Hindu Rashtra


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[Source: THE HINDU, Tuesday, November 24, 1998, SECTION: Opinion]

Hindu Rashtra or secular state?

By Tanika Sarkar

THE recent Education Ministers conference proved a stormy
affair, confronted with a draft which recommended the
Indianisation, nationalisation and spiritualisation of
education. The most contentious items were - Sanskrit and the
Vedas-Upanishads as compulsory readings from the primary
stage; obligatory moral instruction and ``home-keeping''
courses for girls. Another proposal - less noticed but equally
significant - is that teachers should have regular orientation
courses on Indianisation. Since the author of the draft is an
important member of several RSS organisations, it is clear who
will teach the teachers and on what lines.

RSS schools do conduct such training camps and their
compulsory courses in Bharatiya Sanskriti provide models for
the other suggestions. RSS shakhas and schools have evidently
laid down the pattern for the proposed education policy. Were
the suggestions to be taken seriously - as they already are in
the BJP-run States - we will have the nucleus of the Hindu
Rashtra that the RSS has promised to usher in, as a substitute
for a secular state order.

The HRD Minister has also insisted that Saraswati Vandana be
compulsorily sung at government functions, and that if State
Education Ministers object, they should forfeit the right to
their office. In Uttar Pradesh, the hymn has been made
compulsory at all State-funded schools in contravention of
Article 28 of the Constitution. Muslim children have been
forced to sing it, and have, moreover, been humiliated for not
singing it right.

There are those who argue that since Hindus constitute the
majority community, their religious idiom ought to provide the
binding cultural cement for a variegated people. And that
essence should be reflected in State education policies. They
also insist that since Hindus are uniquely tolerant, the
minorities have nothing to fear from a takeover of public
spaces and official occasions by Hindu rituals, nor should
they feel insecure if the nation is designated as Hindu.
Saraswati Vandanas and Vedas are, in any case, beautiful and
profound, and all ``pseudo- secularists'' who object to their
use by the state are anti- Hindu.

It is, however, obvious that religious texts lose their
``innocence'' when they are used for coercive and
discriminatory purposes, as the example of the Muslim students
has indicated. Since it is the Sangh Parivar which proposes to
Hinduise education, it is irrelevant to refer only to the
original, literal meaning of the texts and the hymns, and not
to the inclination and activities of the people who will
enforce and shape their use. Whether Hindus are tolerant or
not is not the point here: no one can deny the Sangh Parivar's
record of violent intolerance.

But much more is at issue: secularism, democracy and
citizenship rights. In a multicultural democracy, the state
and its associated offices and occasions have to be
scrupulously non- denominational, not identified with any
particular community to the exclusion of others. That is a
very specific proposal that has nothing to do with the
banishing of religion from social or public life. For, if the
state affirms its affiliation to a particular denomination,
the citizens belonging to other faiths or to no faith, would
be relegated to a secondary status, and located at a greater
distance from the state, upon which their claims would become
correspondingly weaker. Again, in a democracy, toleration
cannot be a substitute for equal citizenship status.
Toleration implies a relationship of power, where some
tolerate others who are dependent, on sufferance. In a
democracy, on the other hand, citizenship is a matter of
right, irrespective of what section the citizen belongs to.

If the nation designates itself as Hindu and the state
acknowledges it in its official sphere, then non-Hindus will
at best be tolerated as minorities, not as equal citizens.
Which is why, Article 28 laid down that in government-funded
schools, financed entirely by the state, there would not be
religious ritual or instruction. In a multi-cultural society
like India, not all the myriad religious systems can be taught
equally, and to leave out any would indicate to school
children that some religious communities are more important
than others. In aided or recognised schools, on the other
hand, the Constitution permits such instruction, but not on a
compulsory basis. Secularists do not oppose this, and, indeed,
RSS schools do compulsorily provide Hindu religious

Does this exclusion of religious instruction or ritual from
state schools constitute an offence against Hinduism? To
believe so is to believe that Hinduism cannot survive unless
the state props it up. And, if it is an offence against
Saraswati that a hymn to Her does not inaugurate a state
function, do we not, by the same logic, insult every other
faith, and the philosophy of unbelief, by not including them
in state-sponsored events?

There are wider contexts behind these suggestions for
education. The BJP has introduced sweeping purges in all
Centrally- funded research institutes: Indian Council of
Historical Research, Indian Council of Social Science
Research, Indian Council of Philosophical Research and Indian
Institute of Advanced Studies. Breaking most institutional
norms and rules, these bodies have been cleansed of subject
experts and renowned scholars, and packed with men
distinguished by RSS sympathies.

Change in personnel goes hand in hand with a methodical
doctoring of facts in school textbooks designed for the BJP
States. They pour unverified charges against Muslim rulers,
stridently catalogue alleged wrongs perpetrated on Hindu kings
and gods, abuse the BJP's adversaries like Mr. Mulayam Singh
Yadav by name and insert RSS heroes as great freedom fighters.

What are these changes in aid of? The RSS professes the notion
of Hindu Rashtra - that India belongs to Hindus alone. That
notion depends upon a relentless hatred against all those who
think otherwise. It has led to many bloody pogroms against
Muslims and, more recently, to gross violence against and
abuse of Christians. Universally-respected secular
educationists have faced intimidation and threats for opposing
the RSS politics or policies.

Apart from coercion, formidable hegemonic devices have been
perfected over the last 73 years, precisely to teach these
values. The RSS shakhas started functioning in 1925. Every
day, they have `boudhik' sessions that train members in
imagined ``histories'' of outrage against Hindus. A
documentary on shakhas for infants depicts a favourite game
that enacts the ``reconquest'' of Kashmir through battles. We
were proudly told by the headmaster of an RSS-run school in
Delhi that he held forth on the Babri mosque saga at the
assembly everyday: five- year-olds would clench their fists in
fury and swear vengeance under the influence of his oratory.
Night schools and sanskar kendras take these messages beyond
regular schooltime. The RSS itself is acknowledged to be the
classroom for all its affiliates and sub-affiliates: BJP, VHP,
Bajrang Dal and hand- picked cadres, trained in daily shakhas
over years, come to these fronts to teach RSS values and
intentions. Pedagogy is an essential tool for the Sangh

A lot of our intellectuals dismiss the massive interventionism
of the Sangh in education as a mere diversion from real issues
and problems that have resulted from the all-too-obvious
failures of BJP governance. This is perfectly true, but it
overlooks the real strength of their educational plan. For
issues and problems will become operationally ``real'' only
when they are widely recognised to be vital concerns, while
non-issues also need to be interpreted as secondary or
marginal. And that does not happen instinctively,
automatically, but only through long and systematic training,
through education. For decades now, the RSS has been imparting
an education that confuses perceptions of the real and the
contrived. It has taught that patriotism is vengeance, that
the nation is Hindu, that struggles for human rights and
equality and social justice are alien to our culture, they are
divisive and they are the fruits of Macaulay's poison tree. In
the BJP-run States, school textbooks have sections glorifying
the Pokhran tests. The RSS has insisted that we only look for
knowledge that is home-grown, however offensive or
exploitative that might be to Dalits, to women, to democracy.

As important as what it teaches is what it silences and
renders non-issue. It suppresses knowledge about what lies
behind Indian poverty, it displaces discussions on what is
welfare and social justice and how to attain them. The new
educational suggestions and policy guidelines are essential to
achieve a confusion of priorities on a nationwide scale.

A regimentation of knowledge and a suppression of critical
enquiry have proceeded for a long time through specifically
RSS agencies. This will continue unabated even if their
drastic misgovernance temporarily robs the BJP of state power.
Any effective ideological challenge to the Sangh Parivar must
confront the fascisisation of society and not just the
fascisisation of the state.

(The writer specialises in modern Indian history at St.
Stephen's College, New Delhi.)

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Last updated: February 23, 2000 .