julian, the celebrated Marathi poet. Julian was a pen name, his surname was Patwardhan.

I must add here that Julian taught Persian in Fergusson college in Pune and in the government-run Rajaram college in Kolhapur. And he also composed the Persian Marathi dictionary.

What a sad decline from a world of multilingualism to monolingualism which has done great harm and we do not even realise this.

Shanta’s output is prolific and high quality. One must mention her book on her father Gopal Gundo Gokhale, an enlightened man who sent his two daughters to England for college studies in those days in the fifties . He was assistant editor in the Times of India for some time. Unfortunately, he had passed away at the early age of 56, a couple of years before I joined TOI. But I could relate to his colleague and friend in TOI, M.V. Matthew, who was very much there. He was a rare man with varied interests with a very good understanding of science and humanities and theatre.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist, culture critic and author of a book on public transport

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