Saffron slant

Using education as a tool of indoctrination, the RSS and various organisations associated with it have begun a systematic campaign in BJP-ruled States and at the Centre to restructure school syllabi and rewrite textbooks, giving them a Hindutva focus.

Published : Sep 17, 2014 12:30 IST

Bhopal, January 2008: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (right) and State BJP general secretary Anil Madhav Dave performing 'Surya Namaskar' along with schoolchildren during a Statewide Suryanamaskar-Pranayam programme.

Bhopal, January 2008: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (right) and State BJP general secretary Anil Madhav Dave performing 'Surya Namaskar' along with schoolchildren during a Statewide Suryanamaskar-Pranayam programme.

Within days of the new government headed by Narendra Modi coming to power at the Centre, different functionaries of the Sangh Parivar started giving out contradictory statements concerning the overhaul of the education system. While government and non-governmental players in the field of education agree on the idea of ushering in a traditional ethos in education, no consensus exists on how it should be done. Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani herself made conflicting statements on whether or not the framework developed by the previous government would be retained.

One of her first statements was not about improving the infrastructure in schools or ensuring universal education, but about introducing the Vedas, the Upanishads and other ancient Hindu texts in the classroom. She is believed to have asked bureaucrats to develop educational material that would help preserve the memory of ancient Indian culture and heritage.

Then, in July, in response to a question by a Samajwadi Party member in the Rajya Sabha on the perceived government plan to overhaul the national curriculum framework (NCF), Smriti Irani defended the NCF 2005 and signalled that it would be left untouched.

Days later, Home Minister Rajnath Singh indicated that a revision of textbooks was on the cards: “There is also a need to change the contents in textbooks so that youngsters know what our values are....” He was replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha in the context of rising crime in the country and said there was a need to inculcate values in the public to bring about a “change in perception”.

The HRD Minister went on to make a statement that a State-wise and region-wise national debate would be initiated for a course correction of the country’s education policy. “The national education policy was formulated in 1986. For an India of new aspirations and possibilities in 2014, a new education policy was required to build a resurgent nation which would be stronger, resilient and humane,” she said, speaking in Hyderabad at a symposium titled “Restructuring of our education system with Bharatiya perspective of values”. At the same function, she announced the constitution of a Matrubhasha Diwas (Mother Tongue Day), to be celebrated on February 21 in all Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools, Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalayas and “suggested” that institutes of higher learning also participate.

The weight of a mere “suggestion” by the new administration became clear in the run-up to the Prime Minister’s Teachers’ Day address to, and interaction with, students across the country. While Smriti Irani kept telling the media that it was not compulsory for schools and students to attend the address, the Secretary of the Department of School Education & Literacy in Delhi despatched letters to all district educational officers stating that schools “may” make arrangements to assemble the children from 2-30 p.m. to 4-45 p.m. on that day so that the children “may” view the Prime Minister’s address on TV. Subsequently, letters went out stating that steps be taken so that “100 per cent participation of the children on 05.09.2014 is ensured”. Feedback was to be sent to the Ministry on the number of schools that took part and the number of students who attended the address.

The CBSE also asked its affiliates to make arrangements for students to view the live telecast and report back to it on the proceedings. Reportedly, some CBSE schools called the circular “disturbing” and said the directive implied that students had to be kept in school until 5 p.m. to watch the Prime Minister’s address.

While the Congress party dismissed the event as a gimmick, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) called it “unprecedented” and demanded that the circulars be rescinded immediately. “Clearly, the RSS-BJP [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party] seeks to use this occasion for the indoctrination of the young minds, instead of them being exposed to all ideas and, thus, preparing them to make informed choices in their lives,” the party Polit Bureau said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti convener Dinanath Batra, who shot to fame after he successfully got the renowned Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History pulped, has been rooting for a complete revision of school textbooks. He differs with the HRD Minister on NCF 2005 because it is based on “their ideology”. Right-wing organisations view these textbooks as having a Leftist agenda, which may be a misplaced understanding, according to an educationist.

If the recently introduced supplementary readings for primary and secondary schools in Gujarat are any indication, then no matter what the Central government says, saffronisation is a real and imminent threat to the education system of the country. In book after book, “otherness” has been painted as illicit: Marx and Macaulay have been blamed for the aimless, arrogant and stubborn young generation, the term “negro” has been used for somebody who is a serious criminal and cow worship has been epitomised in the extreme. Eight of these nine prescribed books are written by Dinanath Batra.

An organisation, the Bharatiya Shiksha Niti Aayog, has been set up by the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, a body affiliated to the RSS, to suggest steps to make Indian education “Bharat-centric”. While the RSS functionary Dinanath Batra was instrumental in forging the organisation, he denies that it can be called an RSS-constituted body. “It is an independent body similar to the Kothari Commission and has non-RSS people also working for it,” he said. The Aayog has all the makings of a quasi-governmental body, but only time will tell to what extent the Modi government will rely on it.

Batra told Frontline that he had not met Smriti Irani or Narendra Modi yet but dodged the question of whether he was open to playing a larger role in the government. Instead, he said he was a worker and that he had too many things on his plate. He said teacher training was one area that was taking up his time and attention.

He has campaigned for the removal of four members of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) who he says are non-official members. While one of them, Virginius Xaxa, has resigned, Batra has filed applications under the right to information (RTI) on the other three—Krishna Kumar, Janaki Rajan, Padma Sarangapani—and has also sought legal opinion on challenging their membership of the council.

While the Western education system is not the last word on modernism, the RSS’ construct of Macaulay’s educational system as “producing an army of brown-skinned Englishmen to serve the imperial administration as the most obedient servants” is dangerous to say the least. The Sangh Parivar has launched schools that propagate its ideology. In 1952, it founded the first Saraswati Shishu Mandir (nursery school) in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. In the RSS’ own words, its objective was “towards inculcating, along with mandatory academic knowledge, discipline, patriotic outlook, love for mother tongue, high moral values and Hindu principles” with “the thrust of education being based upon a holistic approach to the physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual growth of the pupil”.

Shishu Mandir has today grown into Vidya Bharati, an umbrella body for thousands of educational institutions based on Hindu values, from the nursery to the postgraduation level. To counter Christian missionaries, it founded, in the early 1980s, the Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which has now spread to over 100 districts in 21 States. The Ashram “has succeeded not only in putting a stop to conversions in all its areas of operation, but also in bringing the converts back to the Hindu fold,” according to the RSS mission statement.

Hounding out inconvenient people or rewriting history is reminiscent of typical fascist tactics, but they are not unique to the present times. Under previous regimes, too, similar attitudes had reigned towards sections of the population, but they are now being concretised and cemented. Meanwhile, some work has been done to identify the saffronisation of education in States like Gujarat and Karnataka.

The National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education, set up by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 2006, pointed to instances of the communalisation of education. It said:

“While communal perspectives have been present in textbooks in earlier periods too, studies done of textbooks rewritten from this perspective, for example in Gujarat, highlight their ready potential to contribute to a culture of divisiveness between religious communities. While boys are subject to acute pressures of militant masculinity, the roles of women and girls are further represented as circumscribed by the community and they are portrayed primarily as upholders of tradition and family values. The National Curriculum Framework (2000) undid a lot of the gains of NPE 1986. By locating religion as an important source of value generation in education, it furthered the role of religion in defining ideals and norms for women and girls.”

Last year, a joint statement issued by Romila Thapar, N. Ram, Mushirul Hasan, Somnath Chatterjee, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, B.G. Verghese and others, expressed alarm at the extent of the saffronisation of textbooks, specifically history and social science textbooks in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and other States (as cited by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee of 2005 on non-governmental textbooks taught in private schools, chaired by Professor Zoya Hasan).

In Karnataka, the Committee for Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks (CRST) was instrumental in pointing out instances in textbooks that strengthened stereotypes of Muslims and Christians and subdued the voices of women, Dalits and non-Vedic traditions. The committee expressed concern about “right-wing ideology” being circulated in textbooks. One of its reports pointed out that while condemning oppression by Europeans, the textbooks concealed the oppression of Dalits by the “upper caste”. It said that textbooks referred to six major terrorist attacks but made no reference to “saffron terrorism” such as the Samjhauta Express blast in February 2007. The failure to explain non-inclusion of non-vegetarian food, the link between the caste system and untouchability, and the failure of Indian writers to chronicle the history of the country are also referred to in the report.

In August 2012, the Archbishop of Bangalore Diocese Bernard Moras sent a memorandum to Governor H.R. Bhardwaj to look into the increasing trend of the saffronisation of textbooks released in 2012, particularly Class VIII Science and Hindi textbooks and Class V Social Science textbooks.

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