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Desaffronising Education

By Kancha Ilaiah

23 July, 2004
Deccan Herald

Ever since Arjun Singh took over as Minister for Human Resources Development, he started a process of desaffronising education. The process of saffronisation was deep as Murli Manohar Joshi had pushed the Hindutva ideology to all levels of the education system. This does not mean that during the phase of secularisation of education, the education system was made pro- productive masses. What the secular educationists did was that they tried to mediate between Hindu and Muslim historical systems.

But, however, they too did not realise and work out a historiography of the productive mass based on multi-culturalism. For nationalist historians the national ethos was based on Vedism. For Marxist historians it was of class without any face of Indianness, which in essence was caste. For subaltern historians the nation was of peasant or farmer, again unidentifiable in terms of the real identity of the productive masses - the tanner, the shoe maker, the potter, the shepherd, the tiller and so on, who struggle with the nature to produce food and other goods and commodities for human survival and each one of such social group is known by its caste name.

So desaffronisation of education does not mean deleting some sentences and paras from history books or deleting sections that deal with astrology from the books prepared by the Hindutva historians. Indian history does not become representative history only if the so called Vedic mathematics, Vedic science etc are either removed or nuanced with the language of a secular historian. The difference between caste communalism and secularism has been very thin. India does not suffer from only religious communalism. It suffers from caste communalism as well. Hence education should decasteise society as a whole.

Foundations hit

The school textbooks brought out by the NCERT during the BJP regime really destroyed the social foundation of Indian society. The Vedic Brahmanism was not only made central to future life but it was made binding for people who live in future too. The history of Muslim rulers was shown as a period of devilishness. There was no scientific analysis in any particular form or there was no serious examination of the history and social sciences. The form and content of the books that were brought out under Rajput leadership need to be scrapped. The question, however, is that what do we replace it with? What kind of history are we going to hand down to the millions of children? Is it enough to have a syllabus that teaches that Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Bouddhas and Jains should live side by side without involvingthemselves in social conflicts? But it does not resolve the historical mindsets, stereotypes and caste biases.

The whole question of teaching history and social sciences does not mean teaching about religious institutions alone. History and social sciences have to deal with, castes, cultures, different modes of customs, conventions and the institutional structures that emerged based on all these factors. In a caste society like India purely class-based analysis does allow the student to understand the multi- cultural structures India. The future citizens of India should know the positive and negative history of India. They should know what should be practised what should not be practised. They should know what is a vehicle to reach the goal of equality and what is hindrance for equality. More significantly they should know that the caste system destroyed dignity of labour.

Why should dignity of labour be central to our school education? The school education all these years has remained very vague. The sociological explanation, the cultural history, the political history, so far, have not treated the caste as a negative system. It is amazing that no historian has discussed jobs like shoe making, pot making , shepherding and even tilling the land. If the new education policy being framed by the Arjun Singh ministry does not grapple with castes and the kind of indignity of labour that it created once again we are in for a system which perpetuates caste inequalities, thereby other inequalities as well.

No doubt Arjun Singh himself is very sensitive to the question of communalism. And the committee that he is going to constitute might have people who are very sensitive to the communal mode of history written by earlier communal authors. But there is a general feeling among most historians that a discourse on caste is undesirable. But such an attitude towards history will show a hidden respect for superstition among many of our otherwise progressive historians.

Superstitious beliefs

There are some social scientists who believe that if we discuss caste it will spread more and more. It is like believing that if we discuss cancer it would spread in the body and if we remain silent about it, it would automatically disappear. There is also a school of writers who believe that if our children are taught about sex education that will lead to spreading of AIDS among them. Similarly some social scientists think that if school children study about caste they would become casteist. This is a superstitious belief. Cancer can be removed only by operation and AIDS can be abolished only by scientific sex education among our child population. Similarly caste can be abolished only by making our child population respect all forms of labour in everyday life. They must also discuss the negative influences of caste on the social system.