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/ Education / Perspectives on Education /

The Saffron Agenda in Education
An exposé

 

This small effort owes much to friends who have been engaged in trying to document what has been going on in the field of education and culture in the years that the BJP-led government has been in power at the centre. An attempt has been made to give facts and information that can be shared for campaign purposes. The idea is to call the spade a spade rather than get into the niceties of academic discourse.Some of the material on the subject has appeared before in my booklet entitled ‘Assault on Education and Educational Institutions’ published by the CPI (M) in September 1999. Some of it that is basic to the subject is incorporated here in some form, but not entirely, in order to avoid repetition. This essay concentrates on developments since the last documentation mentioned above. Quotations from the school texts are also therefore not repeated. Issues on archaeology and many other specialized themes related to history are dealt with in detail in the works of secular historians so detested by the Sangh Parivar. Some work on school texts in the BJP ruled states has also been done by Janwadi Lekhak Sangh (Rajasthan) and Shahid Siddiqi of Lucknow, and these are available as separate booklets in Hindi. Frontline magazine has carried articles on all these developments and the Democratic Teachers Front has from time to time brought out pamphlets on these and related issues. People’s Democracy, CPI (M) weekly, SACW dispatches and the Akhbar site on Internet have carried extensive discussions on communalism and education. Vijendra Sharma has written on many aspects of the BJP’s education policy, not covered in this booklet as the focus is on saffronisation rather than privatization. But there is no doubt that the twin prongs of BJP policy on education are inextricably linked through withdrawal of the state from responsibility for education while pushing hard in determining its content.

This essay was originally written for a SAHMAT publication.

 

 

A good three years into BJP 'rule' it is now clear that it is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that dictates the policies of the BJP-led NDA government in India. Nowhere is this more transparent than in the field of education and culture. Ever since the October 1998 Education Ministers' Conference, called by Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi, the BJP Education Minister, to publicly announce the agenda of "Indianisation, Nationalisation, Spiritualisation", the BJP has been relentlessly and continuously pushing through the RSS agenda. Interestingly, the BJP does not care to deny this, though its supporters and well-wishers continue to argue to the contrary.

As stated in RSS documents, the BJP is one of the most important fronts formed by the RSS; formed, besides, with the very purpose of enabling RSS members to participate in national politics through the formal electoral channel and parliamentary system. The senior Ministers of the BJP in the government are self declared RSS members who owe their first allegiance to the RSS and its ideology, and it is well known that the Prime Minister himself, apart from Murli Manohar Joshi, the Education Minister, and the Home Minister, KL Advani, are the main ideologues of the RSS in the BJP. Through them issues of education, culture, academic freedom, and minority rights get transformed into matters of nationalism and national security.

In that sense it is impossible to conceive of the NDA government policies as independent of the RSS, particularly in the context of the failure of the NDA partners to take an effective independent stand on these matters, even though some of them may not agree with the idea of a Hindu Rashtra. 

The RSS agenda on education and culture is not new. Communal historiography is older than the Indian state, and the Vidya Bharti schools have been around throughout the Nehruvian era of politics, growing even while the RSS was banned.

Yet it is important to see that the BJP government in power has given a big fillip to the RSS and its affiliated organisations. The RSS control over the organisational and institutional network of cultural and educational bodies has increased tremendously in the last two or three years. The government resources at the command of the RSS are significant injects into the programme of Hindutva, and the Indian state and capital are more fiercely and openly in the service of RSS politics than ever before.

The pattern of government funding is inextricably linked with changes in the content of education to prioritise the implementation of the right wing, sectarian agenda for the country and to achieve the twin goals of communalised consciousness and demobilisation of people from democratic politics.

No area of education or culture has remained free from the RSS' s assault on education and culture, and in effect this is the real meaning of having a BJP led NDA government at the Centre.

BJP rule has resulted in a visible erosion of the credibility of many well known educational and cultural institutions. This government has actively suppressed the freedom of expression, trampled on the democratic and fundamental rights of the minorities and secular minded people, and transformed in a big way the content of school education in the BJP ruled states. It is doing the same for education outside the government school system. School textbooks have been rewritten in the states ruled by the BJP, to suit their long-term design of undermining the secular state and the pluralistic traditions of our country. These books define the nation as all right wing political tendencies do, i.e., in exclusivist terms.

The so-called National Curriculum framework put out by the government through the NCERT, is designed to serve the same sectarian ends. It is being implemented without discussion and without approval of those concerned in the NCERT, and without the approval of the state governments, a necessary requirement for any significant changes in the national education policy. The umbilical links between the RSS and the BJP government's educational policy are nowhere more clearly brought out than in the pronouncements of the education secretary, a BJP appointee to the post, who routinely commits himself in writing to RSS positions on education and culture even in government brought out journals and documents. Hinduism is superior and all the problems that India faces today derive from people connected with “religions of the book”. He writes it in the very first issue of the Journal of Value Education brought out by the Department of Education to argue for compulsory value education in schools!

The BJP is a government in a hurry, and anxious to prove its credentials to the RSS. Its primary accountability is to the RSS and not to the Indian people. It is going full steam ahead in its attempt to Hinduise the educational system, and to live up to the fascist projection of liberal and leftist influences as corruptive and anti national, that must be rooted out of the educational system. 

An idea of how this is being achieved is clear from the changed complexion of academic and cultural institutions and various committees and bodies since the BJP government took charge, and from the visible shift in priorities of these institutions with the new people at their helm. The changes have been carried out predictably in the name of nationalist goals, weeding out of corruption and restoring 'balance' in bodies presumably 'dominated' by 'leftists' in the past.

Since the BJP took over the government, value education, moral science, patriotism and nationalism have become synonymous with Hindutva in the government vocabulary. In cultural festivals funded by the government, the BJP Ministers are actively and directly associated in promoting the identity of Indian culture with brahmanical myths. Chauvinism and parochialism are propagated by the UGC Chairman himself in the name of pride in the nation's scientific achievements of Ancient Hindu India. RSS linked archaeologists have become virtual kar sevaks.

The 20, 000 Vidya Bharti schools and shishu mandirs-- where inculcation of hatred against the minorities is a matter of declared policy, and textbooks defiantly poison young minds, daring the state to censor them if it could-- today receive not merely approval but state patronage, and their network has significantly expanded in spread since the BJP formed the government at the Centre.

It s a matter of real concern that today there are about ten state governments controlled by the Congress, two by the Left Front, one by the national Conference, one by the Akali Dal, and one by the TDP--all of which are firmly opposed to the communalisation of education. Over fifteen to sixteen state governments are functioning in a system where higher education is a concurrent subject and school education the responsibility of the state governments. It is these governments that reflect the nation's views on education, and the RSS’ s sectarian Hindu rashtra ideology should find no place in the educational system.

There is a need to make this assertion strongly today, and to reverse the policies of the BJP government in education.

1.
RSS Takeover of Institutions

The RSS success in the field of education and culture is in no small measure due to the fact that it has been able to fill all important institutions, bodies and committees with its own people. In a way this duplicates what Advani had done with the media during his stint as information and Broadcasting Minister in the 80s. The supportive role of the media to the Rath Yatra and the Ramjanambhoomi campaign and in general to the Hindutva perspectives was to some extent a consequence of that recruitment drive. The entry into educational institutions has been far more thorough and open, with academics and officials being required to take obvious clear positions in keeping with the Hindutva agenda. The pronouncements of the UGC Chairman and the Education Secretary, and the concoction of evidence to ‘prove’ the existence of the Ram mandir on the site of the Babri masjid, are only the most blatant examples. School education has always had more than an average representation of RSS elements within it.

The results of the takeover of institutions are now obvious in the changed priorities of these institutions, much respected until now. In the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), its Council now dominated by saffron sympathizers, the entire project has been shelved following the withdrawal of the two volumes of the Towards Freedom project edited by KN Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar. Along with have also gone the projects on the Inscriptions of India and economic history of India pertaining to Railway Construction. Funds have been sanctioned and approved for projects on the Indus Valley Civilisation and Archaeology and Tradition. In addition there is a project on the mapping of the Saraswati river civilization, given to RSS linked historians, affiliated for implementation purposes to a private trust on archaeology run by no other than SP Gupta of the Ram mandir-under the Babri masjid ruins fame. The direction of research and the funding pattern are now linked with the Hindutva concerns of showing the Indus valley civilization as Aryan civilization, and so on.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is similarly preoccupied with funding excavations and publications to prove that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of India and that Indian civilization is essentially Aryan civilization.

The Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The internal fight between two factions of the RSS has resulted in a win for the more rabid elements, determined to turn the prestigious institution into an arm of the RSS intellectual armoury. Huge funds have been made available to the Shyama Prasad Mookherjee documentation Centre and the Deen Dyal Upadhyaya Centre for Social Welfare, established by the BJP government, which suddenly discovered that there was no shortage of funds if the mandate was fulfillment of the Hindutva agenda. The ICSSR, whose mandate is essentially to fund the 27 state level institutes, has changed course by starving them and directing funds for international level seminars and projects linked to the Hindutva agenda.

It has been decided to introduce compulsory courses on ‘patriotism’ in the state universities and science and professional colleges, and funds are being made available for the same. Laboratories and libraries are starved for funds, vacant posts are not getting filled, new courses are otherwise not being introduced on account of the government’s plea of resource crunch, but the government has pledged some 40 millions for an Oxford chair on Indian history and Culture.

In scientific and agricultural related fields funds are being veered towards promoting the BJPs nuclear and military agenda, and rural development that puts money in the hands of RSS linked NGOs. CAPART has been revamped entirely, even at the regional levels, and has become one of the prime funders of RSS linked NGOs formed for the express purpose of diverting funds to Hindutva organizations. Tribal Welfare schemes have met a similar fate.

The Harappan Gallery in the National Museum in Delhi has been curated to showcase Hindutva perspectives on Indian culture. Old and unclear photographs of hearths or tanks are labeled as “fire alters” to show fire worship to create an identity with Aryan fire worship, and so on. Similar methods are resorted to in order to show the prevalence of the horse, a characteristic of Aryan civilization. All this could not be done without the takeover of the state linked cultural institutions.

Sindhu and Brahmaputra Festivals are state sponsored festivals by the Department of Culture, presided over by Mr. Advani, and organised by bodies formed expressly for the purpose of advancing the theses on Aryan Hindu origins of civilisations in these areas.

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), set up as a fully autonomous body by the Government in 1987, with broad guidelines on research and documentation, has been completely taken over and reduced into a centre for performing arts, patronage, and a centre for creation of literature on ‘religious tourism’.

More than 200crores have been earmarked for the propagation of spoken Sanskrit, which is in addition to the grants already given to Sanskrit departments in the different universities. During the BJP rule many more departments of Sanskrit have been opened, apart from plans for four additional Sanskrit universities. Sanskrit, or Samskrit, as the Department of Education now prefers to say, has a special place in the RSS’s scheme of education and culture.

The implications of the takeover of the NCERT and NIEPA and the various school boards and boards of technical education in the BJP ruled states are there for all to see in the form of revised textbooks and the ‘National Curriculum’. Government funds have been put at the disposal of RSS run Ekal schools under the non-formal stream, and adult education grants are being given primarily to RSS linked NGOs, while those of secular organizations have been stopped or drastically curtailed.

The success of this enterprise is no doubt due to the RSS zeal and determination on such matters. Equally, however, these are the wages of default on the part of secular parties, groups and intellectuals. No measures were taken by previous governments to prevent the slow and insidious RSS infiltration into education that continued unabated through the years, even when the organization itself was banned. The texts taught in the Vidya Bharti schools were not seriously challenged till the 70s. Even then new texts, sponsored by the NCERT, were used in few schools. The state education boards did not challenge the history texts prescribed in schools falling within their states, and certainly the Vidya Bharti schools were seen as theirs and allowed their ‘freedom’. What is taught by them in their schools very much effects us and is of concern to the whole nation is a sentiment that even today is not fully appreciated and recognised.

Representation in academic bodies and institutions has been cynically seen as a scramble for spoils to be avoided by honest academics. More mundanely, most of the vacancies filled by the BJP government fell vacant prior to the formation of the BJP government and were simply not filled due to carelessness and irresponsibility, the posts of the chairman ICHR, twelve vacancies in the governing body of the ICSSR, and 20 posts in NIEPA and NCERT, being among these. The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Simla, was starved of funds. Now the BJP actively uses it to propagate its agenda, and has found funds for it. One could obviously go on, but the point becomes clear from these few examples.

2.
‘National Curriculum’

It can be nobody's case that curriculum and syllabi should not be updated or reformed, but if there is a significant turn in policy it must be debated and discussed within the Parliament, and other academic fora. The so called national curriculum devised by the friends of the RSS, who have found their way into the NCERT and its various review committees, through the route of being Ministry appointees, was not debated in Parliament at all. Nor was it placed before the Central Advisory Board of Education. In fact even the approval of the faculty within the NCERT is more than doubtful with many on the faculty claiming that other opinions were brushed aside. This new curriculum has simply been thrust on the nation despite protests and disapproval within a significant section of the academic as well as political community across a broad spectrum. The minimum requirement of a proper procedure for such changes has not been complied with. We hear from the horse's mouth--none other than the Director himself-- that textbooks are to be revised in keeping with the new guidelines and that the new policy document will be operational from this year. 

The books being targeted are predictably history texts by Romila Thapar, RS Sharma, Bipin Chandra, Satish Chandra and Arjun Dev. Reasons given are equally predictable--it is necessary, it is said, to remove the leftist bias in school education. In fact the 'burden' of history on the young child needs to be lightened. The child is made to dwell too much in the past it is argued. He/she needs to be more in tune with the contemporary world. Therefore he/she better know more about the current struggles for the Ram temple than the insignificant medieval period, and of course the freedom struggle is important, but should not the Hindutva leaders like Savarkar be more adequately represented! Such pronouncements, made publicly and nonchalantly by Mr. Rajput, the Director, sound disturbing and ominous to say the least.

The second major concern of the authors of the 'reformed' curriculum is nationalism and national pride. The RSS agenda is writ large in the document itself. It says western developments occupy too much space and must be replaced with emphasis on Indian contributions in science and knowledge, and Indian culture and tradition. The document has a completely uncritical view of Indian culture, identifies Indian culture primarily with brahmanical texts and Hinduism, and reeks of chauvinism in the name of national pride, the inculcation of which is, according to the tenor and tone of the document, one of the primary goals of education. It seems India has nothing to learn from others and never did.

Value education has become a euphemism for religious education, and the document makes it a point to state this clearly as well, presenting it as the ready made formula to meet the predicaments created by today's western dominated world. There is nothing in the document to suggest that education also implies sensitivity to the rights of others than just one's own. There is only lip service to plurality, which is set aside almost as soon as it is mentioned, and it goes on to talk of the importance of Sanskrit and on the need to teach it in all schools. The reference to it as root, index and cultural expression of Indian culture is rather pointed and familiar. Globalisation is lauded uncritically and information technology as referred to in the document becomes nothing but a tool to train students for becoming low level service-pawns in the global network of economy geared to Imperialist interests. Finally, the document is clear on what is wants for one half of its young population. The best features of each gender must be preserved and promoted. One does not have to delve deep into this formulation to derive its implications.

An idea of what this 'reformed curriculum' would entail is already very evident in the texts taught in the Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharti schools, and in the revised school texts for government schools in the BJP ruled states. Communal bias combines with concocted 'facts' to create an explosive mix of prejudice, hatred, violence and ignorance, which defeats the very purpose of education. Unmindful of sociological and anthropological studies which show that religion is not the major factor of identity formation, and that Hindus and Muslims in fact share more than 95% characteristics of various kinds, these texts continue to present the RSS view of Hindus and Muslims as two separate civilisational categories, with only Hindus constituting the Indian nation and in which the Muslims are the enemies of this nation.

The history texts are nothing but a bald and unadulterated illustration of the RSS view of history and use of history for its sectarian agenda. Aryans are the original inhabitants of India; Indian civilisation is essentially Aryan civilisation, the ancient period of history when Hindu kings ruled was 'golden' and India made enormous advances during this period. The coming of Muslims brought darkness, cruelty, backward social practices, and the Moghul kings were cruel tyrants who destroyed the already existing Indian nation. Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Savarkar are among the greatest freedom fighters, Muslims as a community are the traitors, primarily responsible for the Partition. Hinduism is synonymous with nationalism. In addition the national movement is one unending struggle of the Hindus against Muslim power and then British power in alliance with Muslims, continuing into the post independence period with the kar sevaks presented as heroes in an uninterrupted line of freedom fighters. Mulayam Singh Yadav is a butcher of Hindus. These interpretations have nothing to do with reality, and routinely lies and concocted stories are used to bolster these interpretations, which find their way in Hindi, Maths, Political Science and General knowledge texts and 'question-answer' series of books.

Caste, child marriage, and sati are defended, Muslims, Christians and Parsees are called foreigners, Urdu is referred to as foreign language, and it is claimed that the first man on earth was born in India and that humans are referred to as manushya or manav after Manu.

The range of backward notions expressed and lies concocted could go on, as they do relentlessly through the texts in question, poisoning young minds, celebrating violence and vengeance against the minorities for imagined wrongs.

Some idea of their tone and content can be gauged from the series of booklets titled Sanskriti Jnan Pareeksha (Cultural Knowledge Examination) and Sanskriti Jnan pareeksha Prasanottari (Cultural Knowlwdge examination Questions and Answers), the Sanskar Saurabh series, and Sadachar ki Batein. In fact it is precisely the moral science books, meant for imparting 'value education' to children in the Vidya Bharti schools, which are sectarian to the extreme and most inimical to scientific temper. They breed irrationality and superstition, and evoke the worst forms of parochialism in the name of Akhand Bharat. They show Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Mynmmar as part of India

We must understand that it is this package that is being smuggled into the private (public) school system and into the non BJP states through the so called National Curriculum and CBSE boards, and using the national prestige of the NCERT, into the State Secondary Boards. The language and the tone and tenor may be different, and the form not as crude, but the package being offered in the 'reformed' curriculum is not much different.

It needs to be opposed for its content as much as for the authoritarian manner it is being thrust on the country. It will take the country's education system back by decades. Today the RSS runs more than 20, 000 schools throughout the country, the acceptance of the RSS sponsored 'national curriculum' will enhance the number of those influenced by RSS ideology manifold and will cause a shrinkage in the space for secular activities in the same proportion.

Already more than 10, 000 of their schools, under different names, have affiliation to the CBSE or various state education boards. About 18-20 lakh students and over a lakh teachers are already part of the Vidya Bharti network. In Goa, the BJP chief Minister has virtually put the entire primary education system at the disposal of the RSS to do what it likes with it. The operationalisation of the National Curriculum will put the entire school education system under their control, and will make it a breeding ground for fascist, Hindutva ideology.

           

3.
The Nation and Nationalism of the BJP

The definition of the nation presented in the National Curriculum and in the Vidya Bharti texts is essentially one based on Hindu religion and culture, further elaborated in Brahmanical terms. This definition has its roots in the writings of RSS stalwarts like Golwalkar and Savarkar, and is by their own admission inspired by the experience and practice of Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany.

According to Golwalkar, “to keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by its purging the country of the Semitic races-the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a god lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”.

Again, “The non-Hindu peoples in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age long traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights”.

Such sentiments inform the stories in school texts referred to above, and explain the content of the projected Hindu Rashtra. Minorities figure primarily as disturbers of peace and the nation’s unity. The typical anti Muslim prejudices and campaigns against the minorities are given voice to unabashedly. Their loyalty is repeatedly questioned. There is an equally vicious propaganda about the Christians and Christian missionaries. Conversions form a recurring theme, and reconversion becomes an essential part of nation building.

The nation is also defined in military and expansionist terms, and patriotism in terms of beating the ‘internal enemy’ as much as the external one. It is at the same time timeless, not shaped by its history, the first human civilization on earth, infact the grounds cape that gave birth to the first man on earth in the person of Manu. Chauvinism is the only form of national pride that comes through in this depiction of the nation. We had everything in the ancient period that the corrupt west only learnt of centuries later. Our achievements in science and technology are parallel in the ancient past, and the world learnt from us and we had little to learn from it—that seems to be the refrain.

Secularists and leftists are western educated rootless people, who have little to do with the nation because their gaze is turned westward, and they know little about India and appreciate it even less.

This entire paradigm has little to do with reality and more to do with the RSS vision. In actual fact the first works pointing out the achievements of Indian science and thought were by Marxists like DD Kosambi. The book by BD Chattopadhya on science in ancient India and the story of man in India published by the Indian National Science Academy seemed to have escaped the attention of the BJP-RSS leaders who continue to stake their claims of India’s greatness on concocted facts and myths.

In fact within the educational output created by the RSS cadres the entire nation is based on myths of a religious nature, bordering on superstition, notions of purity and impurity of blood, of varnashram as preordained and of divine creation, of women as goddesses and nurturers of Hindu civilization, of rivers of milk flowing in India before the invaders came, the sone ki chirya on every tree, a land whose rishis had super powers and a land actually peopled by gods and goddesses. The television versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharta actually existed prior to the television telecast of these epics in the RSS folklore and booklets, and critics and scholars have noted the connection between Hindutva political mobilizations and the screening of these epics, but not really the influence of the RSS propaganda on the television versions, which have destroyed these epics in the bargain.

The battles of the screen Ramayana and Mahabharta, of the screen Chanakya are battles for the victory of the RSS version of the nation-a version that the BJP is trying to push through via its educational policy.

4.
Vedic Mathematics and Vedic Astrology

Vedic mathematics and Vedic astrology mark the first glaring entry of the Hindutva forces through the revamped UGC into the world of science education in universities. Mr. Hari Gautam, the UGC Chairman, has been competing to outdo the education secretary, Mr. Kaw, in pleasing the Sangh Parivar. He has declared Vedic astrology as science i.e. jyotir vigyan, and karmkand (Vedic rituals) as vocational courses. Vaastushastra, yogic consciousness, and myths are to form part of science teaching.

The courses have been justified on the grounds that "...Vedic astrology is not only one of the main subjects of our traditional and classical knowledge, but this is the discipline which lets us know the events happening in human life and in the universe on time scale" !! ...It will benefit "students, teachers, professionals from modern streams like doctors, architects, marketing, financial, economic and political analysts." Quotations are from the UGC circular. It is incredible that the highest body in the country for higher education fails to distinguish between science and superstition or between science and ritual, and that the man at its helm casts aspersions on social sciences while institutionalising the propagation of unreason.

The Ministry has already made the two courses part of the University education stream despite opposition from academics and teachers organisations all over the country and the scientific community all over the world. The degree courses will have duration of three years, and postgraduate courses for two years, apart from certificate and diploma courses. According to Mr. Gautam more than 24 Universities have already accepted the offer, and grants are being dispersed for them. Introduction of both these courses were heavily criticised in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Higher Education.

These moves of the Ministry have drawn criticism on various grounds, not least among them being the UGC's characterisation of Vedic astrology as science. A statement signed by prominent academics pointed out "the basic principle of a science is that it constitutes a body of knowledge which is not only testable but also open to interrogation and refutation, whereas astrology is not...If astrology is accepted as a science, there would be no scope for left for any other science, for example seismology or medicine, for astrology claims to predict everything from earthquakes to physical ailments.

It is one thing to study the origins of astrology, its role in different societies in different times, but it is quite another to give it the status of science which requires a coherent mechanism of interactions that can be explained and verified. Acts of faith cannot be confused with the study and practice of science in the public sphere. It is pointed out that despite a certain faith in it in personal lives and a certain popular appeal, astrology has no academic standing of any worth anywhere, and no respectable University with any kind of reputation in the engineering and natural sciences has any course of study that leads to a degree in astrology.

Teachers organisations have pertinently also raised the question of the step motherly treatment being meted out by the government and the UGC to the departments for modern Indian languages and literature and the lack of concern for developing the natural sciences, in total contrast to the large hearted support for these Hindutva loaded courses. The UGC has been pressurizing universities to accept these courses, prepared by ‘expert’ panels that consist of yogis and tantrics. Not surprisingly these courses have been designated as sciences, but linked and affiliated to the Sanskrit departments of various universities.

A related question also getting asked is that astrology and rituals are not exclusive to the Vedas. Almost all religions have in their history incorporated some form of astrology, including the Muslims, and every religious group has its own set of rituals practiced by its clergy and which form part of social occasions. Why has just one type of astrology and karmakand been privileged by being given the status of science by the BJP for the purpose of university study? Obviously all fundamentalisms and all superstitions are bad or negative, except one’s own!

It has taken years of study, questioning, sacrifice and courage by mankind to liberate science from religion, to counter superstition, to draw a line between astronomy and astrology. The RSS in one stroke has acted against mankind’s endeavour to understand the world and ones place in it, by denying knowledge arrived at after centuries of intellectual labour. It has acted even against our own Indian minds of the ancient period, which it tells us to be proud of.

Vedic mathematics was promoted as a concept after a seminar organised by Rashtriya Veda Vidya pratishtan , and derives its ‘validity’ as a course by virtue of a book by late Sri Bharathi Krishna Tirthaji maharaja, Sankaracharya of Govardhana Matha, Puri, published in 1965. The claim is that all mathematical knowledge is contained in the Atharvaveda.  It is now well known, and in fact the whole subject was thoroughly exposed as irrational, unscientific, and without any foundation in an article published in the Economic and political Weekly by eminent mathematician SG Dani (EPW, July31, 1999).

Vedic mathematics was introduced in 1991 in the UP schools and then later withdrawn after protests following an NCERT review of school syllabi in 1996. Since then it has been reintroduced not only in the schools of the BJP ruled states, but there is also an attempt to introduce a paper on Vedic mathematics in higher education, including IITs.

While alternative systems of medicines have their own validity, there are no grounds for mixing them in the way that the BJP is trying to through the MBBS courses. The idea being mooted is that the Indian systems are far superior, so an MBBS student pursuing his study of allopathic medicine must compulsorily do a course on Indian systems of medicine.

Theories of genes are being increasingly put to use in justifying racism and purity, conclusions such as that North Indians are of Aryan origin, Dravidians have more of Asian genes, women have more of Asian genes and men European and so forth. It will not be long before the RSS is able to pitch in to make these part of their shakha campaigns, to be then introduced into education.

5.
Archaeology and History

The RSS entry into archaeology is not knew in the sense that many of its assumptions and propaganda found their way into RSS shakhas as well as into the Vidya Bharti texts years ago . For example many of us would be familiar with the name of PN Oak, who has been writing books for years claiming that the Taj Mahal was really Tej Mahale, a Hindu monument before it was destroyed and built over by Shah Jahan. He stakes such claims on hundreds of monuments, to which RSS cadres have added thousands of sites of common worship, notably darghas and mazhars located all over the country. RSS archaeology has thus had its independent and parallel existence, pushed through into popular lore through the RSS shakhas.

Some of it has kept pace with RSS political campaigns, notably the movements around ‘reclaiming’ for ‘Hindus’ the temple of Somnath, Kasi-Visvanath, and Ayodhya. The fact that presence of mosques and temples teeth by jowl is an indication of shared spaces and heritage is deliberately subverted by them to imply conquest by Muslims and destruction of Hindu monuments by Muslims.

Romila Thapar, RS Sharma and Richard Eaton, among others, clearly demonstrate in a number of publications that destruction of places of worship occurred in almost all civilisations in the pre-modern era, that it was part and parcel of political hegemony and legitimacy in the medieval period, and that Hindu kings too destroyed Hindu temples and Buddhist or Jain temples when asserting political control, and that much of all this happened due to non-separation of religion and state and because temples were centres of wealth. Rulers both built and destroyed places of worship for political reasons, and assertions of their own religion was an assertion of power and only one of the strands of cultural expression at any given time and place, and an exception rather than a rule. To emphasise destruction of Hindu temples to the exclusion of everything, and to attribute the existence of every church or mosque to a prior destruction of a Hindu temple is a travesty of Indian history.

The RSS, however, propagates the idea of the destruction of a temple at every site of a place of worship belonging to the minority communities, and archaeology as a subject has raison d’eter in their scheme just for this purpose. More recently the RSS has been claiming churches in Goa with the same arguments. Archaeology is clearly being put in the service of Hindutva, and today the RSS has even managed to mobilize a lot more people associated with archaeology as professionals and decided to challenge the very foundations of the subject as well use the professional machinery of the ASI to its own ends.

While on the one hand lapses in making public the data and artifacts of the excavations have allowed the manufacturers of evidence to have a field day, on the other hand the ASI is now blatantly tailoring its priorities to suit the political designs of the Sangh Parivar. It is obsessed with trying to establish that the Indus civilization was based mainly on the Saraswati and was actually Aryan and not Dravidian. It is a communal and racist argument not substantiated by any evidence, motivated by the need to show the first developed civilization in our sub continent as being in areas which are today in India rather than in Pakistan, and by the superiority of Aryan over Dravidian culture, with identification of Indian culture as Aryan. The whole enterprise is sectarian, divisive and chauvinist, to say the least, and has been very well exposed by Irfan Habib in his paper on the theme presented to the Indian History Congress last December in Calcutta.

Other serious political inventions of karsevak archaeology include evidence for a Ram mandir at the site of the Babri masjid, a claim equally exposed for being nonsense by the historians of Jawaharlal University, published as a separate pamphlet and reproduced in Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid. The Anatomy of a Confrontation, ed. S. Gopal.

The distortion and concoction of evidence through computer-generated images by Rajaram of the “Aryan horse fame” has been exposed in an article by two American scholars in the Frontline. Elst, Shourie and Rajaram are losing their exclusive presence on the Internet. They have gone too far in simulating evidence of a horse in the Harappan civilization to confuse its identity with Aryan civilization—an obsession with the RSS.

The RSS linked archaeologists have also used archaeology to ‘prove’ the historicity of the Mahabharta and Ramayan myths, and the myths simultaneously interpreted along Brahmanical lines. Fatehpur Sikri was willfully damaged to dig up Anup Talao, and without any basis the occasion was used to declare the existence of a Jain temple. Excavations are being ordered by the ASI at various places, and whenever anything is found, without any verification a DM or some police official becomes an instant archaeologist to declare them ancient remains linked to the Harappan-Saraswati civilization. Prof. Suraj Bhan has written extensively on the political abuses of archaeology by the RSS. And, as a statement by prominent historians pointed out, in the work of ASI, historical archaeology particularly in times covered by the written record has been given short shift, and even here the emphasis is purely on religious sites and relics, often with divisive overtones.

The RSS has captured the association of archaeologists in India, and has been using the organization for its sectarian ends. At the World Archaeology meet in 1994 the Congress was compelled to derecognise its Congress at Delhi, hosted by the ASI, because of the refusal of the hosts to consider a resolution condemning the destruction of monuments on religious grounds.

Unable to capture the Indian History Congress, the premier body of historians, that has taken a consistent secular stand on all issues of history writing and politics, the RSS some years ago created its own Indian History and Culture Society, with a view to propagating its own brand of history. The BJP government is extremely partial in its grants of funds to the two organizations for their annual conferences.

Secular historians have been vilified not merely by the RSS, but also Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi, who has branded them as politicians rather than intellectuals. Almost no secular historian remains part of the Council of ICHR. The RSS mouthpieces Organiser and Paanchjanya regularly carry pieces with scurrilous campaigns against secular historians. Mr. Shourie has dedicated a whole book to them, which has become a Bible for the RSS, and is being used by the BJP government to justify its takeover of the institutions connected with history. The withdrawal from press of the two volumes edited by KN Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar forms a case in point. It was accompanied by a vilification campaign by the RSS and its stooges in the press.

The attack on history and on secular historians is sharp for the simple reason that secular historiography directly interferes with the RSS version of Indian tradition and nationhood, and the right wing has willy nilly brought history into the ambit of contemporary political discourse. A study of Indian history through a secular prism gives a lie to many of the RSS’s claims, not least its claim of the Hindutva leaders as freedom fighters. History is the crucible for constructing not merely the nation’s past and the heritage of its people; it is as much the crucible for building the nation’s future. The ‘Golden Age’ of the ancient period ruled by Hindu kings is crucial for the future projection of the Hindu Rashtra. A denial of the composite and pluralistic character of peoples’ heritage is necessitated by the justifications of second-class citizenship for the minorities that the Hindu Rashtra stands for. The picture of cruel Moghul kings and marauding Muslims creates the ‘inspiration’ for anti-minority pogroms, the chauvinist sectarian nationalism is complementary to the anti-Christian attacks, and swadeshi a cover for the outright selling out of the country’s assets. More than that, such a sectarian and violent depiction of history, accompanied with calls for revenge and ‘justice’ for Hindus is eminently suited for the nurturing of fascist idealism that could attract the young and the innocent. The victims of this design would not even be aware of the diabolical scheme of which they are a part and necessary instrument. History writing and history teaching is, for the right wing Hindutvavadis, a means for creating a factory for lies that can be made part of a Goebbelsian propaganda.

Let us not be complacent that universities will remain immune from the right wing tampering of the history syllabi, and that when we have defeated the BJP in the next round of elections, which we well might succeed in, the secular historiography preserved in our University departments and in the publications of our secular historians will restore the balance in school teaching.

6.
Attacks on Academic Freedom and Secular Cultural Expression 

Attacks on academic freedom are already there not only in the form of the withdrawal of the Towards Freedom volumes from the press through an authoritarian government order, but through numerous obnoxious circulars by the Home Ministry, curtailing the rights of academics to participate in seminars abroad and to invite academics of their choice from abroad on issues that the BJP government defines as pertaining to “national security”. The circulars in question have had some coverage in the press. They are nothing but a means of stifling dissent and criticism of the RSS worldview, and are designed to intimidate the academic world.

In typical fascist style the circulars are marked “most secret” (MHA OM No. 25022/40/97/ F. IV), and state that foreign scholars "should not be generally considered to attend conferences of a political, semi-political, communal or religious nature". In addition, universities organising conferences on subjects "related to human rights or sensitive technical subjects which can be utilised as a platform for any particular line of propaganda or where the subject matter... is of a purely national or local character" should try and avoid inviting foreign academics. Where invitations are unavoidable, the MHA will vet which scholars may come and which not. (Times of India, June 15, 2001).

Protests resulted in a revision quite meaningless. The applicability of the guidelines is now limited to scholars belonging to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan--but in their case the prior clearance must be from both the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs, and regardless of the subject of the Conference. The prior clearance also applies to any conference proposed in areas covered under protected/restricted/inner line regime.

But make no mistake. The circular leaves all prerogatives with the government, and it is going to be used selectively and as a form of political control, to prevent field travel by scholars working on particular subjects, and certainly it will create deliberate obstacles in the way of intellectual and cultural interaction between organizations of south Asians in the West and secular-liberal and leftist intellectuals in India.

The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), has followed suit by trying to implement an old circular (rule 8 (2 ) of the CSS (Conduct) Rules of 1964), no longer valid, which prohibits government servants from publishing books or contributing an article except with the prior permission of the government or the prescribed authority (a Times of India Report, July 8, 2001). The circular, issued by a deputy secretary, with "the approval of the competent authority", asks all members of the staff to follow the rules scrupulously. This despite the fact that a 1995 notification of the department of personnel and training (No. 11013/4/93 expressly states that this sub-rule does not apply if the government servant publishes a book or speaks in the public media in his official capacity. Sub rule 3 of the same says that he/she must make it clear that the views expressed are his own and not that of the government. The idea obviously is to make impossible criticism of government policy by those best informed of what is going on as insiders, and to keep those employed in autonomous government organizations in their place as it were. There is no guarantee that the argument of those paid by the state and employed by the state not being free to criticize the government is not extended to teachers employed in government colleges and schools, and eventually those funded by the UGC, unless these measures are strongly opposed by the teaching community. Accreditation and creation of autonomous colleges are already on the cards as instruments of discipline and keeping academics in line.

On the cultural front, while national academies are being used as cultural PR agencies for the government display of secular cultural expression is being attacked by the affiliates of the BJP-with no action by the government to stop these attacks. The attacks by the ABVP to enforce dress codes, to disallow celebrations of New Year, by Shiv Sena on the films Fire and Water, communal campaigns against the students of Jamia, Shibli College in Azamgarh and AMU come to mind. In all these the BJP government has actively connived with its Sangh Parivar partners.

These are attacks essentially on freedom of expression, and citizenship rights of individuals and groups. Christian missionaries and Christian schools have been specially targeted. The attacks on Christian schools in Gujarat and other parts of the country, particularly in the tribal areas, must be seen as attempts to forcibly get Christian schools and to find avenues for extending the RSS schools. Similarly the dirty campaign on conversions and the attempts at reconversions by the RSS cadres is an attack on tribals way of life and their religion and culture.

The assault on education and secular culture is an attack on the secular fabric of the state. It is an attack on democracy and its institutions. It represents moves to scuttle popular rights, and is a violation of the Constitution and citizenship rights. The entire package must be resisted and exposed for what it represents, and the BJP government made accountable for what it has done to this country in the space of three years that it has been in power.

 

Appendix –1

Vidya Bharati Paper

Amidst strong and committed protests the BJP Government was forced to withdraw its saffron agenda on education at the State Education Ministers’ Conference held on October 22, 1998. The controversial document to be made the basis of discussion was prepared by Vidya Bharati, an RSS front organisation. In the name of making education at all levels ‘Indianised, Nationalised, Spiritualised’, the Government attempted to push through a fascist and right–wing thrust into education.

This right–wing thrust involves changes in content as well as the structure of education through the infusion of religious fundamentalism in school textbooks and through commitment to the globalisation agenda in education.

The recommendations that involve changes in the content of education include:

a) The curriculum from the primary to the highest level, even the vocational courses, should incorporate “the essentials of Indian culture”. This should form 10 to 25 percent of the syllabus.

b) Although no differentiation would be made in the curriculum for boys and girls at the primary stage, at the later stages the curriculum for girls should include “training in home keeping.’’

c) A comprehensive programme for mother tongue as a medium of instruction at all stages of education should be launched.

d) In view of its unique contribution to cultural unity and ancient wisdom, Sanskrit may be made a compulsory subject from class 3 to class 10.

e) Moral and spiritual education should be introduced at all stages in all schools and the universities for inculcation of ‘national character and desirable social and national values identified by the Sangh Parivar as Hindu values)

f) Sanskrit vandana and Vande Mataram should be made compulsory in all schools.

g) Curriculum should be enriched through its indigenisation (identified again as saffronisation).

g) Sanskrit universities should be established in four zones of the country. Already the budget for this has been sanctioned, while many other branches of study are starved for funds.

h)A course on Indian (read Hindu philosophy) in all higher education programmes, especially vocational courses should be provided.

i) Upanishads and the Vedas should find due place in the curriculum from primary to the higher level courses.  

The recommendations that promote changes in structure include:

a)      Access to higher education should not be virtually unrestricted as at present. Changing the mass character of higher education will not only raise academic standards but also lead to substantial saving.

b)      General education should be given through the distance mode.

c)      The initiative for education should lie with the community and not with the government.

d)      The new educational institutions started by the registered organisations/societies running the educational educational institutions for the last ten years should be automatically recognised and affiliated to the Government or semi- Government organisations controlling the educational systems at the states or the center. The system of ‘ permit ‘ and ‘licence’ (affiliation) in education should be abolished at the earliest to facilitate the recognition of the Vidya bharati and RSS schools which have mushroomed all over the country in the last decade).

e)      Article 29 and 30 dealing with the rights of the minorities to establish educational institutions should be amended. In order ‘to avoid tension” this special provision should be done away with. 

 

 

Appendix II

Vedic Astrology Course: the Stated Objectives

Following are excerpts from the guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission for setting up Departments of Vedic Astrology in Universities:

“Vedic astrology is not only one of the main subjects of our traditional and classical knowledge but this is the discipline which lets us know the events happenining in human life and in universe on time scale.

“The distinguishing feature of this subject is that it makes us familiar with time, its nature and feature and its effects on human life and other events and that way it helps us to manage and make optimal utilization of time.

“It is a common feature that despite best methods adapted for estimation, the events happen in different way and add to worries, tensions and frustation in life. Here Vedic Astrology can help to see the unforeseen, it being the subject dealing with time.

“Starting of the courses in Vedic Astrology in Universities will not only impart the knowledge of this subject to the people but will also add a new dimension for research in the fields of Hindu-mathematics, Vastushastra, Meteorological Studies, Agricultural Science, Space Science etc.”

(Coutesy: Frontline)

Appendix III

Karmakand

Following are the excerpts from the government paper justifying the teaching of karmakand (interestingly, misspelt as karamkand) in universities:

“There is the concept of rta or harmony in the external world and the aim of education is to bring the whole man in tune with the rta…

“The idea behind karamkand is to capture this process in practical terms and utilize this method of learning to understand the scientific and traditional wisdom in diverse fields such as geometry, arithmetic, algebra, environment etc.”

Appendix IV

Factsheet on Institutions

Unfortunately, too many people --- many of them academics and well known intellectuals --- are today falling prey to the RSS propaganda that for several decades academic institutions and education policies and content of education in India were dominated by Left-leaning "academic-politicians," out of tune with Indian reality and Indian ethos. We are further told that this was achieved through connivance with and patronage from the ruling Congress government of the post-independence years. The Sangh Parivar-controlled, BJP-led NDA government is, therefore, simply restoring the balance. Put bluntly, if the boot is now on the other leg, what right have the erstwhile-in-power academic-politicians to crib about it? We give below the facts.

The much-celebrated Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), now filled with RSS-linked persons, was never the Left bastion it is made out to be. The fact sheet on the ICHR is sufficient to demolish the RSS contention that the council has always been filled with historians of the Left, or that only their books have been selected for translations.

Of the former chairpersons of the ICHR, only two-- Irfan Habib and R S Sharma--are Marxists. A R Kulkarni, Nihar Ranjan Ray, Lokesh Chandra, Ravindra Kumar, S Sattar, B R Grover (the recent chairperson who had been in the same post before), T R Sareen can by no stretch of definition be termed so. Among the members of the ICHR council have been K A Nizami, Amales Tripathi, H D Sankalia, B Sheikh Ali, S Sattar, K V Ramesh, A R Kulkarni, Y S Subbarayalu, B N Mukherji, S C Misra, A Q Rafiqi, J S Grewal, M G S Narayanan, B N Goswami, Sushil Chowdhary, Rajat Ray, Lallanji Gopal, G C Pande, Amales Tripathi, and others who certainly are no Marxists. So, how does the contention of Marxist hegemony of the ICHR and patronage by Leftists of Leftists, or the Congress of Leftists, in the ICHR hold true? More than 81 books have been translated by the ICHR in 12 languages, only five of them being those of Marxists.

If it appears that secular-Left historians are all over the place, then surely the reasons are to be sought in the excellence of their historiography rather than in the manipulations that the Sangh Parivar alleges with regard to research institutions and academic bodies. In any case, a point that needs to be emphasised again and again is that their presence did not derive from a Leftist government in place at the centre while the sole factor for the presence of RSS-linked persons in the ICHR and other academic bodies today is the BJP government and the state control of these bodies by the Sangh Parivar. Why else was the 84-year-old K S Lal, who cannot attend office due to health reasons, made the chairman of ICHR? The man was on the RSS panel in the Ram temple debate.

ICSSR, IIAS, IGNCA, AND NCERT

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), in the news these days for the petty and inter-factional fights of the RSS-filled nominees in the council, has similarly had an eclectic composition of officials as well as researchers associated with it. Social science institutes funded by it all over the country have in the past been headed by eminent people, not necessarily of Marxist persuasion. These institutes have carried out research programmes on various themes.

In the past, the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) at Shimla has been headed by people like J S Grewal and Mrinal Miri who would hate to be characterised as Marxists. The IIAS has always had fellows and researchers working on varied themes, and seminars on topics ranging from education, Indian philosophy, religion, environment, epigraphy, culture, linguistics, urbanisation, foreign policies, forest rights, peasant movements, tribals, anthropology, literature and the arts on a scale that would outnumber the number of Marxists in the entire country in that particular field! If one remembers well, the institution was increasingly being starved of funds, to the extent that a few years ago academics across the board carried a signature campaign addressed to the president to save the institution from being converted into a heritage tourist hotel. Where was the question, then, of great government patronage to Leftists in this institution?

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) can, by no standards, be seen as a Left bastion. In fact, its concerns and perspectives on culture are far removed from the concerns of the Left.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is today trying to impose the RSS-inspired National Curricular Framework on the country and to change the history texts. Contrary to all the RSS propaganda, the NCERT never had Romila Thapar, R S Sharma or Bipan Chandra on their advisory committees, although their books have been part of the curriculum for over two decades, and have been revised a number of times following feedback and suggestions from NCERT members.

More mundanely, there were 12 vacancies in the governing body of the ICSSR academic council, which the United Front government left unfilled. Similarly, the post of chairperson and several vacancies in the ICHR council lay unfilled. The post of director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library could, similarly, have been filled had previous government been interested enough. More than 20 posts in the NIEPA and NCERT remained vacant, waiting for the likes of the infamous Rastogi to man the selection committees in NCERT. The IIAS was starved of funds until the BJP found funds to fulfil its agenda. The list could go on.

These facts need to be marshaled not just for taking stock of the dirty RSS campaign of slander, but equally for counting the wages of default and neglect of education by secular political parties--for seizing the initiative before it is too late. Leave alone the state education system, even the largest private enterprise in education--the Vidya Bharati network--must not be left unchallenged in the days of globalisation and the euphoria over privatisation.


July 2001