Communal curriculum

Print edition : February 24, 2012

A BJP leader holds a copy of the Bhagvad Gita. In November 2011, the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka introduced lessons on the Bhagvad Gita in schools.-SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

The Sangh Parivar is systematically following its Indianisation reforms in schools run by its affiliates.

THE attempts of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar at saffronising education attracted widespread attention between 1998 and 2004 when the Hindutva combine's political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), held the reins of power at the Centre. During that period, especially between 1998 and 2002, the BJP's Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi advanced a number of initiatives self-professedly aimed at making the content of education in the primary, secondary and higher stages Indianised, nationalised and spiritualised.

Specific proposals were brought in as part of this effort in various fora, including at the national-level conferences of State Education Ministers and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). These proposals argued for the incorporation of studies on the Hindu way of life and also the Vedas and the Upanishads into the curriculum. The strong response and resistance to these moves from academics, educationists and secular political parties forced the Sangh Parivar to give up these Indianisation reforms. However, periodic reports emanating from different parts of the country, particularly from the States ruled by the BJP, have underscored the fact that the party and its multifarious associate organisations in the Sangh Parivar are systematically and quietly pursuing the Hindutva agenda in education.

In November 2011, the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka introduced lessons and discourses on the Bhagvad Gita in schools. They sought to make the teaching of the Gita compulsory. But following widespread opposition from political parties, educationists and even Education Department officials, the governments in both the States were forced to make Gita studies optional. A Central government official told Frontline that officials in Karnataka had cautioned the State government that the introduction of Gita studies in the syllabus would lead to divisions among students from different backgrounds.

According to Father Cedric Prakash Lobo, an Ahmedabad-based social activist, attempts at saffronisation are being pursued in a discreet manner in Gujarat. On paper, the highly objectionable anti-minority, gender-insensitive contents of various textbooks introduced in Gujarat in 2001 have reportedly been withdrawn. But these portions are still brought into discussion in classrooms across the State. The portions referred to by Father Prakash Lobo include the ones that brand minority communities as one of the foremost problems facing the country. This portion, introduced in the social studies textbook of class IX, was under the chapter titled Problems of the country and their solutions. It listed minority communities as the foremost problem, followed by the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, smuggling, corruption and bribery. The chapter also termed Muslims, Christians and Parsis as foreigners. The government claims that these portions have been erased, but reports from different parts of the State indicate that references are made to these portions even now.

Father Prakash Lobo told Frontline that the elaborate but subtle political and ideological game being played in the State's education sector subverts the constitutionally mandated parameters of the education system. Chief Minister Narendra Modi figures in the classrooms, from the primary to higher levels, in various forms. Modi's life story is part of the suggested reading for classes at the secondary level. On Teachers Day, you see Modi addressing classes across the country through television and the Internet. In many ways Teacher's Day is not the day of teachers in Gujarat, it is Modi projection day, Father Prakash Lobo pointed out. According to a senior official in the Central government, the saffronisation initiatives of the BJP-ruled States are at complete variance with the current requirements of the educational system and the curriculum. What is required is the upgrading of the study material and its orientation to a changing world. But these State governments do not seem to have this as a priority.

While attempts are being made in fits and starts in all BJP-ruled States, the massive parallel education machinery of the Sangh Parivar is also growing steadily. This machinery, which is spearheaded by organisations such as Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, predominantly follows a syllabus that has communal overtones. Take the case of Vidya Bharati, which was established in 1977 as an apex body with the objective of providing a coherent organisational setting for the activities of the RSS in the field of education. Vidya Bharati runs 28,000 educational institutions with approximately 32,50,000 students on their rolls. The organisation employs approximately 1,60,000 teachers. These schools are run in all States except Mizoram.

The organisation's promotional material says: Vidya Bharati caters to the educational needs of students of pre-primary, primary, secondary & senior secondary schools, colleges and post-graduates training colleges. Vidya Bharati conducts and promotes research in education and has its own publication division which brings out books, magazines and research studies. The organisation is part of the Sangh Parivar and is understood to be integral to promote Hindutva nationalism by targeting areas with limited facilities. It goes on to add that one of the ultimate objectives of the organisation is to develop a National System of Education which would help to build a generation of young men and women that is committed to Hindutva and infused with patriotic fervour.

The organisation's growth underscores the systematic work that has been carried out by the Sangh Parivar in this core area. In the first two decades of its existence, Vidya Bharati set up 14,000 schools at the nursery, primary and secondary levels and had over 18 lakh students under its tutelage. In that period, there were 80,000 teachers on its rolls. These numbers almost doubled in the next 12 years.

In fact, many of these State and regional institutions have been around for more than four decades. The schools themselves are known by a variety of names Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Bharatiya Vidya Niketan, Gita Vidyalaya, and Saraswati Bal Vidyalaya. Significantly, the State and regional governing bodies of these institutions do not always go by the name of Vidya Bharati. They use different names depending on the socio-political situation in each State.

As early as 1996, an evaluation of Vidya Bharati textbooks carried out by the NCERT found that they were designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation.

SCHOOLCHILDREN PERFORM SURYANAMASKAR at the Sabarmati river front in Ahmedabad. Chief Minister Narendra Modi's life story is part of the suggested reading for classes at the secondary level in Gujarat.-PTI

The NCERT thought it was a matter of serious concern that such material was being utilised for instruction in schools, which presumably, have been accorded recognition. It found that Vidya Bharati schools prescribed a series of booklets under titles such as Sanskriti Jnan Pareeksha (cultural knowledge examination) and Sanskriti Jnan Pareeksha Prasnottari (cultural knowledge examination questions and answers). These consist of a series of questions and answers, which are provided in a manner that makes the rigour of original thinking superfluous. Students are required to learn by rote this catechistic series, as the NCERT characterised it. These booklets stated categorically that the Ram Janmabhoomi was invaded no fewer than 77 times between A.D. 1528 and A.D. 1914 and 3.5 lakh devotees laid down their lives in defending this holy site in that span of time and that November 2, 1990, when an attempt by Hindutva hordes to mount an assault on the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was repulsed by the police, would go down as a black day in India's history.

The course material used in Vidya Bharati schools throughout the country is the same.

While Vidya Bharati seeks to function within the parameters of the organised education system, the Sangh Parivar also sponsors a number of Ekal Vidyalayas (one-teacher schools) that focus on the informal illiteracy eradication movement. These schools obtain government grants but in States such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and even in parts of Assam, the majority of these institutions are under the control of the Sangh Parivar. As a consequence, the teaching material overtly promotes Hindutva communalism.

A study conducted in 2006 by Avdesh Kaushal, renowned social activist based in Dehradun in Uttarakhand and the founder of the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), highlighted this. The study, carried out in Jharkhand and Assam, pointed out that even days of the week were taught by employing metaphors and icons related to Hindutva. He suggested steps to correct this.

However, Kaushal told Frontline, that even after five years he found many of the Ekal Vidyalayas using the same offensive material. I had occasion to travel in Jharkhand in the last months of 2011 and I found that no course correction had been carried out by the government, he said.

According to informal estimates, Ekal Vidyalayas function in about 35,000 villages catering to 10 lakh students. The Sangh Parivar's own estimate is that more than 60 per cent of the Ekal Vidyalayas follow its ideological footprint. Clearly, despite being out of power at the Centre for the last seven years and despite the absence of aggressive campaigns on the so-called nationalist reforms in the education sector, the Sangh Parivar's pursuit of the Hindutva agenda in this area continues unabated.

In a sense, it is a pursuit that has imparted to the Sangh Parivar enough clout to force the withdrawal of A.K. Ramnujan's celebrated essay on 300 Ramayanas from Delhi University's syllabus and stop the national seminar and a film show on Kashmir organised by Symbiosis University, Pune.

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