Education

Saffron scissors tears into CBSE syllabi

Print edition : August 14, 2020

Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, who tweeted that the exclusions from the CBSE textbooks of Classes 9-12 were “a one-time measure for exams owing to the COVID-19 pandemic”. Photo: PTI

Educationists see a Hindutva hand in the Central Board of Secondary Education’s decision to selectively reduce the syllabi for Classes 9 to 12 this year citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

In view of the “burden” on students amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has selectively removed portions from the textbooks of Classes 9 to 12, effecting a 30 per cent reduction in as many as 190 subjects for the academic year 2020-21.

Academics feel that the portions removed suggest that this seemingly innocuous exercise is, in fact, a continuation of the Sangh Parivar’s machination to control the metanarrative on nationalism and inculcate a Hindu majoritarian world view among students.

Deletions

Chapters on federalism, citizenship, nationalism and secularism have been “completely deleted” from the Class 11 Political Science syllabus. Portions pertaining to business ethics, the Planning Commission and Five-Year Plans, demonetisation, goods and services tax (GST) and consumer protection have been removed from Business Studies. Chapters on Indian democracy, social structure, stratification and social processes have been removed from Sociology. Entire chapters on early societies, nomadic cultures and confrontation of cultures have been removed from World History. Portions about peasants, zamindars and the state and understanding Partition have been axed from Indian History. Issues pertaining to gender, caste and socialmovements have also been removed.

“As a scholar of movements, it pains me to see that chapters on social movements and regionalism have been completely removed from the CBSE textbooks,” Dr Gaurav J. Pathania, Adjunct Sociology Professor, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., told Frontline. He added: “Social movements change the course of history by questioning the authorities (we have seen the JP movement, anti-Emergency movements, anti-corruption movement, anti-rape agitations) and if we don’t tell the story of a movement then we will end up misunderstanding the root cause of our historical problems. My own research on regional movements highlights that the separate Telangana movement has unfolded many historical realities that were not known to the masses. Movements produce new knowledge, literature, leaders, music, arts that challenge the existing belief system. Omitting historical facts or banning literature sets us on a dangerous path that cannot lead to scientific knowledge production.”

Comparing the CBSE case to the California textbook controversy where a section of Hindu fundamentalist scholars had removed the word “caste” from South Asian history, Dr Pathania said that in reality, Hindu life could not be imagined without caste.

In a statement, the All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) said:“The democratic theory of the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers of the state, and the federal structure of the Indian state, strengthened by institutionalisation of local self-governance, is unacceptable to the RSS[Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh]-BJP which believes in complete centralisation and concentration of power in a Supreme Leader—an idea that the RSS, drawing inspiration from Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, has propagated since the early 1930s. In opposition to the Constitution, their goal is ‘One leader, one nation, one state’.”

RSS and education

Education has always been a priority area of intervention for the RSS which runs organisations such as the Seva Bharati, the Saraswati Shishu Mandir and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. While its network of schools under the Vidya Bharati are affiliated to the CBSE and follow the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) syllabus, they continue to teach a version of history that blames the Mughals for internal issues, vilifies Indian Christians as colonialists, stereotypes Muslims, hero-worships RSS ideologues and imparts Sanskritic and Vedic moral education. While it might be too soon for the BJP to replicate this model of education in other CBSE schools, teachers feel that the slow corrosion of secular principles by changes in the syllabi is a steady move in that direction.

Echoing this sentiment, the AIFRTE said: “The deletions in the syllabus are aimed at clearing the ground for advocating the Hindutva concept of the Hindu Rashtra for which the present regime is aggressively working. If this concept of a Hindu supremacy, veneration of the state and unchallenged adulation and obedience to a supreme leader is to be successfully promoted then it is essential that the Indian people and in particular the children and youth be indoctrinated in a narrative that is completely different from the actual experience and history of the people’s struggles that have contributed to the making of contemporary Indian nationhood and citizenship.”

Professor Kumkum Roy, who teaches history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Frontline: “I think what we are witnessing in terms of the suggested deletions/omissions is far more wide-ranging than what we have seen in earlier instances/decades. While saffronisation would suggest an emphasis on a communal agenda, ignoring the diverse religious traditions as well as secular and agnostic traditions that have been part of our heritage, it probably does not capture the logic behind the other omissions that have been suggested—including themes like evolution, environment, ecology, citizenship, nationalism, federalism, issues of gender and caste, mathematical reasoning, and popular movements. The attempt seems to be to discourage or marginalise an engagement with a range of crucial themes, across disciplines, that provide an opportunity for critical thinking. Also, once certain themes/ topics are identified as unimportant, it is extremely difficult to reinstate them within syllabi, as teachers/ examiners/ parents and learners are encouraged to concentrate on whatever would be identified as more immediately relevant in terms of examination and evaluation.”

Not just in social sciences, certain key chapters on mathematical reasoning also faced the syllabus cut, leading to apprehensions that it might affect entrance examinations such as the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET).

Another major area of study to be removed was Environment and Natural Resources. Food security, reproduction, conservation and judicious use of natural resources, forest and wildlife, coal and petroleum conservation, examples of people’s participation for conservation of natural resources, big dams and their advantages and limitations, water harvesting, and sustainability of natural resources have all been axed.

Online petition

An online petition signed by over 800 students, teachers and concerned citizens was sent to the Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister. It reasoned that “avoiding formal and academic engagement” with the deleted issues would mean “depriving future young citizens of the resources to develop critical thinking and a scientific temper, the basic equipment required for citizens in a rapidly changing world. We urge that these themes be restored immediately, and, if required, certain details/ examples be pruned from chapters, after due consultation with the teams that had developed these syllabi and curricula. Hasty and arbitrary actions are best avoided, for these will have serious long-term repercussions.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Shocked to know that the Central Govt has dropped topics like Citizenship, Federalism, Secularism &Partition in the name of reducing CBSE course during #COVIDCrisis.”

Dr Pathania said: “The ruling government’s agenda is to present history through their lens. In the time of globalisation and digital archives, it is not possible to hide history from the present generation. If the government is removing these chapters to ease the course load for students, then it should promise that in a post-corona world, these chapters should be added back to the textbook.”

CBSE clarifies

Facing a backlash from several quarters, the CBSE issued a statement on July 17, clarifying its decision. The HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank tweeted: “There has been a lot of uninformed commentary on the exclusion of some topics from #CBSESyllabus. The problem with these comments is that they resort to sensationalism by connecting topics selectively to portray a false narrative.”

He said, “The exclusions are merely a one-time measure for exams, due to the #COVID19 pandemic. The only aim is to relax the stress on students by reducing the syllabus by 30 per cent. This exercise has been carried out following the advice and recommendations of various experts and considering the suggestions received from educationists through our #SyllabusForStudents2020 campaign.”

CBSE Secretary Anurag Tripathi reiterated that the topics mentioned as dropped were either being covered by the rationalised syllabus or in the Alternative Academic Calendar of the NCERT.

Appealing to detractors “to leave politics out of education”, the HRD Minister added that schools were welcome to use these themes for internal assessment in case they had already taught them. Professor Kumkum Roy, who mooted the online petition, said that this was not viable “because the academic session has just begun, and most schools have probably not reached these chapters. Secondly most schools choose themes for internal assessment that are considered ‘relevant’ for examinations. Therefore, it is unlikely that these themes will receive serious attention.”

Terming the Minister’s claim that 1,500 suggestions had been sought for the “rationalisation” of the syllabus from educationists as “surprising”, the AIFRTE pointed out that the entire process had remained impervious to sharp public critique by educationists, activists and political leaders and groups. It said, “Their diverse and well-informed opinions were obviously not regarded as being worthwhile enough to be taken into account. The pattern of the exclusions makes it only too evident why this has been the case. India’s national movement, the struggle against colonial oppression, the tragedy of Partition, not only of the Punjab and Bengal but also of Assam and the other States of the North-East which still continue to resonate in popular consciousness, have been ignored possibly because of the ideological bias of the present regime towards a unitarian Akhand Bharat.”

Tampering with and saffronising education have been recurrent charges against the BJP regime since 2014. The lockdown has not altered that perception. On the contrary, the BJP is using the lockdown to further its agenda, said Professor Madhu Prasad, who formerly taught at the Department of Philosophy in Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University, and is a presidium member of the AIFRTE. “This is a typical fascist way of functioning. You make life so difficult for people that they start to think that it is enough for them to simply survive.” She said that the current controversy was far more sinister than saffronisation of education: “It is an attempt to create a whole new narrative and making the structure of our state fascist by changing the principles on which it is based. It is a far bigger attack than just saffronisation.”

On June 24, the government handed over to the World Bank the job of designing the structure, training and governance of the entire system of school education from early childhood care and education (ECCE) to Class XII. According to the AIFRTE, this was done “to facilitate its conversion into a privatised, commercialised and corporatised system instead of strengthening it as a free and compulsory system of public education as required by the Constitution”.

Dinanath Batra, a former general secretary of the Vidya Bharati who heads the RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, recently sought the removal from NCERT textbooks a poem by the revolutionary poet Pash; a couplet by Mirza Ghalib; the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore; extracts from painter M.F. Husain’s autobiography; references to the Mughal emperors as benevolent, to the BJP as a “Hindu” party, to the National Conference as “secular”, to an apology tendered by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the 1984 riots; and a sentence that said “nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002”. In a five-page note sent to the NCERT, the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas objected to a paragraph that stated that the Ram temple movement was “linked with the growth of BJP and politics of Hindutva” and the sentence “Babri mosque was built by Mir Baqi… Some Hindus believe that it was built at the birthplace of Ram by destroying a Ram temple.” The Nyas wants Hindi textbooks to mention that the medieval Sufi mystic Amir Khusrau “increased the rift between Hindus and Muslims”.

Earlier, Batra had campaigned for the removal of A.K. Ramanujan’s essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” from Delhi University’s undergraduate syllabus and gone to court for the withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History.

As the AIFRTE concludes: “To make us ‘unlearn’ our actual contemporary history and to accept an alternative that runs counter to it—that is the agenda behind the GOI’s manoeuvres to indoctrinate through the education system, and to utilise the COVID-19 crisis to consolidate its political programme of communalising Indian society and the state, and of homogenising a richly plural and diverse population which, on gaining independence from British colonialism, committed itself to becoming a modern democratic republic and not an authoritarian theological Hindu Rashtra.”

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