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On Saffronisation of Education

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  • Shaji John K
    EPW November 16, 2002 Commentary On Saffronisation of Education It is usually believed by exponents of Hindutva that theirs is a bold revolt against western
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 22, 2002
      November 16, 2002

      On Saffronisation of Education

      It is usually believed by exponents of Hindutva that theirs is a bold
      revolt against western hegemony, but in fact it is an imperfect and
      slavish imitation of that hegemonic system, a caricature.
      Hiren Gohain

      The term 'saffronisation of education' appears to denote a fairly
      innocuous, if dubious process. It is in fact both a treacherous and
      frivolous response to a grave cultural crisis, a kind of response
      that is typical of Fascism, and Fascists have made the most of
      radical impotence. Democrats with an inadequate sense of history, and
      leftists and radicals whose smugness is criminal in the light of
      their own historical consciousness, read in it a silly and
      disgraceful exercise, something like one of the numerous outcrop of
      ersatz Hindu cults of the moment. They fail to see that it is a
      combination of a confident appeal to a brutalised mass consciousness
      and a coercive imposition of a dogmatic view of national history and

      When the BJP, backed by the Sangh Parivar, detected slurs on
      communities like the Sikhs and the Jains in the impugned history
      textbooks of the NCERT, Congress stalwarts like A K Anthony and
      Digvijay Singh also murmured their assent to that reading, oblivious
      of the fact that those history textbooks (e g those by Romilla Thapar
      and Bipan Chandra, as well as those by Arjun Dev) had been written
      and approved during long years of Congress rule in the centre.
      Evidently there is now a change in the climate of opinion which makes
      critical references to traditions of different indigenous religion
      acts taboo. The change indicates far more than a turn towards
      populism. To put it bluntly, there is a confusion between legitimate
      pride in one's heritage and an over-sensitive, indeed aggressive
      attitude towards any critical interrogation of that heritage.

      It is common to assume that such symptoms are passing whims and fads
      of those who occupy positions of power. On the contrary. When the
      Babri Masjid was turned into a heap of rubble, two of the most
      eminent and hard-hitting intellectuals among westernised orientals,
      Nirad C Choudhuri and V S Naipaul, well known for their pugnacious
      admiration for the west, hailed the barbarous act as a vindication of
      a dishonoured culture. In this view at least there is no difference
      between the die-hard saffron brigade and the most intransigent
      pro-western elements. What is the secret behind this incredible

      J S Rajput, director of the NCERT, in an affidavit before the Supreme
      Court, as well as in a circular letter introducing a new curricular
      framework for schools, affirms that the old and superseded framework
      had erred by overstressing a secular outlook and neglecting the
      spiritual heritage of the country. That balance was to be restored by
      introducing value education, and since values according to him are
      sanctioned by religion, ultimately religious education. Such views
      are not exceptional. Sometimes Mahatma Gandhi, Radhakrishnan, and
      other leaders of both the political and the cultural awakening of
      India before independence appear to speak in the same vein. But the
      disturbing new trend is a narrow, bigoted verison of 'Spiritual
      Value', leaning explicitly on the Hindu heritage.

      It is pertinent to mention here that the Indian Constitution bears
      the traces of an historical context of religious dissension and
      conflict, and it comes down resolutely in favour of a broad, tolerant
      humanism. The preamble declares among its sacred goals 'Liberty of
      thought, expression, belief, faith and worship'. The secularism
      implied by the Constitution not only indicates non-discrimination
      among citizens on the basis of religion, whether in matters of public
      employment, or in admission to state-funded educational institutions,
      or in the approach of public administration. But it does not stop
      there. It goes on to commit itself to protecting the right of
      all religions. Even K M Munshi, the orthodox Hindu leader,
      categorically insisted on inclusion of the Christian's right to

      Saffronisation of education is part of a far-reaching agenda to
      reverse such historic trends. And it actually harks back to the
      period of turmoil to which the secularism of the Constitution had
      been an answer. As if the road not taken then again faces the nation
      at a point to which it has returned in the course of its wanderings.

      Hence the kind of spiritual education envisaged in the new curricular
      framework of NCERT is quite contrary to the spirit of the
      Constitution. The director of the NCERT in a press hand-out mentioned
      the inherent "bigotry and dogmatism" of "semitic creeds" (read Islam
      and Christianity) as against the broad outlook of Hinduism. No doubt
      the spiritual education of the new curriculum would also carefully
      introduce our young people to this nugget of wisdom.

      However, the problem is not simply that of historical regression.
      There may be some continuity in history, but never pure regression.
      What appears to be purely regressive is also determined in some way
      by larger contemporary development. Neo-colonialism today requires of
      its success the prevalence of feudal or semi-feudal ideas and
      practices. However, such elements, being out of step with the
      present, and failing to answer the genuine needs of the present, are
      bound to be overlaid with deliberate self-hypnosis, irrationality and

      In any case it is an over-simplification to say that it is only a
      question of reactionary revival and regression. The ideology that has
      hypnotised the masses drawn by the saffron brigade had its genesis in
      early colonial times during the colonial transformation of Indian
      society, the introduction of modernity under colonial auspices. In is
      this form of modernity that has failed to solve some of the
      outstanding problems of our social heritage, but it is this form that
      acquires a dangerous attraction whenever out society and culture
      enters a blind alley. The uncritical and fanatical worship of a
      chauvinist version of our past is a product of the same mind-set. And
      it is natural for such a mind-set to submit to the hegemony of

      This requires some explanation. How does colonialism continue to
      shape our consciousness? It manifests itself first in a lack of
      confidence in one's own creativity and a dependence on western
      centres of learning for the very conceptions of academic and cultural
      excellence. This mental dependence is also actively promoted by
      westerm powers and their lackeys for obvious reasons. Ours is a cruel
      dilemma as we can neither snap our link with the colonial type of
      modernity at one go, nor find answer to many of our present dilemmas
      in tradition. But that hardly excuses a supine surrender to the
      poisoned charms of a reactionary solution from the past.

      That there is an over-riding need for thorough revision of the
      structure of education all over the world has been known for several
      decades. The International Commission on Development of Education
      constituted with the world's leading educationists by the UNESCO,
      stated in its report of 1972:

      Education follows the laws of every human undertaking, growing old
      and gathering deadwood. To remain a living organism, capable of
      satisfying with intelligence and vigour the requirements of
      individuals and developing societies, it must avoid complacency and
      routine. It must constantly question its objectives, its contents and
      its methods. (p xvii)

      One of the problems the commission had warned all developing
      countries about had been the strong colonial traces in the present
      education systems of their countries.

      And just as the political and economic effects of colonialism are
      still strongly felt today, so most educational systems in Latin
      American, Asian and African countries mirror the legacy of a one-time
      mother country or of some other outside hegemony, whether or not they
      met the nations present needsŠ (pp 10-11)

      The legacy of colonialism in the system of education and conceptions
      about education in these unfortunate countries has been succinctly
      summed up by J N Pieterse and Bhikhu Parekh in their introduction to
      The Decolonisation of Imagination (OUP, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai,

      Although the effects of British colonialism on different aspects of
      Indian life and thought varied a great deal, and led to much critical
      self-questioning, colonial rule did distort India's understanding of
      its own past, present and future. It also weakened India's
      self-confidence and capacity to explore and experiment with
      alternative ways of life and thought. Above all, it encouraged
      heteronomy, the tendency to judge itself by western standards and to
      make western approval the basis of is self-respect and self-esteem,
      especially among the modernists for whom the west represented almost
      all that they valued (p viii-ix).

      The way out of this predicament has been charted by the editors on
      following lines:

      To be autonomous is to break through the categories of thought
      constructed by others, to think afresh and analyse one's predicament
      and make one's choices in terms one has rationally and independently
      arrived at. (p ix)

      Fortunately for us, Pieterse and Parekh caution against rejecting
      modernity tout court as it is "deeply inscribed in all areas of its
      life (or nation) and is integral to its identityŠ" and advocate
      critical appropriation of its legacy in various fields so as to
      liberate the mind from the unconscious colonial constraints.

      Colonialism had thus made over the inherited social and mental
      structures of traditional Indian society in a fairly drastic manner
      and in the process sapped the confidence and self-reliance of the
      native. It is usually believed by exponents of Hindutva that theirs
      is a bold revolt against western hegemony, but my thesis is that it
      is an imperfect and slavish imitation of that hegemonic system, a

      Role of Church

      It is at this point that I propose to deal with a surprisingly
      sensitive topic - the role of the church in colonial economy and
      society. Surprising because modern historians of the country do not
      care to attend to it at all. I pick up at random a book, which
      happens to be Ranajit Guha's Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency
      in Colonial India (Oxford University Press, paperback, 1997). The
      copious indices include not a single reference to the church, in
      spite of the fact that the church had been quite active on the
      margins of Indian society, particularly among tribal subsistence
      farmers. And sensitive because the biased and motivated work of
      people like Arun Shourie has virtually made objectivity on the issue

      Now the church had been a herald and agent of modernity in many parts
      of India. Through the selfless labour of countless volunteers, many
      of whom had laid down their lives in this kind of service, it brought
      about striking improvements in health, education and general standard
      of living in many communities. It restored a measure of self-respect
      to them by protecting and nurturing their languages and introduced
      them to modern ways of thought at a time when both decay of
      traditional society and aggressive colonial exploitation had left
      them prostrated. Even a relatively advanced regional language like
      Bengali cannot easily forget the services of William Carey, nor the
      Assamese the work of Miles Bronson in defending the rights of their
      language and escorting it into the threshold of modernity. But when
      all is said and done such services had been rendered within the ambit
      of colonialism. The other side of the coin was a softening up of the
      mental fibre of independent communities in order to encourage their
      voluntary submission to colonial rule.

      It can hardly be overlooked that the Church had the support of the
      colonial government in its mission.When the European powers launched
      the 'Opium War' in China in the 19th century to open up the country
      to the deluge of opium to be released by them, the Chinese rulers
      resisted for the most natural of reasons. China's defeat enabled the
      European powers to force on her a vastly unequal treaty, with
      provisions like drastic reduction in customs tariff, cession of
      territory, and significantly " freedom for missionary activities".

      When the hard-pressed peasantry of Phuloguri, Nagaon district in
      Assam, driven desperate by steep hike in land-revenue and imposition
      of taxes on their wretched little kitchen-gardens, rose in revolt,
      they were condemned outright in harsh and brutual language by the
      Arunodoi, the first newsmagazine in Assamese, an organ of modernity,
      published by the American Baptist Mission. There has been some recent
      attempts to exonerate this conduct with the plea that the rates of
      taxation had been insignificant, a matter of only a few rupees. These
      later champions forget how scarce money had been among these
      peasants, and how in the following century many 'rayats' of Assam
      became landless for defaulting on land-revenue at the rate of one
      rupee per 'bigha'. (It must be made clear that we here criticise the
      church for its association with the colonial system, and not
      Christianity itself.)

      What hurt educated native sentiments in Bengal most was the ceaseless
      and vehement campaign of the church in early colonial times against
      Hindu religious ideas and practices. And Bengal was the pioneer of
      the Indian awakening into modernity in colonial times. No doubt many
      of their strictures on Hindu superstitions were just and well
      founded, But their tone was hardly calculated to persuade, as it was
      a combination of loathing, outrage and patronising pity. Besides,
      these often betrayed a woeful ignorance of the finer spiritual
      speculations and intellectual achievements of the ancient Hindus.

      As early as the first decades of the 19th century Raja Ram Mohun Roy
      faced the hostile propaganda of missionaries like Carey and Marshman
      against Hinduism. Ram Mohun brought out Precepts of Jesus, Guide to
      Peace and Happiness in 1820, explaining the irrationality and
      hollowness of certain teachings of the church which he considered
      contrary to the gospels of Jesus. He also brought the war into the
      camp of the enemy by pointing out in An Appeal to the Christian
      Public that beliefs like that in the Holy Trinity were not warranted
      by the Bible. But even Alexander Duff who received Ram Mohun's help
      in founding his school in Calcutta made a frontal attack on Hinduism
      including the Vedanta in his India and India's Missions in 1840. The
      Tattva Bodhini Patrika, the organ of the Brahmas, replied to these
      charges in a series of articles (Ram Mohun Shmaran, published by Raja
      Ram Mohun Roy Smriti-Raksha Samiti, edited by Pulin Bihari Sen et al
      in 1989, (pp 84-88).

      But the climax was reached in the attack by Reverend Hastie,
      principal of the General Assembly's Institution, run by Scottish
      General Missionary Board. In the pages of The Statesman he attacked
      Hinduism as betraying "mere animal licentiousness", "senseless
      mummeries", "loathsome impurities, and bloody barbarous sacrifices".
      He went on to say that "debasing idolatry" produced "a mass of
      shrinking cowards, unscrupulous deceivers, of bestial idlers, filthy
      songsters, and degraded women", and their only hope of salvation lay
      in embracing Christianity. It is significant that Reverend Hastie in
      the same of breath referred to the benefits of the "English sense of
      justice", "the invincibility of the new power", "our English
      enlightenment" and "powerful scholars of Europe". It appears that
      Revered Hastie's conviction about the inferiority of Hinduism had
      been strengthened by the confidence derived from association with a
      conquering power. If his campaign persuaded some Hindu youths, it
      provoked an even more powerful tide of Hindu defensive passion. Among
      the numerous educated Hindus who protested against Hastie's sweeping
      and ignorant indictment, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the first great
      novelist of modern India, and the first systematic exponent of "Hindu
      nationalism" was one (Tapan Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered, Oxford
      University Press, 1988, pp 6-9, p 122). And his views had a wider and
      deeper appeal than the modern, scientific, secular outlook of the
      'Young Bengal' movement inspired by European rationalism.

      Bankim Chandra and Hindu Nation

      Bankim Chandra's notion of a Hindu nation was a major cultural
      response to the ethnocentric European propagation of modernity. The
      favourite and loaded term for modernity in early colonial Bengal had
      been 'Sabhyota' (an extended connotation of 'civility') (See Hiren
      Gohain, The Idea of Popular Culture in Early 19th Century Bengal, K P
      Bagchi and Sons, Kolkata, 1990) and Bankim Chandra had had resort to
      contemporary European ideas of nationhood and nationalism to
      construct a collective Hindu identity as a counter-weight to the
      pressures of European ethnocentrism. It is significant that he
      excluded Muslims from its fold, and indeed identified the Muslims as
      the source of defilement and degradation of the Hindus. Significantly
      his opponent Reverend Hastie also invoked the Muslim bogey in his
      rhetoric, and reminded the Hindus how English rule had freed them
      from the Muslim yoke. Evidently the idea of Hindu nationhood emerged
      out of an intellectual compromise with the reality of colonial power.

      It is hardly a matter for surprise that in his powerful fictional
      work, Anadha Math, translated practically into every modern Indian
      language, where he proclaims the gospel of Hindu nationalism, he also
      identifies the decaying Muslim rule as the chief obstacle to Hindu
      regeneration and perceives the colonial regime as "a divinely
      ordained tutelage" for the rise and education of modern Hindus as a
      nation. Thus, both a growing sense of inferiority, and of mortified
      self-respect, combined with an aspiration for new strength in a newly
      and narrowly constructed nationhood, had been legacies of a hegemonic
      colonial culture. And even in the heyday of swadeshi terrorist
      offensive against British rule, Bankim Chandra's Ananda Math had as
      much prestige with the revolutionists as the Gita. The excluded
      Muslim elite naturally took to the ideal of a pan-islamic 'Qaum',
      largely under Wahhabi influence. It is significant that Maulana
      Mohammed Ali categorically rejected nationalism as the path of
      salvation for India during the heyday of the Khilafat movement. He
      went on to assert stoutly: "God made mankind and the Devil made the
      nation". Most significantly he warned against the temptation of a
      revival of the lost domination of any community, be it Hindus,
      Muslims or Sikhs. (Amalendu De, Samaj O Sanskriti, Kolkata, 1981, pp
      47-49). But the Muslim reaction had little impact on the powerful
      under-tow of Hindu revivalist thought in the course of Indian

      This is the excruciating dilemma of modernity in India. It had awoken
      into consciousness with a profoundly confused notion of national
      identity, under the manipulative pressures of colonial rule. In my
      little monograph on early 19th century Bengal I had had an occasion
      to underline the fact that the potentiality of a truly democratic,
      revolutionary and secular nationalism implicit in the 'Young Bengal'
      movement did not find much favour with the educated modern
      intelligentsia of Bengal, primarily because of middle-class
      opposition to extension of democracy and to true radicalism. The
      continuity of the colonial class-structure into independent India
      re-inforced, and was itself in turn re-inforced by, Hindu chauvinism.
      In the meantime, the erstwhile revolutionary later reconciled to
      British domination, V D Savarkar, invoked Hindutva as the basis of
      Indian nationalism, and the mentor of the RSS in the 1950s and the
      1960s, Guru Golwalkar, reiterated the same ideas in We, or, Our
      Nationhood Defined. From imperialism the enemy had quietly
      changed shape to turn into Islam. Then as now, the erroneous and
      fatal identification of the enemy has been the product of a collusion
      between colonialism and native ruling elites.

      The idea of a "composite nation" proposed by Gandhi had a greater
      popular democratic potential, but perhaps his lack of revolutionary
      class-outlook failed to instil it with transforming power.

      The only viable and healthy response to the cultural crisis of modern
      India was popular and radical democracy. Instead of which we are
      imbibing a concoction brewed under colonial patronage, with
      predictable consequences. And a mechanistically oriented left
      movement, unable to discern the traces of colonial consciousness in
      modern Indian culture, can find no antidote to this poison. Attempts
      to correct the error are met with a volley of foul and vulgar abuse,
      which after all is a hoary defensive mechanism.
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