Two and a half years since a corrupt government was booted out in favour of a zealous one, we seem to have arrived at the crossroads.
This government has made various moves that may have been welcomed if they were not so fraught with religious indoctrination and nationalist propaganda.
Take for instance the imposition of Sanskrit in the school curriculum. If it had been introduced as an ancient language which needs to be revived for the purpose of cherishing our heritage, it would not have been objectionable. The language is beautiful and resonant, and learning it could only benefit students – learning any language, for that matter, could only benefit students. However, in imposing it rather than offering it, the education policy of the government has turned Sanskrit into yet another weapon of saffronisation. Worse, in making it a compulsory choice over one’s native language beyond a certain grade, it has become an instrument of possible erasure.
India is a country forged from many lands, and each of these has a treasured language. Some have several indigenous languages. The people of each of those lands should be allowed to learn their language, from interest or for preservation. The clamour for Hindi becoming the official rashtriya bhasha has been getting louder, and while no one in India can claim Sanskrit as his or her vernacular, the fact that it shares a script with Hindi and that Hindi derives so heavily from Sanskrit makes the move suspicious.
Pride in one’s heritage cannot be forced. It must be a choice. One must also be allowed to choose the heritage with which one associates oneself. We have various identities, from individual to family to caste to religion to region to nation, and there are some that we choose to discard. To force one to embrace a particular identity may have the unintended effect of pushing one away from that identity.
Another issue that troubles those who would like to see a progressive education policy is the disingenuousness of the draft National Education Policy
(NEP), which was uploaded on the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry’s website. It claims the need for a new policy is based on this: “Since the formulation of the National Policy on Education, 1986/92, significant changes have taken place in India and the world at large. India’s political, social and economic development is passing through a phase which necessitates a robust and forward looking education system.”
But reading through the draft indicates that the NEP is more concerned with looking backwards than forwards, and selectively at that. While some historical conquests are glorified, others that were no more brutal are called out for what they were – avaricious pursuit of land and power. While some early thinkers have been hailed for their breakthrough findings in the sciences and contributions in literature, others have been ignored.
This is very troubling in the context that so many essays and pieces of critical thinking have been deemed offensive and removed from school and college curricula of late.
In the middle of all this comes the news of newly crowned HRD minister Prakash Javadekar’s closed doors meeting with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its various affiliates, which was reported to have been called to discuss the education policy.
History has traditionally been distorted across the world, but it is worrying when the entire educational policy rests on the idea of instilling nationalism. The first thing history teaches us is that nationalism is short-lived, because nations are short-lived. The map of the world was drawn by war, conquests, and surrenders. The first thing literature teaches us is to study all written and spoken words, whether they occur in holy books or not, critically. It is worrying when erudite analyses of such texts are banned, as A K Ramanujan’s beautiful essay Three Hundred Ramayanas was from the Delhi University syllabus in 2012. At the time, though the NDA was not in power, it was believed that the Academic Council of Delhi University made the decision after being pressured by right-wing groups.
Now, the right-wing is in power, lent legitimacy by the support of the government.
Their crackdown of literature is frightening, especially when ministers of this government have enthusiastically demonstrated their ignorance in the subject.
After the passing away of Mahasweta Devi, External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted, “Her two great writings Pratham Pratishruti and Bakul Katha left a lasting impression on my life. My respectful homage to Mahashweta Devi.”
The tweet was later deleted, but not before hordes of better-read tweeters had taken screenshots and then informed her that those two works were penned by Ashapoorna Devi, who was awarded the Jnanpith in 1976.
What is far worse than not having read some of the most seminal works in Indian literature is to pretend to have read them.
That is the problem with most members of this government. They want to project themselves as more scholarly, more liberal, more thoughtful, and more earnest than they are.
What we really need is honesty.
The voters are now divided into three groups – the sanghis, the liberals a.k.a. the anti-nationals, and those who have no time to care for political affiliations because they are too busy fighting for their next meals, their children’s education, their right to life, their bits of land.
All of us, and the people who rule us, need to remember that this is a democracy, and that people are allowed their choices. Hypocrisy and distortion, especially with something as crucial as the NEP, could be the undoing of both the fabric of democracy and the government when elections roll round next.
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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.