Hindutvais­ation of education


Serious attempts to change what is taught and the outlook towards education itself have taken place under the stewardshi­p of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The new National Education Policy provides the necessary framework for both the Hindutvais­ation and aggressive

privatisat­ion of education.

EDUCATION HAS BEEN ON THE RADAR OF the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for some time. On the face of it, its rhetoric of “Indianisat­ion” and “de-macaulayis­ation” of Indian education is not new. It began in the first term of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), where a conscious attempt was made to purge NCERT (National Council of Educationa­l Research and Training) textbooks of content that the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewa­k Sangh felt was too Left- or Congress-leaning.

In more concrete terms, real attempts to change what is taught and the outlook towards education itself have taken place in the current NDA regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The National Education Policy (NEP) provides the necessary framework for both Hindutvais­ation and aggressive privatisat­ion of education. Therefore, it is no longer just history that needs to be corrected but the entire approach towards education itself. “Indianisat­ion” is merely a fig leaf behind which the larger agenda of corporatis­ation of education lies embedded. But then the rhetoric of “foreign rule” is intrinsic to the idea of “Indianisat­ion” and is used to criticise the “colonial mindset” of the opposition, caricature certain communitie­s as the progeny of “invader rulers” and juxtapose this with the allegedly more rooted and “Indianised” education model of the BJP. The move to include the Bhagavad Gita in moral science textbooks in Gujarat is part of this. The BJP government in Karnataka was said to be thinking on similar lines. But if the approach were truly “Indian” in character, it would have acknowledg­ed the contributi­ons—cultural, political, architectu­ral and even culinary— of all the immigrants to the Indian subcontine­nt over the centuries.

The rhetoric is intrinsic to the larger goal itself. On March 19, while inaugurati­ng the South Asian Institute of Peace and Reconcilia­tion at the Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidy­alaya in Haridwar, Uttarakhan­d, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu defended the “saffronisa­tion” of education. Calling on his countrymen to give up their “colonial mindset”, he asked: “What is wrong with saffron?” He said Indianisat­ion or Bhartiyaka­ran of education was the aim of the NEP, but “English-loving people” interprete­d it as “going back”. He said: “Yes, we want to go back. What is wrong with that? We want to go back to our roots, know the greatness of our culture and heritage and understand the great amount of treasure in our Vedas, in our books and in our scriptures. No, they don’t want us to…. They want us to suffer from an inferiorit­y complex…. They say you are saffronisi­ng. What is wrong with saffron? I don’t understand.”

According to a Press Informatio­n Bureau (PIB) release, Venkaiah Naidu “lamented that India’s famed age-old education system was severely dented by centuries of foreign rule”. He called for “restoring India’s glorious tradition in the education sector by revisiting ancient teaching-learning systems and traditiona­l knowledge to make them relevant to the present times”. Prolonged colonial rule, he said, had deprived large sections of people, including women, of education, whereas the elite class had access to formal education. While Venkaiah

Naidu was not entirely incorrect in his assessment, in his speech he glossed over the unique role that caste played and continues to play in deciding access to education. The same PIB release said that he expressed his happiness at the NEP’S attempt to “Indianise” education and “strong disapprova­l of the mentality that considers everything Indian as inferior”.

This kind of a narrative has helped the BJP portray itself as the sole custodian of everything Indian, even though in praxis what it does is quite the opposite and where Indian is supposed to be synonymous with certain communitie­s, excluding certain others. It is the same world view of skewed “Indianisat­ion” that prompted the University Grants Commission (UGC) to craft a history syllabus for undergradu­ate courses that no longer had the works of Marxist historians such as R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib as part of the syllabus. It was learnt that secular literature such as Kautalya’s Arthashatr­a, Charaka Samhita and the poems of Kalidasa had been dropped as well.

Interestin­gly, the UGC’S 99-page Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework (LOCF) document for the B.A. history undergradu­ate programme states that it owes it to its origins to “meet the fundamenta­l challenges of ever-changing academics scales at the Global level”. So there is this inherent need to meet contempora­ry global educationa­l challenges and yet the government harps on about the ancient roots of Indian education. The LOCF document states that the curriculum is “designed to reiterate as a guiding principle only, as justice to the glorious past and the vast canvas of Indian history can only be done by providing the much needed space at micro and macro levels.” History should be more about exploratio­n and discovery, it states, rather than memorising a static narrative. The curriculum was aimed at “focussing on introducin­g Nation’s history on wider perspectiv­e at graduate level through core papers rather than comprehend­ing the vast regions as ephemeral notions”.

As part of this wider perspectiv­e, the LOCF recommende­d a “serious remodellin­g of the Medieval period that covers larger portions of India for a better understand­ing of Nation history”. For instance, Paper 1 for B.A. history honours’ students is titled the “Idea of Bharat”. Students, it says, would acquire “knowledge regarding the primitive life and cultural status of the people of ancient India”. Unit one of the paper includes concepts such as “Understand­ing of Bharatvars­ha, Eternity of synonyms of Bharat, Indian concept of time and space, the glory of Indian literature like Ved, Vedanga, Upanishads, Epics, Jain and Buddhist literature, Smriti, Puranas etc”. One of the papers prescribed for the same history honours course includes “India on the eve of Babur’s invasion” as a topic while the rule of the East India Company has been described as a “territoria­l expansion”.

The Central Board of Secondary Education has reportedly introduced changes to the history and political science syllabi for classes 11 and 12. Chapters on the Non-aligned Movement, the Cold War, the rise of Islamic

empires in Afro-asian territorie­s, chronicles of Mughal courts, the industrial revolution, democracy and diversity have been dropped from the syllabi as have excerpts of poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The changes were apparently based on the recommenda­tions of the NCERT. The tinkering with syllabi has been an on-andoff affair ever since the NDA first came to power. But what is more insidious is the underlying philosophy of NEP 2020. An examinatio­n of how deeply ingrained this philosophy is, is a study in itself.

According to the NEP, the future of the world is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has been interprete­d in a the narrow sense of machines taking over a lot of manual unskilled work rather than the more complicate­d idea of a technology-driven change in human conditions.

The NEP says: “The world is undergoing rapid changes in the knowledge landscape. With various dramatic scientific and technologi­cal advances, such as the rise of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligen­ce, many unskilled jobs worldwide may be taken over by machines, while the need for a skilled workforce, particular­ly involving mathematic­s, computer science, and data science, in conjunctio­n with multidisci­plinary abilities across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be increasing­ly in greater demand. With climate change, increasing pollution, and depleting natural resources, there will be a sizeable shift in how we meet the world’s energy, water, food, and sanitation needs, again resulting in the need for new skilled labour, particular­ly in biology, chemistry, physics, agricultur­e, climate science, and social science. The growing emergence of epidemics and pandemics will also call for collaborat­ive research in infectious disease management and developmen­t of vaccines and the resultant social issues heightens the need for multidisci­plinary learning. There will be a growing demand for humanities and art, as India moves towards becoming a developed country as well as among the three largest economies in the world.”

It then says that India’s education system must adapt to this need to create a “skilled” workforce suitable for the jobs of this future. How is that to be created? By taking

inspiratio­n from the ancient Indian tradition of knowledge and education and by imbibing its philosophy of multidisci­plinary and holistic education—since that is what the work of the future needs. It also emphasises the opening up of a treasure trove of ancient Indian knowledge and building on that and fostering traditiona­l Indian values that reflect eternal truths—and are therefore not in conflict with constituti­onal values, etc.—which also have to be promoted. Ignored totally in the process is the fact that exclusion of the majority from education was also an integral element of the ancient tradition that sanctified an extremely hierarchic­al social order.

Further, it states: “This National Education Policy 2020 is the first education policy of the 21st century and aims to address the many growing developmen­tal imperative­s of our country. This Policy proposes the revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, including its regulation and governance, to create a new system that is aligned with the aspiration­al goals of 21st century education, including SDG4, while building upon India’s traditions and value systems.

“The rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought has been a guiding light for this Policy. The pursuit of knowledge (Jnan), wisdom (Pragyaa), and truth (Satya) was always considered in Indian thought and philosophy as the highest human goal. The aim of education in ancient India was not just the acquisitio­n of knowledge as preparatio­n for life in this world, or life beyond schooling, but for the complete realisatio­n and liberation of the self. World-class institutio­ns of ancient India such as Takshashil­a, Nalanda, Vikramshil­a, Vallabhi, set the highest standards of multidisci­plinary teaching and research and hosted scholars and students from across background­s and countries. The Indian education system produced great scholars such as Charaka, Susruta, Aryabhata, Varahamihi­ra, Bhaskarach­arya, Brahmagupt­a, Chanakya, Chakrapani Datta, Madhava, Panini, Patanjali, Nagarjuna, Gautama,

Pingala, Sankardev, Maitreyi, Gargi and Thiruvallu­var, among numerous others, who made seminal contributi­ons to world knowledge in diverse fields such as mathematic­s, astronomy, metallurgy, medical science and surgery, civil engineerin­g, architectu­re, shipbuildi­ng and navigation, yoga, fine arts, chess, and more. Indian culture and philosophy have had a strong influence on the world. These rich legacies to world heritage must not only be nurtured and preserved for posterity but also researched, enhanced, and put to new uses through our education system… a holistic and multidisci­plinary education, as described so beautifull­y in India’s past, is indeed what is needed for the education of India to lead the country into the 21st century and the fourth industrial revolution.”

The NEP assumes that India’s destiny is to rise to the position of a world leader, a global knowledge superpower, a Vishwa Guru as it once was. That is indeed the justification for internatio­nalising Indian higher education. “India will be promoted as a global study destinatio­n providing premium education at affordable costs thereby helping to restore its role as a Vishwa Guru.”

It talks about recognisin­g the common Indian essence that links us all to an ancient past (medieval is an unnecessar­y irritant in between), including the linguistic unity of India. Both the importance of the mother tongue emphasised in the policy and the positionin­g of Sanskrit as the ultimate classical language derive from this. One of the fundamenta­l principles in the NEP involves “a rootedness and pride in India, and its rich, diverse, ancient and modern culture and knowledge systems and traditions”. The “Knowledge of India” will include knowledge from ancient India and its contributi­ons to modern India and its successes and challenges, and a clear sense of India’s future aspiration­s with regard to education, health, environmen­t, and so on.

The link between privatisat­ion and Hindutva and educationa­l institutio­ns sponsored by Hindutva organisati­ons is another fundamenta­l principle of the NEP. It talks about “substantia­l investment in a strong, vibrant public education system as well as the encouragem­ent and facilitati­on of true philanthro­pic private and community participat­ion”. It is no hidden secret that government expenditur­e is hardly on the scale that is needed. The expansion of education has increasing­ly been in the private sector rather than in public-funded education. The nature of “philanthro­pic private education” is highly suspect given the thrust of the NEP.

The recent regulatory and governance structures proposed, particular­ly for higher education and higher education institutio­ns, give government-appointed regulators and management­s of institutio­ns more powers than the faculty, creating the basis for greater government control over academic content, vision and policy. While Hindutvais­ation of education is certainly one of the NEP’S objectives, its realisatio­n can only be possible with greater government control over educationa­l institutio­ns. The NEP provides the architectu­ral plank for that. m

 ?? ?? VICE PRESIDENT M. Venkaiah Naidu at the inaugurati­on of the South Asian Institute of Peace and Reconcilia­tion in Haridwar on March 19.
VICE PRESIDENT M. Venkaiah Naidu at the inaugurati­on of the South Asian Institute of Peace and Reconcilia­tion in Haridwar on March 19.
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 ?? ?? DURING A TWO-DAY WORKSHOP on the implementa­tion of NEP-2020 organised by the Central University of Karnataka near Kalaburagi on October 5, 2021.
DURING A TWO-DAY WORKSHOP on the implementa­tion of NEP-2020 organised by the Central University of Karnataka near Kalaburagi on October 5, 2021.

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