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Education and Hindutva

This view is gaining strength among scholars in the country and abroad that India was the original home of the Aryans. "At Lothal, corpses in pairs have been found buried in graves. This resembles the sati system." "Hindus had accepted Turkish supremacy only under compulsion. They retained their identity even while leading a life of humiliation and insults. The followers of Islam could never establish full cultural harmony in this country, since the basic principle of their religion was monotheism. There was constant mutual struggle between the two cultures. The condition of women was not good. Purdah (veil) system and child marriage became common due to the bad conduct of the Muslim rulers." These excerpts are not taken from grimy pamphlets circulated at street corners, but from history textbooks used in schools in the province of Uttar Predesh after the Rightwing Hindu Chauvinist party the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government took over in 1990. Given the rate at which education is being used to perform their functions of indoctrination and propaganda, pamphlets may soon become redundant.

While the classroom has always been the arena for power struggles between varying versions of the past, control over education and the teaching of history has more significance for the RSS-BJP (RSS or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the main fascist outfit) than any other political-religious group. The ideology of communalism relies heavily upon the presentation of a distorted version of history to legitimise its claims. This falsified, mytholigised history is used as a basis for political mobilisation - a 'model' of the past is used as the basis for future action. This political momentum for the establishment of a Hindu Nation is to be created by the indoctrination of generations of Indians into revivalist and communal perceptions of history and by using these perceptions to explain, defend or define the politics of the RSS and the BJP.

School Network

In this understanding of education as an apparatus of indoctrination, control over education has always been an important priority for the RSS. This is evident from the spread of the network of schools called 'Saraswati Shishu Mandirs', established to promote the ideological, social and political agenda of the RSS. The first Shishu Mandir was established in 1956 in the city of Gorakhpur. Today, Vidya Bharati, the educational wing of the Rightwing RSS-BJP combine image runs 14,000 schools at the nursery, primary and secondary level. Of these, 5000 are recognised by and affiliated to either the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or State Education Boards, most of them in states with BJP governments. It has 1.8 million pupils under its tutelage and employs 80,000 teachers across all states except for Mizoram. It also controls 60 colleges of graduate and postgraduate studies and 25 other institutions of higher learning. With the assumption of political power by the BJP, it has become possible to use state power to promote the Hindutva agenda. The changes made in the textbooks used in state run schools and the 'reforms' proposed by the Vidya Bharati dominated expert group are examples of the blatant presence of the RSS in government-controlled education, as well as in private schools.

Myths as Curriculum

The objective behind all these changes is to promote a version of history that revolves around certain myths. Myths such as the one about the Aryans being the original inhabitants of India (thereby establishing the 'foreignness' of other communities and cultural influences), myths about the existence of a glorious Hindu nation and a pan-Indian identity during the Vedic Age. Barbaric Muslim invaders ostensibly destroyed this utopian nation. "Arabs were barbarians who advanced to convert other people to their religion. Wherever they went, they had a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other. Houses of prayer were destroyed. Mercy and justice were unknown to them. Innumerable Hindus were forcibly made Musalmans on the point of the sword. The struggle for freedom became a religious war. We never allowed foreign rulers to settle down but we could not reconvert our separated brethren to Hinduism." India's freedom struggle thus began 2500 years ago and this national resistance has been ignored in history because of a western conspiracy. India first became 'independent' under Peshwa Madhav Rao, who defeated the Muslim rulers of the area. Through this discourse, various 'facts' are established - that Indianess is synonymous with brahmanical (upper caste) Hinduism and non-Hindu equals non-Indian. The central theme of Hindutva is the myth of a 1000-year struggle between Hindus and Muslims being the structuring principle of history, where both communities are homogenous and inherently antagonistic blocs. History is thus the story of Hindu patriots heroically resisting foreign rule.

This is the story which is being told in schools across the country, through various means. In schools recognised by the state government or the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the apparatus of indoctrination work through extra curricular activities, like 'cultural knowledge discussions' and compulsory recitation of the Bhojan Mantra (Hindu religious prayer) before meals. Students who do not know the prayer are humiliated. The majority of RSS-run schools do not have to comply with the standards of any regulatory body. The core curriculum in these schools is designed to pass off notions of cultural nationalism as facts. Classrooms are suffused with the iconography and rituals of Hindutva, with paintings of Hindu deities and RSS leaders hung in various places. Teachers Day is observed on July 25, the birthday of Ved Vyas, instead of on September 5. Children's Day is observed on Krishna Jayanti. Required readings include lessons on the life of Guru Golwalkar (the founder philosopher of the RSS).

Distorting the Past

All these constructs about the past have a clear contemporary thrust. The UP textbooks were changed to read "Babur's local governor Mir Baqi got a mosque built on the site of a demolished temple in Ayodhya. Although this structure is disputed, even then the Hindu people consider this itself to be a temple." These changes were made in UP textbooks image in the context of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, a sister organisation of the RSS) mobilisation over the Ram-Temple issue. Questions for the cultural knowledge exam in RSS schools included the following - "How many Hindus were killed by Mulayam Singh (ex-prime minister of UP) during the attempt to liberate the Babri Mosque?" "Why is November 2, 1990 a black day?" Answer: "Because an attempt by kar sewaks (members of the RSS) to liberate the mosque was repulsed by the police." More recently, writings of RSS ideologues like Prof. Rajendra Singh and KC Sudarshan have been included in a collection of essays for class nine students. While the authors emphasise the virtues of ancient India, they also promote contemporary BJP leaders. After the May nuclear explosions, textbooks in the province of Rajasthan have been revised to justify the blasts and list the benefits that have allegedly resulted from them. The single most important message given to the youth is that Hindus have had a glorious past, yet their present situation is pathetic. They are thus made to feel intensely the need to shun impotence and weakness, as was evident during the Ram-Temple mobilisation. The mosque was presented as a symbol of historic wrongs, and by destroying it Hindus could re-establish their pride and hegemony.

Other devices used by RSS run schools include monthly visits by teachers to parents and mailing the RSS publications to them. Particular emphasis is being given to expanding these activities in underdeveloped tribal regions, primarily to counter the 'corrupting' influence of Christian missionaries. The aim behind all these apparatus of indoctrination is to mould cadres for the future and develop organic links with adjoining communities.

Lack of Monitoring

Certain important facts emerge from this discussion. Firstly, the ease with which the RSS has subverted the education system demonstrates the failure of the secular textbook monitoring agencies in dealing with the threat of communalism. The National Council of Educational Research and Teaching (NCERT) pleads helplessness even as their texts are 'adapted' to meet the needs of the RSS. The major recommendation of the Bipan Chandra Committee which examined all history being taught in the country in 1992 was that only textbooks prescribed by specially constituted committees be taught in schools has not been implemented. According to Dr. Krishna Kumar, it is the hesitation of the secular and objective texts to engage with the conflicts present in society that make children more susceptible to the 'rival perception' of history as a struggle between religious groups.

Secondly, it raises the question of whether communal organisations in the garb of religious-cultural bodies should be allowed to run schools, with or without funding from the state. Thirdly, it has been argued that the political misappropriation of symbolism and mythology of will aggravate the educational backwardness of the minorities, particularly Muslims. According to Swami Agnivesh, "When state-imposed worship of Saraswati combines with the Islamic clergy's predilection for knee-jerk reaction (the call to withdraw Muslim children from state-run schools), the result can only be to further illiteracy amongst Muslims in the state."

Finally, an interesting trend which has emerged is the tendency to peg the arguments of the RSS-BJP to liberal ideas or concepts, which at a superficial level may seem to make their actions prompted by genuine, non-communal concerns. This is evident in the claim that Murli Manohar Joshi (the Minister of Human Resources in the present federal government) is only trying to Indianise an education system dominated for too long by Macaulay's (The Britisher who introduced the english education system in India before independence) ideas. "The RSS is irrelevant to this debate", said Tavleen Singh. "The real question is why the Indian education system has been allowed to remain unchanged for 50 years." Murli Manohar Joshi himself defended his action by saying, "If somebody says teach something Indian, he is immediately called communal." This discourse ties up the concept of 'Indian implying Hindu' with ideas like educational reform, which liberals are not comfortable arguing with. In the process, the distinction between 'Indianising, spiritualising, nationalising' and communalising education gets blurred, which is exactly the way the RSS wants it.

- Taran N Khan


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Last updated: October 30, 2000 .