Best Teacher: Radhakrishan or the Phules

5th September, Teachers Day: Why I do not celebrate it.

5th September Teachers Day is widely celebrated all over India in the memory of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He was the First Vice President & then the second President of Independent India.


The moment anyone steps into the academic life, he/she is bombarded with rituals, traditions, and fests that all form a sort of culture. This culture then dominates the psyche of the person for all their lives. One such is the Teacher’s Day.

I have made a separate post highlighting my journey of Teachers Day. You can read it here. This shall give you an insight on what I’m about to articulate and may take you down the memory lane.

There were strong reasons that compelled me to write this article. First and foremost, I wanted to give a comprehensive reading material to all those who want to know why I do not consider 5th September as Teachers Day. Also to give an understanding why Radhakrishnan isn’t a person worthy of emulation.

Secondly, I have always wanted to pass on this baton of knowledge and express that I do not wish to be shoved any “role model” down my throat. That I will use my brain to choose the right person as a role model for myself.
And lastly, I wanted to provide a resource for all those people who are looking for alternatives for a role model for a Teacher’s Day or a good teacher.

The Beginning

Our country has been largely an emotion-centric country where emotions are chosen over reason. Logic and reason always lose. One such symptom is the hero-worship of a person whom we adore. And if there’s an environment which is deeply drowned in such worship, it leads to a mass blind-following. And when people become blind followers, they do not question anything. I’m sure you must have experienced this in our society. We do not apply logic because we do not question. The Halo-Horns effect applies here.

I grew up in an exact same environment. Teacher’s day was a mania for some people. However, I was an annoying kid who would question till my heart’s content. This would leave a lot of people irritated. Elders would either shut me down or slap me out. And slowly, my inquisitiveness was strangulated.

So, I knew very little about Radhakrishnan. But I wanted to know more as to why is he so important. So, I turned to books as I have this incessant reading habit. Often, this would lead me to find my answers. But all I could find was this long list of achievements. which convinced me only a little bit. It failed to inspire unlike M. Visvesvaraya.

It was in the final year of graduation, when I truly encountered Radhakrishnan. I was selected to deliver a speech on him for Teacher’s Day at the college. I researched about Radhakrishnan and I all could gather was a few scrapes of information. Like, he was the Vice-President and President of Independent India. Also, he had major academic achievements and credentials to his name.

As I ended it, there was this one line that confused me : “And hence we celebrate Teacher’s Day on Radhakrishnan’s birthday”. I felt a piece of the puzzle missing. I thought surely there is more than what he has done. So, I consulted my teachers in this regard. But their answers were simply a copy of the material that I had already read. Logic & Reason were still missing.

My speech was scraped to provide a slot for singing and dancing which was thought to be more entertaining than a speech. I let a sigh of relief. That ended my research on Radhakrishnan.

5th September Teachers Day: The Alternate Idea

It wasn’t until my taking up the Teaching career that I revisited the Teacher’s Day. I was a freelancer and was recently getting to know about the Satyashodhak Samaj. It was then that I bumped into the Phule couple for the first time. Prior to that, I had only heard the popular story of their struggle for education. But I didn’t see them as the pioneers of education. Because there was no glamour created about them. And I knew very little about them. They weren’t my role models, yet. As my old habit continued, I disliked pushed into believing something until I have read about it.

That following year, I did not celebrate Teacher’s Day on the 5th of September. Instead, I went to the full day seminar on the Phule couple to celebrate the Teacher’s day on 28th November. This was the place that gave a full briefing of the work laid down by the Phule couple for education. Hearing various speakers and reading their papers on education gave me the push to read the Phule couple in detail.

The consecutive speeches gave a detailed comparison between Radhakrishnan and the Phule couple. It also allowed me to paint a comparison table in my mind.

At that moment, I realised that simple questioning helps to bust many myths. And that was the reason why many adults disliked kids who questioned. Because myths form a major part of our culture.

One of the prominent questions one could ask was: What was Radhakrishnan’s role in the development of Education of Independent India? This would send many into singing laurels and achievements of Radhakrishnan, the academician. However, my pressing emphasis was “Role in the development of education” and “Role of an Ideal Teacher”.

Radhakrishnan remained a mystery shrouded in academic achievements.

The Revisit

During my observation & studies, I learnt the demand of the Satyashodhak Samaj to observe 28th November as Teacher’s Day instead of 5th September. Discrediting Radhakrishnan, the forced idol of many wasn’t easy. I researched more on this and found abundant resources that credit the Phule couple as pioneers of education in India. There couldn’t be any more better examples of ideal teachers than the Phule Couple. The perfect role model for Teachers.

However, all of this information was in the regional and vernacular language. And hence the common public didn’t know about the Phule couple.

And then I began to analyse the two entities as a Teacher to find out who fits the bill.

First, let us understand whom can we call a Teacher.

A Teacher

A more broad and comprehensive definition of a Teacher would be someone who helps a learner to obtain knowledge, virtue, skill, or competence. Radhakrishnan fails just at the outset of this definition, as there’s no concrete evidence to showcase anything about his teaching prowess. Sure, he had many academic accomplishments, which are worth remembering. There’s a list of that here. However, that only makes him an accomplished academician. Not a teacher.

Furthermore, UN states that, “Teachers are one of the most influential and powerful forces for equity, access and quality in education and key to sustainable global development.”

How Radhakrishnan Fares

Policy framing

Radhakrishnan fails to meet this criteria of UN as well. Radhakrishnan headed a committee for education, which was appointed in 1948. A precursory glance at Radhakrishnan’s actions will indicate that he considered education as a means to empower the already empowered.

It was 1948, Constitution was yet to be implemented, the Caste system was just as equal as law. India was recently let off by the British, and a major chunk of Indian population was illiterate. Ideally, the focus of the committee should have been that of providing basic, primary, and universal education to all.

However, Radhakrishnan focused on secondary and university education. It didn’t make any sense! Because ideally as a teacher, you have to think about those who are underprivileged and have no access to education. Radhakrishnan’s recommendation were to focus on higher education. This served only those people who already had basic education. During that time in India, there was only one such segment of the society who received education: the Brahmins.

There are measures to establish universities in rural areas with the aim of providing higher education. One can easily deduce who needed higher education in the 1940s. It is evident that there was no thought spared for a huge populace that was historically denied education in the garb of religion. One can only find instances of lip-service to provide basic education to university education without actually addressing the problem.

Restrictions on Student Politics

The JNU debacle and the constant cries of “students should not take part in politics” has its roots in the Radhakrishnan committee as well. Turns out, Radhakrishnan too was against students partaking in politics. His stance is reflected in his Education Committee, where it mentions that students’ unions should be free from political activities. Further, the committee insists to have NCC training for students. It is not far from the recent comments that a military tank should be placed in the campus.

I wonder why there aren’t many students unions protesting against 5th September to mark their defiance against the cultural oppression that is Teachers Day.

Women’s Education

Tokenism continues to be an aspect of the committee when it lays special emphasis on women’s education. It makes provisions for education of women, by promising ample educational opportunities for women. But the line ends with a tricky statement, the education thus provided should be in conformity with the requirements and ‘special’ aptitudes of women. And that they should be encouraged to take up home economics and home management.

Onlookers will retort that this is a brave step in woman empowerment. However, if one reads between the lines, they will find that the subjects offered were limited to managing home and not the outer world. As time has proven, women are doing a great job of handling the both than men.

The committee asks for better pay for lady teachers. This again points to the troubling fact that there were no female teachers from the downtrodden communities. The brahmins were the only community to have received education enough to become teachers. I doubt any one else taking the mantle of teaching would be left alive to collect that payment. Caste atrocity and brutality continues to this day and age. The act of stepping into the domain of brahmins was suicidal.

Lastly, the committee makes provision for co-education in basic schools and universities, but not in secondary schools. I have rattled my brains out on this provision. But all I have is theories. What would girls and boys sitting together in high school do, eh Mr. Radhakrishnan?

Emphasis on Religion

Religion was the domain which lifted Radhakrishnan to prominence. It was his research and theory that prompted the Western world to look into the alternative eastern theory of religious philosophy. It was his ‘research’ in the dharma that led him to be placed at coveted positions. Radhakrishnan committee recommended to commence work with a few minutes of silent meditation. While, the merits/demerits of this may certainly be debated, what one can survey is that a nation hungry for knowledge and social mobility could care less for meditation or spiritual achievement.

Enlightenment can not be achieved on an empty stomach.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha

It is worth remembering that India was recently let off the British chains. And it was a task to overcome impoverishment. I wonder why didn’t the Radhakrishnan committee thought of first feeding the students?

Furthering this point, I would certainly not want to be a part of this indoctrination of religious teaching irrespective of the religion. Though the committee’s recommendation included the likes of Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Jesus, Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Mohammad, Kabir, and Nanak to give a secular picture, it would be truly noble to separate basic education from spirituality. Studying religion should be a choice of the individual in a multi-cultural, multi-faith nation like India.

Focus on Higher Education

Even while taking a cursory glance, it is evident that the Radhakrishnan committee was highly focused on providing higher education to the masses. Because there were very few who wanted that.

As mentioned earlier, it is clear that the focus was to empower the already empowered, while absolutely neglecting the massive population of the downtrodden. This myopic recommendations aren’t expected from a man of Radhakrishnan’s stature. The only explanation to this can be found in the history of India’s struggle for an equal society.

How the Phules Fare

Policy framing

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule vociferously advocated Basic, Universal, and free Education for every strata of the society. His vision could be seen in the deposition that he put before the Hunter Commission in 1881. Phule expounds eloquently the plight of the masses in stark contrast to those of the select few upper castes. He lays down the vision of a prosperous and educated India through the education of masses of India.

Phule asserted that it was the duty of a government to provide quality basic education if it were to make any progress in the development of a society. Not stopping there, he questions the government’s motive in providing mere lip-service in the name of education to the masses. He further holds the British accountable to develop a fair and equitable system of education.

Despite not being in the position of power, Jyotiba Phule asserts the vision of true education in front of a mighty empire. It was a courageous step that led me to admire Phule. The schools that he went on to set up later are a testimony to his vision of free, universal, and quality education for all. Such ideals aren’t reflected anywhere in the life of Radhakrishnan.

Student Politics

Phule endorsed Unions, irrespective of where they came from. His only condition was that they should have a clear motive for formation, which was ultimately the benefit of the downtrodden. He took the lead in establishing many unions throughout his life. Satyashodhak Samaj, Farmer’s Union, Labour Union amongst many others stand testimony to that spirit.

Women’s Education

The Phules started the first ever school for girls in India. They are renowned for being the pioneers of education for the downtrodden. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule insisted his wife to be educated despite tremendous opposition. He believed that knowledge is for all and especially for women, as they are key to the development of a family. Later, when they started the school, no female was ready to take up the job of teaching. Mainly because the students were from the lower castes. And no one dared to disobey or disrupt the societal order. It was extremely courageous of the couple to break the stigma.

However, the path of teaching wasn’t easy. Upper caste men found several ways to humiliate the Phules. The upper caste men threw cow dung on Savitribaai Phule to discourage her from teaching at the school. The situation might sound similar as this still happens in our country, where women are constantly discouraged.

But Savitribaai was an educated woman. She quickly found a way to tackle the menace. She started carrying a spare saree. On reaching school she would take a bath, change her saree, and then teach. This cow-dung throwing episode would be repeated on her way back as well.

Despite such fierce opposition, the Phules strove for the education of the poor and marginalised.

There are no such examples from Radhakrishnan’s life. There is no evidence that he allowed his wife to study. Sarvepalli Gopal, son of Radhakrishnan, had penned a biography of his father. The biography has no mention of education for the women of their home. Radhakrishnan had five daughters and yet there’s no account of them being educated. However, Radhakrishnan got them married between the ages of 11-16 without even asking their consent. Gopal also mentions the affairs Radhakrishnan had with many women. A detailed account is available in the biography.

Religion and Mahatma Phule

Mahatma Phule was an iconoclast and this was evident in all of his writings. He hammered the existent brahmanic hegemony through his writings. Jyotiba drilled sense into the downtrodden to get educated. Phule dreamt that people of all religions should be living together, under one roof.

He encouraged people to do away with the rituals that did not treat human as equals. Jyotiba inspired people to create their own rituals to perform in functions. Phule created several alternates for the downtrodden.


The Phules struggled and strove for education like no other. Not only did they open the first school for girls in India, but also ensured that people from the downtrodden communities participated in education. Such was the passion for education that Mahatma Phule transformed mercenaries sent to kill him into his bodyguards. Phule applied Logic & Reason. He asked the killers if their kids were educated. The killers replied in negative. Jyotiba reasoned that they should seriously think about educating their children or else, they would be working just like fathers-killing for a handful of money. They would never be free individuals. They would never enjoy true freedom because education liberates the mind. This concerned appeal moved the killers and they turned into his bodyguards for the rest of their lives.

Universal, compulsory, and free education was Jyotiba’s motto. He believed that education was a birthright of every human being. He vociferously believed in this, which is evident from his disposition to the Hunter Commission. It was perhaps the first education commission set up to provide education to the Colony of India.


Considering the towering achievements of Radhakrishnan, it would be unwise of any intellectual to disregard or discredit him for his personal life. However, the concerning matter is of him being celebrated as a role model for teacher. Despite his achievements, he largely remained an academician. His academic pursuits quite often seemed more of a counter to the British rather than a quest for knowledge.

A glance at our current academic scenario reveals that it is indeed inspired by Radhakrishnan. The passion for academic papers, the disregard for females and downtrodden, devotion to religion, sharp dislike for student’s politics, the love for pursuit of personal academic achievements, and indulging in worldly pleasures.

If we are indeed sincere for changing the Indian Education scenario, we need to change our role models. Good role models can influence an entire generation and that is what we need now. More than ever. The Phules, their struggle, and their work burns bright in face of this discriminatory society and inspires to take up the struggle of education for all. Their story reminds us that we need to persist and continue to uphold our ideals. The Phules devoted their lives for a single mission- Education.

And hence, they are my ideal teachers. And 5th September isn’t my Teacher’s Day. My Teacher’s Day is the 28th of November and 3rd of January (the anniversaries of the Phules).


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: A biography. (Gopal, Oxford University Press, 1989)


2 responses to “5th September, Teachers Day: Why I do not celebrate it.”

  1. Lallu Avatar

    Valuable direction

  2. […] A more in-depth personal journey of teacher’s day can be found here. […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.