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Change should start from school: Pratibha Ray

Jabir Mushthari
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Says children now being taught only to make money

Teachers want their students only to be top-scorers, parents only dream of their children being rich and high-achieving, and it is time society and the ruling class made serious introspection about the kind of schooling and cultural edification given to children, especially in the wake of the growing incidence of violence against women and the weaker sections, Pratibha Ray, Jnanpith award-winning Odiya novelist, says.

Speaking to The Hindu in the lobby of a hotel in the city, where she came to inaugurate an international book fair on Thursday evening, Ms. Ray shared her thoughts on a range of concerns the country was facing today.

Asked about the need for looking deeper into the psyche of society to find reasons for the symptoms of the “sickness” it showed, the distinguished writer, who has her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, said there was no point in blindly blaming the system or putting all responsibility on the rulers’ shoulders.

“We need to take collective responsibility for whatever is happening now,” she said.

“What else can you expect from a society which teach and motivate all its youngsters, starting from school, only to be achievers in financial terms?”

Somewhere down the line, the system and society had stopped giving its thrust on producing good, thoughtful and humane citizens. “Ours has become a callous, greedy and mad society, for which every one of us, including parents, teachers and our leaders, are equally to blame,” she said.

Dr. Ray, who has over 15 novels and more than 20 short story collections to her credit, said the country faced two kinds of starvation: one from scarcity of food and the other meant deprivation of a lot of other things, including sex, education and different levels of comfort.

She said the system or society had to take the responsibility for the starvations suffered by a large section of society, especially when a small minority was enjoying all the fortunes at its cost. “Because all these starvations are capable of triggering frustrations, which can prove fatal to the peace of society at large,” Dr. Ray said.

Pointing to a “dangerous social imbalance” in the country on the development front, she said the “pitiable and unacceptable condition in which a large section of our tribal population still live in the country even after 60 years of Independence should leave all of us, especially our political leaders, in acute shame.”

Dr. Ray, who has strong views about “show-offs” and “holy business” taking place in society in the name of “spirituality,” said that one should first be able to distinguish between spirituality and religiosity. Spirituality had nothing to do with religiosity, which often dealt with rites and “meaningless” ceremonies.

“I myself am coming from a place where we have a great number of temples dotting the landscape, but I can tell you that what happens in most of these places have nothing to do with spirituality,” she said. “Most of our saints are shams who go out only in their specific uniforms after getting made up by their beauticians.”

Maintaining that a writer was one who always dreamt of a better world, a humane world and an equitable world, Dr. Ray said that he or she could not afford to sit in an ivory tower away from society and pass judgments. “She should be able to feel the sufferings of the suffering and give voice to the voiceless in society, which is no easy task.” The writer, who has travelled extensively in India, has a word of caution to parents in a world of swiftly changing technologies. She said: “Our generation grew up with books, whereas the new generation is growing up with the marvels of the changing technologies. Technology also makes books available to them in one form or the other, but they don’t get to discriminate between good and bad books that easily, and it is where parents have a crucial role to play.”

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