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50 shades of Saffron: Saffronising Education in India


by Gautam Ganapathy and Ranjith Kallyani


Dr.Dinanath Batra’s books are popular among school kids in Gujarat.e. His books are a must-read in Gujarat. Gujarat State education minister prescribed his books as reference books complementing the prescribed text books as per the syllabus In order to get a peek into Dr.Batra’s books, the following is a passage on stem cell technology in ancient India from his book titled Tejomoy Bharat.

“America wants to take the credit for invention of stem cell research, but the truth is that India’s Dr Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar has already got a patent for regenerating body parts. You would be surprised to know that this research is not new and that Dr Matapurkar was inspired by the Mahabharata. Kunti had a bright son like the sun itself. When Gandhari, who had not been able to conceive for two years, learnt of this, she underwent an abortion. From her womb a huge mass of flesh came out. (Rishi) Dwaipayan Vyas was called. He observed this hard mass of flesh and then he preserved it in a cold tank with specific medicines. He then divided the mass of flesh into 100 parts and kept them separately in 100 tanks full of ghee for two years. After two years, 100 Kauravas were born of it. On reading this, he (Matapurkar) realised that stem cell was not his invention. This was found in India thousands of years ago.”

These books have been published by the Gujarat state school textbook board and are being supplied to over 35000 schools across the state. Every book of Batra has a message from Shri.Narendra Modi, praising Gujarat state school textbook board for publishing a renowned scholar like Dr.Batra. Dr. Batra’s organisation Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti is a ‘movement that is aimed at cleansing distortions from education in India’. Dr.Batra was the brain behind the litigation against historian Wendy Doninger’s book which resulted in the publisher withdrawing the book because it portrayed Hindus in a bad light, according to him. In last June the publisher Orient Blackswan has announced the suspending of several titles including Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 by Megha Kumar because it was claimed to be defamatory and derogatory towards RSS according to Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti.


In 2007, after pressure from Dr.Batra, Shivraj Chauhan (Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh) removed sex education from school curriculum saying it was against Indian cultural values. The purpose of having sexual education as part of the curriculum was to combat child sexual abuse and promote safer sexual practices and control the spread HIV/AIDS. The recent campaign to erect statues of Nathuram Godse is part of the strategy to rewrite history which fits with naked majoritarianism of the RSS brigade. In the resolution adopted at the 81st plenary session of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) held in Bangalore, it was mentioned that ‘textbooks used by Vidya Bharati (Educational Wing of the RSS) promoted negative attitude and violence towards minorities, justified the caste system, sati and child marriage as being a part of Indian culture, and contained superstitions and concocted facts inimical to scientific temper’. For him, children must be advised against Western ideas and should be moulded to create an ideal nationalist society. Times of India reported him opining that one way of achieving this ideal nationalist society is by daily visit by youths to RSS shakhas.

Education, especially higher education, has always been a preferred and vital area for Sangh Parivar to inject their ideology. What is happening now is a virulent assertion of Hindutva in the sphere of education. During the tenure of Dr.Murli Manohar Joshi as HRD Minister, J S Rajput (a RSS sympathiser) was appointed as the NCERT chairman which culminated in NCERT purging portions from history textbooks which mentioned that Brahmins consumed beef at one point in time.


India: A Hindu Rashtra

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Pravin Togadia recently asserted that the whole world was once made up of Hindus and declared that the intention of the Sangh Parivar in India would be to make India 100% Hindu. Hindus currently make up 82% of the population. For him, ‘safety of property and women’ of the Hindu community would only be possible only if India becomes a place which is inhabited only by Hindus. The current vicious campaign undertaken by the Sangh Parivar trying to mobilize Hindus across caste barriers is a step in the direction of creating a nation state where ‘Hindu’ culture and traditions will have prominence over the apparently ‘non-hindu’ cultural practices of especially Muslims and Christians. But what is this ‘Hindu’ culture that is being bandied around these days after BJP’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections this year?

Hindutva: A monolithic and fundamentalist construction of Indian Past 

Introduction of a new naive, monolithic and fundamentalist reading of history for an uncritical and fanatical worship of a chauvinist version of one’s past is common to all fascists. An appalling similarity in the educational reform can be observed across many fascists autocrats. Take an example of Hitler who invested much in developing a Nazi curriculum. The nationalist approach of history during Hitler included many significant distortions such as explaining the German defeat in 1918 as the work of Jewish and Marxist spies who had weakened the system from within; the Treaty of Versailles as the work of nations jealous of Germany’s might and power; the hyperinflation of 1923 as the work of Jewish saboteurs etc. (Most frighteningly the Class X book published by the  Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks presents an uncritical picture of Fascism and Nazism. This book details the strong national pride generated during Hitler, the efficiency in the bureaucracy and the administration and other ‘achievements’ but lacks adequate mentioning of the holocaust.)

Along with introducing changes in the school textbooks, Sangh Parivar’s other strategy to saffronize higher education is to appoint RSS sympatheisers to top positions at elite institutions. Recent developments in the saffronisation agenda include appointment of Prof.Sudershan Rao who terms modern methods of historical inquiry including evidence from manuscripts, inscriptions, and artefacts found through archaeological explorations as western inspired. For him, reconstruction of past must be done through texts like Vedas which are the ‘best evidence’. What qualifies a person like Mr.Rao who doesn’t have a single publication in a peer reviewed historical journal to be the chairman of ICHR, is his being a member of Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana” (ABISY), a subsidiary organisation of the RSS. Unsurprisingly, among the 18 panellists Mr. Rao proposed recently to the ICHR, three are office bearers of ABISY.

The Saffron Environment

The saffronization agenda of education doesn’t limit to distortion of history or introduction of mythology as sciences. A new saffron vigilante has been formed in campuses of higher educational institutions to ensure the ‘smooth’ (read Hindutva- friendly and uncritical) functioning of higher education institutions. It is through various programmes that this new Hindu environment is created.

Though there is a set of Hindutva branded programmes to create conducive environment for the effective operationalization of Sangh Parivar’s ideology, saffronization seeps into the collective psche in a subterranean fashion which enslaves the unconscious. See some of the incidents happened in the campuses in Mumbai very recently. A few students of IITB organized a talk by a renowned scholar Dr. Dibyesh Anand on the issue of democratic rights of Kashmiri people. Though there was no opposition from any student groups or faculty, Dr. Anand was denied the permission to speak to students as an institute guest. Though the organizers did quite a lot of mail wrestling with the authorities, they were denied the sanction to organize it as an institute wide programme. On the other hand, Dr Subramaniam Swamy, who is infamous for his hard-line positions on the issue of Hindutva and the nature of Indian polity, was invited to talk in IITB during a cultural event and he enjoyed all the privileges of an institute guest. It was not an academic lecture and rife with overt political overtones that verged on the absurd as well the tasteless.

To come to terms with one’s past is a much needed exercise in being able to understand the follies, absurdities and injustices that were perpetrated in the name of tradition. The current intrusion by the Sangh Parivar which is directly having a debilitating effect on the autonomy of institutions such as ICHR, NCERT and other elite institutions in India would prove to be catastrophic for the democratic and plural fabric of our country. Only through looking at ourselves critically and confronting our past, we can progress towards securing the dignity of all Indian citizens along with its natural environment. A culture of openness and courage to assimilate unsavory episodes of the past is a fundamental need which will pave the way for a more just and an inclusive India. By trampling on institutions that are to uphold the democratic and secular traditions in India, the state becomes an agent of a particular fringe which wants Indian past to be resonate to their vision of India which is constructed and not genuine. Do the Germans deny the holocaust? Yes some Germans certainly still take pride in the most atrocious killing machine that mankind has ever seen. But the majority of German citizens and the German state has confronted that unsavory period of its history and is acting accordingly.


India’s contribution to the world has been tremendous for the hoary moral imagination and the finesse of our literary accomplishments. But issues like the caste system which till day remains one of the scourges of this great nation, denying dignity to millions of fellow countrymen, needs to be addressed head on. We cannot sweep it under the carpet in the name of blight to the dignity and honour of Indians. On the contrary, this kind of a denial or reconstruction of history to assuage our false pride would make us less empathetic and more virulent. Can we take pride in being violent and powerful over the weak and the dispossessed? We should become wise with history and not become bigoted and chauvinistic because the soul of this nation is not a Hindu soul (The monolithic, violent and intolerant sangh version). It is one where the human being is at the center. The soul of India is an amalgamation of the human imaginations far and wide and not monolithic as far as religion and tradition are concerned.

The perils of the recent development are not limited to distorting history and suppressing certain historians. Far and away the most ominous thing in the viciousness of the current political and cultural milieu is the self-censorship engaged in by elite institutions because they do not want to be in the bad books of the powerful. Beyond self-censorship which is very apparent with the cases illustrated above in IIT Bombay and TISS Mumbai, victimization of people who stand up to intrusion into institutional affairs of their concerned institutions has begun. The IIT Delhi director episode and the mass resignation of delegates from the Central Board of Film Certification citing intrusion are recent examples. With the suppressing of dissenting voices who are not in agreement with the campaign of the Hindu right, students are apprehensive that the democratic space that has been hard won in higher education campuses are being taken away in a systematic manner. It is time for students, faculty members and others who really believe in a democratic, tolerant and plural India to stand up and be heard. The failure to stand up against this campaign of distortion and coercion would prove much to be extremely detrimental to the democratic aspirations of millions of Indians. Another important consequence would be the complete loss of institutional autonomy of higher education institutions in this country which would have an adverse effect on the credibility of scholarship in these institutions.

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