Redrawing school syllabus along Batra’s lines — a retrograde step
Studying Indian nationalism through Mr. Batra’s eyes – a retrograde idea
In the last few weeks, Mr. Dinanath Batra has shot to limelight kicking up a lot of dust in the process. He has proclaimed himself as the protagonist of the idea to Indianise the country’s education. He is the convenor of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. This institution has set up the Non-Governmental Education Commission to boost his campaign. He has, with not much difficulty, brought on board educationists of similar ilk. But his lofty mission has disturbingly similar strands with those of the Hindutva political project. The supporters of this project have often been embroiled in unseemly controversies targeting minority communities. As a result, the noble, and all-encompassing nature of Hindutva its supporters so often ascribe to the idea has been sullied, drawing criticism from intellectuals of all religious groups – minority and majority alike.
Mr. Batra strikes a chord in the hearts of many ideologues of the Bharatiya Janata Party. That gives him the clout and publicity. Gujarat has led the way in following the prescriptions of Mr. Batra. In the schools, his books carrying lessons with dubious scientific facts and ridiculous medieval values now form part of the curriculum. He professes to teach Vedic Mathematics, Value Education, and Integral Humanism. No one can ever criticize inclusion of these subjects in text books. But, Mr. Batra’s intentions are far more sinister and divisive. Religious myths must never be termed as history and Hinduism must not appear to circumscribe Indian Nationalism. Such allusions are misleading and are repugnant for a young impressionable mind. It might sow the seeds of fanaticism.
By any reckoning, Mr. Batra is a zealous supporter of the Hindu cause. He has a record of opposing any thought or publication that is remotely critical of Hinduism. The fact that he is in the center-stage of the BJP-led government’s brains trust on culture and education is so disconcerting. He succeeded in browbeating even the greatly-respected publisher Penguin. It led to the withdrawal and eventual pulping of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. From then on, Mr. Batra has assumed an aura of an invincible warrior of Hinduism. He wants the young pupils of India to look at Indian Nationalism’s evolution through the prism of orthodox Hinduism.
Ram Madhav, an RSS ideologue, who joined the BJP recently, has jumped to the defense of Mr. Batra. According to Mr. Madhav, Mr. Batra is on a benign mission to preach Indian values to students. Given his RSS moorings, this was expected of Mr. Madhav.
Mr. Batra has a penchant for seeing the history of this ancient land through his own wisdom eyes. Where highly erudite history scholars fear to pronounce a judgment, Mr. Batra comes up with his own version as if he witnessed the actual incidents that happened in pre-historic times and afterwards. The vehemence of his assertion surprises everyone except his band of zealots.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) which has the mandate to pool the best resources to write text books has attracted very hostile attention from Mr. Batra. He feels the NCERT books distort history. A.K. Ramanujan’s scholarly essay on the many versions of the Ramayana has drawn his ire too.
Mr. Batra has spent long years in teaching in schools, but has spent little time in the field of historical research which is so painstaking, and ambiguous at times. He wants ‘values’ to be inculcated to young Indians. But, who will decide the ‘values’ and the procedure for imparting them? Study of Indian culture is a task that many highly-acclaimed Indologists find so intriguing. This daunting task of aligning school syllabus to Indian values, therefore, is too daunting for person of Mr. Batra’s caliber to undertake. His views are too myopic to be considered acceptable. Unknowingly, he puts himself in competition with the brightest minds like Swami Vivekanda, Raja Rammohan Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Prof. C. V. Raman etc.
The Centre appears keen to bring in reforms to India’s moribund education system. This is a laudable objective. But, entrusting such an onerous responsibility to a person like Mr. Batra is fraught. The ramifications of such a person setting the tone of school lessons can have very damaging repercussions. Scientific rigour and openness of intellect must be the hallmarks of all new text books. Myths and prejudices must be miles away from school text books. A modern India can’t take shape under the stewardship of Mr. Batra.