In human history, ignorance and knowledge always played wisdom wars against each other.
This wisdom war is related to the search for a superior moral justification for one group’s selfishness. Conservatives and fanatics have always tried to suppress freedom of thought and critical thinking.
Every dominant group and its elite, which come to wield power by replacing the previous one, claim that their proposed system of governance, public policies and more specifically their educational system, are going to be the best. Actually, no education or political system is neutral. It always serves the interests of the dominant classes, groups and communities.
Education has always been a great site of ideological war and a tool to establish power of the state. And this time, the Indian state has been in the clutch of right-wing, militant Hindutva ideology based political forces including religious conservatives and mercenaries who have taken control of the educational system with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister and Smriti Irani as the head of the HRD ministry.
Recently, the HRD Ministry seems to have formally acknowledged the existence of an extra-constitutional body of 21 members called the Bhartiya Shisksha Niti Ayog (BSNA) or the Indian Commission for Educational Principles, created by a Hindu right-wing educational activist organisation named, Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (Trust for the Uplift of Education and Culture), which was founded in 2007 by Dinanath Batra, a former pracharak of the militant Hindutva organisation RSS. The stated objective of the Nyas is to find and establish alternatives to the present education system by changing its “syllabus, system, methods and policy” in an effort to “Indianise” it, which in effect, means restructuring it in a Hindu nationalist framework (popularly known as saffronisation).
Last year, the “Nyas” created the BSNA as an all-India autonomous (non-governmental) education commission, to aid, advise and formulate policies and guidelines for the HRD ministry, particularly the Department of Education. The BSNA mandate too is to suggest corrective steps to Indianise the education system, to purge textbooks of foreign influences, and to promote patriotism. Clearly, this mandate does not address the problems and issues which plague our educational system but it falls within the realm of ideology. Batra and BSNA will act as extra-constitutional bodies defying the principle of electoral democracy.
Unlike Nehru’s India as a nation of syncretised culture (ex: “unity in diversity”), the rightist or militant Hindutva idea of new India is based on a known rhetoric of Hindu (or Aryan) superiority constructed from selected fictions and myths contained in ancient Hindu religious texts, and which consider Islam and Christianity as alien invasions. This is a kind of historical madness. It is going to glorify Hindu nationalists like M M Malviya, K B Hedgewar, M S Golwalkar, Nathuram Godse, etc as against secular nationalist like Gandhi, Tagore, Ambedkar, Phule, Bhagat Singh and Nehru.
As previous educational reforms under NDA rule of 1998-2004 as well as the current BJP-ruled states suggest, these “content corrections” are going to be largely selective and biased with many distorted facts and interpretations, particularly while rewriting history for indoctrinating children by promoting rightwing views on religion, economics and politics. These rewritings of history are going to diminish (if not completely ignore) the role of science and science of evolution, role of civil rights movements, anti-colonial struggle, struggle for human rights, equality and liberty, and educational, social and religious reforms movements.
Such a sectarian move is going to give rise to emergence of diverse fundamentalism (ex: Hindutva, Islamic, Sikh, etc) including the establishment of supremacy of market-based neo-liberal rationality, state violence and fascist militarism. A new kind of “majoritarianism” based on aggressive Hindutva right-wing patriotic correctness will try to establish its ideological hegemony. It will exhibit a deep disdain for democracy.
Underpinning the disdain and contempt for democracy, science and liberal-secular education is a particular view of the Hindu religion. This view is a monolithic and militant view of the Hindu religion. Bertrand Russell once said that capitalists (ex: today’s neo-liberals), militarists and clergymen (including our priests and ‘pundits’) actively cooperate in designing or giving destiny to our national education because all of them depend for their power on the prevalence of ‘emotionalism’ rather than critical judgment.
Throughout history, all efforts toward justice, equality, free inquiry and progressive advancements in education such as bringing critical thinking into the curriculum have been resisted by conservative forces, both religious and political. For them, education is merely a training and preparation for the workplace. Conservative attacks on progressive public education have been ubiquitous throughout the world and these continue unabated as can be seen in the likes of the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc.
We must understand the inner motive behind the Hindutva conservatives and fanatics’ world view. They want to limit the enjoyment of powers and privileges to owners of wealth and holders of political power.
(The writer, who teaches Development Education, is currently Director, Group of Adult Education, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)