Gujarat has poor educational infrastructure, 6,000 schools are closed

Abdul Bari Masoud dwells deep into the BJP governments’ bid to saffronise curricula at the various levels in different States

Attempts by the sangh parivar organisations to obfuscate history and saffronise education are nothing new. Since its political arm came to power, such attempts have evolved into a highly public and state-sponsored agenda. The latest case in point is Gujarat where the school education is in shamble; as many as 18,000 posts for teachers are vacant and 6,000 schools are closed. However, in clear breach of the Constitution of India, Gujarat Education Minister Jitu Vaghani stated in the State Assembly on March 17 that the Bhagavad Gita will be included in the school curriculum for classes 6 to 12 across the state, beginning in the academic year 2022-23.

During a discussion on budgetary allocations for the education department, minister Vaghani said the decision to include the Bhagavad Gita’s values and principles in school curricula was made in accordance with the Union government’s new National Education Policy (NEP), which advocates the inclusion of modern and ancient culture, traditions, and knowledge systems so that students feel proud of India’s rich and diverse culture.

Stepping into the shoes of Gujarat, another BJP-ruled state Karnataka also announced the introduction of  Vedic scriptures in the school curriculum. The state is making headlines for all the wrong reasons, with Hijab being prohibited in schools and other Islamophobic actions.

Earlier, during the winter session of Parliament in December, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan  told  the House that the Bhagavad Gita has been introduced in curriculums at all levels in the Indian education system, from school and college syllabi to even technical education.

He was responding to a written question in the Lok Sabha on the initiatives to include Hindu scripture in school and college curricula.

“The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have suggested materials relating to the ‘Shrimad Bhagwat Gita’ are already contained in its Class 11 and 12 Sanskrit textbooks,” the minister added.

“In connection with the Bhakti movement, NCERT’s history textbook for Class 6, ‘Our Pasts-I,’ has made a reference to Shrimad Bhagwat Gita under the theme ‘Traders, Kings, and Pilgrims,’” Pradhan said.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has included portions of the scripture in the National Eligibility Test (NET) exam for the ‘yoga’ topic, according to the minister. The National Eligibility Test (NET) is a qualification exam for university instructors in India.

“Universities are autonomous institutions created/incorporated under respective Central/ Provincial/State Acts, which are governed by their own Acts, Statutes, and Ordinances/ Regulations made thereunder; thus, have autonomy to decide the curriculum for any programmes with due approval of their statutory bodies,” Pradhan told the Lower house.

Even before the federal minister’s pronouncement, higher education institutions have jumped on the bandwagon of alternate histories, pseudoscience, and other Hindutva goals by sponsoring similar gatherings. IIT Kharagpur recently hosted an event with Sri Sri Ravisankar, a self-styled Yoga and spiritual person, aimed at alleviating stress among students. These self-styled yogis and babas have established themselves as a regular presence at a number of higher education institutions where meaningful talks with a scientific slant and a secular attitude are required. The proposed NEP also focuses on Hindutva-inspired education camouflaged as “India-centric” education.

The present ministries are keen on proving Sanskrit as scientific language and conducting cow science exams. This has created unwanted Hindutva stooges making entry into higher education guised as experts or specialists. Such pseudo-science mars the scientific temper with mythical hallucinations and hinders the growth of the country.

The Gujarat government’s move, which could be followed by other BJP-ruled states, is a frontal attack on the Constitution’s secular underpinnings.

However, opposition parties did not oppose this highly communal decision of the state government. Main opposition, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have welcomed the decision to include Shrimad Bhagavad Gita in the school syllabus.

“We appreciate the decision to include Shrimad Bhagavad Gita in the syllabus,” Gujarat Congress spokesperson Hemang Raval said in response to the move. “However, the Gujarat government also needs to learn from Shrimad Bhagavad Gita itself. The Bhagavad-Gita plainly states that in order to face any situation, you must first accept it. What is the state of education in Gujarat right now? Only 14 schools out of a total of 33,000 are A-plus grade schools. There are 18,000 vacancies for instructors, and 6,000 schools have closed.”

Gujarat has the highest number of school dropouts and many students do not even know how to read and write till Class 8. Hopefully, the government will do something for them as well, Raval added.

Gujarat AAP spokesperson Yogesh Jadvani said, “We welcome the decision made by the government of Gujarat. This will benefit the students.”

Gujarat is considered the first laboratory of Hindutva, said Ahmedabad-based activist Dev Desai. Speaking with Radiance, he said the introduction of a particular religious text in the school curricula is a direct attack on the Constitution and its secular fabric. We should resist such attempts which are aimed at poisoning innocent minds and the new educational policy seems to be more for saffronisation than improving the education standard in the country, Desai said. Highlighting the dismal scene of education facilities in  Gujarat, Desai claimed that instead of filling vacancies, enlarging classrooms, providing basic facilities on campus, and opening new schools, the BJP state government in Gujarat is further communalising school education, which could have serious ramifications for students.

Echoing similar sentiments, noted journalist and Secretary-General of the All India Christian Council, John Dayal said, “A Hindu rashtra is the avowed objective of the formation of the RSS more than nine decades ago, a goal spelled out in great detail by V D Savarkar in writing. Mahatma Gandhi paid the price for, despite being staunch Hindu, agreeing to partition and then not making India reserved strictly for Hindus.”

He underlined that the saffronisation of institutions is being tried at full speed, but the RSS cannot be sure if it can continuously find new cadres in every state with its own ethnic diversity without radically changing the human resource.

This can be done only by a massive education of the coming generations in a carefully planned manner, Dayal told Radiance.

As a result, the saffronisation push is required to mould the next generation along the saffron lines.

The British had brought modern education and with it, had also encouraged social reforms, including an end to Sati, for instance.

Referring to this, Dayal said, “The BJP RSS programme takes a lesson from that, what it derides as Macaulayism, and then uses it to reverse the trend, to recreate a religious cultural series of generations that will be rooted in the old Hindu rashtra vision.

Attacking the NEP, he said it is a means towards achieving Hindu Rashtra goal. 

“The new education policy is a means towards this end. We have exposed this systematically since it was first shown as a draft. Every passing day adds to our fears that education from primary to college levels is being moderated and guided towards a situation which will reverse all the progress made in rational thinking and scientific temper by Jawaharlal Nehru.”

He further underscored, “Violence against minorities has been tried many times in the last seven decades, but for several reasons, including the federal nature of the country, it is not possible either to wipe away the religious minorities or to so frighten them that they will accept second class residence in India, even including disenfranchisement, meekly. The resistance to the CAA even by democratic Hindu society, proved that amply in this decade.”

However, another Christian leader and former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, A C Michael did not see any wrong in the introduction of Vedic text education. Speaking with Radiance, Michael said it’s good idea as Minority educational institutions owned by Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, and other communities currently teach their students respective religious books.

“I think it’s a good idea. Minority educational institutions run by Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims and other communities are already teaching their students respective religious books. This will strengthen the secular and democratic fabric of our country as every religion teaches equality. Maybe options could be given to each student to choose their preference of religious book to learn irrespective of one’s family or individual faith.”

“School is a temple of learning, not a temple to spread the ideology of a certain religion,” said Maulana Qari Ishaq Gora, patron of Jamaat Dawat-ul Muslimeen, a Deoband-based social organisation.

He further stated, “The Karnataka High Court, in its recent observation on the issue of ‘hijab’, had said that the ‘school will be run by uniform and not by any religious practice’. So, if we go by the court, is it appropriate to include ‘Gita’ in the school curriculum?”

Maulana Ishaq said that the government must first obtain the students’ consent and teach “only those who are willing.”

“However, I believe that imposing a religion or its holy writings on anyone is inappropriate,” he remarked.

Echoing similar sentiments, Mufti Asad Qasmi, another Islamic scholar from Deoband, said that it would be “wrong to impose anything on young minds”.

“We are not against the teachings of ‘Gita’ in school and the children who want to study the holy book can, but to impose it on Muslim students is wrong as students from all faiths study in schools,” said the Mufti.

Left leaning organisations also condemned the attempt to saffronise the education system.  Students’ Federation of India’s President V.P. Sanu warned that it would have serious consequences on the secular character of the country. Speaking with Radiance, Sanu said, SFI condemns these nefarious attempts under the State patronage and invites the scientific and secular minds to register their protests.

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