Hindutva Institutions in Education
The spreading network of RSS
By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
scheme of things of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the business of
running schools that further the political, ideological and social agenda
of the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology ranks high, and the programme
is described as the "task of educating and ennobling young minds".
The RSS leadership, beginning with Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Madhav
Sadashiv Golwalkar, had identified this as an important component of
the plan to propagate "Hindutva philosophy" through initiatives
on the ideological, organisational and cultural fronts. According to
the organisation's own assessment, as reflected in publications such
as RSS: A Vision In Action and Lakshya Ek, Karya Anek (One Goal,
Several Enterprises), efforts in this direction have spread far and
wide over the last 50 years.
"deficiency" that these publications acknowledge is the inadequacy
of governmental recognition and support for this endeavour. By all indications,
the attempt by Union Minister for Human Resource Development Murli Manohar
Joshi to influence the conference of State Education Ministers and Secretaries
with proposals to "nationalise, Indianise and spiritualise education"
and provide governmental sanction to the activities of the Vidya Bharati,
the educational wing of the RSS, was intended to address this "deficiency".
to impose the RSS agenda on the conference failed following protests
by Ministers from some States. However, the fact remains that the organisation
has a significant presence on the education scene in the country. The
Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Siksha Sansthan was established in 1978
with the objective of providing a coherent organisational setting for
the activities of the RSS in the field of education. In 1996, the National
Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) conducted an evaluation
of school textbooks, including those prescribed in Vidya Bharati schools
in the country; it was reported that there were 6,000 such schools with
12 lakh children on their rolls under the tutelage of 40,000 teachers.
The NCERT made the alarming diagnosis that many of the Vidya Bharati
textbooks were "designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism
in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation."
The evaluation found it a matter of "serious concern" that
such material was being utilised for instruction in schools which, "presumably,
have been accorded recognition."
the Vidya Bharati network has, by all accounts, grown unhindered. Vidya
Bharati general secretary Dinanath Batra claims that the organisation
currently runs 14,000 schools at the nursery, primary and secondary
levels and has over 18 lakh pupils under its tutelage. These schools
are run in all States except Mizoram, and they employ over 80,000 teachers.
The Vidya Bharati controls 60 colleges, which offer graduate and post-graduate
education, and 25 other institutions of higher education. The organisation
also runs two teacher-training colleges, in Jaipur and Ahmednagar.
14,000 schools, about 5,000 are recognised by and affiliated to the
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or the respective State
Education Boards. A large number of these are in States where the Bharatiya
Janata Party has remained in power.
schools in the Vidya Bharati network, apart from the academic content
of the instruction there is a "core curriculum", which is
drawn up by the Vidya Bharati and comprises six subjects: physical education,
yoga, music, Sanskrit, moral and spiritual education and sanskriti
gyan (knowledge of culture).
It is through
this core curriculum that the Hindutva agenda is sought to be advanced.
The core curriculum seeks to pass off as historical truth the scientifically
unverified claim that the site where the Babri Masjid stood at Ayodhya
is the birthplace of Ram. And arguing in favour of a ban on cow slaughter,
one of the campaign platforms of Hindutva forces, it states that protecting
the cow is important as "it is the mother of all beings and the
abode of gods."
curriculum goes on to make other such claims. Homer's Iliad,
it states, is not an original work but an adaptation of Valmiki's Ramayana.
According to these teachings, almost all the civilisations of the world
were inspired by, indeed founded on, Sanskritic culture.
that this curriculum distorted and falsified history. "It only
highlights the glory of our civilisation and inspires students to be
proud of our heritage," he said.
evaluation found that the Vidya Bharati schools prescribed for their
pupils a series of booklets under the general titles of Sanskriti
Jnan Pareeksha (Cultural Knowledge Examination) and Sanskriti
Jnan Pareekhsa Prasnottari (Cultural Knowledge Examination Questions
and Answers). These consist of a series of questions and their answers,
which are provided in a manner that makes the rigour of original thinking
superfluous. Students are required to learn by rote this "catechistic
series", as the NCERT characterises it. And just what sort of "cultural
knowledge" do these booklets impart? That the Ram Janmabhoomi was
"invaded" no fewer than 77 times between A.D. 1528 and A.D.
1914, that 3.5 lakh "devotees laid down their lives in defending
this holy site in that span of time", and that November 2, 1990,
when an attempt by Hindutva hordes to mount an assault on the Babri
Masjid was repulsed by the police, would go down as a "black day"
in India's history.
In a section
on world religions, the Vidya Bharati catechism resorts to outright
communal propaganda and falsification of history: it claims that India
was partitioned on account of the "conspiratorial policies of the
followers of Christianity" and that Christian missionaries "are
even today engaged in fostering anti-national tendencies in Nagaland,
Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala and other regions of the
material used in the Vidya Bharati schools throughout the country is
the same. The schools themselves are known by a variety of names, such
as Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Bharatiya Vidya Niketan, Gita Vidyalaya
and Saraswati Bal Vidyalaya. Significantly, the State- and regional-level
governing bodies of these institutions do not always go by the name
of Vidya Bharati. These bodies use different names depending on the
socio-political situation in each State. For instance, the governing
bodies in Delhi, where the RSS and the BJP have a significant political
presence, flaunt the title Hindu Shiksha Samiti; those in Orissa and
Punjab operate under the less-strident names of Shiksha Vikas Samiti
(Education Development Council) and Sarv Hitkari Shiksha Samiti (Education
Council for Universal Benefit). In a supposed concession to local sentiment,
in the Jharkhand region of Bihar the governing body is called Vananchal
Bharati was established as the apex body only in 1978, but many of these
State and regional institutions have been around for more than four
decades. According to Batra, the Vidya Bharati was established in order
to advance the growth of the "educational movement of the RSS".
RSS records show that the first step towards developing "alternate
models of education" based on "Bharatiya ethos and culture"
was taken even before Independence, with the establishment of the Gita
Senior Secondary School at Kurukshetra (now in Haryana) in 1946. The
school was set up by Golwalkar and at that time the idea was to open
a series of schools in various States. However, that did not happen
because the RSS was banned following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
was renewed in 1956 with the establishment of a Saraswati Shishu Mandir
at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Ever since, the Vidya Bharati has expanded
fairly rapidly. Over the years, it has given particular attention to
extending its reach to underdeveloped regions and regions inhabited
by tribal communities. However, it is not an altruistic desire to provide
educational facilities to underprivileged communities that takes the
Vidya Bharati there. The calculations are rather more reflective of
a bigoted outlook, as the booklet RSS: A Vision in Action reveals. Christian
missionaries, says the booklet, provide educational facilities in such
regions and "corrupt young minds and wean them away from Hindu
ethos and culture". The Vidya Bharati's effort is ostensibly directed
at countering these "corrupting" influences.
schools operate even in Kerala, where the political influence of the
RSS and the BJP is not as significant as in many other States. The first
Vidya Bharati school in the State, the Vyasa Vidya Peetam, was established
on 10 hectares of land in Kallekkadu, near Palakkad. The organisation
has since established its presence in all 14 districts in the State;
today it runs 174 schools. Of these, 120 are Saraswati Shishu Vidyalayas,
imparting education only up to Class IV. The rest, called Bharatiya
Vidya Niketans, have up to Classes VII or XII.
in Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, Palakkad and Ernakulam districts which
have a sizable population of Muslims or Christians, follow the CBSE
syllabus, with English as the medium of instruction. The rest follow
the State syllabus; up to Class IV the medium of instruction is Malayalam.
per cent of the teachers are women; all teachers are required to undergo
a five-month "special training" in Indian tradition and culture
and the "Hindu way of education" at the Bharatiya Vidya Niketan's
Adhyapaka Prasikshana Kendram, at the Vyasa Vidya Peetam campus in Palakkad.
The Sangh Parivar considers this a necessity, because, as a State-level
organiser told Frontline, "a majority of graduate teachers
who pass out of mainstream education courses are convent-educated or
otherwise not properly acquainted with the Hindu way of life."
Classes in all these institutions start with a four-line hymn invoking
Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning.
A few schools
have a system of maintaining a record of the day-to-day activities of
each student, especially regarding the progress or lack of it in the
core curriculum. None of the Vidya Niketan schools in Kerala is recognised
by the State Government, and students are presented for State-level
or CBSE examinations as private candidates.
the Sangh Parivar has focussed its attention on the backward areas of
the State and areas inhabited by tribal communities. The Vidya Niketan
schools and Saraswati Vidyalayas employ nearly 1,300 teachers; the main
organisers of the schools are invariably RSS pracharaks committed to
the Hindutva cause.
Nadu, the model of organisation for the RSS' education network is markedly
different. The Vidya Bharati directly controls only a limited number
of schools in the State; a more substantial number of schools come under
the ambit of a number of autonomous trusts, such as the Tamil Kalvi
Kazhagam and the Vivekananda Vidyalayas. In some districts, dominant
caste groups - for instance, industrialists who control the spinning
mill industry in Rajapalayam - have set up schools.
In a State
where the upper-caste Hindu cultural ambience was never widely diffused
as a result of the Dravidian movement, this formal delinking with the
RSS at the local level has enabled these schools to gain acceptance.
But apart from making token concessions to the "Dravidian"
ideology, the schools are heavily suffused with the iconography and
ritualism of Hindutva. All schools typically have a prayer hall with
idols of Hindu deities such as Lakshmi, Saraswati and Ganesha. Religious
festivals such as Krishna Jayanti, Vinayaka Chaturthi, Deepavali and
Pongal - and even the anniversary of Chatrapati Shivaji's coronation,
which has now come to acquire quasi-religious symbolism - are celebrated.
These schools observe Teachers' Day not on September 5, the birth anniversary
of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, but on July 25, which is claimed to be the
birth anniversary of the sage Vyasa. They observe Children's Day not
on November 14, Jawaharlal Nehru's birth anniversary, but on Krishna
on the life of "Guru" Golwalkar is prescribed reading material
in Tamil for students of Class VII in the Vivekananda schools. The Vivekananda
Kendra in Kanyakumari, which exercises controlling authority over the
schools, conducts Shishu Vatika camps for teachers where the focus is
on teaching methods for the primary level. This has acquired importance
because the RSS has consciously decided to expand its network of primary
schools. This expansion is targeted at developing and moulding cadres
for the future, and developing organic links with the communities that
are adjacent to these schools.
is another State where the RSS has overcome the inertia of a late start
and established a network of educational institutions. Observers claim
that the Saraswati Shishu Mandir network is popular in urban and semi-urban
areas because of the perception among some sections that the schools
offer a higher standard of education than government-run schools and
charge lower fees than most other private schools.
of indoctrination is identical to that adopted in most other States.
Teachers are advised to visit the parents of the students once a month.
The Oriya-language weekly publication of the RSS, Rashtra Deepa,
is mailed to all the parents. Affiliation to the State education board
is a crucial element of these schools' popular appeal in Orissa, and
the curriculum followed therefore conforms to the one prescribed by
the State board. The core of the ideological programme is therefore
carried out through extra-curricular activities.
into areas where the Sangh Parivar's constituents are "politically
weak" have come on top of their activities for several years in
the Hindi belt, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where the RSS has traditionally
had a presence. The growth of the network can be traced to the constitution
of the Vidya Bharati in 1978. The RSS had in 1969 formed the Bharatiya
Shikshan Mandal (BSM), essentially an organisation of teachers belonging
to the RSS, which focussed its attention on evolving a "Hindutva
curriculum". According to an RSS publication, the BSM's objective
was to "infuse a Bharatiya content to the educational system";
it even drew up syllabi for Classes I to X on moral education and tried
to get acceptance from State and Union governments.
when the Janata Party came to power, the BSM tried, in much the same
way that Joshi did at the conference of State Education Ministers, to
get its curriculum accepted by the Union Government. A number of seminars
were organised as part of this attempt. Although these efforts did not
succeed, the syllabi became part of the curriculum in RSS-run schools.
It was after the BSM's attempt failed that the RSS recast its organisational
structure in the education sphere and established the Vidya Bharati,
which not only formulates and revises the Hindutva curriculum from time
to time but also oversees the management of various RSS educational
the effort this time was to bring the Vidya Bharati and, through it,
the RSS ideology to the centre stage of the national education system.
Given its long history of pursuit of the Hindutva agenda in the educational
sector, it is unlikely that the RSS will give up its efforts in this
direction, despite the reverse it has suffered now.
report originally appeared in the 'Frontline' magazine, Nov. 07 - 20,
1998 , from where it is gratefully reproduced. The report was prepared
by the author with inputs from R. Krishnakumar in Thiruvananthapuram,
V. Sridhar and Asha Krishnakumar in Chennai, and R. Padmanabhan in Mumbai.