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India: The language of Hindutva

by Nandini Sundar, 3 December 2014

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Nandini Sundar’s Blog - December 3, 2014

HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s commitment to the Constitution is absolutely commendable. We are supposed to understand that the decision to stop the teaching of German in Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) schools has nothing to do with the influence exercised by the Sanskrit Shikshak Sangh to replace the third optional language taught to children in school with Sanskrit and everything to do with the Constitution.

However, the Constitution says nothing directly on the three language formula. It was adopted as part of the National Policy on Education in 1968, and reiterated in 1986. As the NCERT focus group on the teaching of Indian languages observed in 2006, it was less of a policy on Indian languages and more of a ‘strategy’ to accommodate regional linguistic aspirations, the need to promote Hindi and the obvious linking value of English. The idea was that even as southern citizens would have to learn Hindi, Hindi speakers would become a little less parochial by learning that there were other equally important and ancient languages from the South, West and East. But as the NCERT report notes, the three language formula has been observed more in the breach, with Hindi speaking states adopting Sanskrit as the third language. It would be near impossible to find schools in the North which teach Tamil, for instance, as the third language.

While the Constitution is silent on the three language formula, Article 21 A explicitly mandates education as a fundamental right. Yet, not only do large numbers of children continue to remain out of school, but the basic building block of the Right to Education – a neighborhood school teaching in the mother tongue at primary stage (Article 350-A) is something that many students across the country still don’t have. Indeed, some of the worst offenders are BJP state governments. In Chhattisgarh, schools continue to be occupied by the security forces despite a Supreme Court order. Rather than restoring the primary schools that were shut down when the Salwa Judum began, the government has abandoned all pretence of village based primary education in favour of bringing children to semi-urban clusters instead. In Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government has shut down 17,000 so-called smaller schools and merged them with bigger ones, forcing the children to take to private education instead. It is quite likely that the biggest beneficiary of this will be the network of RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Mandirs. And that shining model, Gujarat, ranks 33 out of 35 in terms of access to education at the primary level according to a 2014 National University of Educational Planning and Administration report. Surely a Minister for Human Resource Development who is so conscious of her constitutional obligations should make RTE her priority rather than whether KV schools are teaching Sanskrit compulsorily or not.

The Constitution, which not just the HRD Minister but also the Prime Minister is bound to uphold, also notes that one of the fundamental duties of an Indian citizen is to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform.” Surely describing Ganeshji’s elephant head and Karna’s conception as products of plastic surgery and genetic science known in ancient India, as Mr. Modi did, cannot be deemed to be evidence of a scientific temper. If everything was already known in ancient India, and everything is available in Sanskrit, what then accounts for its disappearance, long before the “800 years of slavery” that Modi has spoken about in an obvious reference to the period when India had Muslim rulers.

Sudden changes of policy, with little regard for pedagogical need, appear to be the HRD Minister’s style – for instance Delhi University’s FYUP was overturned barely days before the academic session began. Even in the KV case, it is not clear why the Ministry could not wait for the exams to make changes. While allowing every child the option to learn an Indian language of their choice sounds grand, in practice, schools can offer only a limited basket, and inevitably dispensing with German has meant imposing Sanskrit.

But a more insidious part of the style is the willingness of the BJP to accommodate Hindutva views on education– from distributing Dina Nath Batra’s weird fantasies to all Gujarat schools and appointing him an educational advisor to the Haryana Government, to the selection of Yellapragada Sudershan Rao as ICHR chairman. The latter clearly has no genuine appreciation for the imagination and philosophical insight of the Mahabharat and regards it as a mere historical reflection of the times.

Why are all those who wrote so strongly about the role of the NAC as the ‘remote control’ in the UPA government, so silent when it comes to the unconstitutional power exercised by the RSS? At least Sonia Gandhi was the face that won an election for her party and was morally obliged to ensure that her government met some of its poll promises. The RSS has never stood for elections on its own, let alone won any. Can we trust India’s future, educational or otherwise – to an organization which has praised Hitler, wants Muslims and Christians to be second-class citizens and was criticized by Sardar Patel for having distributed sweets on Gandhi’s death? Above all, can we trust Hinduism to them?

It is ironic that the controversy should have developed around German, for surely this is a language the RSS would have us learn, not to read Marx, Goethe or advanced engineering of course, but to read Mein Kampf in the original. The RSS Guru, Golwalkar argued in “We or our Nationhood defined”: “To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimiliated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.” The RSS has never repudiated Golwalkar. The real danger in the icon wars is not that the BJP wants to appropriate Patel or Gandhi, but that it wants to normalise Golwalkar and what he stood for.

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