By Yoginder Sikand
Besides aiming to provide information, one of the main purposes of an educational system and the textbooks used therein is to mould students’ worldviews in a particular fashion. This is what educationists refer to as the ‘hidden curriculum’ of education. Through it, the educational authorities of a state seeks to frame a certain perspective through which students are trained to understand society, the social relations of power therein, the place of the state and of the citizen as well as the notion of the ideal citizen or ‘normal person’. In other words, textbooks (particularly for the social sciences), and the education system as such, have a certain very distinct political role and purpose. They aim at ‘normalising’ unequal relations of power that exist in a given society by presenting certain class/caste-based notions of the ideal person or citizen as normative.
This remarkable study, a well-researched critique of government-prescribed textbooks used for social sciences in the state of Rajasthan, seeks to uncover the notion of an ideal Indian that these books propagate. The author, a noted Delhi-based social activist, argues that a principal purpose of these books is to propagate the notion that Indian culture is roughly synonymous with Brahminical Hindu culture, and that its ideal representative is the ‘upper’ caste Hindu male. Consequently, he argues, non-Hindus, non –’upper’ caste Hindus as well as women in general are seen and projected in these texts in negative terms, and sometimes in very lurid colours. That being the case, these texts can hardly be considered socially inclusive and gender just. Consequently, they can be said to represent a complete violation of the spirit of the Constitution. They represent a fit case of the state itself seeking to subvert its Constitutional values which it is actually duty bound to protect and promote.
Apoorvanand highlights sections from these texts to prove his point. One of the books prominently quotes, without any critique whatsoever, Anne Besant as having declared, ‘You must not remain in any sort of doubt. There is no future for Bharat without Hindutva. Hindutva is the soil in which Bharatvarsha is deeply rooted. If we remove this soil, then the tree of Bharat will dry up.’ It unabashedly repeats the standard Hindutva dictum about ‘true’ Indian nationalism in the following words: ‘According to Lokamanya Tilak, all Indians who live on the land between [the] Sindhu and the Indian Ocean and consider it their motherland and holy land are Hindus and their religion is Hindu religion or Hindutva’. Likewise, another book preaches, ‘Let us build the building of Sanskrit of which […] the top is of the unity of Hindus […].’ Further appearing to equate all Indians with Hindus, and deliberately excluding non-Hindus, a textbook claims, ‘Ram, Krishna, Hanuman, Durga, Sita, Saraswati etc. are worshipped by all people’. Another book repeats this facetious claim in a different way, announcing, ”Hindu religion is the path bearer of Indian society.’
It is particularly, though not only, in the History textbooks prepared by the Rajasthan state educational authorities where these flagrant communal biases are amply evident. Not only do they hail the Hindu religion, and, implicitly denounce or seek to marginalize other faiths, they claim the sanctity of the caste system, which forms the basis of the ideology of Brahminism. Notably, Dalits, Adivasis and Backward Castes, who together form the majority of the Indian population, are almost wholly unmentioned in these texts, this being a subtle form of discrimination against them. At the same time, the books brazenly support the caste system, and completely ignore the oppression on which this system is based by giving it a completely unrecognizable sanitized image, which its ‘low’ caste victims would vehemently reject.
‘Hindu life was given a solid continuity through the religious basis of the caste system,’ proclaims one social science text. ‘The caste system provided to different people opportunities of living together in contentment and this enabled the maintenance of stable and fraternal relations between them’, it goes on. ‘Though India is home to innumerable ethnicities, religious and linguistic communities, yet the caste system reduced struggle between different communities’, it adds. ‘Because of the caste system’, it continues, ‘a strong unity in community and a sense of responsibility developed in all castes, the members of castes and sub-castes used to help each other on all occasions of marriage, death rituals and festivals etc. In this way, members of different castes come close to each other and stable soc relations develop between them, through which they feel a sense of collective security and unity.’
This is, needless to say, a wholly untenable and highly romanticized and apologetic view of the caste system from the point of view of its ‘upper’ caste beneficiaries. The undeniable oppression that this system has meant for its many hundreds of millions of victims for over five thousand is totally ignored.
Some of the textbooks surveyed here openly laud the Manusmriti, that Bible of Brahminism which reduces ‘low’ castes to slavery or worse. Thus, one book presents Manu, the putative author of the Manusmriti, as the ‘original economist’. Class twelve students of Economics are made to believe that ‘The personality of Manu is great among all smriti givers. He is rich in multifaceted talents. In Indian literature, Manu is known as the originator of the human race. Manu has been called as father of humanity in the Rig Veda. He is descended from the line of mortal sons of lord Brahma’. The social science text for class 9 adds, ‘After Brahma created the universe, Manu created theology, Vrihaspati created economics and Nandi created Kamashastra, the science of desire.’
Hindu mythological figures are thus presented as real historical personages and presented as pioneers in various sciences. The aim seems to be to drill into the minds of the students the belief in the superiority of Brahminical Hinduism and the racist ideology of Hindutva over the rest of the cultures and religions of the world. Thus, as the class eleven Sanskrit text claims, ‘Whatever sciences and education are there, their origin lies in our Vedas. Our religion is the oldest religion in the world. Whatever religions are there in the world, all have originated from the Vedas.’
Sections of textbooks which Apoorvanand quotes from read like exactly like RSS propaganda pamphlets, making all sorts of bizarre and totally unsubstantiated claims. The purpose is to instill in the students a deadening consent to the false claims of Hindutva brigade. Thus, one text claims, ‘Many sages of ancient India were scientists. Many scientific discoveries were made in India but later, due to a conspiracy, these scientific achievements were forgotten’. In the ‘Samhita code of sage Agastya, whether it be yantra shastra or metallurgy or zinc, iron, mercury, gold, all of these were discovered first in India, as also in the case of veterinary sciences, writing, aeronautics, shipping, botany. Plastic surgery was already here, and an example of organ transplant is present in the extremely old incident of transplanting an elephant’s head over Ganesha’s body’
Quite predictably, the period of Indian history characterized by Turkish, Afghan and Mughal political power is depicted in bloodcurdling terms, thus clearly aiming to reinforce fiercely negative stereotypical understandings of Islam and Muslims. One book claims:
‘The Mughals fully exploited the stagnation in culture and society of medieval India… [T]he first thing they did was to destroy whatever vestiges of religious unity there remained….[T]he motive of education now was to educate Muslims, to propagate Islam, to gain material facilities and to achieve political goals.. [T]he phase of harassment of Hindus by turning them into inferior, third grade citizens, began with the Mughal period.’
Similarly, another text claims, ‘Attempts were made consistently to destroy Indian religion and culture during the period of slavery and foreign invaders. The dignity of women suffered heavily due to the invaders’.
Equally predictably, India’s freedom struggle is sought to be projected in such a way as to make the claim for a central role in it of Hindutva forces, such as the RSS. This, of course, has no historical veracity whatsoever, given that the RSS and allied outfits worked to sabotage the joint struggle of Hindus and Muslims against the British and thereby directly assisted the colonial power. Thus, a textbook claims, ‘Doctor Keshav Baliram Hedgewar established a socio-cultural organisation named Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh, to awaken a nationalist spirit in Indian society… The activities of the RSS disseminated the spirit of organisation, unity, brotherhood, patriotism, unity and homogeneity in Indian society and on every occasion of national crisis the RSS proved its utility beyond all debate’.
Some of the textbooks briefly discuss events in India after 1947, and even here the clear anti-Muslim and unabashed Hindutva slant is evident. Thus, in a veiled reference to Muslims, one book claims, ‘On the border of Rajasthan the people of a specific community are prosperous and politically influential. Their relatives live on the borders with Pakistan who went there during Partition and wars. These people successfully carry out smuggling, spying and other anti-national activities. They get patronage easily from both sides. Their to and fro movements, legal or illegal, remain […].’ The text claims that this community earlier used to engage in ‘smuggling of cows and minor girls’.
The books clearly laud Hindutva-brand fascism and the political agenda of the RSS. They call for ‘strict laws to stop religious conversion and infiltration’, and for an ‘end to all types of appeasement….immediate suspension of article 370…equipping army and security forces with modern means and giving them full freedom to eliminate terrorism’.
A school Political Science text book devotes an entire chapter to Fascism, and has this to say about what it calls its ‘contribution’: ‘Fascism does away with the demerits of democracy. In situations of crises, immediate decisions are required and fascism is appropriate for it. Through fascism the spirit of nationalism develops. Fascism prevents free competition. The nation remains secure if the government is in the hands of an able person. Italy developed economy and industry in the age of Mussolini. In this way, though fascism was a short-term system, yet its significance will continue all times’.
It is thus amply clear that these books have been carefully doctored to promote the political project of Hindutva fascism, which is based on the notion of Brahminical supremacy and the continued suppression and marginalization of the ‘low’ caste majority as well as Muslims and Christians. Far from being enlightening and informative, these books appear to be nothing less than crude propaganda. Summing up the findings of his study, and noting that these books are consciously geared to promoting the Hindutva fascist agenda, Apoorvanand questions, ‘Is there still courage and energy within us to initiate a campaign to scrap these textbooks?’ . ‘Shall the Supreme Court and High Court of Rajasthan not take into cognizance such an obscene, vulgar and crude distortion of the right of the children of Rajasthan for availing good education?,’ he asks.
It is, of course, not just the Rajasthan textbooks that display such sinister manipulation by Hindutva forces. Much has been said about the need for revision of textbooks throughout the country to address their serious class, caste, religious and gender biases. Studies like this one for each state are needed, but then the crucial question is: Do our political parties have the political will and sincerity to do anything substantial to even appear to address the issue?
This story first appeared on twocircles.net