Welfare state to philanthropic society

The emphasis of NEP 2020 on philanthropic education will reboot the idea of education as human resource development.

Philanthropy can be and is used interchangeably with charity, benevolence, giving, donating, voluntary-sector, a non-profit organisation, and NGO. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has left the onerous responsibility on the government and academia to define philanthropy so that we may be able to distinguish between a public-spirited and profit-oriented private philanthropy and organisation.

Philanthropy — akin to secularism, nationalism, or welfarism — is a contested concept not only in western but Indian history of ideas too. The Vedic, Buddhist, and Jain philosophies have abundant exemplars that distinguish between paropkar, daan, lok seva, and many other similar concepts. The NEP’s Hindi version has used paropkar, but in some contexts, it is also intended to mean lok seva. Gandhi’s trusteeship principle resembles the concept of lok seva, which attracted reasoned criticism not only from communist and socialist perspectives but also Ambedkar and right-wing ideologues. How the NEP envisions philanthropy different from Gandhian socialism is yet to be decoded.

The rise of neo-philanthropy intending to replace a generous and invasive welfare state can be appreciated from the history of the political economy of the world. It needs to be simultaneously understood with the help of Foucault’s genealogical method. This method attempts to question the dominant understanding of the concept. It also questions the taken-for-granted character of these forms of knowledge and institutions, which appear objectionable since they descend from past practices. Neo-philanthropy seemingly believes in the ethical principles of corporate social responsibility and the “transformed” individual. Neo- philanthropy is an arrangement that represents the humanity of the privileged and the immanent goodness of the poor. It establishes, in the Gandhian manner, that poverty is spiritual rather than material. In this scenario, the philanthropist or a “true” philanthropist will be the one non-state actor who will be a caring practitioner mediating between the state and the people. This will not only bring out the ineffective and intrusiveness of the welfarist-state, but also defeat efforts for collectivisation and the state’s involvement in the public good.

The liberal welfare state claimed to work for maximum good for maximum people. The neo-liberal state shreds this responsibility by taking a higher moral ground that a welfarist state may increase dependency and addiction of people on the state. Any help must be self-help coming from and within the people. This libertarian and seemingly progressive argument also stemmed from the discourse which was antithetic to state-funding of education as a public good. The simple desire to live in the company of educated neighbours and in a country with educated citizens or the industrial philanthropists’ want for an educated workforce for the success of their enterprise takes away the “true” from true philanthropy. The moral sense of virtue ingrained in the definition of philanthropy as voluntary action for good rebounds with the “compelling” desire to work for the good of all to be surrounded by “more” goodness.

Though philanthropy may be as old as human civilisation, it is regulated by political institutions in a welfare state. Donations, charity, funds spent as philanthropy are encouraged with tax subsidies. An individual or organisation gets tax rebate, on notified entities one may claim hundred per cent deductions thus may affect the revenue collection of the state. This revenue in turn would have helped the welfare state to alleviate poverty. The most noticeable approach of philanthropy through the asset-building model or upskilling model of low-income groups establishes education as human resource development.

The NEP perceived it differently when it proposed renaming the Ministry of Human Resources Development as the Ministry of Education. The emphasis on philanthropic education will reboot the idea of education as human resource development. Hess and Henig in their influential work on new educational philanthropy have charted out that how funders or philanthropists over time have become more intentional in their strategy, more attentive to politics, more focused on metrics of success, and more aggressive about changing policy. It helps us to understand that philanthropy does not work in a vacuum; it depends on what philanthropists do and in what context they do it. It is akin to a gutka manufacturer contributing and donating to establish a cancer research hospital. The resurgent edu-philanthropy in the given majoritarian milieu will not only under-cut spending on public education, but further muscular philanthropy that will guide the expenditure of the welfare state. The India Philanthropy Report released by Bain and Company underlines the growth of muscular philanthropy — philanthropic funding rose from Rs 12,500 crore in 2010 to Rs 55,000 crore in 2018. India is ranked 62 in total public expenditure on education per student and measures of the quality of education. The percentage of philanthropic funding in comparison to public funding (5.6 lakh crore) is so minimal that this would not have motivated policy planners. The NEP planners must have taken a cue from how the US spends on education without taking any cognisance of the studies undertaken on why billions of dollars spent by American philanthropists is not working and is only empowering them with leverage to tweak the functioning of the state.

The Indian education system is so diverse that a uniform imagination of a school run by a philanthropist or a philanthropic organisation will be too sketchy. Philanthropy guided by religion, language, caste, and even gender have their own ideas of school and soon nationalist philanthropy will join the bandwagon. This approach to education can be deeply exclusionary and offers possibilities for the creation of the “other”. The people living on the fringes — minorities, marginalised, women — will be further pushed to the wall.

The ultimate argument that people would want to be educated even if there is no public education and that philanthropic education will provide autonomy to schools sounds like a malevolent proposal. Public education is now under attack as never before. The lofty idle of atmanirbhar India is getting replicated in education through philanthropic private partnerships. The only problem with this estrangement of a national document with the idea that the education of all must be the responsibility of the state is that it will deny many their right to education and make them dependent on education and learning by paropkar.

The writer is with the Department of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh. Views are personal

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