Batra’s Textbook Project: Undoing Democratic-Secular India, the RSS Way

The RSS brigade is fond of ‘surgical strikes’. Though, there is still a dispute in the rational sphere about whether or not these surgical strikes against Pakistan have secured any favourable results for India, militarily or even tactically, back home on the ground, it is India’s minorities, especially Muslims, Christians and even Dalits, who have been the sacrificial goats at the altar of this aggressive militarism. The lynching, maiming and robbing of fellow Indians, in the name of ‘ghar wapsi’ (a misnomer for the forcible conversion to Hinduism), ‘Holy Cow’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ (an aggressive, supremacist slogan)is part of a cynically crafted strategy. Executed by the brown shirts of an ideology that strikes at the heart of secular democratic India, the Modi regime has also in the past 26 months been attacking (even destroying) all that has been positive within the Indian system of education.

batra Books
Image: Hindustan Times

The central MHRD ministry has been busy in waging war against universities like Hyderabad Central University, JNU and Jadavpur University. In turn, the teachers and students bodies of these Universities have been heroically resisting this supremacist, Hindutva take-over by both the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Vice-Chancellors owing clear allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The latest instance in this deplorable saga, a calendar of de-modernisation let loose by the Modi regime, is that the VC of JNU has demanded the display of an army tank at all the Central Universities specially the JNU campus! This demand for a symbolic display of military hardware is a precursor to a scenario when active army columns with tanks will control or rule over such universities as happened in Bangladesh under Pakistani military rule and Indonesia under General Suharto. In fact, such a warning was issued in unambiguous terms by G D Bakshi at the JNU on July 21, the day when India under Modi commemorated ‘victory in the Kargill war’ against Pakistan. Bakshi spoke these words in the presence of many central ministers. Not a votary for free expression and dissent, he said that after the government’s”victory over JNU” there “are many forts like Jadavpur and Hyderabad University which our army will (also) capture”. This militarist terminology aimed at free speech, independent political thought and dissentis illustrative of the values that the regime represents.

Apart from physical attacks and clear and unambiguous threats of elimination made by the ruling political and military class to these centres of learning, a far more insidious game-plan to undermine democratic India is underfoot. At the helm is RSS pracharak, Dina Nath Batra. He, as the father-figure of the RSS’demolition squad against India’s largely liberal-democratic-secular system of school education, aimed at producing inquiring and questioning minds who, as citizens, then question the status quo. Batra has recently come out with a new ‘hit list’: of content that he, and the RSS believe should be cleansed from educational content in Indian educational curricula.

According to press reports, the RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (Nyas) headed by Batra sent to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) five pages of recommendations, clearly demanding the removal of certain contents from school text-books.

This Nyas had earlier succeeded in getting removed renowned historian, A K Ramanujan’s book ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’ from the syllabus of University of Delhi. This work chronicled the hundreds of versions of Ramayana which existed in the Indian past in different regions of India thus challenging the singularity of the text of this Epic which the supremacist, Hindutva brigade wants to declare as the Holy Scripture. The Nyas also forced Penguin India Publishers to withdraw the original (and highly regarded) work on Hinduism titled ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ by the American Indologist and Sanskrit scholar, Wendy Doniger. Penguin India capitulated rather easily, withdrawing the author’s book without so much as informing the author.

[[Note: Even before the RSS combine set it’s eyes on ‘cleaning of the NCERT text books via Batra, the RSS/BJP-run state governments in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and MP have already removed/curtailed references to Gandhi and Nehru from the history and social studies texts, and added, in its place, the  glorification of personalities like Savarkar.Education is a subject on the concurrent list of the Indian Constitution: emboldened by their successes in changing school text books in the states, it is the national level text books and their content which is the target now. ]]

Remove References which Challenge Patriarchy
Where the Hindutva, supremacist right stands on gender relations stands exposed with some of the ‘subjects’ on the Batra ‘Hit List’: they expose a rather sharp gender discrimination of the RSS. 
For instance, the reference in a grade IX Hindi bookwith explanatory-note of a poem by renowned Hindi poet, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar is sought to be removed as such contents “misguide children and cause the loss of their character”.
Second, the ‘cleansing’ from the NCERT text, of a chapter on the great Kannada Bhakti poet Akka Mahadevi which describes the unique protest by shedding of her clothes of the protagonist is another instance. According to Batra such a“description of naked women” is an “attack on Hindu culture in the name of woman’s freedom”.
Batra also demands that an extract from the 19th century activist Tarabai Shinde’s milestone book A Comparison Between Women and Men, which attacks patriarchy and is considered the first feminist text to have been penned in modern India should be removed from class VIII text book. All references to the caste (Varna) system should be dropped too, demands Batra on behalf of the RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the Modi government.

Remove References to Violence Against Minorities
Looked at in their entirety, the removal/rectifications demanded from the NCERT textbooks by the Nyas follow a pattern determined by the discourse of Hindutvasupremacists.

Any reference to systemic violence against minorities referred to in these textbooks must to be removed, is the demand.

The references to the apology tendered by former PM Manmohan Singh (a Sikh) over the 1984 riots (which was in fact, was a pogrom against the Sikhs) must also be deleted.

The specific objection is to this portion of the text in the class XII political science book. “During his parliament speech in 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed regret over the bloodshed and sought an apology from the country for anti-Sikh violence.”

Another sentence that “nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002” must be deleted.

The RSS-backed Nyas demands there be ‘no discussion’ on ‘riots’. “Several things (in these books) are baseless, biased. There is an attempt to insult members of a community. There is also an appeasement… how can you inspire children by teaching them about riots?”

On this flimsy intellectual justification, recurring violence against minorities –a major illustration of internal conflict within India– is sought to be kept out of the social science texts, and thus sought to be brushed away from the living memory of students.

Remove References to Amir Khusrow
The political project of the RSS, the Modi regime, articulated through the demands of the Nyas, are potent and clear. Committed to attacking the basis of Indian syncretism and co-existence, especially epitomized by many Sufi mystics and saints, one of the most outrageous and blatant demands relates to the medieval Sufi mystic Amīr Khusrow (1253-1325). Manipulating both historical record and fact, this rebid organization ahs demanded that Khusrow should be identified as a person who “increased the rift between Hindus and Muslims”.

There cannot be a lie worse than this one. Amīr Khusrow was the person who laid the foundation of modern-day Hindi which the forces and organisations of Hindutva today identify as‘Hinduism’, with demands that it be imposed on all of India as Hindavi. He wrote in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and Punjabi. He is credited with the development of qawwali as a singing genre, dastangoi, an art of story-telling and musical instruments like both the tabla and harmonium.

Due to his deep commitment to Sufiism and a liberal outlook on Islam he has forever  remained an eyesore of conservative Muslim clergy and rulers of Delhi while he lived.

Now, close to 800 years after his death, the forces of Hindutva –the flip side of Islamism—find his life etachings of tolerance and syncretism, anathema.

Remove Tagore’s Writings
The Nyas has also demandedthe deletion from school text-books of the writings and thoughts of one of the greatest literary-cultural icons of modern India, Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore a great poet, dramatist, author, musician, calligrapher, sculptor, orator and painter (also a recipient of the Nobelprize for literature), according to Nyas and Batra ‘needs to be censured because “an attempt has been made to show a rift between nationality and humanity by citing thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore”.’
It is no doubt true that Tagore with many great contemporary philosophers of the world like CHJ Hayes, Renan, EJ Hobsbawm and BR Ambedkar condemned the concept of nationalism as it fostered the growth of sectarianism, separation and violence against ‘others’ who were different from ‘us’.
According to Tagore: “The idea of the nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moralperversion,in fact, feeling dangerously resentful if it is pointed out”

Tagore was the artist who penned, not only the National Anthem of India but also that of Bangladesh. Despite being opposed to a poisonous nationalism, he remained rooted and committed to India and its people.

He returned all awards as protest to the barbarous massacre of Indians at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, by the British army in 1919. While renouncing the awards he wrote to the then Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford: “The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.”

India and the world need to compare these actions of Tagore with the contemporary RSS leaders who have kept mum on this brute massacre. The Hindutva right, not only opposed the freedom struggle but joined hands with the Muslim League in dividing the joint freedom struggle on the basis of religion.
Tagore’s scathing critiques of narrow versions of patriotism and his espousal of universalism are clearly a bitter cultural medicine for the supremacists to follow.

Remove the Poem of Avatar Singh Pash
Batra and the RSS also want the removal of renowned Punjabi poet, Avtar Singh Pash’s poetry from school texts. Pash’s verses are passionate and heart-rending. His poetry is a cru against divisive, hate-driven forces trying to divide Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab. A courageous cultural activist, he formed the literary-cum-political organization, ANTI-47 FRONT, inviting the ire of some pro-Bhindranwale elements. He with his close friend, Hans Raj was shot dead on March 23, 1988 in Punjab.

Is it any surprise that the RSS wants references to voices against communal division removed from our texts?

Remove Ghalib’s Verse and MF Husain’s Biography
Among the list of Hindutva demands for cuts from school texts, the verse of Ghalib also must face the axe. The couplets of Ghalib (‘Hum ko malum hai jannat ki haqiqat lekin/dil ko khush rakhne ko Ghalib ye khyal achchha hai), a poet who defied Islamic clergy throughout his life must go. The biography of MF Husain whose sketches of Hindu gods/goddesses were once most popular and sought after in the calendar publishing industry of Indiamust be removed because the “central government considered his activities a threat to the country’s unity and sovereignty”.References from school texts of any or some Mughal emperors as benevolent and the reference to BJP as party committed to Hindutva also need to be removed.

English Words like Vice Chancellor and Urdu Phrases like Mehman Nawazi Have no Place in the RSS Worldview
The Nyas is also clearly attempting language cleansing. English words like vice-chancellor, worker, margin, business, backbone, stanza, royal academy must be dropped, they say.

Aggressively against Urdu, they have also demanded that some Urdu/Persian/Arabic words must be removed. These are, poshaak (attire), taakat(power), ilaaka (territory), aksar (often), imaan (belief),mehman-navaazi(hospitality), sare-aam (openly).Interestingly, if it is the beginning of cleansing of the words from Urdu/Persian/Arabic languages then the word Hindu also will also have to be dropped. According to Swami Vivekananda,the word Hindu was coined by the Persians.

RSS pracharaks seem to be launching an era of language McCarthyism.

The project is manifold. While the rulers wedded to Hindutva are facilitating the cleansing of minorities (through their cadres of saffron shirts) on the one hand, we find its ‘professors’ working overtime to turn Indian school education into Daronacharya’s gurukul where the interests and ideas of the ‘higher’ castes are the only ones that would be served. Eklavyas –Eklavya an accomplished archer from a subordinate caste had his thumb chopped off so that any competition to his more privileged competitors could be removed –have no place in the supremacist Hindutva nation.

Which is why and how the project of Hindutva for the Hindu Rashtra is eroding the foundations of secular, democratic India.



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