Provision of education to its citizens has been considered an important responsibility of the Government right from the early days of independence in India. Accordingly, States and Centre have been providing highly subsidized education through various schools and colleges. The Right to Education Act, 2009 mandated the provision of ‘free and compulsory’ education to each child upto the age of 14 years. This provision has been extended upto Secondary education in the recently unveiled NEP 2020.
In this article published in the magazine Indian Libertarian on January 1, 1959 Prof. Om Prakash Kahol criticizes the rhetoric of ‘free education’. He strongly emphasizes that there is no such thing as a ‘free’ education and suggests that for the provision of quality education to all Indians, the Government must change its prohibitive attitude towards private educational institutions.
There used to be a wide-spread belief among the illiterate masses before partition that in Free India, milk and ghee would be supplied free to every child; all sorts of medicines would be available in the hospitals without any cost; customers would get provisions and sweet-meats in the market without having to pay any price. And in the same train of ideas came the fanciful notion that education up to the highest degree would be free. Ours is a land, where people seem to believe in all seriousness that Aladin ‘s Lamp is still preserved in the Moghal Fort at Delhi and Herculean tasks like the manufacture of penicillin, construction of moon-rockets and installation of thermonuclear plants can be accomplished without entailing any cost to ourselves. When, for our defence, we can confidently depend upon the arrival of the Lord Himself with his Sudarshana Chakra, and consider all military preparations unnecessary, is there any wonder that we also believe that some superhuman race of teachers will come someday descend on earth-in this part of it- and convert, by magic touch, all students into doctors, engineers and lawyers without demanding a penny by way of remuneration?
Thank God, ten years experience in Free India has taught them that we cannot get “something out of nothing.” There are no shortcuts in the scheme of nature. We can deceive ourselves into the belief that in a free country, we can get amenities without having to pay anything in return, but we cannot deceive nature. Most people have been disillusioned by now and no longer labour under the myth that they can freely help themselves with a rosagulla at the confectioner’s shop and nobody would bother them about the price. Provisions, medicines and other necessaries have to be paid for even in Free India; and if someone is getting them free, rest assured, someone else, not always in sight, is paying the price. Whenever we get comfort and have not paid for it, we must realise clearly that we are enjoying it at somebody else’s cost.
The original text can be accessed here at page no. 20
IndianLiberals.in is an online library of all Indian liberal writings, lectures and other materials in English and other Indian regional languages. The material that has been collected so far contains liberal commentary dating from the early 19th century till the present. The portal helps preserve an often unknown but very rich Indian liberal tradition and explain the relevance of the writings in today’s context.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.