Since the victory of Narendra Modi-led BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, liberals have been fear-mongering about the saffronisation of education by the new government. Their fears are indeed coming true, if one goes by the Union HRD minister Smriti Irani’s mandate of including the relevant parts of the Upanishads and the Vedas in the school text books, especially for the students of classes 8, 9 and 10. Should a parent of these students be worried about the syllabus change? Or should she simply ignore it?
Modern education in India can be traced back to English Education Act of 1835 which was shepherded by Macaulay. It withdrew all state support from the existing forms of schooling like the madrassas and the gurukuls. As emphasised in his report presented to the British Parliament, Macaulay did not rate the traditional education imparted in India highly. Thus began the anglicisation of education in India. This continued in post-independence India, buttressed by the left-liberal Nehruvian intellectuals who were the darlings of the Congress party.
When the NDA government first came to power, it tried to correct this imbalance. The deeply entrenched Left-Liberal intelligentsia took offence to it, and as soon as the Congress returned to power, the changes brought about by the NDA government were promptly undone.
Why does the BJP want to change the syllabus every time it is in power?
The origins of this lie in Deccan Education Society founded by Lokmanya Tilak in Pune in 1884. Tilak wanted the children to be educated with special emphasis on “Indian Culture” which invoked India’s glorious past. For Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh and the Extremist faction of the Congress party, India was a developed society before it was first invaded by the Islamic rulers and then by the Britishers. They believed that the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita were relevant not only to know the past but also to find solutions to the contemporary problems. They wrote extensively about the Vedas and the Bhagvad Gita, thereby being known as Hindu revivalists. They considered “getting back to the Vedas” as the only way of reviving the Hindu society. Led by Tilak and Aurobindo, the extremists were the first nationalists in India. They argued that only way to unite this fragmented society was to spread the message of India’s glorious past and involve the masses in reclaiming that lost glory.
By including the ancient texts in the school curricula, BJP wants to imbibe these forgotten values of the freedom movement and continue with the agenda of Tilak and Aurobindo. This also fits in with the concept of nationalism, as understood and propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Nationalism, which lies at the core of the RSS, can only grow if it included in school education. This nationalism is not merely about pride or patriotism.
Nationalism, as per this view, also lies at the centre of development. No one less than Amiya Kumar Bagchi has cogently argued that without a feeling of nationalism, no country can develop; because the process of development requires a lot of sacrifices by the people which can be endured only if the feeling of a nation exists.
It is this concept of nationalism which lies at the heart of all the actions by the new BJP government. It is reflected in the Universal Civil Code, the removal of Article 370 or the use of Hindi by the prime minister while conversing with foreign dignitaries.
Contrary to the belief that the RSS world view reinforces outmoded Hindu values, this proposed change in syllabus actually demolishes the traditional caste divisions. According to Manu, learning the Vedas is the privileged right only of a Brahmin: but if the Vedas are included in the school syllabus, they will be taught across castes. Demolishing caste divides ought to be the purpose of any modern education system in India today.
The fears of parents from other religions, Islam or Christianity, about their wards being coerced into studying Hindu scriptures though are not unfounded. But the Indian Constitution already provides religious minorities enough safeguards under Art. 30(1) by giving them a fundamental right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
The liberals will instinctively label this as a fascist policy. They however forget that fascism never gives you an option. In India, there are many curriculums available to a student. If you do not approve of the central government’s curriculum, you can shift your child to the other education board. After all, history and the economics taught in the West Bengal State Board is still under Marxist and Keynesian influence respectively. But since Marxism is misunderstood to be a sign of “intellectualism”, not many have had a problem with it.
Each state, indeed region of India, is rich in its own history, the rulers that reigned there, brave soldiers, great musicians, sculptors and the like. The question is do we look at a common history that ignores these contributions. For example The Northeastern states have a history textbooks which bring out the history of the Hindi belt and ignores their history including their struggle for independence, How many of us have heard names other freedom fighters from north east other than Rani Gaidinliu? Addition of Ancient Hindu texts will just add to these woes and cut off the children further more from their roots.
Preserving the regional and the local History and disseminating it cannot be fulfilled by the centre especially in a diverse country like India. The state government and the local level communities would have to work towards it. So, we must not be overly worried about the new government’s initiatives on the education front. If our education promotes nationalism and moves us closer to attaining development, we must welcome it whole-heartedly. There are enough institutional safeguards available in the system to keep the BJP government in check, if it goes overboard.
Let us stay vigilant but let us not close our hearts and minds to reforming education. Let a thousand flowers bloom...