Book review: G. N. Devy, A Crisis Within: On Knowledge and Education in India, Bombay

Publication Date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
AuthorPratiksha Tripathi
SubjectBook Reviews
Book Reviews 959
G. N. Devy, A Crisis Within: On Knowledge and Education in India, Bombay.
New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2017, 146 pp., `399 (Hardcover).
ISBN: 9383064102.
DOI: 10.1177/0019556119882170
A former professor at the University of Baroda, G. N. Devy is also a recognised
radical educationist and linguist. His activism has been marked by the leading
work, the probabilistic latent semantic indexing (PLSI), which is wide-ranging
documentation of all living Indian languages. He has worked extensively with
Adivasis and nomadic communities in India and thus his thoughts reflect the
deep-rooted experiences of the most underprivileged, marginalised and oppressed
groups of Indian society.
Knowledge, as we have seen over the ages, occupies a dominant position in
the realm of human awakening and consciousness. This book is a lucid comment
on the critical nature of the education system and institutions that are seen as
the core of knowledge reproduction. Education is essential not only for making
job-ready candidates but also for preparing individuals to be informed citizens of
any democracy. Indian educational institutions need an immediate rescuing, and
reform is not a new idea. While the idea of reform has dominated the narrative,
the ways and means that have been suggested have not delivered positive result.
The book at first glance may seem to be a light read, but, despite its size, it
elucidates incredibly essential and distinct themes. The book is divided into four
articulate chapters. In Chapter 1, ‘The Crisis of Knowledge’, the author comments
on the effects of colonial rule on the mindset of Indians that led to a loss of cultural
self-confidence among them. Education has evolved its goals over time to meet
the needs of the society. A large corpus of universities and colleges developed in
the post-Independence India, however, is marked with the withdrawal of the state
from this field. All in all, a consistent decline in the education system has been
observed due to the failure of greater visions of education to strengthen and uplift the
society. Chapter 2, ‘Memory and Knowledge’, quotes various Indian philosophers
on their expressions of what knowledge is. Devy traces the path of how knowledge
has been encrypted and classified over the centuries. In the Indian context, oral
and written traditions existed as complementary to each other. With the coming of
print technology during British rule, Indian languages received official attention
on the basis of expediency rather than their literary capabilities. This wide ned
the gap between the colonial understanding of literature and folk-literature,
marking the onset of modernity. Chapter 3, ‘Memory of the Forgotten’, traces the
rise of social and legal practices derived from sacred texts that later turned inhumane
by interpolation. The (mis)understanding of the colonial rulers in defining the
complex caste and tribal traditions led to the process of segregation and thus,
oppression. The idea must not be limited to increasing the access of education to
the marginalised sections, rather than making the system flexible to accommodate
the ‘cultural memory’. In Chapter 4, ‘Post-memory Education’, the author begins
to demonstrate the technological interweaving with our knowledge systems.

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