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/ Education / Schools and Schooling /

Hindutva Institutions in Education
The spreading network of RSS

IN the scheme of things of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the business of running schools that further the political, ideological and social agenda of the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology ranks high, and the programme is described as the "task of educating and ennobling young minds". The RSS leadership, beginning with Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, had identified this as an important component of the plan to propagate "Hindutva philosophy" through initiatives on the ideological, organisational and cultural fronts. According to the organisation's own assessment, as reflected in publications such as RSS: A Vision In Action and Lakshya Ek, Karya Anek (One Goal, Several Enterprises), efforts in this direction have spread far and wide over the last 50 years.

The one "deficiency" that these publications acknowledge is the inadequacy of governmental recognition and support for this endeavour. By all indications, the attempt by Union Minister for Human Resource Development Murli Manohar Joshi to influence the conference of State Education Ministers and Secretaries with proposals to "nationalise, Indianise and spiritualise education" and provide governmental sanction to the activities of the Vidya Bharati, the educational wing of the RSS, was intended to address this "deficiency".

The attempt to impose the RSS agenda on the conference failed following protests by Ministers from some States. However, the fact remains that the organisation has a significant presence on the education scene in the country. The Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Siksha Sansthan was established in 1978 with the objective of providing a coherent organisational setting for the activities of the RSS in the field of education. In 1996, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) conducted an evaluation of school textbooks, including those prescribed in Vidya Bharati schools in the country; it was reported that there were 6,000 such schools with 12 lakh children on their rolls under the tutelage of 40,000 teachers. The NCERT made the alarming diagnosis that many of the Vidya Bharati textbooks were "designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation." The evaluation found it a matter of "serious concern" that such material was being utilised for instruction in schools which, "presumably, have been accorded recognition."

However, the Vidya Bharati network has, by all accounts, grown unhindered. Vidya Bharati general secretary Dinanath Batra claims that the organisation currently runs 14,000 schools at the nursery, primary and secondary levels and has over 18 lakh pupils under its tutelage. These schools are run in all States except Mizoram, and they employ over 80,000 teachers. The Vidya Bharati controls 60 colleges, which offer graduate and post-graduate education, and 25 other institutions of higher education. The organisation also runs two teacher-training colleges, in Jaipur and Ahmednagar.

Of the 14,000 schools, about 5,000 are recognised by and affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or the respective State Education Boards. A large number of these are in States where the Bharatiya Janata Party has remained in power.

IN the schools in the Vidya Bharati network, apart from the academic content of the instruction there is a "core curriculum", which is drawn up by the Vidya Bharati and comprises six subjects: physical education, yoga, music, Sanskrit, moral and spiritual education and sanskriti gyan (knowledge of culture).

It is through this core curriculum that the Hindutva agenda is sought to be advanced. The core curriculum seeks to pass off as historical truth the scientifically unverified claim that the site where the Babri Masjid stood at Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram. And arguing in favour of a ban on cow slaughter, one of the campaign platforms of Hindutva forces, it states that protecting the cow is important as "it is the mother of all beings and the abode of gods."

The core curriculum goes on to make other such claims. Homer's Iliad, it states, is not an original work but an adaptation of Valmiki's Ramayana. According to these teachings, almost all the civilisations of the world were inspired by, indeed founded on, Sanskritic culture.

Batra denied that this curriculum distorted and falsified history. "It only highlights the glory of our civilisation and inspires students to be proud of our heritage," he said.

The NCERT evaluation found that the Vidya Bharati schools prescribed for their pupils a series of booklets under the general titles of Sanskriti Jnan Pareeksha (Cultural Knowledge Examination) and Sanskriti Jnan Pareekhsa Prasnottari (Cultural Knowledge Examination Questions and Answers). These consist of a series of questions and their answers, which are provided in a manner that makes the rigour of original thinking superfluous. Students are required to learn by rote this "catechistic series", as the NCERT characterises it. And just what sort of "cultural knowledge" do these booklets impart? That the Ram Janmabhoomi was "invaded" no fewer than 77 times between A.D. 1528 and A.D. 1914, that 3.5 lakh "devotees laid down their lives in defending this holy site in that span of time", and that November 2, 1990, when an attempt by Hindutva hordes to mount an assault on the Babri Masjid was repulsed by the police, would go down as a "black day" in India's history.

In a section on world religions, the Vidya Bharati catechism resorts to outright communal propaganda and falsification of history: it claims that India was partitioned on account of the "conspiratorial policies of the followers of Christianity" and that Christian missionaries "are even today engaged in fostering anti-national tendencies in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala and other regions of the country."

The course material used in the Vidya Bharati schools throughout the country is the same. The schools themselves are known by a variety of names, such as Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Bharatiya Vidya Niketan, Gita Vidyalaya and Saraswati Bal Vidyalaya. Significantly, the State- and regional-level governing bodies of these institutions do not always go by the name of Vidya Bharati. These bodies use different names depending on the socio-political situation in each State. For instance, the governing bodies in Delhi, where the RSS and the BJP have a significant political presence, flaunt the title Hindu Shiksha Samiti; those in Orissa and Punjab operate under the less-strident names of Shiksha Vikas Samiti (Education Development Council) and Sarv Hitkari Shiksha Samiti (Education Council for Universal Benefit). In a supposed concession to local sentiment, in the Jharkhand region of Bihar the governing body is called Vananchal Shiksha Samiti.

THE Vidya Bharati was established as the apex body only in 1978, but many of these State and regional institutions have been around for more than four decades. According to Batra, the Vidya Bharati was established in order to advance the growth of the "educational movement of the RSS". RSS records show that the first step towards developing "alternate models of education" based on "Bharatiya ethos and culture" was taken even before Independence, with the establishment of the Gita Senior Secondary School at Kurukshetra (now in Haryana) in 1946. The school was set up by Golwalkar and at that time the idea was to open a series of schools in various States. However, that did not happen because the RSS was banned following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

The effort was renewed in 1956 with the establishment of a Saraswati Shishu Mandir at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Ever since, the Vidya Bharati has expanded fairly rapidly. Over the years, it has given particular attention to extending its reach to underdeveloped regions and regions inhabited by tribal communities. However, it is not an altruistic desire to provide educational facilities to underprivileged communities that takes the Vidya Bharati there. The calculations are rather more reflective of a bigoted outlook, as the booklet RSS: A Vision in Action reveals. Christian missionaries, says the booklet, provide educational facilities in such regions and "corrupt young minds and wean them away from Hindu ethos and culture". The Vidya Bharati's effort is ostensibly directed at countering these "corrupting" influences.

VIDYA BHARATI schools operate even in Kerala, where the political influence of the RSS and the BJP is not as significant as in many other States. The first Vidya Bharati school in the State, the Vyasa Vidya Peetam, was established on 10 hectares of land in Kallekkadu, near Palakkad. The organisation has since established its presence in all 14 districts in the State; today it runs 174 schools. Of these, 120 are Saraswati Shishu Vidyalayas, imparting education only up to Class IV. The rest, called Bharatiya Vidya Niketans, have up to Classes VII or XII.

Seven schools, in Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, Palakkad and Ernakulam districts which have a sizable population of Muslims or Christians, follow the CBSE syllabus, with English as the medium of instruction. The rest follow the State syllabus; up to Class IV the medium of instruction is Malayalam.

About 90 per cent of the teachers are women; all teachers are required to undergo a five-month "special training" in Indian tradition and culture and the "Hindu way of education" at the Bharatiya Vidya Niketan's Adhyapaka Prasikshana Kendram, at the Vyasa Vidya Peetam campus in Palakkad. The Sangh Parivar considers this a necessity, because, as a State-level organiser told Frontline, "a majority of graduate teachers who pass out of mainstream education courses are convent-educated or otherwise not properly acquainted with the Hindu way of life." Classes in all these institutions start with a four-line hymn invoking Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning.

A few schools have a system of maintaining a record of the day-to-day activities of each student, especially regarding the progress or lack of it in the core curriculum. None of the Vidya Niketan schools in Kerala is recognised by the State Government, and students are presented for State-level or CBSE examinations as private candidates.

As elsewhere, the Sangh Parivar has focussed its attention on the backward areas of the State and areas inhabited by tribal communities. The Vidya Niketan schools and Saraswati Vidyalayas employ nearly 1,300 teachers; the main organisers of the schools are invariably RSS pracharaks committed to the Hindutva cause.

IN Tamil Nadu, the model of organisation for the RSS' education network is markedly different. The Vidya Bharati directly controls only a limited number of schools in the State; a more substantial number of schools come under the ambit of a number of autonomous trusts, such as the Tamil Kalvi Kazhagam and the Vivekananda Vidyalayas. In some districts, dominant caste groups - for instance, industrialists who control the spinning mill industry in Rajapalayam - have set up schools.

In a State where the upper-caste Hindu cultural ambience was never widely diffused as a result of the Dravidian movement, this formal delinking with the RSS at the local level has enabled these schools to gain acceptance. But apart from making token concessions to the "Dravidian" ideology, the schools are heavily suffused with the iconography and ritualism of Hindutva. All schools typically have a prayer hall with idols of Hindu deities such as Lakshmi, Saraswati and Ganesha. Religious festivals such as Krishna Jayanti, Vinayaka Chaturthi, Deepavali and Pongal - and even the anniversary of Chatrapati Shivaji's coronation, which has now come to acquire quasi-religious symbolism - are celebrated. These schools observe Teachers' Day not on September 5, the birth anniversary of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, but on July 25, which is claimed to be the birth anniversary of the sage Vyasa. They observe Children's Day not on November 14, Jawaharlal Nehru's birth anniversary, but on Krishna Jayanti.

A lesson on the life of "Guru" Golwalkar is prescribed reading material in Tamil for students of Class VII in the Vivekananda schools. The Vivekananda Kendra in Kanyakumari, which exercises controlling authority over the schools, conducts Shishu Vatika camps for teachers where the focus is on teaching methods for the primary level. This has acquired importance because the RSS has consciously decided to expand its network of primary schools. This expansion is targeted at developing and moulding cadres for the future, and developing organic links with the communities that are adjacent to these schools.

ORISSA is another State where the RSS has overcome the inertia of a late start and established a network of educational institutions. Observers claim that the Saraswati Shishu Mandir network is popular in urban and semi-urban areas because of the perception among some sections that the schools offer a higher standard of education than government-run schools and charge lower fees than most other private schools.

The apparatus of indoctrination is identical to that adopted in most other States. Teachers are advised to visit the parents of the students once a month. The Oriya-language weekly publication of the RSS, Rashtra Deepa, is mailed to all the parents. Affiliation to the State education board is a crucial element of these schools' popular appeal in Orissa, and the curriculum followed therefore conforms to the one prescribed by the State board. The core of the ideological programme is therefore carried out through extra-curricular activities.

SUCH forays into areas where the Sangh Parivar's constituents are "politically weak" have come on top of their activities for several years in the Hindi belt, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where the RSS has traditionally had a presence. The growth of the network can be traced to the constitution of the Vidya Bharati in 1978. The RSS had in 1969 formed the Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal (BSM), essentially an organisation of teachers belonging to the RSS, which focussed its attention on evolving a "Hindutva curriculum". According to an RSS publication, the BSM's objective was to "infuse a Bharatiya content to the educational system"; it even drew up syllabi for Classes I to X on moral education and tried to get acceptance from State and Union governments.

In 1977, when the Janata Party came to power, the BSM tried, in much the same way that Joshi did at the conference of State Education Ministers, to get its curriculum accepted by the Union Government. A number of seminars were organised as part of this attempt. Although these efforts did not succeed, the syllabi became part of the curriculum in RSS-run schools. It was after the BSM's attempt failed that the RSS recast its organisational structure in the education sphere and established the Vidya Bharati, which not only formulates and revises the Hindutva curriculum from time to time but also oversees the management of various RSS educational institutions.

Obviously, the effort this time was to bring the Vidya Bharati and, through it, the RSS ideology to the centre stage of the national education system. Given its long history of pursuit of the Hindutva agenda in the educational sector, it is unlikely that the RSS will give up its efforts in this direction, despite the reverse it has suffered now.

This report originally appeared in the 'Frontline' magazine, Nov. 07 - 20, 1998 , from where it is gratefully reproduced. The report was prepared by the author with inputs from R. Krishnakumar in Thiruvananthapuram, V. Sridhar and Asha Krishnakumar in Chennai, and R. Padmanabhan in Mumbai.