Friday, 27 April 2012

Humanities in India: A Neglected Field

The Greek Philosopher Socrates once stated, "The un-examined life is not worth living." The purpose of Humanities is to study understand and contemplate the different aspects of life and society. 

It is an open and shut case that in India, the Arts are a highly neglected stream. In fact the very word 'Arts' attracts sufficient frowns from friends and family especially when you score well in the Board exams. Which is why it is rightly the Cinderella of all fields of study.

The underlying problem lies in the fact that in India 'Science' and 'Commerce' streams are accorded superior status. The Humanities are still treated as inferior counter - parts. For those who disagree, check the cut- off percentage at random for the Arts, Science and Commerce colleges. On an average the Science cut- off percentage would be anywhere near 80%, the Commerce cut-off a close second at 75% and the Arts... Don't even ask. A mere 65- 70% would  help. And this is where the discrimination and differentiation starts. 

In 2009, there was a significant 40% increase in the budget which accorded 3.1 billion USD. Of this 93 million were dedicated to the establishment of new IITs. The amount granted to the Arts was not even thought worthy of mention. The government's strong emphasis on promoting Science and technology is commendable at one level but it is grossly disappointing at another especially because India is a country where the Humanities have full scope to grow given the pluralism and diversity of culture.  We have the largest number of languages, a dense ethnic and cultural background and history. We have enough courses to offer not only Indian students but even Foreign students interested in pursuing different language and history courses right here in India. But, we don't see it happening because of the laxity on the part of the Education Department to promote them. After all, its a no- brainer that students today prefer French or German over Sanskrit or Tamil or any of the regional languages because they do not have sufficient exposure. 

Parents are ready and willing to pay higher amounts of donations to enroll their children in the best B- Tech or BBA colleges. Arts is 'Supposedly' the option for the lesser privileged and the relatively weaker students. This attitude has to change. In some universities the students who opt for science and commerce have the option to switch over to the lesser Arts but not vice-versa. The question remains, "What is so incredibly special about Science students that they get the choice to switch streams while a student of Arts cannot?" After all, there is simply no match when it comes to the subjects of these two streams nor is there a guarantee that Science student will excel in the Arts. As a student of Arts,I have had my fair share of  "Why Arts?" Its time that more students realized the potential of this stream?


Students who select the Arts have a wider range of options. Those pursuing this stream are benefited with a greater degree of exposure which gives a more holistic approach. A fine dose of Literature, Politics, Economics, Sociology etc. gives the student a wider range of options to select from. It is more ecumenical. I mean no disrespect to any of the other streams but it is essential that one must highlight the Arts as an equally important field of study. 

The Literature departments often underscores the importance of soft skills like communication. A Journalism and Mass communication course gives the students considerable exposure to current affairs. Economics helps to understand the finer details of the economic growth. While science is tad bit restricted in theory and application this stream gives you a liberal hand to try different professions at the same time. For example, a student of Literature could try teaching, writing and journalism but a student of science would have to dedicate his full time towards achieving a good score in engineering. A medical student too cannot pursue his/ here interests to the fullest. Arts gives a certain degree of flexibility that  other streams may not be able to offer. 

Even the scholarships are a bare minimum when it comes to the Arts. One has unlimited opportunities and scholarships to apply to the Engineering and Medical colleges in the U.S or U.K but apart from Sociology other branches of the Arts hardly have sufficient scholarships.

We can only deal with the flaws in the technicalities in the Educational system once parents, students and teachers realize that each stream has its own quality, its own importance and its own essence. Just as how society cannot advance without science and modern technology, it cannot advance without the knowledge of the mistakes of the past highlighted in its History or the study of its society that is talked in Politics and Sociology. On a macro-level, bridging the gulf between the various fields of learning is essential for India's overall development.

This post is written largely to expose the benefits of the Arts and Humanities to bring about a change in mind-set of the masses. I reiterate that in no way do I intend to de- mean any other branch of study. 

In conclusion I can only think of J.Irving Miller who famously stated,

"The calling of humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word."

Katherine. Abraham 
@katie_abraham on Twitter

The Writer is a Law student and an aspiring U.N Diplomat.


  1. Having been a student of Arts ,I totally agree with you and have experienced all the 'why arts' questions. Although,I must add that the standard of Arts needs to be raised,meaning that even though the subjects are interesting,the subject matter leaves a lot to be desired. The content of the subjects is just not upto the mark,maybe this is the reason that the Humanities,as a subject, does not compare to Science and Commerce,particularly in our country. Agreed that a B.Sc or a will not get you very far,but in todays world,just of what value is a B.A?

  2. Our education system is flawed. Can any university in India offer a student Indian history, Molecular chemistry and Business economics a s a combination? They will not with a fear of mixing subjects from different streams leading to a confused, unemployable person. Besides peer and parental pressure to focus on medicine, engineering and commerce which I prefer to call business studies are because of what they think are high paying careers which in reality is a fact. So I would not blame institutions of higher learning alone for the crazy cut-offs they have for science vs humanities but the flaw in our system which leads to people wanting to be in a stream that they are pressurized into despite not being happy many a times.

  3. First of all: Thank you for writing this. I, like many others, have also experiences all the "Why Arts?" questions, and am thoroughly sick of the assumption that these subjects are somehow inferior to the others.

    I do feel, however, that the quality of the Arts courses (as mentioned in the previous comment) is way too low. On top of that, I found that the content of my First Year B.A. course was identical to that of the 11th and 12th Std. Arts syllabus!! Why? So that all the Science and Commerce switch overs can catch up, of course! Obviously Arts subjects are not as easy as some people would like to think. Perhaps if we recognized that all subjects are important in their own way, we'd treat Arts students differently.

    My idea would be to have a one year bridge course for any student that wants to change streams, whether from Arts to Science/Commerce or vice versa. Maybe then we'd have equality!

  4. Its surprising how closed minded the Indian education system continues to be... from personal experience, there is nothing more I would have loved than to pursue my masters in India, but the system literally forces you out...

    They have blinders on about inclusion criterias in my case Public Health and the inclusion criteria being MBBS or a prior masters... Why would I waste 2 years doing a masters just to do another one? and only because I am NOT a doctor?

    Its saddening how the system drives away talent and then claims brain drain!!!

  5. Humanities are a luxury that a developing country like India can't effort. He need more people skilled in technology and businesses not a bunch of unproductive citizens.