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Central government's strides towards an 'indianised, nationalised and spiritualised' curriculum
By MH Lakdawala

Last month nine state education ministers jointly adopted a resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of the NCERT's National Curriculum Framework. But while the strongly worded resolution passed at the end of the three-day ''national convention against communalisation of education'' in the capital does well to slow down the NDA government in its tracks, doubts will continue to be niggled on another count. Are the brave words against the saffronisation of education accompanied by an alternate vision or framework of education? Or will this debate too, as so many others that have gone before, remain stunted by the restrictive contours of the BJP vs. the Rest political straitjacket?

There is reason enough, of course, to target the BJP. Ever since Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi proposed to make the rendering of the 'Saraswati vandana' and 'vande mataram' compulsory in all schools in November 1998, suspicions about the BJP's not-so-hidden educational agenda have justifiably abounded. Now these have been touched anew by the slew of double-edged pledges in the National Curriculum Framework.

Even the most cursory glance at what has been happening in the name of education down the years will reveal that education, especially at the primary and secondary levels, has always been held hostage to ill-conceived topic selection and substandard textbook writing, to confused policy and outright trivialisation by curriculum planners.

What is being dished out by the Sangh Parivar in the name of history, through its textbooks and the 'research' of its ideologues, does not fulfill even the minimum criteria of verified facts for their assertions. There is a concerted attempt to deny the composite cultural heritage of the Indian people, and the deliberate obliteration of the contributions of the Dalits, the Dravidians and the tribes in the making of Indian culture. The political campaign of the Sangh Parivar cannot succeed without legitimising the Aryan origin of Indian culture and privileging Sanskrit over other languages, which accounts for the serious effort by the Sangh Parivar to invent its own version of history. It is not merely a distorted history, but pure invention that are being propagated. The imaginary claims of Sangh Parivar historians about the Aryan civilisation, and that Homo sapiens originated in the upper reaches of the Saraswati River, brings them close to the Nazi ethnocentric ideology.

Alarmed by the central government's strides towards an 'Indianised, nationalised and spiritualised' curriculum, various NGO's are gearing up to educate the masses about the potential threat to the secular fabric of our country. A slow poison is being injected into the system,'' warns Tapti Mukhopadhyay, a college teacher. "The liberal basis of our education is under attack.''

Soon after becoming HRD minister, Murli Manohar Joshi recommended that Sanskrit and the Saraswati Vandana be made compulsory in schools. Meanwhile, RSS sympathisers were granted plum posts in academic bodies like the ICHR and ICSSR, leading to the brazen promotion of 'ideologically correct' research and an equally blatant censorship of alternate world-views.
In December 2000,the NDA government unveiled its National Curriculum Framework which made contentious recommendations about "reducing the scope of social studies'' and increasing the quantum of religious and value education. This policy is to be implemented through the NCERT (the National Council for Educational Research and Training), which is rewriting a clutch of textbooks. A few months later, the UGC jumped onto the bandwagon by introducing degrees in Vedic Astrology and Vedic Mathematics.
While a relatively strong liberal lobby in Maharashtra has tempered central attempts to change the curriculum, a perfunctory glance at textbooks in states like Gujarat and Rajasthan demonstrates the dangers of an overdose of ideology. The Std IX social studies text in those states, for example, refers to Muslims, Christians and Parsis as "foreigners''.

Describing the varna system as "a precious gift of the Aryans to mankind'', it devotes a couple of lines to the ills of the caste system before attributing the problems of the scheduled castes to "their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith, because they still fail to realise the importance of education in life''. Loaded statements-like 'Akbar was a great ruler although he was a Muslim' and 'Hindus, being in the majority, expect that Muslims should be loyal to this country'- crop up routinely in school textbooks and college reading lists.

The controversy over ‘saffronisation of education' is acquiring curious political dimensions, without a consensus in sight about the appropriate ‘colour’ of education for India. Though education was shifted from the State List to the Concurrent List by the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1976, it has never been as contentious an issue as during the past couple of years and never before have as many State Governments made a concerted move to oppose the Centre's education policy.
Neither within the NDA, nor within the Congress, is there a consensus on an education policy for the country. What is being proposed or opposed is either a particular interpretation of historical events or introduction of a few questionable courses. When the world is changing rapidly and globalisation is the buzzword in all walks of international life, India's rulers (the Opposition included) are quibbling over antique inanities, totally oblivious of their twin responsibilities of ensuring universal access to elementary education in the country and making the quality of education in India globally competitive. Second, while quibbling over `saffronisation' goes on, a vision to reshape the Indian education system, which learns from past mistakes to take on the challenges of educating and training the vast human resources of the country, does not seem to be emerging.
If the ‘saffron’ history being taught at 18,000-plus Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, the Sangh Parivar network of schools, is any indication, its way of ‘correcting' historical misinterpretations is by perpetuating falsehood, not by producing fresh convincing evidence to prove the point. For its proponents, `faith' is history.

Further, how introduction of Jyotir Vigyan and Paurohitya at the bachelors and masters levels in the age of IT `Indianise' education defies logic. Even if Jyotir Vigyan, on which many politicians depend for their political moves, is accepted as a faith-neutral `science', Paurohitya beyond doubt belongs to the Hindu religion. An avowed secular Indian state providing funds for and encouraging the `majority' religion undoubtedly insults the spirit of the Constitution.

The recent Lok Sabha debate on `saffronisation of education', which could attract only 36 MPs, reflects the political frivolity of the discourse. Not once did this debate highlight that education in India fails to retain three-quarters of children beyond the elementary stage.

Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi 's secretary, M.K. Kaw, said in an article entitled, Education in Human Values, in the official NCERT journal: ''The greatest damage to our intellectual freedom has been caused by traditional religions, especially by those which have a single holy book from which they derive their authority.''

Muslims, Sikhs and Christians believe in one book, the Qur’an, the Guru Granth and the Bible, respectively. Each community considers its book holy and finds in it the message of God. Kaw's remarks are derogatory and provocative. To add insult to injury, he had written, ''we tend to forget that these religions have been founded by people like us.'' Thank God, the National Commission for Minorities noticed his writings and told him that his article might have an adverse effect on the country's pluralistic society.

After the September 11 events the secular fabrics of our country is once again under the threat. So all the like-minded individuals and NGO's must exert pressure on the politicians to stop fiddling with the education system for political gains and instead concentrate on making Education universal. This can only be achieve if we wish to do so.

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