How glamorization of science is stigmatizing other streams in Kashmir

Students on way to school in Kashmir. [FPK Photo/Muzzamil Bashir.]

While students opting for Sciences continue to receive applause while those going for Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences find themselves a prisoner of societal talks in Kashmir.

Majority of children are born with the burden of being future doctors and engineers in Kashmir. That’s how their parents set their default career goal from the word go. Beyond that, windows are shut. Despite some thaw in thoughts and traditions with time, the trend is still there and is creating a binary in the battered society.

As children grow, they’re infused with their parental/family demand that they want to see them something from the two. Some parents also thrust it on their kids by putting forward it as a dream of their grandparents.

Most of the children get adjusted to this regular intonation of ‘doctor/engineer’ and hence develop a mental image of themselves as either of the two. They also start feeling apathy towards other fields because of the glamorization of science.

When they finally are to select a field for themselves during their higher secondary level, they sideline rationality and blindly pursue the childhood choice.

At this juncture, many of them resist. They either get acceptance to join any other field of their desire or are suppressed. This moment starts a binary between friends opting for sciences and those who go for fields other than sciences.

Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, or simply HASS students are either labeled as dumb or dismissed as an incompetent lot. This societal othering makes HASS students go through pathetic time and treatment.

They are enquired about their field, and they’re bombarded with questions: ‘Why did you not opt for medicine, after all, you were such a brilliant chap?’ ‘What’s the scope of studying the subjects you are, why did you not take advice from someone before taking these subjects?’, and many more.

Since the stigma has been ever-present, every coming generation is bearing the brunt of it. So much so that at times you want to question yourself about your choice.

This is followed by problems of peer pressure as well. Friends from the science field behave like superiors, and start giving lame arguments like, ‘Still HASS doesn’t need hard work as much as science does.’

This avowal lags all credentials to qualify as a reasonable statement. It takes us back to our understanding of the concept of knowledge. Why do we think that it’s somehow more serious, more important, to inquire what an atom is made up of than to wonder about the occurrence of the change in life, or what a man owes to his community? Why do we look down upon a most fundamental human quality: the desire to know who we’re and our place in the cosmos?

What seems more plausible to argue is that we’re bearing the brunt of the hegemonic narrative of our society: the epistemic divide is shattering our formation and reinforcing this stigmatization.

This stigmatization is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it hinders the intellectual development of a child. In this sense, if HASS are taught the way they’ve to be, by developing skills of reading, contemplation, questioning, research, and others, then we’re surely curtailing an individual from exercising his/her mental capabilities and thereby constraining his/her Habitus (cognitive structure).

Secondly, it develops an attitude of disgrace towards a certain community of students, who’re always viewed as the ‘lesser’.

Thirdly, it justifies the intellectual societal coercion of an individual. The hegemonic group wants morphostasis (absence of change) rather than morphogenesis (presence of change).

The problem with retaining this system is that it creates an imbalance in society. Like the body needs balanced nutrients, the ecosystem needs a balanced trophic level. Similarly, a society needs a balanced composition. Apart from doctors and engineers, it needs social scientists, economists, managers, policymakers, philosophers and
those who will do the task of intellectual upliftment for it.

Being merely intelligent is not sufficient, that is more of a personal achievement/satisfaction. One needs to be an ‘intellectual’ which is broader as it conveys someone ‘who works for the betterment of the society’.

Now, this betterment is not to have just physically stable individuals, but those who can uplift a society – morally, politically, economically, and in other fields. If we speak to our health experts, then we should surely have societal experts as well. Even the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is an emblem of how to establish a balanced society.

The regime of The Rightly Guided Successors is another exemplar. The essence of the holy Quran started with the ayah ‘Iqra’ which means read and reading certainly encompass within it, learning, understanding, and contemplating. “Indeed,” Allah says in ‘Surah Al Imran’ (3:190), “in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alteration of the night and the day are signs for those who understand.”

We could simply without sounding impressive, as human beings reflect upon this and many more verses on the same line. This understanding was not restricted to any field and if I may be a little blunt, HASS if taught the way they’ve to be, certainly imbibe more skills of understanding than any other field. Because for HASS students, ‘the laboratory is their society, and each individual within a society is a library in himself/herself’.

So, what’s needed is a system of education that lays an equal priority to both fields, rather more to HASS because they’re already at a disadvantage and hence need more support to flourish.

Kashmir has no lack of student community in the HASS field who can be a great asset to its society. What’s needed is the appointment of justified candidates and not the appointment for the sake of it.

Such steps are the need of the hour because lack of job opportunities in such fields is already leading to a drain of intellectual community in Kashmir. Besides, pedagogical changes need to be adapted. Such subjects should not be restricted to the memorization of dates and personalities but should enhance students’ thirst for more learning.

Above all, humility is required on the side of both the learner and teacher who’re already a part of this field. Professors ought to make themselves approachable to students, and if that space is given, students need to respect such spaces/accesses at any cost.

Since HASS is a very dynamic field, constraining oneself with certain ‘Isms-and-schisms’ is of no use. We should rather do what Poet of East advocates in ‘The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam’: “There is no such thing as finality in philosophical thinking. As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened, other views, and probably sounder views than those set forth in my lectures are possible. Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought, and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.”

A place like Kashmir already imbibed with certain notions cannot be targeted in a one-go for this drastic change.

It needs collective efforts on part of society and those who run educational set-ups. Only step by step, can we attain the goal. Attempt should be to regain the ‘Knowledgeable Kashmir’ — the one which sets an intellectually comprehensive legacy for our coming generations.

Author is pursuing Masters in Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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