Woman of Letters: The Great University of Life

Sunday, 1 June 2014 - 6:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Following the spurious controversy over Smriti Irani's appointment as HRD minister, Malavika Sangghvi pens her a letter

Dear Smriti,

It pains me to hear people deride your being chosen as HRD minister on account of your lack of educational qualifications.

What is even more painful, is that many of these critics are left-leaning liberals who are using this plank to hit out at Narendra Modi when we all know that had the roles been reversed, they would have risen up in outrage that elitist, sexist grounds were being used to discriminate against someone.

For whatever it's worth, Smriti, here are my views on education: only a bit of it is received in a classroom; the rest of it is imparted through the great university of Life and given how much you've packed of it into your 38 years — you've earned your degree.

When I heard the criticism that arose following your appointment, I myself looked back on my college days, as it was the lack of a college degree that you were being judged by.

I recalled days of bunking class, days of passing time having fun and nights of last-minute mugging before the exam to scrape through, by the skin of my teeth. College for most kids is seen as 'time-pass', a self-styled resting period before a job and other responsibilities set in.

Is this what your critics are accusing you of not having?

After the uproar caused by Ajay Maken's tweet about your appointment and the subsequent derision by Madhu Kishwar, many in your defence cited the examples of celebrated college drop-outs Rabindranath Tagore, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, men who had contributed so very much to human thought and experience.

More pertinently, Sandipan Deb, an IIT and IIM alumni writing in Live Mint cited the examples of your predecessors in the HRD ministry. He demonstrated quite conclusively how the ones with the highest educational qualifications across party lines like Kapil Sibal and Murli Manohar Joshi did the most damage.

What's worse, is that this spurious controversy raked up by Maken to embarrass the BJP, only created embarrassment for his own party.

Omar Abdullah, whose NDA is coalition partner of the Congress, said on Twitter: "To say that someone needs to be educated to be HRD minister is like saying one needs to be a pilot for Civil Aviation or a miner for Coal minister." Another UPA ally RJD chief Lalu Prasad sprang to your defence, citing how he was derided in spite of being a graduate with a LLB degree!

Germane to all of this, was your own dignified statement about the controversy.

"Extraneous circumstances have been created to ensure that my attention is deviated from the body of work I have been entrusted with," you said, adding, "I will request all of you that judge me by my work, and I will not add anything to the statement I have made".

Though I have watched your life and career leading up to this moment with admiration, Smriti, I have to admit I'm behind you in this controversy.

The reason I say this is, because one of the only things I remember from my four years of college is this statement from Voltaire: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

How ironic that this is one of the first canons of so-called educated people, the same people who are questioning your qualifications today!

Please get on with your job at hand and ignore them!

Yours sincerely etc

Malavika Sangghvi

The writer believes in the art of letter writing

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