Tuesday, October 25, 2011


“What did your daughters study in senior school?”
“He he, hmm..humanities’!”
“Oh..I see..well…”
“Actually they both scored above 90% in their Xth but chose to study History and Psychology.”
“But of course. Why not? Humanities have their place.”
“They did Economics with Maths as well!”

This would be my standard exchange while the girls were in senior school, the last sentence being my trump card! I felt I had to explain that they were not sitting in the Humanities department because they didn’t have the requisites for admission to a Science or a Commerce group. It had to be made clear that they were there by choice and not by coercion.

The “Humaniacs”, as they are known in school, get a raw deal in our country. The epithets they earn are rich in meaning and character, ranging from “lallu” to “passovers” to “timepass”. It is quite done in senior schools for the staff to motivate the laggards with threats of moving them to the “F” section, the presumably less challenging and laid back, humanities division. Regrettably unaware of what a disservice they are doing to the cause of knowledge by running down an entire field of study, the harm done is compounded when heads of academic institutions also join this uninformed disparagement. I understand this bias coming from parents and the lay public but educationists? Surely something is sorely amiss here.

One of the consequences the girls and I talked about during the process of filing their stream preference after the Xth was that they would have to be prepared for these derogations. I told them not to be surprised at being passed over for the odd school appointment as well. The latter did not happen but being Indian students with good scores, they felt duty bound ever since to explain the “obvious waste of two good brains”.

They faced obstacles in the form of a generic, cavalier attitude to their choice of subjects. I do believe their environment made them feel a bit less so for having opted to study anything other than engineering and medicine or accounts. So omnipresent is this IIT lens of ours that we disregard the subjects that give a context and meaning to life completely.

It is dangerous for an India on the rise to continue to reinforce this debilitating dichotomy. If we are to be believed, technology is important, values need not be studied. The truth of the sciences is superior; the art of thinking does not deserve our best brains.  Given our diversity and pace of economic progress, we risk making self-destructive choices if we continue to debunk and devalue the humanities in favour of pure sciences. It is the former that make and assess that which defines us as humans: meaning! 

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