Overall, the changes proposed in the country's education system are in tune with the concept of nationalism and culture that sectarian nationalists want to impose on the country, writes Dr Ram Puniyani for South Asia Monitor
In the name of rationalization of curriculum, many topics have been removed from the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) syllabus (April 2022) in India. From the 10th standard syllabus the topics excluded are democracy and diversity, rise of Afro-Asiatic Islamic states, history of Mughal Courts, the non-aligned movement, impact of globalization on agriculture, popular struggle movements, poems of Faiz in the section of communalism, and challenges to democracy.
The All India Democratic Students Organization has launched a signature campaign against it. As such when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comes to power, one of its major goals is to modify and change the education policy and curriculum to tune it to its version of sectarian nationalism. Its focus is on faith-based knowledge away from scientific temper and rational approach to social and historical issues.
One recalls when the BJP-led NDA came to power in 1998, Dr. M.M. Joshi was the education minister. He changed the history books to introduce a communal angle to historical events. Accompanying this was the introduction of 'paurohitya' (priestcraft) and 'karmakand' (religious rituals). In contrast to scientific astronomy, astrology started being taught. There was an interesting paradox.
Astrology vs science
In astrology, Saturn is the trouble maker while in astronomy Saturn was taught as a planet of the Sun. In opposition to the biological understanding that the sex of the child is determined by the X or Y chromosome coming from the father, the Putrakameshti Yagna (ritual to get male child) was being taught as the method for getting the much sought-after son.
The pattern continues. The RSS has already formed Shiksha Sanskriti Uthan Nayas, an RSS affiliate, to campaign to influence the education ministry. It has been pressurizing NCERT for the removal of English, Urdu and Arabic words, 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, an apology tendered by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the 1984 riots; and a sentence that “nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002”. (25th July 2017) As such these recent recommendations to NCERT are a continuation of the same agenda which is working for its goal of Hindu 'Rashtra' (nation).
It had also been putting pressure to undertake 'Bharatiyakaran' (Indianisation) of education. Under its pressure many publishers have buckled. The major example is Penguin pulping the book ‘The Hindus’ by Wendy Doniger. This was an academic work that looked at various aspects of Hindus, particularly the plight of women and Dalits. One RSS leader Dinanath Batra has been very active in this area and has produced a number of books for school children. In Gujarat, 42,000 schools introduced his books after their translation to Gujarati.
The pattern of the curriculum presented in these books spells things like Qutub Minar - the 13th-century minaret built by Muslim rulers - was a Hindu monument, called Vishnu Stambh, built by Hindu emperor Samudra Gupta. These books totally bypass the syncretic traditions and present the kingdoms through the eyes of the king’s religion. The focus is to present the view that foreign Muslim rulers were doing atrocities on native Hindus.
It is through this lens that kings of the Mughal dynasty are presented. Now in the new scheme of things the Mughal courts and their pattern will be totally eliminated. Even the much-maligned Mughal period the Mughal kings had Hindu associates (Akbar+Mansingh, Aurangzeb+Raja Jaising) to give just a small sample.
In these books, Muhammad Ghazni and Ghori are the key villains. Ghazni had many Hindu generals (Tilak, Sondhi,Harzan, Rai and Hind) in his army. Shivaji and Rana Pratap are presented as the main heroes. Incidentally, Shivaji’s confidential secretary was Maulana Haiser Ali and Rana Pratap had Hakim Khan Sur as one of his generals.
The disturbing changes brought by BJP are an attempt to construct a history to suit its narrative of Hindu nationalism. Mahatma Gandhi (Hind Swaraj) and Jawaharlal Nehru (Discovery of India) gave the history of India, which was inclusive and reflected the emerging national movement and underlying concept of Indian nationalism.
The changes brought in by the BJP in education were called "saffronization" by its critics. Initially, the BJP and company responded to this criticism by ignoring the phrase. Later they aggressively said that the syllabus needs to be "saffronized". Even present Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu asserted that the syllabus needs to be saffronized.
The current changes which are seeing are in tune with the political requirements of RSS combine. Mughal court was an example of Hindu-Muslim unity, so it can’t have a place in the BJP scheme of things. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who was a democrat and secular and was also nominated for Nobel Prize for Literature, is an icon for literature for progressive democratic values. Having a poet with a Pakistani identity will surely be a 'big no' for the present ruling dispensation.
Currently one of the aims of the government is to undermine the first prime minister of India, the architect of modern India, one who stood tall for his commitment to democratic and secular values, Jawaharlal Nehru. His major contribution to the global scene was to evolve and work for the non-aligned movement. This movement gave a new direction to global alignments. It also helped India to develop taking advantage of the collaboration of different camps in the world despite the Cold War. But the chapter on the Cold War era and non-alignment have been kept out of the syllabus.
The present ruling party and its ideology want to push the country towards an authoritarian sectarian state, where democracy has no role, so that chapters on pluralism and diversity are out. India’s pluralism and diversity have a major role to play in the culture and strength of India. India’s freedom movement and the Indian Constitution respect our diversity. But uniformity in language, religious traditions and other cultural aspects is what is being aimed at.
Overall the changes proposed in the country's education system are in tune with the concept of nationalism and culture that sectarian nationalists want to impose on the country. These need to be opposed and ensure that our syllabi are in tune with rationalism, scientific temper of pluralism of India.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)