Story from Kerala — How a government’s attempt to interfere in education led to its fall
Excerpt from “Politics, Women and Well Being —How Kerala became a Model” by Robin Jeffrey.
"Education Bill introduced by the new government in July 1957 was intended to ensure fair treatment for teachers and a modicum of state control over the huge sums granted to private management. The goals were more extensive, but not notably different, from those of Govinda Menon in 1950–1 and Ramaswami Aiyar in 1945–6.
At stake by the late 1950s was a system of 9500 primary and secondary schools, more than 60 percent of which were run by private management. Nearly 70 percent of corporate private managements were Christian (though schools run by individuals were overwhelmingly Hindu). Just over three million students attended schools,” and education absorbed 100 million rupees — at that time, 30 percent of Kerala’s annual budget.”
The story of the Education Bill and the ‘liberation struggle’ that brought down the Communist government in July 1959has been told a number of times. Provisions for greater government control of grant-receiving schools aroused both Christians and Mannath Padmanabhan of the Nair Service Society. (Mannam had supported Govinda Menon’s legislation in 1950–1).
The Education Bill, introduced in July 1957 and law from January 1959, did not attempt to nationalise schools, but it stipulated that private management would hereafter be able to hire teachers only from a government-compiled list and that appointments would be on a communal rotation — that is, now a Christian, next a lower-caste Hindu, then an upper-caste Hindu, and so forth .33 Teachers were to be paid directly by government.
For lower-caste Communist supporters, notably Ezhavas, the provision for communal rotation opened the prospect of a few more jobs in a respected, regularly (though not well) paid occupation.
For Christian management, however, the aim seemed clear: ‘to diminish the Christian, and especially the Catholic, influence in Kerala’ and ‘to taint the content of education with a certain political ideology’.”
The Act was to come into effect with the beginning of the new school year in June 1959.
As befitted a movement that so entangled all of Kerala, the ‘liberation struggle’ had as ‘the first step’, in Mannam’s words, ‘to close down the schools’.” On I June 1959, the schools stayed shut; students in large numbers demonstrated against the government as they had in 1938; and on 31 July, after 15 deaths and thousands of arrests, the Government of India imposed a central rule on Kerala and dismissed the Communist ministry.’”
In the course of the campaign, the anti-Communist Kerala Students’ Union (KSU), founded in 1958, provided an organisational education for scores of future Congress politicians, including a Chief Minister, A. K. Antony (b. 1940; CM, 1977_9).
Much of the confrontation between police and demonstrators occurred at a key focal point of local communities — the gates of schools.”!
The controversial sections of the Education Act were never enforced, and one of the first tasks of the anti-Communist coalition that won the elections of 1960 was to replace the troublesome provisions. The government retained the right to approve the qualifications of teachers, but private managers regained the right to appoint whom they wished from the list of qualified teachers
Trivia: By 1980s, Kerala was spending around 40% of its budget outlays on education.