Increasing shades of Hindutva in education

The 3-language formula has been observed more in breach, with Hindi speaking states adopting Sanskrit over others.

Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani’s commitment to the Constitution is absolutely commendable.

We are supposed to understand that the decision to stop the teaching of German in Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) schools has nothing to do with the influence exercised by the Sanskrit Shikshak Sangh to replace the third optional language taught to children in school with Sanskrit and everything to do with the Constitution.

However, the constitution says nothing directly on the three language formula. It was adopted as part of the National Policy on Education in 1968, and reiterated in 1986. As the NCERT focus group on the teaching of Indian languages observed in 2006, it was less of a policy on Indian languages and more of a ‘strategy’ to accommodate regional linguistic aspirations, the need to promote Hindi and the obvious linking value of English.

The idea was that even as southern citizens would have to learn Hindi, Hindi speakers would become a little less parochial by learning that there were other equally important and ancient languages from the South, West and East. But, as an NCERT report notes, the three language formula has been observed more in breach, with Hindi speaking states adopting Sanskrit as the third language. It would be near impossible to find schools in the North which teach Tamil, for instance, as the third language.

While the Constitution is silent on the three language formula, Article 21 (A) explicitly mandates education as a fundamental right. Yet, not only do large numbers of children continue to remain out of school, but the basic building block of the Right to Education – a neighbourhood school teaching  in the mother tongue at primary stage (Article 350-A) is something that many students across the country still don’t have.

Indeed, some of the worst offenders are BJP state governments. In Chhattisgarh, schools continue to be occupied by the security forces despite a Supreme Court order. Rather than restoring the primary schools that were shut down when the Salwa Judum began, the government has abandoned all pretence of village based primary education in favour of bringing children to semi-urban clusters instead.

In Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government has shut down 17,000 so-called smaller schools and merged them with bigger ones, forcing the children to take to private education instead.

It is quite likely that the biggest beneficiary of this will be the network of RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Mandirs. And that shining model, Gujarat, ranks 33 out of 35 in terms of access to education at the primary level according to a 2014 National University of Educational Planning and Administration report.

Surely, a Minister for HRD who is so conscious of her constitutional obligations should make RTE her priority rather than whether KV schools are teaching Sanskrit compulsorily or not. The constitution, which not just the HRD minister but also the prime minister is bound to uphold, also notes that one of the fundamental duties of an Indian citizen is to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform.”

Sudden policy changes

Sudden changes of policy, with little regard for pedagogical need, appear to be the HRD Minister’s style – for instance Delhi University’s four year undergraduate programme was overturned barely days before the academic session began. Even in the KV case, it is not clear why the ministry could not wait for the exams to make changes. While allowing every child the option to learn an Indian language of their choice sounds grand, in practice, schools can offer only a limited basket, and inevitably dispensing with German has meant imposing Sanskrit.

But a more insidious part of the style is the willingness of the BJP to accommodate Hindutva views on education – from distributing Dina Nath Batra’s weird fantasies to all Gujarat schools and appointing him an educational advisor to the Haryana Government, to the selection of Y Sudershan Rao as Indian Council of Historical Research chairman. The latter clearly has no genuine appreciation for the imagination and philosophical insight of the Mahabharat and regards it as a mere historical reflection of the times.

Why are all those who wrote so strongly about the role of the NAC as the ‘remote control’ in the UPA government, so silent when it comes to the unconstitutional power exercised by the RSS? At least, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was the face that won an election for her party and was morally obliged to ensure that her government met some of its poll promises. The RSS has never stood for elections on its own, let alone win any.

It is ironic that the controversy should have developed around German, for surely this is a language the RSS would have us learn, not to read Marx, Goethe or advanced engineering of course, but to read Mein Kampf  in the original. The real danger in the icon wars is not that the BJP wants to appropriate Patel or Gandhi, but that it wants to normalise RSS guru Golwalkar and what he stood for.

(The writer teaches sociology in Delhi University)

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