RSS and School Education

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Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan

Academics

Excerpted from the Book Titled “RSS School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi” published by Sage Publications

RSS And School Education

The values of democracy, civil liberties, secularism, equality of all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, region or gender, which the Indian people had fought for in the course of their national liberation struggle against colonialism, and had proudly nurtured for over half a century after independence, are today under severe threat. The civilisational values of the freedom struggle which got enshrined in our constitution are today threatened by communal forces, which had not only refrained from participating in the struggle against colonialism but had increasingly emerged as its chief prop or ally.

The loyalist role of the Muslim League representing Muslim communalism is quite well known and generally accepted. However, the fact that the Hindu communalist played the same loyalist role is often overshadowed as the representatives of majority communalism tend to masquerade as nationalists just as the minority communalists resort to separatism. Both the communalisms however fed on each other and apart from playing a pro-British, loyalist role in the colonial period they seriously endanger the values of secularism, democracy and national interest as envisaged now in independent India. This book focuses on the threat posed by the Hindu communal project.

The communal challenge, which has been there since virtually the rise of modern nationalism itself, has in recent years acquired monstrous proportions with the communal forces coming to power in several states and even in the centre. We are now witness to a situation where the communal forces have spread the tentacles of their hate ideology at the grassroots level even among children and in various state apparatuses such as the bureaucracy, police, media, the education system and even the judiciary.

The Sangh combine or cohorts (Parivar or family connotes a decent, humane value and cannot be associated with organisations that promote hatred and murder) led by the RSS have been very clear that communalism could establish its stranglehold only if communal ideology was spread effectively. Hence it is in the ideological sphere that they have focused their maximum efforts. What better place to start than by poisoning the tender formative minds of young children with hatred and distrust about other (non-Hindu) communities. For many years now, the RSS, for example, has undertaken this project through tens of thousands of its Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati primary and secondary schools, and through its Shakhas. Part of the hate project is to portray all communities other than the Hindus as foreigners in India, who are disloyal and unworthy of trust.

Particularly, the Muslims, whom the RSS founder, Hedgewar, described as ‘hissing Yavana snakes’,1 had to be put in place or they were to face extinction—become ‘dead as a dodo’.2 It is claimed that Ashoka’s advocacy of Ahimsa (non-violence) and the growing infl uence of Buddhism spread ‘cowardice’ and that the struggle for India’s freedom became a ‘religious war’ against Muslims, and so on. It is not surprising that Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence and the builder of the freedom struggle as a common struggle of the Hindus and Muslims against British imperialism, got described in the RSS lexicon as a ‘Dushtatma’ who had to be eliminated. In recent years with the active use of state power the RSS has succeeded in spreading this hate agenda to unprecedented levels in the name of spreading education and culture.

It is this which has made it absolutely imperative that the secular formations take on the communal challenge on a war footing. It becomes the duty of the government to ensure that in no school is a child exposed to communal prejudice and hatred. Keeping the communal bias out of school textbooks does not amount to just introducing another historiographic or political bias of the Left or Right variety. It is a civilisational and constitutional imperative. Communalism is akin to racism and anti-Semitism. No civilised society in the world today would allow racist prejudice to be propagated at the popular and particularly at the young child’s level. The role of the government is not only to provide the funds for building the educational infrastructure and to remain non-interventionist as far as the curriculum is concerned. It has to ensure that the basic civilisational values, which our freedom fighters fought for and which are enshrined in our constitution, are not violated. We must remember that Gandhiji, the fiercest defender of and fighter for civil liberties, made one exception. He believed that state power should be used to ban ‘all literature calculated to promote communalism, fanaticism … and hatred….’3

The costs of not doing so are very high. As studies of the post-Godhra Gujarat experience have shown, it was the poisoning of the minds of school children that had been going on for nearly two decades, which made the subsequent human carnage almost inevitable.4 (The communal penetration of the government, bureaucracy, police, media and even the judiciary enabled this carnage to take on monstrous proportions.) Let us not forget that the communal ideology promoted by Murli Manohar Joshi, his lieutenant J.S. Rajput and the writers of hate textbook makes it possible for the Modis and the Togadias to successfully mobilise fascist mobs who revel in pulling down places of worship or dismembering helpless women and children.

The next section will try to outline some aspects of the content of the divisive hate ideology of the RSS and the strategy of spreading it through the education system. The influence of the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, the first of which was started in 1952 in the presence of the RSS chief, Golwalkar, has now multiplied manifold. It will be in order, to first examine what these ‘Mandirs’ or ‘temples’ of learning dish out in the name of education.

A National Steering Committee on Textbook Evaluation consisting of widely respected eminent scholars (was set-up before the BJP regime came to power to look into school textbooks. The Committee consisted of Professor Bipan Chandra, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, National Professor and Chairman, National Book Trust as  Chairman of the Committee; Professor Ravinder Kumar, former Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; Professor Nemai Sadhan Bose, former Vice Chancellor, Vishwa Bharati Univeristy, Shantiniketan; Professor S.S. Bal, former Vice Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar; Professor R.S. Sharma, former Chairperson Indian Council for Historical Research; Professor Sita Ram Singh, Muzaffarpur University; Professor Sarojini Regani, Osmania University, Hyderabad and Shri V.I. Subramaniam were members and Professor Arjun Dev, Dean NCERT was Member Secretary.

In its meetings held in January 1993 and October 1994 the Committee considered reports prepared by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on textbooks in use in various states and those brought out by the RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan and Vidya Bharati Publications. Extracts from the Committee’s recommendations to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the educational authorities of various states, and the reports prepared by the NCERT given below reveal the nature of partisan and communal poison that is being fed to our children. The emphasis in the extracts given below is ours.

The Committee’s recommendation regarding the Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan was:

Some of the textbooks which are currently in use at primary level in Saraswati Shishu Mandirs present an extremely virulent communal view of Indian history…. The intolerant and extremely crude style and language as well as the totally uninhibited way historical ‘facts’ have been fabricated are designed to promote not patriotism, as is claimed but totally blind bigotry and fanaticism…. These textbooks should not be allowed to be used in schools.”

Similarly, regarding the Vidya Bharati Publications, the Committee recommended:

The Committee shares the concern expressed in the report over the publication and use of blatantly communal writings in the series entitled, Sanskriti Jnan in the Vidya Bharati Schools which have been set up in different parts of the country. Their number is reported to be 6,000. The Committee agrees with the report that much of the material in the so-called Sanskrit Jnan series is “designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation”. The Committee is of the view that the Vidya Bharati schools are being clearly used for the dissemination of blatantly communal ideas…. The Sanskriti Jnan series are known to be in use in Vidya Bharati schools in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. The Committee recommends that the educational authorities of Madhya Pradesh and other states should disallow the use of this series in the schools. The state governments may also consider appropriate steps to stop the publication of these materials which foment communal hatred and disallow the examinations which are held by the Vidya Bharati Sansthan on the basis of these materials.

Some extracts from the reports submitted to the Committee will explain the strong recommendations of the Committee.

Extracts from Gaurav Gatha for Class IV, Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan, Lucknow, 1992

Under emperor Ashoka:

Ahimsa began to be … advocated. Every kind of violence began to be considered a crime. Even hunting, sacrifices in yajnas and use of arms began to be considered bad. It had a bad effect on the army. Cowardice slowly spread throughout the kingdom. The state bore the burden of providing food to the Buddhist monks. Therefore people began to become monks. Victory through arms began to be viewed as bad. Soldiers guarding the borders were demoralized…. The preaching of Ahimsa had weakened north India. (pp. 30–31)

(Note how apart from the denigration of Buddhism and one of its basic tenets, non-violence, this prepares yet another ground for promoting hatred against the greatest apostle of Ahimsa in modern times, Mahatma Gandhi, by the RSS. More on the latter aspect later.)

On the rise of Islam:

Wherever they went, they had a sword in their hand. Their army went like a storm in all the four directions. Any country that came their way was destroyed. Houses of prayers and universities were destroyed. Libraries were burnt. Religious books were destroyed. Mothers and sisters were humiliated. Mercy and justice were unknown to them. (51–52) Delhi’s Qutb Minar is even today famous in his (Qutbuddin Aibak’s) name. This had not been built by him. He could not have been able to build it. It was actually built by emperor Samudragupta. Its real name was Vishnu Stambha…. This Sultan actually got some parts of it demolished and its name was changed. (p. 73)

(It strangely does not occur to the Hindu communalist how apt this above description is of what they have been up to in Gujarat, Pune and Ayodhya in recent years. In Pune, the library of the Bhandarkar Institute was vandalized, in Gujarat mothers and sisters were humiliated, and in Ayodhya the Babri Masjid was demolished.)

Extracts from Itihas Gaa Rahaa Hai for Class V, Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan, Lucknow, 1991

…After that the invaders came with a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other. Innumerable Hindus were forcibly made Musalmans on the point of the sword. The struggle for freedom became a religious war. Innumerable sacrifi ces were made for religion. We went on and on winning one battle after another. We never allowed foreign rulers to settle down but we could not reconvert our separated brethren to Hinduism. (p. 3)

(Apart from the spewing of hate against Muslims it is notable how the struggle for freedom is depicted here as a religious war against Muslims and the apparent unfi nished task was the re-conversion to Hinduism of the Muslim converts!)

 

No wonder in the ‘freedom struggle’ so defi ned, the RSS founder Hedgewar and his successor Golwalkar get pride of place in this textbook and it is said:

‘These Swayamsevaks removed the evils which hundreds of years of slavery had given…. This Sangathan became an object of pride for the country.

The report of the NCERT quite appropriately summed up the impact of these books as, ‘The main purpose which these books would serve is to gradually transform the young children who came to these schools to study into bigoted morons in the garb of instilling in them patriotism [sic]’.

Extracts from the report on the publications of Vidya Bharati

The Vidya Bharati Sansthan claims to be engaged in providing to the young generation education in religion, culture and nationalism. The catechistic series is part of the Sansthan’s effort in this direction.

Each booklet in the series comprises questions and answers on geography, politics, personalities, martyrs, morals, Hindu festivals, religious books, general knowledge and so on. Much of the material in these books is designed to promote blatantly communal and chauvinist ideas, and popularise RSS and its policies and programmes.

Some examples of the kind of ‘knowledge’ of sanskriti these booklets are disseminating are given below:

India is presented in extreme chauvinistic terms as the ‘original home of world civilisation’. One of the booklets (No. 9), for example, says,

India is the most ancient country in the world. When civilisation had not developed in many countries of the world, when people in those countries lived in jungles naked or covering their bodies with the bark of trees or hides of animals, Bharat’s Rishis-Munis brought the light of culture and civilisation to all those countries.

Some of the examples of the ‘spread of the light of Aryatva by Bharatiya Manishis’ are given as follows:

(i) The credit for lighting the lamp of culture in China goes to the ancient Indians.

(ii) India is the mother country of ancient China. Their ancestors were Indian kshatriyas….

(iii) The first people who began to inhabit China were Indians.

(iv) The first people to settle in Iran were Indians (Aryans).

(v) The popularity of the great work of the Aryans—Valmiki Ramayana—influenced Yunan (Greece) and there also the great poet Homer composed a version of the Ramayana.

(vi) The Languages of the indigenous people (Red Indians) of the northern part of America were derived from ancient Indian languages.

Many of these booklets have a section each on ‘Sri Ramjanma-bhumi’. They present RSS-VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) propaganda in the form of catechisms to be memorized by the faithful as absolute truths.

Some of the questions—answers in these sections are as follows:

Q. Who got the fi rst temple built on [sic] the birth place of Shri Ram in Ayodhya?

A. Shri Ram’s son Maharaja Kush.

 

Q. Who was the first foreign invader who destroyed Sri Ram temple?

A. Menander of Greece (150 BC)

 

Q. Who got the present Rama Temple built?

A. Maharaja Chandragupta Vikramaditya (AD 380–413).

 

Q. Which Muslim plunderer invaded the temples in Ayodhya in AD 1033?

A. Mahmud Ghaznavi’s nephew Salar Masud.

 

Q. Which Mughal invader destroyed the Rama Temple in AD 1528?

A. Babur.

 

Q. Why is Babri Masjid not a mosque?

A. Because Muslims have never till today offered Namaz there.

 

Q. How many devotees of Rama laid down their life [sic] to liberate Rama temple from A.D. 1528 to A.D. 1914?

A. Three lakh fifty thousand.

 

Q. How many times did the foreigners invade Shri Ramajanmabhumi?

A. Seventy-seven times.

 

Q. Which day was decided by Sri Ram Kar Sewa Samiti to start Kar Sewa?

A. 30 October, 1990.

 

Q. Why will 2 November 1990 be inscribed in black letters in the history of India?

A. Because on that day, the then Chief Minister by ordering the Police to shoot unarmed Kar Sewaks massacred hundreds of them.

 

Q. When was the Shilanyas of the temple laid in Sri Ram Janmabhumi?

A. 1 November 1989.

 

Q. What was the number of the struggle for the liberation of Ram Janmabhumi which was launched on 30 October1990?

A. 78th struggle.

Some other questions which have been included along with answers are:

‘When did Ramabhakta Kar Sewaks unfurl the saffron flag on Shri Ramjanmabhumi?’

‘Mention the names of the young boys who laid down their life while unfurling the saffron flag’.

In one of the books in the series (No.12), there is a section on the saints of the world and the sects/faiths founded by them. The statements made in this section are designed to promote contempt and blind hatred against other religions. One statement on the followers of Christianity who are portrayed as anti-national and a threat to the integrity of India reads as follows:

It is because of the conspiratorial policies of the followers of this religion that India was partitioned. Even today Christian missionaries are engaged in fostering anti-national tendencies in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Bihar, Kerala, and other regions of our country because of which there is a grave danger to the integrity of present day India.

About Islam, one of the statements is as follows:

Thousands of opponents of idol worship, the followers of Islam, go to the pilgrimage centre of Islamic community at Kaaba to worship “Shivalinga”. In Muslim society, the greatest wish is to have a darshan of that black stone (Shivalinga).

In another question, children are asked to fill in the blanks ‘rivers of blood’ as an answer to the question on the means by which Prophet Mohammad spread Islam.

There are special sections in some of the booklets on RSS, its founder and its other leaders. In one booklet (No. 11), RSS—which is mentioned along with Arya Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission, and so on as a social reform organisation—is given the status of possessing divine power. It says:

Some divine power, whether it was Bhagwan Ram or Bhagwan Krishna, has always emerged for the preservation of the greatness of Indian culture. The Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh has arisen to end the present miserable condition and for the defence of the greatness of Bharatiya Sanskriti.

The NCERT report, thus, sums up its view on this kind of study material as:

Much of this material is designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation. That this material is being used as teaching and examination material in schools which, presumably, have been accorded recognition should be a matter of serious concern.

Indeed it is a matter of serious concern considering the rapidly growing influence of the RSS institutions spreading such hatred and poison. The first Saraswati Shishu Mandir was set up in 1952 in Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) in the presence of RSS chief Golwalkar. By the time the Vidya Bharati, an apex all-India organisation of the RSS providing an umbrella to its educational effort, was formed in 1977, there were already about 500 RSS schools and 20,000 students.

In the early 1990s the BJP governments in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh encouraged the growth of Vidya Bharati schools and even permitted them to set their own syllabus and conduct examinations for the lower classes and run teacher training programmes. By 1993–94 the total number of schools run by Vidya Bharati was claimed to be 6,000 with 40,000 teachers and 1,200,000 students. With state power coming to the BJP at the centre in 1998, the RSS influence in schools took a quantum leap. In 1999 there were reportedly 14,000 Vidya Bharati schools with 80,000 teachers and 1,800,000 students!5

Moreover, state power was now being used to go beyond just the RSS schools. In September 1998, the Kalyan Singh government sought to link all state run schools to the RSS shakha. It was made compulsory for all primary schools in the state to involve RSS pracharaks for imparting naitik siksha or moral education.

The link between the recent, post Godhra human carnage in Gujarat under the BJP government in the state (and the centre) and the poison fed to young formative minds in schools has been repeatedly pointed out. Children reading the Gujarat State Social Studies text for Class IX would learn:

apart from the Muslims even the Christians, Parsees and other foreigners are also recognised as the minority communities. In most of the states the Hindus are in minority and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are in majority in these respective states.

In the Gujarat State Social Studies text for Std. X, which virtually eulogises fascism and Nazism, the children would learn how to deal with these ‘foreigners’ who are making the Hindus a minority in their own country.

Ideology of Nazism: Like Fascism, the principles or ideologies for governing a nation, propounded by Hitler, came to be known as the ideology of Nazism. On assuming power, the Nazi Party gave unlimited total and all embracing and supreme power to the dictator. The dictator was known as the ‘Fuhrer’. Hitler had strongly declared that ‘the Germans were the only pure Aryans in the entire world and they were born to rule the world’. In order to ensure that the German people strictly followed the principles of Nazism, it was included in the curriculum of the educational institutions. The textbooks said, ‘Hitler is our leader and we love him. Internal Achievements of Nazism: Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time by establishing a strong administrative set up. He created the vast state of Greater Germany. He adopted the policy of opposition towards the Jewish people and advocated the supremacy of the German race. He adopted a new economic policy and brought prosperity to Germany. He began efforts for the eradication of unemployment. He started constructing Public buildings, providing irrigation facilities, building Railways, roads and production of war materials. He made untiring efforts to make Germany self-reliant within one decade. Hitler discarded the Treaty of Versailles by calling it just ‘a piece of paper’ and stopped paying the war penalty. He instilled the spirit of adventure in the common people.6

That in order to maintain the purity and supremacy of the ‘Aryan’ race millions of Jews were butchered is not even thought worthy of mention. ‘Nationalism’, efficient administration, economic prosperity, and so on are approvingly discussed. An uncanny similarity to a ‘shining India’ while Muslims and Christians in Gujarat burnt.

It is important to realise that the communalists have focused their attention on history because it is on a particular distorted and often totally fabricated presentation of history that the communal ideology is hinged on. If it is to be believed, for example, that the Muslims cannot be trusted, that they can never live peacefully with others, that they are barbaric, immoral and in the words of RSS founder, Hedgewar, like ‘hissing Yavana snakes’, then they have to be shown to have historically behaved like this. Similarly, in order to argue that Muslims and Christians are foreigners, it was necessary to argue that the ‘Aryans’, whom the RSS acknowledge as the true Indians, did not migrate from outside India but originated in India (and that they predated the Harappan civilisation) even if it meant that another RSS guru, Golwalkar, had to argue, doing considerable violence to history and geography, that the Aryans may have come from the North Pole but the North Pole was originally in India, in the region of today’s Bihar and Orissa, and while the Aryans remained in India the North Pole later zigzagged its way up to its current location! To quote Golwalkar ‘…the Arctic Home in the Vedas was verily in Hindusthan itself and that it was not the Hindus who migrated to that land but the arctic which emigrated and left the Hindus in Hindusthan’.7

While the RSS/Hindu communal effort to spread a communal interpretation of history has been around for many years, the new and more dangerous trend, after the BJP came to power at the Centre, was the attempt to use government institutions and state power to attack scientific and secular history and historians, and promote an obscurantist, backward looking, communal historiography through state sponsored institutions at the national level. The last time the RSS came close to power at the centre was when the Jan Sangh had merged with the Janata Party and the Janata Party came to power in 1977.

At that time an effort was made to ban school textbooks which was published by NCERT who had persuaded some of the tallest historians of India like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra to write. A country-wide protest including from within the NCERT and other autonomous institutions put paid to this attempt and it had to be abandoned. The next time the Sangh combine came to power at the centre was in the late 1990s and the lessons of the previous experience were well learnt by the BJP. Anticipating resistance from autonomous institutions like the NCERT, University Grants Commission (UGC), Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), the government first took great care to appoint those who were willing to serve as its instruments as Directors, Chairpersons and Council members in these bodies.

Having achieved that, the BJP government gave the education minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, full backing in implementing the RSS ideological agenda in education. For the RSS combine, there was no pulling back in the ideological sphere unlike what was done in the economic, political and even foreign policy spheres. The demands of the trade union or peasant fronts of the Sangh were often set aside, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s objections to economic reforms could be essentially ignored but not the RSS agenda in spreading communal ideology.

M.M. Joshi now presided over the systematic destruction of the academic edifice built up painstakingly over decades. The NCERT director introduced a new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) in 2000, without attempting any wide consultation, leave alone seeking to arrive at a consensus. This when education is a concurrent subject (involving partnership between the centre and the states) and virtually since independence the tradition had been to put any major initiative in education through discussion in the Parliament and the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), a body which includes among its members the education ministers of all states and Union Territories. The NCERT arrived at the New Curriculum, which was widely seen by professional academics as introducing the Hindu communal agenda, without any reference to the CABE, thus violating both tradition and procedural requirements.

This was followed by deletion of passages from the existing NCERT history books written by eminent secular historians of the country such as Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Satish Chandra, without any intimation to the authors, violating all copyright norms. As mentioned above, these globally renowned authors had been persuaded by the NCERT on the recommendation of the National Integration Council to write textbooks for children which would correct the existing colonial and communal bias in history books. Shockingly, these deletions were decided not by any recognised committee of professional historians but by the RSS with the RSS view put on record in a published volume a few months before the NCERT was ordered to carry them out! In fact Dina Nath Batra, the General Secretary of Vidya Bharati, which runs a network of schools for the RSS, complained that Murli Manohar Joshi was moving too slowly. Vidya Bharati had suggested 42 deletions but the NCERT carried out only four so far (actually there were 10 deletions from four books). A book edited by Dina Nath Batra of the RSS, called The Enemies of Indianisation: The Children of Marx, Macaulay and Madarsa, was published on 15 August 2001. The book, which was an attack on scientifi c secular history and historians, contained an article listing 41 distortions in the existing NCERT books. The then NCERT director, J.S. Rajput, had contributed an article in the volume listing a few more distortions. Significantly, on the basis of an NCERT notification the deletions of certain passages from the NCERT books were ordered by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) (after of course the eminent historian Prof D.N. Jha was unceremoniously sacked as the chairperson of the History syllabus committee) on 23 October 2001.

It was repeatedly claimed that the deletions were in deference to the religious sentiments, especially of the minorities. However, the larger purpose was clearly to create doubts in people’s minds by making allegations that the books violate religious sentiments of different communities and thus divert attention from the real motive: to replace secular history with communal history. If those who were master-minding the whole show had any concern for minority sentiments, would Dina Nath Batra, the head of the education section of the RSS, say in justification of the deletions:

‘Jesus Christ was a najayaz (illegitimate) child of Mary but in Europe  they don’t teach that. Instead, they call her Mother Mary and say she is a virgin’.8

Apart from handing over the textbooks to RSS activists and supporters for their approval an equally dangerous trend was started with the NCERT director asserting that he ‘would consult religious experts before including references to any religion in the textbooks, to avoid hurting the sentiments of the community concerned’.9 This extremely pernicious move was reiterated by the education minister Murli Manohar Joshi, who stated that ‘all material in textbooks connected with religions should be cleared by the heads of the religions concerned before their incorporation in the books’.

Once such a veto is over, what goes into textbooks is given to religious leaders or community leaders, as the government had started doing, it would become impossible to scientifically research and teach not only history but other disciplines, including the natural sciences. Deletions had already been made from textbooks for pointing out the oppressive nature of the caste system in India, presumably because some ‘sentiments’ were hurt. ‘Sentiments’ have been hurt in India when the practice of Sati (widow burning) was criticized. Would this mean deletion of references regarding this evil practice from textbooks? Sentiments could be hurt if science lessons questioned the ‘immaculate conception’ or if they proposed theories of origin of man which were not in consonance with the beliefs associated with most religions. Should such lessons be altered or ‘talibanised’ according to the dictats of various religious leaders? If the teaching of modern scientific advances ‘hurts’ the religious sentiments of one or the other group, should it be banned altogether?

There were a lot of protests from the secular forces at this attempt at communalising the education system. Historians, the secular media and a very wide section of the Indian intelligentsia voiced their protests unambiguously. The Delhi Historians’ Group (a group of Historians from several universities in and around Delhi who had got together to fight the government’s effort to communalise education) brought out a book putting together the views of eminent historians, journalists and eminent citizens like Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen and the former President of India, K.R. Narayanan on the attempt at communalising education. The book also listed the deletions made from the history textbooks.10

However, at this point an alarming trend began of attacking those who did not agree with the kind of interpretations or fabrications promoted by the Hindu communal forces. They were branded as anti-national. The RSS Sarasanghachalak, K.S. Sudershan, called those who were resisting the revisions of the NCERT textbooks as ‘anti-Hindu Euro–Indians’. Sudershan laments that these anti-Hindu Euro–Indians hate ‘Vedic maths’ and do astonishing things like not believing that in ancient India we knew about nuclear energy and that Sage Bharadwaja and Raja Bhoj not only ‘described the construction of Aeroplanes’ but discussed ‘details like what types of aeroplanes would fl y at what height, what kind of problems they might encounter, how to overcome those problems, etc’.11

Calling them anti-Hindu and anti-national was not enough, a group of self-appointed protectors of Indian nationalism demanded that historians Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Arjun Dev should be arrested. The Human Resource Development (HRD) minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, at whose residence this group had collected, defended the deletions from their books and called for a ‘war for the country’s cultural freedom’.12 The minister went one step further and added fuel to this fascist tendency of trying to browbeat or terrorize the intelligentsia which stood up in opposition by branding the history written by these scholars as ‘intellectual terrorism unleashed by the left’ which was ‘more dangerous than cross border terrorism.13 He exhorted the BJP storm troopers to counter both types of terrorism effectively. The dangerous implications of Joshi making this charge against these eminent historians at a time when the whole country was agitated by the attack on parliament by cross border terrorists must be noted.

Civilised societies cannot ban the teaching of unsavoury aspects of their past on the grounds that it would hurt sentiments or confuse children or it would diminish patriotic feelings among its children, as the government was trying to do. Nor can we fabricate fantasies to show the greatness of our past and become a laughing stock of the world. Should America remove slavery from its textbooks or Europe the saga of witch-hunting and Hitler’s genocide of the Jews? Let us stand tall among civilised nations and not join the Taliban in suppressing history as well as the historians. The communal attempts to distort Indian history and to give it a narrow sectarian colour in the name of instilling patriotism and demonstrating the greatness of India actually end up doing exactly the opposite. It in fact obfuscates the truly remarkable aspects of India’s past of which any society in the world could be justifiably proud. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, for example, argues that ‘India’s persistent heterodoxy’ and its ‘tendency towards multi-religious and multi-cultural coexistence’ (aspects vehemently denied by the Communalists) had important implications for the development of science and  mathematics in India. Arguing that the history of science is integrally linked with heterodoxy, Sen goes on to say that:

the roots of the flowering of Indian science and mathematics that occurred in and around the Gupta period (beginning particularly with Aryabhatta and Varahamihira) can be intellectually associated with persistent expressions of heterodoxies which pre-existed these contributions. In fact Sanskrit and Pali have a larger literature in defence of atheism, agnosticism and theological scepticism than exists in any other classical language.14

He goes on to say that

rather than the championing of ‘Vedic Mathematics’ and ‘Vedic sciences’ on the basis ‘of very little evidence’.…what has … more claim to attention as a precursor of scientific advances in the Gupta period is the tradition of scepticism that can be found in pre-Gupta India—going back to at least the sixth century B.C.—particularly in matters of religion and epistemic orthodoxy.

The tradition of scepticism in matters of religion and epistemic orthodoxy was continued by Mahatma Gandhi, for example when he argued,

‘It is no good quoting verses from Manusmriti and other scriptures in defense of … orthodoxy. A number of verses in these scriptures are apocryphal, a number of them are meaningless’.15 Again he said ‘I exercise my judgment about every scripture, including the Gita. I cannot let a scriptural text supercede my reason’).16

(Let us hope no group with hurt sentiments now demands the arrest of Amartya Sen as yet another son of ‘Macaulay, Marx and Madarsa’. Let us hope Murli Manohar Joshi in true Taliban fashion does not ask his storm troopers to extinguish the ‘intellectual terrorism’ unleashed by Sen, in the same manner as it was felt necessary to silence Gandhi, ‘the greatest living Hindu’.)

Despite nationwide protests, particularly from the academia (including the widely respected, more than 60 year old, Indian History Congress, the national organisation of professional historians) and the media, this process of ‘Talibanisation’ of education continued as labelled by the Hindustan Times editor, Vir Sanghvi, of education was continued.17 A new syllabus based on the NCF 2000 was adopted, again without proper procedures being followed. There was widespread criticism of the new syllabus. The Delhi Historians Group held a workshop of eminent social scientists in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on 3 March 2002 and brought out a Critique of the syllabus by NCERT, which was based on the new curriculum framework.

The process culminated in the existing NCERT history books written by eminent scholars (from which deletions were made) being withdrawn altogether and being replaced by books written by people whose chief qualification was heir closeness to the Sangh ideology and not recognised expertise in their field of study. The Indian History Congress, alarmed at what poison was being dished out to our children, published a volume called History in the New NCERT Text Books: A Report and an Index of Errors.18

The volume ran into 130 pages just listing the major mistakes and distortions introduced in these books. While it would not be possible here, for reasons of space, to list the specific distortions that are present in the new books it may be useful to reproduce below an extract from the History Congress publication, which sums up what is wrong with the four new books published by NCERT in 2002, which were scrutinised. These included Makkhan Lal, et al., India and the World, for Class VI; Makkhan Lal, Ancient India, for Class XI; Meenakshi Jain, Medieval India, for Class XI and Hari Om, et al., Contemporary India for Class IX.

Often the errors are apparently mere products of ignorance; but as often they stem from an anxiety to present History with a very strong chauvinistic and communal bias. The textbooks draw heavily on the kind of propaganda that the so called Sangh Parivar Publications have been projecting for quite some time. The major features of the presentation of Indian history in the new NCERT books may be summed up as follows:

1. India is held to be the original home of the Aryans. No concern at all is shown with the origins of peoples speaking Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic languages.

2. The Indian civilization is supposed to have its sole fountain-head in the ‘Vedic Civilization’ which is given much greater antiquity than historians have been willing to assign it so far. The latter is claimed to have embraced the Indus Civilization, now to be called ‘Indus Saraswati’ civilization, which is thus entirely credited to the Aryans.

3. All substantive, scientific discoveries (from zero to decimal placement of numerals to heliocentric astronomy) are supposed to have been made in the ‘Vedic Civilization’.

4. The Hindu religion is held superior to other religions. The Upanishads are proclaimed as ‘the most profound works of philosophy in any religion’. Both Buddhism and Jainism are held to have emerged out of them. Hindus had no sense of constraints about chronology, unlike the Christians. Hindus, moreover, had been by their faith true patriots. In the modern freedom struggle too, they alone are held to have been sincere, while the Muslims only dreamt of a Muslim empire or a separate nation. Medieval Muslims and modern Christians are also held to have been deeply infl uenced by racism.

5. The caste system was all right in the beginning; only ‘rigidities’ (not inequities or oppression of Dalits) are seen in its later stages and very lightly touched upon. The Dalits in effect are excluded from history.

6. A neutral or even admiring stance is maintained about practices such as sati or jauhar in ancient and medieval India. Abductions of women are described as a legitimate form of marriage, not apparently inconsistent with women being held in honour.

7. Foreigners have taught little or nothing to Indians, while India has given so much to the world in all realms of culture.

8. Muslims brought little new to India, except oppression and temple-destruction. All the dark corners are thoroughly presented in the narrative of medieval India, as regards Muslims, while they are coolly overlooked in that of ancient India.

9. The rise of a composite culture is ignored or downplayed. Kabir gets with diffi culty a sentence in the medieval India textbook (where, on the other hand, Guru Gobind Singh appears as a ‘devotee of Goddess Chandi’).

10. In modern India, ‘Muslim separatism’ is the great bugbear, while Hindu communalism is not even mentioned, and the Hindu Mahasabha leaders appear uniformly as great patriots.

11. The growth of the great modern values of democracy, gender equality, secularism, welfare state, etc., is neglected, or passed over in silence.

12. There is little or nothing on Indian social reformers like Ram Mohan Roy, Keshav Chandra Sen, Jotiba Phule,and even B.R. Ambedkar—since apparently traditional Hindu society is not thought to have been in need of reform.

13. The mainstream secular and democratic elements in the National Movement are presented as unimportant or mere obstacles to the growth of (Hindu) ‘Cultural Nationalism’. Harsh words are used for the Moderates; there is a deliberate effort to either ignore or present in unfavourable light Jawaharlal Nehru, and also the Left, especially the Communists.

With such parochialism and prejudice as the driving force behind these textbooks, it is clear that these cannot be converted into acceptable textbooks by a mere removal of the linguistic and the factual errors pointed out in our Index. In many cases the basic arguments in the textbooks are built on these very errors of fact, and so the errors cannot be removed without changing the main ideas behind the textbooks. These textbooks are therefore beyond the realm of salvage, and they need to be withdrawn altogether. Until such a withdrawal takes place, we hope our Index will help both teachers and students to rectify the more serious errors in the books and so attain a more balanced view of our past.

(It may be pointed out that this Report and Index of Errors had the unanimous approval of the entire executive committee of the Indian History Congress.)

There is an uncanny similarity between the distortions in these NCERT books and those produced by the RSS Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati and the ideas of the RSS/Hindu communal ideologues Golwalkar, Hedgewar and Savarkar. The distrust of minorities, particularly Muslims, the insistence that the Aryans originated in India and that the Vedic civilisation predated any other in India and was superior to other civilisations and sometimes their creator, so on and so forth, are constant motifs throughout. In today’s context it is of particular interest to see how the RSS/Hindu communal effort to appear as nationalist, when their actual role in the Indian national movement was not only nil but negative, has led to the distortion of the history of the national movement itself. Since the Hindu communalists fought against Muslims and not against British colonialism, there is an attempt to define Indian nationalism itself as a ‘religious war’ against Muslims. The actual Indian national movement, which was a secular struggle against the political economy of colonialism and not a religious or racial war against the British, is termed ‘cultural nationalism’, by which the Hindu communalists mean Hindu nationalism. The foremost leader of the Indian national movement, Mahatma Gandhi, who fought for a common struggle of Hindus and Muslims against British colonial domination and not a religious war against anybody, is uniformly demonized by the RSS/Hindu communalists as has been shown later in the book. In the NCERT textbooks, it takes the form of grossly underplaying the role of the Mahatma and completely ignoring the role of the Hindu communal forces in the elimination of perhaps the greatest person to walk the earth in the 20th century. In the first edition of Hari Om’s Contemporary India for Class X, a book dealing with the 20th  century, Gandhiji’s assassination was not even mentioned!

When there was a national furore on this question a reprint edition was brought out which had this bare sentence: Gandhiji’s efforts to bring peace and harmony in society came to a sudden and tragic end due to his assassination by Nathuram Godse on January 30 1948, in Delhi while Gandhiji was on his way to attend a prayer meeting. (p. 57)

No mention was still made of who Godse was, and of his strong links with the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, particularly with its leader Savarkar. This was done, as we have pointed out in the next section, despite Sardar Patel, the then home minister’s clear conclusion that it was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that (hatched) the conspiracy and saw it through.

Clearly, the RSS and the Hindu communalists had much to hide which they did and still try to do so in a cowardly manner; a manner which they have tried to justify as clever strategy.

Notes:

1 C.P. Bhishikar. Keshav: Sangh Nirmata, Suruchi Sahitya Prakashan, New Delhi, 1979, p. 41

2 RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, 4 January, 1970.

3 Harijan, 2 May 1936, cited in Bipan Chandra, ‘Gandhiji Secularism and Communalism’, Social Scientist, 32(1–2), Jan–Feb. 2004. Also reprinted in Irfan Habib, Bipan Chandra, Ravinder Kumar, Kumkum Sangari and Sukumar Muralidharan (eds), Towards a Secular and Modern India–Gandhi Reconsidered, Sahmat, New Delhi, 2004, p. 50.

4 Secular activist and editor of the Journal Communalism Combat, Teesta Setalvad, has been making this point repeatedly.

5 See Pralay Kanungo, RSS Tryst with Politics from Hedgewar to Sudarshan, Manohar, New Delhi, 2002; and Desh Raj Goyal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, New Delhi, 2000.

6 See ‘Demonising Christianity and Islam’ and ‘On Fascism and Nazism’ in Communalism Combat, October 1999, emphasis mine. Also see http://www.sabrang.com/cc/comold/oct99.

7 M.S. Golwalkar, We or our Nationhood Defi ned, Bharat Publications, Nagpur, 4th edition, 1947, pp. 11–13. First published in 1939.

8 See Outlook, 17 December 2001.

9 See Times of India, 5 October 2001 (emphasis by the author).

10 See Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee, Communalisation of Education: The History Textbooks Controversy, with an introduction by the authors, Delhi Historians’ Group, Delhi, 2002.

11 See the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, 4 November 2001.

12 Hindustan Times, 8 December 2001.

13 Indian Express, 20 December 2001.

14 ‘History and the Enterprise of Knowledge’, address delivered by Amartya Sen to the Indian History Congress in January 2001, Calcutta. See also Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, Allen Lane, Penguin, London, 2005 for a brilliant critique of the communal interpretation of Indian history.

15 Rajmohan Gandhi, The Good Boatman: A Portrait of Gandhi, Viking, New Delhi, 1995, 237.

16 Harijan 1936, quoted in Chandra, ‘Gandhiji, Secularism and Communalism’,

17 Hindustan Times, 25 November 2001.

18 Irfan Habib, Suvira Jaiswal, Aditya Mukherjee, History in the NCERT Textbooks: A Report and an Index of Errors, Indian History Congress, Kolkata, 2003.