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Ideological prisms distort education

DH News Service, Dec 15 2017, 1:28 IST

Examinations are supposed to test students' knowledge and critical thinking. But the question papers set for post-graduate examinations of the Banaras Hindu University, managed and monitored by the Modi government at the Centre, were quite clearly designed for another purpose: to test students' loyalty to a particular ideology. The students who appeared for the 'Social and Political Thought of Ancient and Medieval India' paper this semester were asked to write "an essay on the nature of GST in Kautilya Arthashastra" or to establish that "Manu is the first Indian thinker of globalisation." Reacting to protests from outraged students, one of the professors who set the question paper justified it thus: "So what if these are not in the textbook? Isn't it our job to find newer ways to teach?"

It is no one's case that ancient Indian thought should be ignored. In fact, it must be studied, celebrated and critiqued, for that's the true purpose of scholarship. But to juxtapose current developments with ancient thought, with no academic basis or rigour, is absurd. The same mindset was reflected in another question asked in BHU's post-graduate History paper: "What do you mean by Johor tradition? Describe Rani Padmavati's Johor in the period of Alauddin Khilji." Again, most historians agree that Rani Padmavati was not a historical figure but a legend created by the 16th century Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Perhaps for those overseeing BHU, it was not enough that the saffron brigade recently ran a vicious campaign against the movie Padmavati, they had to burnish their version of history into the minds of university students.

All this is happening not just at BHU. School textbooks in BJP-ruled states have undergone changes, distorting history to suit the Hindutva agenda. In Rajasthan, for instance, students are told that the Battle of Haldighati was won by Maharana Pratap, not Akbar, turning recorded history upside down. But a Class X English question paper last week perhaps takes the cake for crassness. The first exercise contained a passage on Narendra Modi thus: "As a spoker he is known as a croad-puller. He is the most sovy political leader of India." The passage was followed by such questions as: "When and Where was Narendra Modi born? When did he became the first chief minister of Gujarat?" etc. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Modi or his government ordered that such "education" be included in school and university curriculum. It is clearly the work of sycophants out to please. And we may even ignore the howlers. But we can ignore the all-pervading ideological agenda taking root only at our own peril, and that of our children's future.

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