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Education and The Disprivileged: Nineteenth And Twentieth Century India Edited by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Orient Longman, Rs 550

The title of this collection of essays is intriguing. It is not “Education and the Underprivileged” but Education and the Disprivileged, that is, it deals with those sections of our society who have been deprived for a long time. Dalits, tribals and a large section of women did not figure in British policies vis-a-vis the education of Indians. However, one exception to this was the work of Christian missionaries in Chhotanagpur in mid-19th century. Some “experiments” were in fact carried out with regard to the education of the backward classes.

The scholars who have contributed to this collection have all examined the different facets of the efforts to extend the reach of education to the disprivileged, both before and after independence. One also gets an idea of the tremendous research work undertaken by most contributors to this volume which has also involved a great deal of social work. The end result is a guide for both present and future scholars.

The book has been divided into five sections: historical perspectives on Dalit education; education of the tribals; Dalit education: the contemporary scene; education and gender and caste, class and education. The titles of the sections serve as pointers to the scope of the various studies. Of all the sections, the one dealing with education and gender has a great deal of contemporary value.

Samita Sen’s “A father’s duty: state, patriarchy and women’s education” deals with one of the most enduring problems of modern India since the early 19th century — the education of women. Different interests have been at work since the beginning of the early efforts to educate women. For example, the missionaries focused on poor and lower caste women, the reformers concentrated on grooming middle class women while the colonial power displayed only a limited commitment to the spread of education. Sen concludes by saying that only a handful of women benefitted from modernization and the opportunities thrown up by it.

Parimala V. Rao in “Educating women — how and how much: women in the concept of Tilak’s Swaraj” has dealt with Tilak’s views on education. Tilak’s orthodoxy was a handicap. Educated, independent and individualist women could not be accommodated in his scheme of things.

Many of us have first-hand knowledge of the contribution of Christian missionaries in the field of education. At a time when Indian tribes had a brutish image and were considered “savage”, Christian missionaries ventured into Chhotanagpur. Other than propagating Christianity, they also contributed to the spread of education. In his essay, “Tribal education, the colonial state and Christian missionaries: Chhotanagpur, 1839-1870”, Joseph Bara examines the success and the means at the disposal of missionaries. N.K. Ambasht writes about “Tribal education and fading tribal identity”. In his essay, he quotes a part of an interview with a Tinglet Indian in a village in Alaska.

However, it will not be wrong to say that the emphasis is on Dalits and their education in places like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. A number of contributors have written on the various facets of Dalit education. The essays by Eleanor Zelliot, A. Satyanarayana, Chinna Rao Yagati, G. Nanchariah, Ambrose Pinto and Ghanashyam Shah all speak about attitudes, both official and public and also the response of the Dalits.

In the last section, Pradipta Chaudhury in his essay, “Literacy, caste, class and gender in India, 1901-1921, dwells on the inequalities between the privileged and the disprivileged in the field of education. The issue of dominance and disprivileges is analysed from a macro perspective by Sureshchandra Shukla in his essay, “Caste, class and education: reformulating the classic positions” .

A careful reading of the introduction by the editor, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, would provide a better perspective of the volume under review. It also helps us understand the background better.

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