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Saffronizing the idea of Education

A new historical articulation has begun that seeks to demonize Muslims and other minorities in India. The process of creating a new narrative of history with the agenda of saffronizing the masses is rampant. Legitimizing a certain ideology on education curriculum is not what we call modernizing the curriculum, it is racializing the curriculum. 

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The Union ministry of education and ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship tableau. PHOTO: PTI

Children are born like a blank slate and its later behavior is shaped by experience. –John Locke

An act of saffronizing the idea of education stems out from the political vocabulary of what we call ‘Political Neologism’. With the idea of neologism, the Indian fascist government has been trying to create one social identity which imposes itself as racially superior and dominant.

Educational institutions have been deployed as a tool to create a sense of isolation and nationalism. Educational institutions of our time are under duress both physically and intellectually. Jason Stanley in his book How Fascism Works: Politics of Us v/s Them writes “In fascist ideology, the goal of general education in the schools and universities is to instill pride in the mythic past; fascist education extols academic disciplines that reinforce hierarchal norms and national tradition. For the fascist, schools and universities are there to indoctrinate national or racial pride, conveying for example (where nationalism is radicalized) the glorious achievements of the dominant race.” 

Mahatma Gandhi in his scheme of Nai Talim introduced labor-oriented courses like handicraft, tanning of leather, pottery making, farming, etc which NEP 2020 tried to inculcate as the process of learning by applying it in their curriculum, but this was again just a part of glorifying mythic past which most fascist governments ensure. Because eventually, these Nai Talim (New Education) courses perpetuated the dichotomy between different classes. Earlier his idea was subject to heavy criticism when he gave this idea at the Wardha Conference because he was addressing majorly the lower caste people who were already enrolled in such kinds of activities. Rather their need of the hour was pursuance of technical education to create their new social identity in a cosmopolitan era. 

Now the question remains and worthy to ask “how is colonialism still shaping our consciousness?” I would argue our situation is doubly jeopardized, and more circumscribed. First, we failed to create an independent creative idea rather than remain dependent on western knowledge and institutions. Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s letter to Lord Amherst in 1823 to stop funding Sanskrit and Arabic educational institutions of India is a clear reflection of how our social reformers as well were once dependent on western knowledge and language to develop society. Also, Ram Mohan Roy had no taste in metaphysical questions of inquiry.

This gave rise to the second problem, where we failed to find the answer to the current dilemma in our tradition and also continued delinking the proposed idea of naturalism advocated by Rabindranath Tagore. If we don’t solve this doubly jeopardized situation in a hand, then these class structures of British India will continue to reinforce more vehemently by Hindu chauvinists. 

Visual Politics

The creation and use of religious or political symbols play an important role in creating a sense of pride or achieving the political goal in a more legitimized manner. Anthony D. Smith in his book National Identity argues ‘symbolic elaborations are broader than any ideology or ideological movements’.

The Ministry of Education tableau showcased statues with saffron-clad and also five students from different institutions performing tableau’s led by a child who was in saffron-clad on the 73rd Republic Day parade clearly reflected today’s saffronized idea of education. 

On 17 December 2019, Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Karnataka which is owned by an RSS leader, in its annual function ‘Kreedotsava’ showcased more than 100 students in the white shirt and saffron dhoti holding the saffron flag in hand rushing towards the ‘poster of Babri Mosque’ to bring it down on the floor. According to the Indian Express report the narrator says in Kannada: “They demolish the structure with anything they can get their hands on. With enthusiasm, Hanuman bhaktas with Hanuman’s anger, demolish the Babri structure.” When the narrator says ‘Bolo Shri Ramachandra ki Jai! Bharath Mata ki, Jai!’ the poster of the Babri Masjid has been brought down by students. This event took place in presence of Pondicherry’s Governor Kiran Bedi who was sitting in the audience.

Textbook Tussle 

A new historical articulation has begun that seeks to demonize Muslims and other minorities in India. The process of creating a new narrative of history with the agenda of saffronizing the masses is rampant.

Adolf Hitler said about teaching of history in Mein Kampf that “History is studied to know what has been, but one studies history to find it a guide for future and for the continued presence of nation itself”.

In 2017, Rajasthan history textbook claimed to teach students that in the battle of Haldighati in 1576 Maharana Pratap defeated Mughal emperor Akbar. But, historians claim that Akbar’s army, led by Man Singh, had won the battle. Maharana’s army was well-prepared, but a rumor led to the retreat of the Rajput army. Akbar then went on to capture the Rajput forts. 

Krishna Kumar in his book Prejudice and Pride: School Histories of The Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan argues that history textbooks rely on what he calls “Memory Poster”. In Indian textbooks, Muslim League is not given much importance in the context of its historical figure of importance rather given much more attention on the eve of independence with the intent of ‘othering’.

Legitimizing a certain ideology on education curriculum is not what we call modernizing the curriculum, it is racializing the curriculum. 

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