ADOLESCENTS & AIDS:
A NEW GENERATION AT RISK
ALL INDIA D.A.V. MANAGEMENT
CURSE OF AIDS-
ITS INTERNAL MESSAGE FOR EUDCATION
Dharam Hinduja International Centre of Indic Research, Delhi.
3rd August, 1998 at 10.30 a.m.
KULACHI HANS RAJ MODEL SCHOOL, ASHOK VIHAR, DELHI.
The contemporary world is besieged by a number of maladies, — physical and psychological, — and in spite of great advances that humanity has made in various directions, we are still floundering and our future is being threatened by the Refusal to effect those changes in ourselves which alone can cure our sickness.
Nothing can illustrate this better than the increasing rate of spread of AIDS and related diseases in the world. In our own country, during the last twelve years, sero-positivity has risen from 2.5 per thousand to 17 per 1000, and that, too, among the people in their prime. The latest survey has brought out that States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Manipur are facing virtual AIDS pandemic. It has even been surmised by the World Health Organisation that by the year 2000, India will have about five million HIV infected victims. On a little larger canvass of Asia, it is expected that the annual number of new infections would exceed those in Africa and Asia's global share would rise to nearly 25 % by the year 2000. It has become more than clear that AIDS is a global and unprecedented challenge before the entire humanity. AIDS may be looked upon as a curse, and if we look into the depth of this curse, we shall find that its alarming statistics is only an outer index of the human refusal to the necessity of looking straight into the nature of the reality and of taking measures of social and ethical engineering, which are absolutely indispensable.
Let us take the example of the National AIDS Control Organisation. This Organisation was set up in 1987, and although it started off well enough, it is reported that it is today in tatters. It is known that AIDS control needs four important measures: a powerful campaign of information, education and communication; access to general health services; societal support systems to care for those affected; and general economic development. But on all these four fronts, we seem to have failed, and there is hardly any serious feeling of concern, which can translate itself into a massive and sustained effort.
The most distressing phenomenon is related to adolescents. Psychologically, adolescence is a difficult period of transition and nothing can be more disastrous for a nation that neglects the integral care of the adolescent who is struggling to enter into the realm of increasing freedom of choice and of a responsible adventure of life. Today's adolescents, particularly, require a new kind of care that is imposed by three important factors, namely, unbearable pressure of explosion of knowledge, irresistible influences that emanate from global network of media, and disabling anxieties and uncertainties of the future. Psychologically, loneliness of the contemporary adolescents, in spite of the over-crowding of the world, is a cause of special kind of suffering, which has hardly been studied and which the adult world tends to put behind the curtain of irresponsible attitudes. To the adolescents, the adult world seems to be concealing secrets from them through whispers filled with ambiguities, obscurities, superstitions and even unpardonable messages that arouse in them unwanted sense of guilt. The adolescents of today, therefore, need to be taken into our hands with great sympathy, with intense understanding and chiselled skill of insight and tact.
And this brings us to the central theme of the Seminar. For this Seminar invites us not only to understand the gravity of the curse of AIDS but also to find ways and means to prevent it at its grass-root levels. In the ultimate analysis, this disease is rooted in the realm of impulse, desire and passion, the preventive measures of which must be sought to be built at that point where the operations of the conscious and the subconscious begin to grow and which, yet, yield to educative processes that aim at sublimation and channelisation of primal energies. In other words, we are invited to consider educational implications.
It is increasingly realised that mere information regarding AIDS, which is sought to be transmitted to the adolescents, is not enough. Even a scientific study of the biological processes that are relevant to this disease is not enough. Something much more fundamental and much more holistic is needed. Knowledge of an impulse may contribute to the awareness but not necessarily to its control. For what is needed is the capacity to control the impulse, which is often actuated by temptations and pressures of environment, and messages of anti-culture.
There was a time during a certain long period of the history of Indian culture, when the total duration of the process of education was explicitly recognised as the stage of the brahmacharya ashrama and the student was consciously initiated into the process of self-control with its own discipline. Much can be derived from the lessons learnt from this long experience and it can be utilised for the educational purposes, particularly when AIDS has thrown up great physical and psychological challenges.
There are, however, two schools of modern psychology which advocate attitudes and practices that are centred on the search for pleasure, and they have been exercising tremendous influence in our times on the process of education. These are materialistic behaviourism and vitalistic psychoanalysis. There are major differences between these two schools of psychology, but they closely converge upon each other as far as the question of the place of hedonistic pleasure in life is concerned.
It is, however, to be remembered that the science of psychology today is a divided body of knowledge where theories of structuralism and functionalism conflict with each other and where the school of Gestalt psychology collides with that of behaviourism and psychoanalysis. The theory of psychoanalysis itself has developed certain variations of itself which are in conflict with each other. None of these theories can, therefore, be regarded as a safe guide in determining educational thought and practice. Still, we have to reckon the fact that search for pleasure is a powerful spring of human effort and no educational system can be adequate if it does not provide a sound counsel as to how human desire for pleasure should be dealt with properly, prudently and wisely.
Let us acknowledge that our present system of education in India is so narrowly built that it concentrates on learning by snippets and assigns higher value to those packets of information which can be learned and reproduced by the power of memory, even through the mind may be unintelligent. Thus, even in the field of intellectual intelligence, our system is barren; and it hardly deals with those aspects of human growth which are related to instincts, impulses, desires, feelings, emotions, and will power. Students, therefore, are left to themselves to pick up whatever they can in regard to the affective and conative aspects of their growth from various kinds of influences which are constantly thrown up by media and collective suggestions. There is no provision in our curriculum for exploration of the aim of life, of the pursuit of values or even of understanding the psychological complex which consists of diverse elements that are in great conflict with each other and which need to be harmonised through an adequate process of education.
In this situation, it is easy to see how greatly our students are at risk, and how adolescents, in particular, are left without proper guidance. It is therefore also easy to see how they can readily be vulnerable to those influences which emphasise indulgence and habits which can prove to be ruinous. Our students are told that both biologically and psychologically, one ought to seek pleasure, that desire should be gratified and that psychological complexes can be cured by adopting measures of satisfaction and indulgence. They are told that it is unhealthy to suppress desires, since suppression leads to formation of unconscious pressures which can explode into various psychological maladies. The question is whether this counsel will in any way mitigate or cure such maladies as AIDS, drug addiction and weakening of the will-power. As the answer is bound to be in the negative, we are obliged to explore some other assured body of psychological knowledge which can be relevant to our imperative needs.
Fortunately, there are treasures of psychological knowledge which are available to us in our own tradition, which, however, have been forgotten and what remnants of these treasures are brought forth from time to time are so inadequately presented and interpreted that they become easily the targets of ridicule at the hands of certain fashionable schools of psychology which are themselves unsafe and unreliable. Fortunately, we have had in our times, great and pioneering educationists from Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati to Sri Aurobindo, who have not only uncovered our ancient psychological knowledge but have also given practical demonstration through their own experiments and achievements of the veracity of this precious heritage of knowledge. It would, therefore, be most salutary if we can affirm those psychological insights which are directly relevant to the problem that we are discussing here.
These insights can briefly be summarised in three major statements:
1. Search for pleasure is not the only primary urge in the human being; there is also in the human being irresistible search for knowledge and irresistible search for self-reservation; these three primary seekings have their own demands which often conflict with each other. How to harmonise these seekings and how to integrate their conflicting demands can be answered only by a process of progressive adjustment, restraint and higher levels of perfection so that pleasure is transformed into inalienable inner delight, knowledge is transformed into wisdom and self-preservation is transformed into a self-existent being. As a result, education should be a progressive process of learning that would harmonise learning to enjoy, learning to learn, and learning to be.
2. Suppression of desire is certainly injurious; but gratification of desire is also not the right method, since gratification generates further desires, and on that path there is no terminal point, except unhealthy compromise with dissatisfaction or irremediable frustration or perdition. The right method of dealing with desire, particularly the desire for pleasure, is to arrive at a voluntary acceptance of the process of self-control and self-mastery. Self-control is not the process of suppression; it is a process of becoming conscious of what is lower pleasure and what is higher pleasure and to reject consciously the lower in preference to the higher. A progressive process of physical abstinence from sensuous pursuits that tend to the formation of harmful habits, combined with rejection of the attractions that gravitate towards the lower, — this is the right method of continuous progression from early stages of education which will give to each one the strength to combat temptations and pressures of passion, even at the moment when such pressures seem irresistible. By the process of trial and error, by a judicious process of the gratification of the higher and higher pleasures and increasing power of restraint, — one can arrive at that mastery which can serve as the sound condition of a well-developed character and personality.
3. The process of self-control results in a greater understanding of oneself; self-control and self-knowledge are interrelated; the greater the control of the lower by the higher, the greater is the knowledge of higher dimensions of the self; and the greater the heightening and widening of the self, the greater will be the capacity to control oneself.
If these three affirmations are properly transmitted to our young people, we can reasonably put forward a genuine hope to deal successfully not only with the dreadful maladies like AIDS but also with a number of other problems of education which seem to us today to be insoluble.
Our educational system should have been changed long ago; it should have been made so comprehensive that it should have opened its doors to the full development not only of the intellect but also of our emotional being and will-power; it should have woven within itself the lessons of the ancient profound psychology that had developed in our own country; it should have been empowered to combat misleading counsels of modern psychology, even while assimilating whatever truth of emphasis or refinement they can provide to us; we would have by now given to the world something new which is desperately needed by humanity and by young people in particular. But what we have not done so far is now being forced upon us by dreadful maladies like AIDS and by various vices, which are spreading perilously among the young people, ─ for no fault of their own. This is the educational message that we can derive from our reflections on the grievous problems of the new generation at risk.
But while we plan a new system of comprehensive or integral education, let us be bold and farsighted. Let us not make the mistake to think that some patchwork or marginal innovations will produce the needed miracle. Take, for example, the way in which the cause of value- oriented education is sought to be promoted. Even after 30 years of the conscious endeavour, we have only reached the stage of paying lip-service to this great and important cause; we are still debating as to how to make a good list of values; we are still controverting how values can be dovetailed in our neutral, uninteresting and uninspiring teaching-learning material; we are still hesitating to accept the idea that value-education is not a mere aspect of education but the overarching sovereign theme of all education. We have not yet shown the courage to review our entire curriculum, our entire methodology of education, and our entire system of counselling, guiding and evaluating the growth of our students.
Education for character development, conceived as the breath and soul of education, and designed holistically is the real answer to the need to bestow upon our students the heritage of the great values inherent in the heart of our culture and also to prepare them to play a heroic role in fighting against all that enfeebles us and all that promotes obscurity. Dealing with problems like AIDS will then only be a by-product of a larger task to make of our children the hero warriors capable of building a new world free from disease, poverty and weakness.
Let us hope that this important Conference promotes integral care of the adolescents and initiates concrete programmes of action, both governmental and non-governmental.
I should like to congratulate the organisers of this Conference for focussing our attention to the problems of the adolescents and for initiating relevant discussion at the national level.