Indoctrination in the guise of cultural education

March 30, 2015

The Hindu, 30th March 2015

Rohit Dhankar

It was reported in February that the Haryana government’s Educational Consultative Committee (ECC), headed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Dinanath Batra, urged the State Council of Educational Research and Training to suggest slokas from the Bhagavad Gita that could be introduced in the school curriculum.

This move wasn’t surprising; it is perfectly in line with other events: Prime Minister Narendra Modi presenting the Gita to the heads of states, Sushma Swaraj demanding that the Gita be declared “Rashtriya Granth” (national scripture), and Mr. Batra being appointed to the Haryana government’s ECC. All of these moves are consistent with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s idelogy. But do they fit with the Constitution, which enshrines the principle of secularism, as well as the education policy of the country?

The National Policy on Education (NPE 1986, modified in 1992), which is the current educational policy of the country, notes as a concern that the “goals of secularism, socialism, democracy and professional ethics are coming under increasing strain” (NPE-86, 1.11).

It further argues that education should further the “goals of … secularism and democracy” through contribution “to national cohesion, a scientific temper and independence of mind and spirit.” (ibid, 2.2) The policy declares that the “National System of Education will be based on a national curricular framework” which “will be designed to promote values such as India’s common cultural heritage, egalitarianism, democracy and secularism … and inculcation of the scientific temper. All educational programmes will be carried on in strict conformity with secular values.” (ibid, 3.4, emphasis added)

These quotes make it clear beyond any doubt that the existing National Policy on Education is committed to egalitarianism, secularism, democracy and scientific temper, and wants all educational programmes to be carried on in strict conformity with secular values. Is the Haryana government’s decision to include slokas from the Bhagavad Gita in the school curriculum in conformity with all the values then?

Idea of secularism

Properly speaking, secularism is a doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations in the state’s policies, their implementation, and decisions. Secularism is the doctrine of keeping religion out of the state’s decisions and actions. But we have, instead, interpreted secularism as ‘Sarva Dharma Samabhava,’ where the state professes equal respect for all religions. This kind of an interpretation could be used to argue that compulsorily teaching selected verses from the Bhagavad Gita does not violate the principle of secularism. However, this interpretation is internally inconsistent and some implications of it are almost impossible to implement.

But even if we ignore those internal contradictions, ‘Sarva Dharma Samabhava’, coupled with the principle of equality, demands that scriptures from any one religion cannot be chosen to be included in the curriculum. If this is the case, then selected verses from scriptures of all religions professed by Indian citizens — Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, etc. — should be included. Not doing this or not accepting these will amount to rejecting even the ‘Sarva-Dharma Samabhava’ as a principle of state policy and functioning. So far, there seems to be no decision to include any other scripture other than the Gita. Therefore, the plan to include the Gita in the curriculum is certainly communal in character and goes against the education policy.

Independence of mind

Independence of mind is possible only through the development of critical reason. Critical reason demands that all beliefs be examined on rational grounds before they are accepted. If the beliefs happen to be of the nature that influence society, going beyond an individual’s private life, then this critical examination has to be public, as everyone is affected by them. That is, if the Gita or any other religious scripture is included in the curriculum, it needs to be critically examined at par with all scientific, political and social theories and ideologies.

The state can, of course, present the argument that only those slokas which have acceptance as moral values and which can be rationally defended will be selected from the Gita. But all scriptures have moral values that can be cherry-picked and presented as something good for humanity. This kind of cherry-picking does not help in understanding their overall character and philosophy. And they will result in indoctrinating the young into a religion whose book they do not understand. This precisely is the kind of education that prepares the ground for fundamentalism.

Need for critical reading

The only way the acceptable teachings of the Gita can be learnt and indoctrinationcan be avoided is through critical reading which involves a rigorous interrogation of values and their justifications. For example, say, we take the very appreciable list of virtues “Modesty, sincerity, nonviolence, patience, honesty, respect for one’s teacher, integrity, firmness, self-control.” (Fosse, Lars Martin, The Bhagavad Gita, 13:7) If we want children to appreciate these virtues, then they should also understand the reasons behind considering them worthy of acceptance. The rationale the Gita provides emerges from a certain theory of the cosmos, of human beings and human action that is based on the acceptance of eternal soul (purusha or atma), primordial matter (prakriti), the three gunas of the prakriti, bondage of the soul, the Brahmn, and so on. Without elucidating these concepts, no argument can be built to accept the virtues as far as the Gita is concerned.

But accepting these concepts has at the least three serious problems. One, the arguments are so subtle and complex that schoolchildren who are under the age of 16-17 cannot understand them at all. Teaching these values through the Gita before the 11th standard can only count as indoctrination.

Two, arguments provided for the cosmic conceptual scheme hang on faith; there is no sound rational argument to accept this scheme. Therefore, it could be taught only as theory, believed by some people, and not as ‘truth’. This would be very difficult in our schools.

Three, the same cosmic scheme is also used to justify the varna structure of society and to build an argument that people should be devoted to the duty prescribed by their varna. Krishna declares that he “brought forth the four-class system.” (ibid, 4:13). This structure is used to declare “women, traders, peasants, and servants” as born out of ‘papayoni.’ (ibid, 9:32) The attitudes and tasks of these varnas are fixed. Brahmins are supposed to have “[t]ranquility, self-control, austerity, purity, patience, rectitude, knowledge, understanding, and faith in religion” that are “born of their nature.” (ibid, 18:42) “Heroism, energy, resolution, capability, abstention from retreat in battle, generosity, and the exercise of power” is the nature of Kshatriyas. (ibid, 18:43) The Vaishyas are supposed to be doing “[f]arming, cow herding, and trade”, while the Shudras are “characterised by service.” (ibid, 18:44) And then it tells you that “Men attain perfection by devoting themselves to their separate tasks. … A man finds perfection by worshiping through his own,” thus putting a seal directly from God on the fate of these varnas. (ibid, 18:45-46)

The problem is not in studying the Gita to understand the religious thinking of ancient Hindus; rather, it is in taking Gita as an uncritical guide in accordance with what it demands: “let scripture be your authority when you establish what you should do and not do.”(ibid, 16:24)

There are several problems in including the Gita in the Haryana school curriculum. They relate to the preference of one religion over another, a clear programme of indoctrination, pedagogical difficulties, and an uncritical preaching of casteism through varna theory. The introduction of Gita in the curriculum, therefore, is certainly a decision that goes against the present policy of education and the secular character of the country. The decision seems to be motivated by the desire to proclaim hegemony of a section of upper caste Hindus. If this decision is seen in conjunction with other decisions such as making suryanamaskar compulsory in Rajasthan schools, and banning the consumption of beef in Maharashtra, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a stiff enough resistance to these decisions from any quarter of society.

An attempt to understand Kaimri (Hisar) Church attack

March 22, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

“An under construction church in Kaimri village in Hisar district of Haryana was vandalized by miscreants and the idol of Hindu god Hanuman was placed inside the premises.”

First let’s accept certain basic principles:
• Any one in India has the right to practice and propagate one’s religion. And therefore, Subhash Chander and his Church have the right to construct a Church in Kaimri and preach their religion there. This is their constitutional right and cannot be challenged as long as we are a secular democracy.
• The accused (one of them, Anil Godara, is arrested) indulged in a hate crime in vandalizing the under construction church and placing a Hanuman idol there. As the right of Subhash Chander cannot be challenged the act of Anil Godara and Co. cannot be defended. It remains an antisocial, anti-democracy crime which should attract adequate punishment as per the law of the land.

Having stated the basic principles now let us try to understand the issue.

Historically Haryana had a very strong Arya Samaj movement. Arya Samaj was an attempt to consolidate Hindu society, work against caste (but in a limited sense), stop the conversion of Hindus to other religions and also to re-convert Hindus who had already converted to other religions. The Hindus are bad at conversion and reconversion games; they are too crude and unsophisticated. This might be because Hinduism was never a proselytizing religion; but that situation may not last long now. The Arya Samaj movement for re-conversion was called “shuddhi” implying that the converted became impure. The stench of casteism and purity in the name is for real. The current attempts at the re-conversion are called ‘Ghar-vapasi” but the “Ghar” still remains a fragmented oppressive structure; those who converted to escape casteist indignity are unlikely to re-inter such a stinking home.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajarang Dal and RSS all are active in Hisar district. They are building the on old Arya Samaj movement; their recent Ghar-vapasi is simply a new version of the old shuddhi. As I said above, since they are too poor in this game of conversion they resort to crude metaphors and methods. Stopping preaching of other religions through violence is an admission of inability to play this game through more subtle methods.

Whenever there is a news of some Hindus attacking a Christian establishment two things are generally assumed: 1. That there is a wide spread intolerance in Hindus; and 2. That the attack was on practicing religion and not on preaching it. (I would like to reiterate that preaching of one’s religion is no justification to attack it. Attack is morally heinous and from legal view a criminal act. But the distinction of being attacked simply due to practice and due to attempts to convert is important.)

There are repeated assertions from the intelligentsia and Christian religious leaders that there are no attempts to convert. This claim need to be questioned. Not to stop it but to be prepared (from law and order angle) to protect this effort and have a fair estimate of the volatility of the situation any attempts to convert creates in Indian society.

Kaimri is a village of about 1100 families in total, has about 5000 voters. Approximately 50% of the population are Jats, Brahmins, Baniyas etc.; majority in these 50% are Jats. There are about 100 families of other backward castes and about 400 families of Harijans. A friend told me that the scheduled castes (Harijans) in Haryana are divided in two groups: SC-A and SC-B. SC-B primarily consists of relatively more progressive sections in Harijans like jatavs (also called Chamars) in local language. SC-A are relatively more backward in education and economic status. SC-B are more inclined toward Buddhism due to Dalit movement. Usually in rural areas SC-A and SC-B go the divergent ways as the bifurcation happened because of a strong feeling that SC-B are grabbing all reservation opportunities.

The village Kaimri has no Christians at all. Subhash Chander came to Kaimri about 18 month beck after his training as priest was complete (this information is ascertained from a local person and am not absolutely certain about it).

The purpose of construction of the church in such a village does not seem to be practice of religion but preaching and conversion. The likely target population perhaps is SC-A, as the other castes are under the influence of VHP, BD and RSS; and SC-B are influenced by Dalit movement.

Let us remember that the ‘other’ in Rural Haryana is a layered concept. Based on caste, groups of castes and religion. To a Brahmin a ‘Baniya’ is the other; but a Jat is ‘more other’ and a Muslim is ‘even more other’. For a Jat the ahir is the ‘other’, but a Baniya is ‘more other’ and a Muslim is ‘even more other’. The distrust and acrimony rises with the otherness. In such a society any disturbance in the existing situation is likely to produce a reaction. In the majority of people this reaction will be simply a feeling of fear of unknown and vague loss of connectivity. But the situation becomes ripe for VHP etc. to be exploited and in some this vague feeling can be converted into a violent reaction. That is precisely what they want.

The preparations and preaching of Christianity among the SC-A particularly seems to be the immediate occasion of the vandalism. Obviously this would not happen without active involvement of VHP etc. The economic angle may have played a role; as the SCs are likely to be agricultural labour in that village and active conversion attempts may disturb that exploitative economic relationship. This seems to be the anatomy of Kaimri Church vandalism. There are many feeling and forced must be operating at the ground level.

So what could be done to prevent such incidents in the future?

It seems to me that we need to have a nationwide movement to emphasise the individuals’ freedom to choose one’s faith and life. At the moment the rights of the individual are part of the constitution but the social fabric is woven by the family, clan, caste and religion. The communitarians who want to emphasise community based identities and even rights of the communities should realise that this could be used in a negative manner.

The fact of Church attempts to convert should be recognised and the law and order machinery should be prepared to deal with the reaction it will generate. Those who argue that the Church is not into the conversion business should keep in mind Pope John Paul II’s declaration in India that the intention of the Church is to plant the cross in Asia in the new millennium and that the Church sees India as a field for a rich harvest. There is no reason to think that he made these pronouncements non-seriously. He was within his and Christians’ constitutional rights. And this right needs to be protected, even if one thinks it to be morally of dubious value.

But we should also remembers that an average Christian may not agree with the Pope; and may have no desire for converting others to his/her religion. Similarly an average Hindu may not see the activity of conversion as something to be retaliated violently. The media and opinion makers should capitalise on this majority tolerance.

The VHP, RSS and BD are creating a victim mentality in the Hindus. This should be somehow countered. One cannot counter it by denial of conversions but only by accepting the right to preach one’s religion peacefully.

While accepting the constitutional right to propagate one’s religion and convert; we should also realise that morally conversion is a violent act. It also involves gullibility and cheating into a false doctrine, as all religious doctrines are false. It is not an act of rational persuasion but one of motivating the ‘would be convert’ to abandon reason. It is a rationally and morally indefensible act. An interesting argument to this effect is advanced here If one discounts the author’s homilies for Hinduism and her devotion to dubious Hindu God women the letter makes good sense.

The above mentioned open letter to the Pope quotes Mark Twain: “Religion was born when the first con-man met the first fool”. Perhaps Mark Twain is a bit harsh; I would like to change it to “Religion was born when the first con-man met the first gullible person”. In this game of con-men to make fool of others those who call themselves intellectuals have a responsibility to protect the gullible.