Murli Manohar Joshi is a minister with a mission. And he gets most of his ideas from the RSS-run Vidya Bharati network of schools and colleges. Today, Vidya Bharati is the most influential organisation in the field of education—its clout can be gauged from the fact that it has held as many as 100 seminars on the proposed new curriculum for schools and suggested most of the controversial changes introduced by the NCERT. The man behind it all is Dina Nath Batra, general secretary of the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan. Batra makes no secret of his proximity to the HRD minister. "I told Joshiji, 'You are moving too slowly. You must move faster'."
According to HRD ministry insiders, Joshi and Batra work like a team with the latter playing the ideas man. And their plans are not limited to tinkering with some history paragraphs and rewriting school textbooks. There are grand plans to overhaul higher education as well and make some dramatic and controversial changes in the teaching of the sciences. Many of these proposals about university-level education were made at a seminar, 'Saffronisation vs Indianisation of Education', organised by the Vidya Bharati in Delhi last week. Vidya Bharati is no longer a fringe right-wing organisation but a forum which has wangled respectability, courtesy government patronage. Its clout can be gauged from the fact that the two-day seminar was attended by 32 vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors and retired heads of universities.
Joshi made no secret of his plans for the sciences in his keynote address. "Why is it," he asked, "that in our science books the credit for every invention and discovery has been given to western scientists as if Indians have done nothing?" He then went on to name some of the ancient scientists. "The great men of our country like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira and Nagarjuna have done a lot in the field of science centuries ago. The invention of computers would not have been possible without the Indian binary system of zero and one."
The resolution passed by the meeting, forwarded to the HRD ministry, proposed that the university system "should also encourage systematic and scientific study of contributions made by Indians, ancient and contemporary, in the sciences". Some of the scholar-sages named in the proposal are Sushruta (surgery), Charaka (medicine), Nagarjuna (chemistry), Varahamihira and Aryabhatta (mathematics and astronomy), Kanad (theory of atoms), Kapil (creation of the universe), Bhaskaracharya (mathematics) and Baudhayana (geometry). Historians and archaeologists were also asked to look into "the Aryan invasion" theory in vogue since the British, and scientists asked to study the "Saraswati civilisation" mentioned in our scriptures. Joshi went on to say that the Bhagvad Gita is replete with practical knowledge and should be taught to all university students.
There was also a proposal to make "value education" compulsory in universities. Value education is nothing more than the moral sciences taught in RSS schools—tales from Hindu mythology, folklore and history with a moral lesson at the end of it. The Vidya Bharati has books on moral education for every class. The organisation has sent a proposal to the ministry that it introduce a foundation course on Indian culture and human values at the university level for all students throughout India.
There are other ideas which Batra has shared with the minister. For instance, he says: "We believe it's essential to channelise the super energy of youth for social work and nation-building.All part of the Vidya Bharati curriculum." The Vidya Bharati has suggested that social work be made compulsory for students, along with higher studies.
RSS ideologues like Batra are also averse to pure research which they see as a waste of time and resources. He has proposed that guidelines be sent to university departments which discourage 'useless' research. Says he: "Research should be need-based and not some mental gymnastics which is of no use to the country."
In some ways Batra's vision of education is terrifying. A curriculum that propagates blind jingoism, and produces a little army of nation-builders who share a blind faith in ancient Hindu traditions. They hark back to "the glorious past" but brook no debate over their vision of the future. Genuine intellectual research and scholarship, which often raise more questions than answers, is discouraged in a bid to quell dissent. Batra, however, sees it differently: "What Joshiji is trying to do, and we support him, is that he is trying to introduce genuine patriotism. So far the leftists thought nothing of denigrating the nation and people's religious sentiments. Now they are angry because we are correcting their mistakes."
He sees the current controversy over the so-called objectionable paragraphs in the NCERT history books in the same context. Batra reveals that the Vidya Bharati had suggested 42 deletions, but only four were carried out. He gives an interesting example to defend these changes: "Jesus Christ was a najayaz (illegitimate) child of Mary but in Europe they don't teach that. Instead, they call her Mother Mary and say she is a virgin."
To accuse Joshi and Batra of Talibanisation of education would be to miss the point. While the Taliban earned notoriety for banning most books, the RSS runs an extensive education network. Forty colleges, 19,000 schools, 24 lakh students, one lakh teachers. "We are the largest voluntary organisation involved in education," points out Batra. While these schools are more efficiently run than many government institutions, the curriculum with its heavy emphasis on religion and moral studies, vilification of minorities and glorification of ancient Hindu traditions, remains highly controversial.
The problem is not that most of Joshi's ideas about education are derived from the RSS model, but that he now seems bent upon extending his writ to institutions of higher learning as well.
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