Idea of India attacked

Preaching exclusivity and even hatred through text books is evident across faiths, regions and political tendencies.

The Idea of India was again under attack last week by those loudly avowing sentiments of ‘hurt,’ ‘faith’ or ‘hate’ in various combinations to disrupt the even tenor of life, unity and free expression. Many spoke of a ‘cultural emergency.’ Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam and the Jaipur literary festival sparked the latest round of protests.

India is far and away the most plural and diverse society in the world and has flourished through the millennia through accommodation and tolerance, providing space for all manner of faiths, languages, races, cultural tendencies and ideas to co-exist and prosper, despite passing confrontations and controversies. There has been no pressure to conform but space for each to blossom in its own way in a blaze of contrasting colours and fragrances, each with a beauty of its own but together creating something more than just the sum of the parts. That has been the civilisational idea of India. People in distress or aspiring for more have found a home in India; but none has been rejected or expelled.

No melting pot here to create one out of many but a way of life that has exalted plurality.  
It is this Idea of India that was challenged by a hollow two-nation theory that has simply not worked but, instead, fatally flawed Pakistan. But similar divisive and narrowly exclusivist tendencies lurk in India too. These we must beware of and combat without compromise. Fraternity and equal citizenship for all across gender, class, caste and faiths are concepts that embrace but go beyond the confines of secularism. These are supreme constitutional values alongside Liberty, Equality and Justice. 

Unesco warns us that ‘wars begin in the minds of men.’ And minds are shaped by what we learn in schools as well as by the ethical values traditionally handed down by the great religions and cultures we profess. Sadly, ‘secularism’ has come to mean not merely excluding denominational learning from the classroom but its rich ethical content. This has further led to religious exclusivity at the cost of inter-faith understanding and harmony. This last has proved disastrous. We urge equal respect for all faiths without knowing even the bare elements of our different faiths because of the emphasis on  ‘to each his own’. This has encouraged religious exclusivity rather than a more ecumenical temper. The folly has been compounded by treating culture, a wider concept, as synonymous with religion.

Preaching exclusivity and consequently evoking a sense of separatism, arrogance and even hatred for the other through text books is evident across faiths, regions and political tendencies. The malaise persists and is in some ways becoming worse. A committee for resisting the saffronisation of text books in Karnataka has recently represented its concerns to the HRD ministry and NCERT which are inquiring into the matter. The charge is that the new 5th and 8th grade text books produced last year by Karnataka’s Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT) “treat dalits, women, adivasis and minorities as inferior beings” in violation of the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 that was framed by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) in consultation with all states and experts In the field.

Vote-bank politics

It would appear that Punjab textbooks under the Akalis glorify Sikh history by denigrating Muslim rulers, while Maharashtra textbooks under the Congress similarly extol Shivaji by denigrating the Mughals. A NCERT inquiry into the Hindutva bias in shisu mandir schools run by the Sangh Parivar several years ago was pigeon-holed.  All parties are promoting sub-cultures and undermining national unity by playing vote-bank politics.

Recommendations favouring the establishment of a National School Textbook Board which can scrutinise these books and act as an appellate authority to hear complaints have gone unheeded.  
It is these shabby, biased books, badly taught in sub-standard schools that are building divisiveness, misunderstanding and hate. The narrow, disruptive ‘sentiments’ generated by such learning is undermining unity and Fraternity. The Tamil Nadu and Jaipur incidents are not spontaneous. They are products of warped education. Yet it is the symptoms of disorder that are being addressed when something erupts and not the root cause. 
In Jaipur, some Muslims objected to Jet Thayil’s presence because he had read from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses last year. The BJP objected to any invitation to Pakistani authors when Indo-Pakistan relations had soured. Ashis Nandy misspoke in subtle, philosophical terms dubbing dalits and tribals as the most corrupt categories in India. He was actually seeking to defend these sections but was slapped with a warrant of arrest, now stayed by the Supreme Court which however chastised him for irresponsible use of language. Mamata Bannerjee debarred Rushdie and Deepa Mehta, who has just made a film of Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children,’ from visiting Kolkata for a cultural event to avoid possible Muslim protests.

Even as these events unfolded, Muslim protesters have silenced a Muslim girls’ jazz bad in Srinagar and the Hurriyat has started its annual campaign against the dates of the annual Amarnath Yatra. Bajrang Dal activists beat up a dalit professor in Dhule for ‘hurting Hindu sentiments’ by speaking derogatively of Ram. An annual count  points to rising violence against Christians. Hindutva vigilantes have again been active in moral policing in Mangalore’s entertainment  parlours. Home minister  Shinde is now threatened with a BJP boycott for referring to ‘Hindu terror,’ a term coined by the parivar earlier for Islamic extremism.

My sentiments are deeply hurt by all this nonsense. “Hate begins in the minds of men.”

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