Religion, culture and values
Dinanath Batra seems to be a man with a mission: he is in a hurry to “Indianise” education. The convenor of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti has set up the Non-Governmental Education Commission as part of his programme, enlisting the support of educationists sympathetic to the Hindutva political project. That Mr. Batra enjoys the confidence of the Bharatiya Janata Party is clear. In schools in Gujarat, his books, steeped in medieval values and primitive science, are compulsory reading. In the name of Vedic Mathematics, Value Education, and Integral Humanism, he is seeking to push through an ahistorical, eclectic version of Indian nationalism that is seen as inseparable from Hindu civilisation. In ordinary times, Mr. Batra could have been dismissed as a maverick and a hyperactive Hindutva votary. But the problem is that he is very much a part of the ruling establishment. Especially after his success in getting Penguin towithdraw Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, Mr. Batra is recognised as a champion of Hinduisation of culture and history in the name of promoting Indianness. With support from several allied organisations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP, he seems intent on influencing government policy on education and culture. Not surprisingly, among the first to come out in his support was Ram Madhav, an RSS ideologue who joined the BJP recently. Mr. Batra, according to Mr. Madhav, was merely trying to ensure that Indian values were taught to schoolchildren.
Mr. Batra has a record of wanting to rewrite history in his own words. Among his targets were the National Council of Educational Research and Training for publishing textbooks that “distorted” history, and the essay of A.K. Ramanujan on the many versions of the Ramayana. In the eyes of the retired schoolteacher, culture, religion, nationalism, all these should be woven into school textbooks in a value-laden education. Indian culture is a proper subject for enquiry and teaching, but Mr. Batra has marked out a narrow religious territory with emphasis on the superficial and the outward symbols rather than on deep learning and enduring values. With a BJP-led government in power at the Centre, Mr. Batra, who was regarded highly by the Modi government in Gujarat, is now in a position where he can influence policymakers. The new BJP government at the Centre appears intent on bringing in educational reforms, but it would have to look beyond the likes of Mr. Batra in inculcating scientific temper and human values in schoolchildren. After all, there is nothing intrinsically Hindu or Indian about scientific facts and moral values. Moving along the path charted by Mr. Batra will be doing a disservice to the cause of education.