Maulana Mohiuddin Ahmad Abulkalam Azad was born on 11 November 1888, in Mecca. He was a great scholar, a freedom fighter, a revolutionary journalist, a leader and an advocate of secular and undivided India.
He had gained popularity by his journalism in his early age; however he remained away from active politics till the beginning of the twentieth century. But the partition of Bengal in 1905 compelled him to enter into active politics.
He considered the partition as an attack on the unity of Hindu-Muslim. Thus, he began his political career by opposing the partition of Bengal and ended it by opposing the partition of India. He joined the movement against Bengal partition with Arvind Ghosh and Shyam Sunder Chakarvarti. Since then he remained an active and enthusiastic leader of India till the last breath of his life in 1958.
He became the first education minister of independent India and held the post until his death. From 1952, he also assumed the charge of Ministry of National Resources and Scientific Research. Maulana, an eminent educationist, contributed to the laying of a strong foundation for education in India. He designed the education policy of the country. His firm belief in providing secular, liberal, modern and universal education is apparently relevant even today. It obviously continues to guide us for achieving education for all. The corner stone of his education policy was his conviction that democracy cannot function without the eradication of illiteracy. He realized that the introduction of adult franchise needed a national programme of mass education. He was of the view that citizens of free and independent India had to be different from the colonial subjects of a foreign empire.
So, he immediately set up a section of Social Education in his ministry to conduct the programme of mass education. On January 16, 1948, Maulana Azad, while addressing the conference of ‘All India Education’, emphasized, “We must not for a moment forget, it is a birth right of every individual to receive at least the basic education without which he cannot fully discharge his duties as a citizen.”
In other words, he was convinced that education is a tool of social transformation. As chairman of the Central Advisory Board of Education, he gave thrust to adult literacy, universal primary education, free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14 and to girls education. He favored a diversified secondary education. Here, it is worth noting that India has recently achieved a key vision of Maulana Azad in the name of ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’. To fulfill his vision Indian government has also launched the ‘Saakshat Bharat Programme’ focusing on women’s literacy. There is no doubt that he was a great educationist.
It was demonstrated in molding the educational system of the country in the immediate post-independence years. It was he who established the University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) which are now playing significant role in academics.
For the promotion of art, music and literature he came with the idea to establish three Academies: Sahitya Academy, Lalit Kala Academy and Sangeet Natak Academy. Azad assisted Jawaharlal Nehru in setting up the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and many a chain of Science Laboratories in India. As the Minister of Education he insisted that both the Union and States must share responsibility in the promotion of education. He appointed University Education Commission in 1948 and Secondary Education Commission in 1952.
It is interesting to know that such an eminent educationist never attended a formal educational institution. He was schooled at home, and was later self-taught. Yet, he is known as a great scholar.
Maulana Azad, first felt that there was a need for careful prioritization in planning. He first emphasized the universal primary education and then set out for secondary education. While Maulana envisioned a modern India built through strengthening higher and technical education, he also held the belief that along with training engineers and technicians for the development of industries, it is equally necessary to spread general education for raising the general level of economic activities in the country.
Maulana Azad was purely a secular leader. However, his definition of secularism was very different. He believed in multiculturalism and interfaith understanding. So, he advocated religious teaching in schools, not from a narrow sense but from a liberal and open perspective. He was of the view that the solution to the problems created by religious fanatics was not in rejecting religious instruction in elementary stages but in imparting sound and healthy religious education so that children in their formative stages would not be misguided to fanaticism and intolerance of other religions.
Text books and reading materials, especially history, geography and civics are very important for the promotion of national unity on the basis of rich diversity of cultures and belief. He advocated that cultural content of education and some knowledge and appreciation of the main tenets of all religions could elevate the mind and enrich the sprit. For him, true secularism calls for tolerance and sympathetic understanding of beliefs and cultures other than one’s own.
Immediately after independence, in his speeches, he argued that our Five Year Plans is not for the production of more material wealth and resources but the creation of a new mind and a new character for which right education is more important than the development of agriculture, industries, trade or other projects. According to Maulana, education must contribute to the individual realizing his immense potential. On one occasion, he stressed the importance of seven values which contributed to the making of man and his society in pursuit of excellence. Those are truth, justice, enlightenment, co-operation and unity, courtesy, chivalry and humility.
Having said all, the question still remains unanswered whether we have acknowledged Maulana Azad’s contributions to our nation or not. I would like to leave this question to my readers.
Dr. Syeda Hameed says, “It is ironic that the country neither recognizes Maulana Azad’s contributions to the nation nor is it willing to work on the values the great leader had stood for.”
In 2008, Indian government declared 11 November, the day of his birth, as the National Education Day. He has been posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna, in 1992. The eminent educationist and first education Minister of independent India died in 1958.
It is disheartening to know that unlike Raj Ghat, Shanti Van and Kisan Ghat, his soul rests in an ordinary place near Jama Masjid in Delhi.
[Syed Kashif is a postgraduate student in the Department of Political Science. He can be reached via email at: [email protected]]