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Learning In Saffron:
RSS Schools Orissa

By Angana Chatterji

Asian Age
12 November, 2003

In Orissa, over the last five years the Sangh Parivar's tentacles have spread and thickened. Minorities, refugees, and the poor -- the social crevices in which they live narrow from neglect. The disenfranchised struggle to confront social violence. The annexation of territory and resources from the subaltern, the imposition of virulent ideologies and alienating economies, have produced diverse identity politics defining contested practices of citizenship. At the intersections of globalisation and hyper nationalism, Hindutva intervenes, unravelling the fragile fabric of democracy.

The communalisation of education is a serious concern across India. Sectarian education campaigns undertaken by Hindu extremist groups demonize minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist curricula. Such corruption of education incites the political and social fires of communalism. The RSS has spearheaded the movement, successfully penetrating into the educational systems of both the grassroots and centralised regulatory commissions. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has fashioned an institutional umbrella that is having a damaging impact on education at the grassroots. The RSS has established Vanvasi Kalyan Parishads, Vivekananda Kendras, Sewa Bharatis and other groups to advance the ideological agenda of Hindu nationalism. The RSS administers 9,300 Ekal Vidyalayas in adivasi areas. For the diversity of cultures allied under the rubric of 'adivasi', the ongoing reality of Hinduisation offers evidence of their gradual and brutal incorporation into this caste system.

Created by the RSS in 1978, the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan network focuses on moral, extracurricular and physical education for 'mind, body and spirit'. The Vidya Bharati system supervises over 18,000 schools across India, with 1.8 million students and 80,000 teachers. A shared curriculum is used across the country. The Vidya Bharati operates 60 graduate institutions. About 5,000 Vidya Bharatis are endorsed by Education Boards primarily in states where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power..

Known as Shiksha Vikas Samiti, Vidya Bharati directs 391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools with 111,000 students in Orissa. The RSS has constructed a network of educational institutions across the state. Initially the RSS maintained a public distance between the Sangh and Vidya Bharati. In recent years, as Hindutva consolidates its position in Orissa, the RSS has actively declared its affiliation with these schools. Rashtra Deepa, the RSS Oriya weekly, regularly chronicles some of the academic aspirations of the Sangh Parivar. Most RSS run schools are affiliated with the State Board of Education and adhere to the state approved curricula. As the Sangh infiltrates into regulatory bodies and actively leads the rewriting of textbooks and reorganisation of the curriculum, the classroom transforms into an agent of Hindutva.

With the increasing impetus on the privatization of education, the RSS has been actively inaugurating schools in areas across Orissa where the government fails to provide public funding. The vigorous assertion of Sanskrit provides for the erasure and Hinduisation of minority languages. History, science, geography, literature, religious texts are interpreted into Hindutva. These texts, written in Oriya, are taught in schools and available in bookstores. The texts weave disparaging and malevolent fictions about minority groups, inciting Hindus to revenge history. The curriculum is censored and obscurantist, interpreted to legitimate the sanctity of a 'Hindu worldview' in India and the assembling of a Hindu state. It enables Hindu nationalism in advancing 'righteous' violence for ethnic cleansing. The RSS broadcasts this education as 'holistic', patriotic and accessible.

These schools are financed by individual donations and contributions from various charitable organisations such as the Mumbai based Bhansali Trust. These schools also offer income generation and computer skills. They serve as gathering places for Sangh organisations providing youth contact with Hindutva leaders. Parents say they are drawn to RSS run schools because they are affordable and profess to educate children in culture and religion, history and ritual.

Students receive ideological training through extra-curricular activity as well. They participate in development work and disaster relief, politicising education and linking it to social service. An RSS worker in Bhubaneswar speaks with pride. "We ask people to devote one hour a day for their country, in the name of the motherland. To gather in a field and play Indian games; with sticks, swords, other exercises, teach youth to march, some musical instruments. And then we workers discuss the ideology of the RSS -- what Hinduism is, how Hindu culture was great and how it is fading, how the youth must become involved to revive and purify it."

Through regular educational camps, he continues, the RSS recruits teachers and campaigners. Their task is to draw people to the Sangh. "To convince people that the country is in danger, the motherland is in danger. To tell people that no matter who they are, if they return to Hinduism there is place for them in the nation." After training, RSS state and district units send campaigners to serve within the different wings of the Sangh Parivar, and to the rural areas to recruit and organise the Sangh cadre.

The RSS holds month long training sessions across Orissa during summer vacations to attract students and young children. From these sessions, the RSS recruits for the Officers Training Camps (OTC). Held twice a year, the OTC provides schooling in self-defense and leadership. Around 500 people attend each year. On completion, approximately100 join the organisation as campaigners. Graduates take an oath, "I will devote my body, mind, and money (tana, mana, bhana) to the motherland." For about 10 recruits, this develops into a lifelong, intense and full time commitment. Each December, the RSS organises the Sita Shibir, a 7-10 day winter camp. The families of attendees finance the camps. The growth of the RSS testifies to the success of these camps. The RSS boasts of 50,000 shakhas in India, 2500 in Orissa with a 100,000 strong cadre.

In Orissa, the RSS charges that aggressive Hinduisation is a 'rational' and warranted response to, among other factors, the growth of missionary activity leading to an increase in the Christian population. In fact, Christians constitute less than 3 percent of the population in the state, with a 1 percent increase since 1981. The Christian population in India does not record any appreciable increase from 2.6 percent in 1971, to 2.43 in 1981, 2.34 in 1991, and 2.6 in 2001.

History is animated through extra curricular activities, seminars and workshops. New heroes, timelines, events emerge to construct India's antiquity, to naturalize her geo-political borders, to define her heritage as Hindu. History is rewritten to determine belonging and unbelonging. Difference is represented as 'other', a threat to the integrity of India as a Hindu nation, unless manipulated and straitjacketed. A whole new generation is being grown indoctrinated in Hindutva. It is a devious strategy to teach hate to the young.

Note: Information used in this article is derived from multiple sources, including interviews with persons affiliated with Sangh organisations.

Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies