Education and Positive Atheism in India

Article excerpt

Humanism flourishes in a supportive society

I was educated at Catholic institutions, from primary school on. As India is a country of different religions, with Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity being dominant, my atheism was often challenged. But Indian society is also favorable towards atheists and humanists in a number of ways, perhaps more so than in the United States.

GOVERNMENTAL PROVISIONS

Article 51-A (h) of the Indian constitution states: "It is the fundamental duty of an Indian citizen to develop scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry and reform." No discrimination can be shown in educational institutions aided by government on the basis of caste, religion, race, gender, etc. These provisions were necessary responses to the vast diversity of religions in India.

India also has a Special Marriage Act. While there are separate marriage laws for Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, under the Special Marriage Act the nonreligious can have marriage ceremonies free from any mention of caste or creed.

INTELLECTUAL TRADITION

It is fitting that India, known for its intellectual leadership, is historic home to humanists, rationalists, and atheists. Famed activists M. N. Roy, [1] Periyar, [2] Kovoor, [3] and Gora [4] are some of the most prominent personalities in Indian history. They had the intellectual integrity and boldness to invest their lives in propagating their ideas, braving the scorn of the society of their day. Recognizing the debilitating influence on society of religion and of customs and superstitions, Roy, Periyar, Kovoor, and Gora constantly spoke of the scientific temperament and placed great emphasis on practical programs of development to infuse confidence in ordinary people.

Although a religious believer, Gandhi was a practical person who busied himself in constructive programs for the betterment of the weak and the lowly among his fellows. He opposed as fiercely as any atheist the inequities perpetrated in society in the name of religion.

HUMANIST EDUCATION

The education system in India has helped to create a vast body of highly skilled citizens equipped with humanistic and scientific sensibilities. India produces computer professionals sought after around the world, in part because of the emphasis Indian schools and universities place on mathematics and science.

The object of education should be full and integrated development of the student's personality, balancing physical, practical, ethical, moral, and intellectual excellence alongside the highest sense of idealism and service to humanity.

In order to strengthen students' commitment in atheism and humanism, alternative research facilities and educational institutions are crucial: short-term courses, workshops, seminars, and training programs. In a developing country like India, study camps haven proven to be one of the most effective ways to shape young humanists and atheists.

Young people also need opportunities to express their talents in a nonreligious way. Art, music, dance, drama, literature, and other forms of creative expression need to be developed that reflect atheistic and humanist ideals.

Humanists and atheists must be vigilant against developments that threaten India's education system. Recently the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the University Grants Commission ordered compulsory teaching of Sanskrit in all Indian schools and universities. In India, being a land of eighteen officially recognized languages, such a divisive move would necessarily lead to calls for the introduction of every recognized language into all the nation's schools and universities. No doubt languages like Sanskrit should be kept alive, but this can best be done through specialized institutions. More troubling is the move to institutionalize the study of astrology, which, sadly, is considered a science by some scientifically illiterate politicians (and even some highly educated illiterates). …