Central policy

Saffron slant

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Students of Jaipur a school watch the live telecast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech on Teachers' Day on September 4, 2015. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Students take part in the "surya namaskar" programme organised by Madhya Pradesh School Education Department, in Bhopal on January 12. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

Vasudev Devnani, Rajasthan Education Minister. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

The Centre’s new education policy will, in all probability, reflect the changes in the school curriculum in BJP-ruled States.

In the two years of its rule, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has surprisingly left untouched textbooks brought out by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), especially in social science. Compared with the first tenure of the NDA (1999-2004), when the government overhauled the National Curriculum Framework and subsequently the course content in textbooks where the alleged influence of Macaulay and Marx was sought to be purged, the present term has not witnessed too many alterations so far in books published and prescribed by the NCERT. Educationists say this is because the education policy has not yet been revealed. The changes in the earlier curricular framework referred constantly to the 1986 policy on education.

Pedagogy has been sought to be influenced in other ways in States ruled by the BJP. Regarding the restructuring of the curriculum, for instance, Rajasthan’s Education Minister said that children should now learn about the “veers” and “veeranganas” (valiant men and women) of Rajasthan. Vasudev Devnani, the Education Minister (Primary & Secondary), also declared that his government was redesigning textbooks to ensure that “no Kanhaiya was born in the State”, referring to the president of the students’ union of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the attempts to “Indianise” school education have been rather overt. The sweeping majority that the BJP has in both States, more so in Rajasthan, has emboldened the governments to look at “educational reforms”. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders have been reduced literally to footnotes in relevant chapters on the Indian national movement and Indian independence in the social science textbooks for sixth, seven and eighth classes.

Also missing is the part of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse. The previous edition brought out by the State Institute of Educational Training and Research contained those references. Educationists in Rajasthan pointed out that only three years ago some changes had been made in textbooks and that the current changes were unnecessary and involved heavy costs as well.

Homogenisation of culture

Rajiv Gupta, former head of the Department of Sociology in the University of Rajasthan, told Frontline that the textbooks which had been published or modified exposed the hidden educational agenda of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The revised books aim at, according to him, “homogenisation of culture”, “negation of medieval Indian history”, increasing the “us versus them” divide, “glorification of the past”, developing in children “parochial orthodox mindset” and, last but not the least, spreading a misinformation campaign. A similar effort was done when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was the Chief Minister, he said, but following opposition, it did not take off. This time, he said, the BJP was proceeding much more aggressively and the framework was an excessive focus on patriotism and religio-cultural nationalism. Not only this, the number of members involved in examining and rewriting the books was cut down drastically to 28 from 51.

Social science textbooks were last evaluated and revised three years ago during the tenure of the previous Congress-led Ashok Gehlot government following complaints of distorted facts and interpretations inserted in them during the earlier BJP regime. The revisions, Gupta said, were under the NCERT guidelines and were undertaken by scholars of repute. The evaluation took place over a period of time, said Gupta, unlike the present changes which were done within a span of two months.

In the earlier version, in chapter one, “India: A general introduction”, India’s location was described in the context of Asia and South Asia with the specific mention of the mountain ranges in Pakistan in the north-western region. The new book, while mentioning mountain ranges like Kirthar, Suleiman and Hindukush, excludes Pakistan from the sentence altogether. Neither is there any reference to other countries of South Asia.

In the same chapter, words have been inserted to denote the entry of foreigners into India. For example, a sentence about people entering India from other lands specifically adds “videshi”, or foreigner, to it.

There is a deliberate attempt to denigrate the period under the Mughal rulers. In chapter 17, the authors write that the majority of the rulers during the Mughal period did not have a national perspective of governance, that they did not treat people of all denominations equally. As an illustration, the authors cite Aurangzeb, who purportedly hated Hindus and Shia Muslims. ( Aurangzeb Hinduon tatha Shia Mussalmano se nafrat karta tha.)

In chapter 15 of the textbook prescribed for Class VII, titled “Vrihattar Bharat”, or Greater India, the authors refer to “Agni Purana” and give the meaning of Indonesia as “Bharat Dweep”. This is a literal translation of the Greek etymological root of the term “Indonesia”. In chapters 17 and 18 of the same textbook, Muslim rulers like Ghaznavi and Khilji have been described as destroyers of temples, while Hindu rulers have been described as “brave” personalities. There are references to Muslim rulers as “foreign” attackers, or “videshi aakramankaari”. And there is a special mention of Aurangzeb’s “temple destroying policy” in the class seven textbook for social science. Whether such an official policy existed as part of historical records is doubtful, but the authors of the social science textbook for class seven definitely believe so. Further, as if to make a distinction between moderate Islam and other kinds, chapter 20 of the textbook describes the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya as one who, despite being a follower of a minority religion, was not a religious and social zealot. ( Ek vishesh dharm ka anuyayi hote huey bhi Auliya mein dhaarmik va samajik kattarta nahin thi.)

Myths also find a place in textbooks. For instance, students of Class VI are exposed to the myths around the Dhruv Tara (Pole Star) and the Sapta Rishi Mandal, the Indianised version of the Pleiades seven-star cluster. “The myths have been presented as facts,” said Rajiv Gupta. There are references also to the Sindhu-Saraswati civilisation as opposed to the Indus Valley civilisation. According to the textbook, the Saraswati river had an important role in Indian civilisation and culture. There is proof, write the authors, of the Vedas having been written on the banks of that river. The search for the elusive Saraswati river, a project that the NDA government remains deeply committed to, continues despite crores of rupees having already been spent on it and on research on the river, as revealed in a Right to Information reply given by the Haryana government. Chapter 10 of the Class VII textbook has insertions about how women were equal to men in ancient India and how in the medieval period, it declined with child marriage, the practice of sati, purdah and the dowry system.

Both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have introduced surya namaskar (a set of postures where, according to Hindu belief, the sun god is propitiated) in the school curriculum. In early January this year, Madhya Pradesh made it compulsory in government schools every Saturday as part of the bal sabha, or children’s assembly. In Rajasthan, even private schools were asked to conduct surya namaskar. The Madhya Pradesh government introduced it in 2007 along with the chanting of mantras and pranayama, but dropped it following resistance.

With the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government firmly in the saddle for the third time in a row, opposition to all this has been muted. While a few organisations representing the minorities objected to the State School Education Minister equating surya namaskar with the posture of the namaz (the prayers offered by Muslims), the protests died down. Sources in the State told Frontline that while not many changes had been introduced in the textbooks, many subtle forms of “Hinduising” the school curriculum and pedagogy were afoot. Bhojan mantras, or prayers to accompany the midday meal, in government schools was a form of silent indoctrination, they said. “Why should it be imposed on students from minority communities?” asked an educationist.

Similarly, there had been an exponential growth in the number of Ekal Vidyalayas run by the RSS, especially in the tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh. A magazine for children, Dev Putra, was sent to every school as a textbook on moral science, said sources, hinting that subtle forms of proselytisation were on. There were attempts to enforce lessons from the Bhagavad Gita, too, in Madhya Pradesh. It was objected to and following court orders, the government refrained from making it compulsory.

At the moment, the attention of the Central government and the Human Resource Development Minister seems to be focussed on institutions of higher education. Many of the policies of the government in the area of higher education have not been viewed favourably by either the teaching or the student community. The demand to roll back the recent University Grants Commission notification on the Academic Performance Indicator (API) system for the promotion of teachers in universities shows the vehement opposition of the teaching community to it.

The new policy on education that is forthcoming gives the BJP an opportunity to tailor education to its perspective. “They will do that in a wholesale manner once the policy comes. The new curricular framework for school education will come once the policy is out. The NCERT will then begin the exercise,” Arjun Dev, former NCERT professor, told Frontline. If the changes in the school curriculum in BJP-ruled States are any indication, then the Central policy for school education is not likely to be very different.