Saraswati sisumandir school at bankura town.

“Nadirshah was a very tyrannical king, wasn’t he? He came from Iran and destroyed many temples in our country, and especially in Delhi, looted a lot of gold and precious things. He looted so much money from here that he did not have to collect taxes for three years when he returned to his country. He took thousands of elephants and camels from here. Nadirshah is a very bad person, and our Bengal king Shashank was a very good man. Nalanda, the resting place of Buddhists, was broken during his regime because Buddhists did not believe in the existence of God,” says seven-year-old Supriya Ganguli. She further went on to tell me confidently that the elephant’s head on lord Ganesh’s head was put on with surgery by our ancient saints.

Supriya Ganguli is a class III student of Saraswati Shishu Mandir School at Bankura town in West Bengal. When I asked her who told her these things, she said it was their dadabhai. (Teachers are addressed as dadabhai and didibhai at her school.)  She then said assertively that our country belongs to only Hindus. People of other religions have looted and tortured us tremendously. They have not done anything good when they ruled and nor do they do it now!

A large number of students at Saraswati Shishu Mandir – run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – have been growing up with this idea about other religions since their childhood. Is this the full explanation of history to them? This reporter went to the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools in several places to find out how these ideas are sowed with education.

sarawati school

dadabhai (a headmaster) of one such school in Bankura town claimed he had directly participated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, in Ayodhya. When prodded further for his views on education and curriculum of his students, he said they put more emphasis on character-building than traditional education. “We also support the New Education Policy as Astrology can also be introduced with its help. We emphasise the glory of Hinduism. The syllabus of Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools is prepared according to the instruction of the Vivekanada Vidyavikash Parisad – the apex body for schools linked to RSS.”

This reporter also spoke to a headteacher of a school in Junglemahals’ Jhilimili – where the maximum number of students belong to the tribal community. The name of the school is Banabasi Kalyan Ashrom and students live in the school hostel. But the RSS school does not recognise them as tribals; they are instead “forest-dwelling Hindus”. The teacher said: “What is tribal again? All the people living in these jungle villages are Hindu. They have grown up in the forest area for many generations. So, we call them forest dwellers.” As the conversation ensued, another dadabhai, who belonged to the Santhal community, listened quietly and raised no objection to any of the claims made by the former. Why? Perhaps compulsions to retain his job at the school.

In 1946, a Gita school was established in Kurukshetra (Haryana) at the initiative of then RSS chief M S Golwalkar. But the ban on RSS in 1948 was a dampner on its effort to spread the Gita school model. After the ban was lifted, the first Saraswati Shishu Mandir was established in Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) in 1952 by Nanaji Deshmukh. After 15 years in 1977, this school was named ‘Vidya Bharati’. The fact that these schools are run by the RSS is well known across cities and states. The curriculum is made in accordance with RSS’s directions.

What is the aim of Vidya Bharati? Their website clearly states that its primary objective is “to develop a national system of education which would help build a generation of young men and women that is committed to Hindutva and infused with patriotic fervour”. This cannot be understood by the naked eye, but the work of highlighting the “dignity of Hinduism” starts with spreading misleading stories about other religions and a school is an easy place for that.

At present, there are 50,000 RSS-run schools across the country; in Bengal, about 500 schools are running, most of which are at the elementary level. The rate at which the number of Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools is growing in West Bengal is alarming. During the Left rule, it was difficult for these schools to get affiliation, but it is not so under the rule of Trinamool Congress (TMC).

One state organiser of Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools and an RSS pracharak (campaigner) said all their schools got state government’s affiliation after 2011. When this reporter met the headmaster of this school in Bankura, he admitted that they could not grow as per their expectations during the Left Front regime. But in the past 10 years, the RSS has managed to expand its organisational infrastructure without fear and increase the number of schools. The teacher recalled that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called RSS members “patriots” and in turn, the Sangh, termed her as “Durga”. She had also defended the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Parliament after the Gujarat pogrom in 2002. On September 2, 2022, she had said: “Not everyone in the RSS is bad”. In fact, quite a few elected members of panchayats from TMC are often seen at the schools’ events.

This story was originally published in . Read the full story here