‘Skill India’ is India’s new mantra but the coming times will reveal whether it will really contribute to the development of the nation or quite contrary to its claims end up ‘Killing India’. Here is an article that takes you through the lanes and bylanes of indigenous skills and cultural practices which in the face of technical, market oriented, economic priorities are readily sacrificed giving birth to a nation that belongs to a few and excludes many.
Ananya Pathak is feature editor, The New Leam.
What really are skills and how are they intrinsically related to the way that a nation prospers and grows? What happens if a nation succeeds in building some skills and totally tends to ignore the others? What are the factors that are involved in defining a capacity as a ‘skill’, should the demands of the market economy alone be allowed to define these?
The importance of generating a debate on ‘skills’ as important determinants of national development and economic growth becomes further realised in the context of the present Indian milieu which lays great emphasis on the development of ‘skills’ through a massive, nation-wide campaign called ‘ Skill India’ that was announced in July,2015.
The ambition of the campaign is to train over 40 Crore people across India into different skills by 2022. Among the various skills encouraged under the campaign are many industry-centric ones such as electrical, fabrication and garment making. The claims of the campaign suggest that by training youth in market-friendly skills it would generate employment and provide the entrepreneurial spirit.
To meet these demands it has been planned to set up training and support centres for various kinds of occupations and new areas such as real estate, jewellery designing, banking and tourism will be provided with adequate infrastructural support. The claims are that through this intensive training the ‘skilled’ youth of the country will be able to compete in the international market. Thus in these times of rapid economic liberalization and the dominant discourse of a market centric, industry-oriented model of development ‘skills’ are reduced merely into capacities that feed the demands of the marketplace. Therefore, through the Meta-narrative of the modern, capitalist state all that is sellable or valued in the market alone becomes a ‘skill’ worthy of pursuing and all other definitions of ‘skill’ are undermined.
Given this context it is important to ask if employment, money generation, transactional value and profitability can be the sole criteria for defining ‘skills’ or are there also some higher skills that go beyond the logic of utility and serve not the market but man’s journey/development to higher/noble truth? No I am not talking about religion or spirituality when I speak of the higher truth and therefore prior to making up your mind against it please try to understand this. We must acknowledge that all civilizations across the globe have grown and prospered because of various members performing its multiple-diversified tasks, On one hand were those who took up all the physical- manual work such as the blacksmiths, the masons, the cobblers, the carpenters, the businessmen, the doctors, the engineers and architects and the bankers and accountants among many others. Their contributions and skills were central to the day to day functioning of the society and they ensured that its economy sustained and flowed- thus their work is utterly indispensible and fundamental to the society. On the other hand were people who did not participate manifestly in the economy but nurtured the domains of culture, literature, spiritual quest, film making and art- which were central to the development of the ‘mind’ of the society and nourish it for greater human goals and higher human potential. Thus while the work of a farmer (food production) nourished the body, the work of the poet nourished the soul. Thus the skills of both sets of people were fundamentally important for creating a holistic model of development where the mind and the heart worked in synchrony.
Ironically, with the advance in modern capitalist societies and their sole focus on feeding the market have resulted in the development of a very narrow, limited and even suffocating definition of ‘skills’. Thus while ‘engineering, computing, business and retailing’ are skills, potentials in ‘literature, music, spirituality’ are not. Thus when one reflects critically on the present discourse in particular and the Skill India campaign in particular one realises that the state does not value or even consider as a skill anything that does not directly serve the market or does not have a price tag attached! Ironically, this will lead to an impoverished civilization which may be prosperous economically but will be in rags in terms of the growth of higher human values such as compassion, ecological sensitivity, universal brotherhood, creative-intelligence and an ability to transcend meanness and develop a harmonious living. Thus we may become a superpower, the proud owner of several smart cities, develop sound military arsenal and space research but we will continue to be internally fragmented, morally corrupt and divided if we do not emphasise these ‘skills’.
Thankfully, India has only recently come to such a narrow definition of skills and civilizationally has valued many higher, non-utilitarian, creative skills independent of their market-value and that is why has the history of spiritual depth, artistic peaks and enriched discourses of philosophy, literature and culture. In the section that follows we share with you the many rich ‘skills’ that India has continued to witness and because of which it still continues to inspire, elevate and aspire despite its growing business mindedness, ruthless competitiveness, aggressive marketization and the resultant decadence of compassion, tolerance, mutual coexistence and creative-intelligence. Thus what the ‘Skill India’ Campaign overlooked, we choose to discuss.
From the Realm of Spiritual Quest
Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti
India has been known for millenniums as the land of spiritual masters many of whom inspired generations of seekers on a path of compassion and peace. One of the greatest saints of India was Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer.
He became orphaned in his teens; he gave up his inheritance one due to a divine miracle to seek the path of Sufi dervishes. The story of his momentous life, of his deep knowledge and wisdom among the spiritual luminaries of his time in Iraq and Persia and his highly enlightened ‘sayings’ are historical legends in India. His noble teachings were for the upliftment and service to all mankind.Even in contemporary times nearly 750 years after his demise, his holy shrine is visited throughout the year by millions of faithful devotees of all religions who pay their homage to this great saint of the East.
Ramakrishna Parmahamsa is one of the best known saints of nineteenth century India. He was born in a poor Brahmin family in 1836, in a small town near Calcutta, West Bengal.In his youth Ramakrishna was prone to experiences of spiritual awe and temporary loss of consciousness. His early spiritual experiences included going into a state of rapture while watching the flight of cranes, and losing consciousness of the outer world while playing the role of the god Shiva in a play.Ramakrishna had no interest in school or practical things of the world. In 1866, he became a priest at the temple of Goddess Kali located near Calcutta on the Ganges River. Ramakrishna became a full-time devotee to the goddess spending increasing amounts of time giving offerings and meditating on her.
At one juncture he became frustrated, feeling he could not live any longer without witness Kali. He demanded that the goddess appear to him. He. At this point, he explained how the goddess appeared to him as an ocean of light. Thus Ramakrishna was an epitome of sacred merger with the infinite.
From the Realm of Performing Arts
Pt. Birju Maharaj
Pt. Birju Maharaj was born on 4 February 1938 in the city of Lucknow. Initially his name was ‘Dukh Haran’, which was later changed to ‘Brijmohan’, a synonym of Krishna. Brijmohan Nath Misra was shortened to ‘Birju’, which remains the name he is lovingly known by.
Surrounded by a musical atmosphere, his inborn talent surfaced at the early age of three years, when he would playfully sit on his father’s lap and recite tihais and tukras, oblivious of the fact that they were complex pieces.The sound of the music and dance born from the taalimkana (classroom) was enough inspiration for young ‘Birju’ to devote himself wholeheartedly to dance. Though he was too young to receive formal training, he would watch carefully when his father taught his disciples. His father died soon after leaving nine-year-old Birju under the guidance of Shambhu Maharaj. The following years were full of struggle and household goods were sold to make ends meet. He spent about ten months in Mumbai learning from his uncle Lacchu Maharaj. At the young age of thirteen, he was invited to join Sangeet Bharti in Delhi to teach Kathak. Soon he established himself as a good dancer and dedicated teacher.
Ustad Bismillah Khan
Ustad Bismillah Khan was a great Shehnai player.His name was and will forever be associated with shehnai, the musical instrument that he made famous with his talent and deliberation in the post independent India. He came from a family of traditional musicians in the state of Bihar. He always played at the important national events for national audience like the first Indian Independence Day and first Republic Day. Khan was simple and his momentous love for music even gained a lot of popularity and love from the west. For his creativity and mastery in his art, Khan was honoured with the title of ‘Ustad’ and earned many prestigious honorss like the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.
From the Realm of Literary Creations
Munshi Premchand was one of India’s most loved and read writers who composed primarily in Hindi and Urdu languages focussing on prevalent social evils and miseries of the common man.
His first major Hindi novel was Sevasadana (1918; “House of Service”), and it dealt with the problems of prostitution and moral corruption among the Indian middle class. Premchand’s works portrayed the social evils of arranged marriages, the abuses of the British state and exploitation of the rural peasantry by moneylenders and officials.
Much of Premchand’s best work is to be found among his 250 or so short stories, collected in Hindi under the title Manasarovar (“The Holy Lake”).
Premchand’s novels include: Premashram (1922; “Love Retreat”), Rangabhumi (1924; “The Arena”), Ghaban (1928; “Embezzlement”), Karmabhumi (1931; “Arena of Actions”), and Godan (1936; The Gift of a Cow) among many others. His work is indeed a sharp commentary on the evils of society and reveals the paradoxes of cultural practice. He is read, debated and discussed widely even today.
From the Realm of Celluloid
Satyajit Ray was an Indian filmmaker who was born in the city of Kolkata. Starting his career as a commercial artist, Ray was drawn into filmmaking after meeting French filmmaker Jean Renoir and viewing the Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves during a visit to London.
During his prolific career Ray directed thirty-seven films, including feature films, documentaries and short-films. Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali, won eleven international prizes, including Best Human Document at Cannes. Along with Aparajito and Apur Sansar, the film forms the Apu trilogy. Ray worked on various aspects of film-making, including scripting, casting, scoring, cinematography, art direction, editing and designing his own credit titles and publicity material. Apart from being a director he was a fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, graphic designer and film critic. Ray received many major awards in his career, including an Academy Honorary Award in 1992.
Satyajit Ray’s works have influenced a number of directors including Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Gautam Ghose, Tareq Masud and Tanvir Mokammel .Across the spectrum, filmmakers such as Budhdhadeb Dasgupta, Mrinal Sen and Adoor Gopalakrishnan have acknowledged his seminal contribution to Indian cinema.
Ray was awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of France in 1987 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1985. The Government of India awarded him the highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna shortly before his death. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ray an honorary Oscar in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement. In 1992 he was posthumously awarded the Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
‘Skills’ are not just those that nourish the market and far more important for the development of a civilization are skills that are often intangible, non-commercial but at the same time indispensable for the growth of mankind. It is ironic that despite being a homeland to the higher skills of mankind we have begun to celebrate only a limited notion of skills.
The Skill India Campaign does not take into account these ‘higher’ non-transactional skills that are completely important if we are to grow holistically, harmoniously and creatively. The fear that resonates is whether ‘Skill India’ will result in ‘Kill India’ in the longer run if it is not made broader, deeper and holistic.
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