I am an Engineering graduate and I thank M.G.R for that as much as I need to blame him too. Thousands of Engineering graduates in Tamil Nadu owe thanks to M.G.R. who, as Karunanidhi and Veeramani endlessly reminded us, was a Malayalee and not a 'Tamil'.
After my last blog a friend forwarded me a video of a speech by Prof.Suba.Veerapandian (a.k.a Suba.Vee). Suba.Vee narrates how he was addressing a DMK youth wing and asked provocatively "திராவிட இயக்கம் என்ன செய்து கிழித்தது?" He then proceeds to asks the audience a show of hands to count how many in the audience had parents who were graduates. Just one or two raised hands. Suba.Vee exalts 'today you are all graduates and THIS is the achievement of Dravidian movement". Is it?
Tamil Nadu, thanks to the British and missionaries from the west, had a long history of educating the masses. The first school to teach English to any non-English natives was established in rural Thanjavur. The Madras University, The Madras Medical College, Presidency College, Asia's first private university at Chidambaram, St Joseph's College in Trichy, Pachaiyappas College (from where Annathurai graduated) and more institutions served the cultivation of a learned populace way before the word 'Dravidian movement' was born.
Medical colleges in Thanjavur, Madurai, Thirunelveli, Coimbatore and Madras (3) were all established prior to 1967. Most were during Congress rule. NITT-Trichy (formerly REC Trichy), IIT Madras, Adyar cancer institute, PSG college of Technology etc were also formed before 1967. In essence the notable educational institutions of Tamil Nadu were established prior to the Dravidian movement virus, as Rajagopalachari called it, infected Tamils.
Rajagopalachari as Chief minister of Tamil Nadu sought to close schools and in an ill advised move also sought to cut the hours of schooling. And in a monumental blunder advised students to use the extra hours to learn their hereditary craft. EVR and the DK party went to town that Brahmin Rajagopalachari wants to institute 'hereditary learning' as a way to curtail education to the lower castes.
Noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan provides context to Rajagopalachari's misadventure. India was then reeling under a severe deficit. Famine raged in large swathes of the country. Seeing Tamil families being destroyed by the males who became addicted to liquor Rajagopalachari closed all arrack shops and that worsened the deficit. But for Rajaji and Kamaraj Tamil Nadu would not have retained Madras when states were re-organized along linguistic lines. That would have been a body blow to Tamil Nadu.
Kamaraj who came to power after Rajagopalachari was unseated took upon educating the masses as his raison-de-etre. Kamaraj laid down the plans for ensuring accessible primary education and higher levels in school education. He decreed that no school should be beyond walking distance of school children at that respective age. In a country where most parents could not afford to feed themselves let alone their children it was Kamaraj who decreed free lunch for school going kids. It was a scheme that M.G.R would expand to great acclaim.
It should be remembered that Tamils overwhelmingly voted for DMK in 1967 simply because of Annathurai's promise of a Kg of rice for Re 1. DMK also milked the attempt to kill made on its mascot M.G.R. DMK which had made cinema charisma its center piece rode to power on the back of M.G.R.
Tamil Nadu had a long history of quota based reservation system. Later Indian constitution too enshrined it. It is undeniable that Justice party and its progenies the DK/DMK etc played a signal role in clamoring for quotas. It also served to uplift two generations. That's a natural consequence. Promoting quotas as a panacea had its ill effects too. Little attention was paid by rulers to alleviate the real causes of inequalities like lack of schools and access to quality education. What is worse it perpetuated the caste system and unleashed a frankenstein of casteism.
Tamil Nadu never imbibed anything that the Dravidian movement claimed as its core other than anti-Brahminism and support for reservation. Tamils loved being educated in English and celebrating religious festivals. Within 10 years of DMK coming to power Tamils voted more overwhelmingly in 1977 for M.G.R to become CM. In a stunning political development M.G.R swept away Dravidian movement's poster child M.Karunanidhi. In a way Karunanidhi had only himself to blame for cultivating cinema charisma. Annathurai was the last graduate to have ruled Tamil Nadu. For the past 40 years Tamil Nadu has been ruled by uneducated cinema artistes. THAT is truly the signal contribution of Dravidian movement.
Veeramani often takes credit for M.G.R raising the reserved quota from 30% to 50% for BC's out of which was carved 20% for MBC's (Most Backward class) and for stopping MGR from implementing 'economic criterion' for reservation. Veeramani incorrectly attributes MGR's humiliating loss in 1980 Lok Sabha election to his proposed elimination of 'creamy layer'.
In 1977, when Indira Gandhi rescinded Emergency and called for elections, MGR in alliance with Indira in Tamil Nadu netted 19 seats while the DMK aligned with Janata netted just 1. This was in total variance with the national mood when Indira herself lost in Rae Bareilly while her party was booted out in the Hindi Belt in a Janata euphoria. Karunanidhi, whose son was arrested and beaten by cops during Emergency, in a shameless twist aligned with Indira when the Janata government flamed out within 3 years. Now MGR, supposedly blackmailed by Janata government over taxes, aligned with them and lost badly. Tamil Nadu has always loved to vote for Congress in parliamentary elections. MGR of course read this result wrong. Nevertheless he then struck an alliance with Indira later.
In those tumultuous years Ramadoss, who, according to rumor enrolled in MBBS course under forged certificate, organized the most violent agitations clamoring for a specific quota for his caste. The agitations paralyzed the state. Many castes were sympathetic to the agitation and claimed that an umbrella quota for backward classes has suppressed the educational opportunities amongst some castes that now sought the label 'most backward classes'. The Sattanathan commission in 1971 had precisely for this reason called for elimination of 'creamy layer'. Karunanidhi and Veeramani piggybacked on Ramadoss and stirred more trouble. MGR in a typical move sought to defuse the growing storm by hiking the quota for BC's to 50% thus taking the total quantum of reservation to 69%, the highest in the country. He also abandoned any proposal to eliminate the creamy layer.
The saving grace was MGR allowed private Engineering and Medical colleges. In 1990 when I finished +2 there were only 7 government run engineering colleges in a state of 4 crore people and nearly 20 private engineering colleges. The private colleges were a boon to thousands. The colleges were more local hence parents were spared spending for hostels. With computer science seats at Rs 40,000 many middle class parents could buy a seat for their children who could not find a seat in the pathetically far less government colleges. Note, this benefited lot of backward class students whose parents, though not doctor or engineer, were shop owners, clerks etc. MGR had also regulated that 50% of the seats in private colleges should be surrendered to the government and be subject to the 69% reservation. It was an idea that has resulted in millions becoming graduates.
The lack of economic criterion is now biting every reserved class. Admissions for MBBS and 'Guindy College of Engineering' have cut off that are practically 100% and there is almost no difference between OC/BC/MBC. Though this is cited as success of quotas it is the baneful result of quotas too.
As much as I am miserly in giving Dravidian movement any credit for successes in education in Tamil Nadu I'll be unreservedly generous in blaming them for the pathetic quality of education and most importantly the outright corruption of the academia.
The first sign of a virus entering the body politic of Tamil Nadu's academia was the Honoris Causa PhD given to Karunanidhi by Annamalai university. The students at the university protested at such a travesty taking place at the then storied university. One student died in the melee but his parents were coerced to disown their own son. Today deemed universities hand out honorary PhD to all and sundry including tinsel town actors. Current Vice Chancellor of Madras University had researched in arcane earth shattering topics like "MGR and Tamil Nadu politics", "ADMK". When I read Harvard dean Drew Gilpin Faust or Dean of Yale Medical school I shed tears thinking of the morons who become VC's in Tamil Nadu. In Karuninidhi's last regime 2006-11 vice chancellorships were on sale for the highest bidder. A VC shocked the state by openly saying "I became a VC by giving a bribe".
The mushrooming of private schools in Tamil Nadu was good and bad. Karunanidhi choked the aspirations of poor parents by regulating that only meager amount of English medium classes, literally just one, per school could be opened in government run institutions. Today Jayalalitha, a Brahmin and therefore not Dravidian according to Suba.Vee, has decreed that government run schools too will offer English medium instruction. Karunanidhi has condemned that move. Of course his sons and grandsons all studied in premium English convents in Chennai. Amongst the few good ideas of EVR was to propagate English medium education abandoning Tamil chauvinism. Yet, his protege forsook that.
Tamil Nadu students are the worst prepared for exams like IIT, AIIMS, AFMC Poona, JIPMER, etc. Tamil Nadu students, particularly those from erstwhile state board stream, were inferior to CBSE educated students from other states. I studied in the now defunct Matriculation system and can vouch the superiority of that syllabi.
The uniform syllabus scheme brought in with much fanfare by Karunanidhi is now spoiling another generation of students. Poems by Karunanidhi and his daughter were part of the curriculum until Jayalalitha removed them. A history text book teaches students about 'achievements of Hitler'. Most textbooks were shamelessly plagiarized, that too poorly, from western textbooks. Academician Muthukrishnan, whose committee report was the basis for 'uniform syllabus', said "we gave many recommendations to strengthen school education and one of which was uniform syllabus but the government chose to implement only that ignoring the rest like over hauling teacher training". Uniform syllabus is a laudable goal but instead of upgrading state board schools to matriculation standards the easier approach of lowering the bar for all was adopted.
It is not without reason that cut off marks are 198/200. Muthukrishnan himself conceded that grade inflation was rampant. In the name of making question papers easy for students from villages they were actually dumbed down. In a shocking report 2nd year students in 'Guindy College of Engineering', most of whom had scored 100% in +2 math, had failed in math exam. Indian government study shocked further by saying that only 17% of Tamil Nadu engineering college students were competent to face an interview. Veeramani's own university, Periyar Maniammai University, was identified by the Supreme Court amongst a list of universities which were universities in name only.
Free public schools are considered the backbone of America, the land of capitalism. Yet in Tamil Nadu the government had completely ceded the area of education to not just private interest but to profiteering and commercialization. Regulations exist only on rule books. Come admission time parents run from pillar to post with little or no information about courses and colleges. In Tamil Nadu a sick patient needs to verify if his/her doctor had got his degree in a 'package deal'.
An American medical school aspirant sits for a 7 hour entrance exam called MCAT. The Tamil Nadu student shivers to sit for any entrance exam. The abolition of entrance tests is touted as achievement. What is worse is that Veeramani and Suba.Vee campaigned that entrance exams, another relic of MGR era, are an upper caste conspiracy. MBBS students took out rallies to retain an old system by which they can easily be declared 'pass' in exams compared to new rules that the university wanted to enforce.
Teacher training college admissions are totally corrupt and turn out pathetic teachers. In a recent qualifying exam for teachers most had failed.
In an ultimate irony it was Malayalee MGR who opened a university exclusively for Tamil. The Tamil university had good courses and an acclaimed library. Yet Karunanidhi, the keeper of the Dravidian movement flame, intentionally allowed it to become dilapidated by starving the university of funds.
|Tamil University in June 2010 when Rs 500 Crore was spent on Semmozhi Maanadu|
A cinema obsessed Dravidian culture prompted Karunanidhi to waive taxes for movies that had titles in Tamil. The resulting loss to the exchequer was in hundreds of crores each year for the 5 years he was in power. Think of the schools that could have constructed. In a nutshell has any institute of learning or of research come up in Tamil Nadu in the past 40 years, particularly during the periods ruled by Karunanidhi, the supposed flame keeper of Dravidian movement?
Incidentally Suba.Vee did not pick the correct demographic to ask that question. I've a very dim view of a guy sitting in a DMK Youth class waiting to be lectured by Suba.Vee. Such guys would come from families that had paid scant attention to education and failed to inculcate common sense not to waste time at such lectures. That audience is NOT representative of an average Tamil family. Nor should it be.
But then it was Karunanidhi who wrote a diatribe masquerading as poetry, "படித்து கிழித்ததுதான் என்ன? கிழித்து தைத்தது தான் என்ன என்ன என்ன?" (Written as retort to those who complained that his ill-advised fraud plagued 5 mark scheme was one more assault on merit).
Thanks to MGR's 69% quota I was adversely affected and thanks to his idea of private colleges I could still get an education.
The legacy of Dravidian politics in broader culture, women's issues, public morality etc is a blog for another day.