When you enter the premises of Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) in West Delhi’s leafy Naraina Vihar, it looks like any other bureaucrat establishment. The trust was set up in 2007 to further the work of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS), a movement to impart ‘morally correct’ teachings to school going children. This academic organ was established by Dinanath Batra, who functioned as the general secretary of Vidya Bharati, the education wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), back in 1990s.
SBAS has been responsible for successfully banning Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History and arm-twisting a publisher to withhold the release of a book on the Gujarat riots titled, Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969. It has successfully rallied against scrapping off AK Ramanujan’s essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas from Delhi University’s syllabus, which offered alternative renditions to the world-known Ramayana story in the past.
Recently, SSUN recommended to the Ministry of Human Resource and Development headed by Prakash Javadekar for the new education policy that is to be formulated soon, that the medium of instruction from elementary to higher levels in schools should be the mother tongue. Foreign languages should not be offered as an alternative to any Indian language at the school level. English should no longer be mandatory at any level and all research works must be linked to “national requirements” and projects that do not meet this condition should not get UGC scholarships. In fact, the Ministry assured them in a written reply that “suggestions given by you have been noted down. They will be discussed during the formation of the new education policy.”
IndianExpress.com met Atul Kothari, the secretary of Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas. Kothari has been an invitee member of the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakarini (the All India National Council of RSS). He spoke about how SBAS is working to instill nationalism in children at school level, why instead of sex education for children, they should be taught to contain their ‘super energy’ through sports and why family values are important for all children. Excerpts:
Since the Shiksha Bachao Samiti Andolan came into being, what changes have come about in the educational system?
We’ve been successful in eradicating certain distortions which exist in the syllabus. For instance, our freedom fighters were called terrorists. In similar vein, our religion, communal communities, caste system – have been depicted in a negative manner. We have been successful in amending that. At one time, when the UPA government was in power, it refused to listen to us. So we approached the court, and through the court’s support, we were able to bring about improvements and do away with distortions.
Could you give some examples of these distortions?
In Delhi University, there was a lesson called Three Hundred Ramayanas, which was part of the syllabus for B.A. Hons. In the chapter, five different Ramayanas were discussed as examples, but the most popular Ramayana was not even included in that. The chapter only included the most distorted versions. So we rallied a movement opposing it and eventually managed to fix it. We approached the court and the decision made by the court was in our favour.
Could you share a few of the examples that were mentioned in the essay?
For example, one of the stories said that Ravana and his wife Mandodari were not able to have children, so they prayed to Lord Shiva. In return, Shiva gave Mandodari mangoes to eat, but Ravana ended up eating all of the mangoes by mistake. So Ravana became pregnant instead. And then the story goes on to describe the problems he faced the following nine months. Afterwards, Ravana sneezed and Sita came out of it. Another story said that Ram and Laxman called Sita a “fallen woman”. Now, no matter how Ravana was, he would never touch Sita mata. Then another story said that Hanuman was a very passionate (kaamukh) god, and that when he went to Lanka, he would masturbate (kaam-kriya) while watching women and men from a window. And the last one said that it wasn’t Ram who killed Ravana, but Laxman.
How can children be taught how to respect women at school level?
Through the (school) syllabus. I’ll give you an example. When (Chhatrapati) Shivaji won a battle, his senapati offered him the defeated emperor’s daughter as spoils of war. Shivaji glared at the senapati and reprimanded him. He said, “This woman is like my sister. Please send her back wherever you’ve brought her from and make sure that she doesn’t have a single scratch on her body.” Now, if this comes in the syllabus, then boys will know how to treat women.
Taking your example into consideration, I would say that we have our goddesses – Saraswati, Parvati, Kali. Everyone is taught since childhood to respect women like we respect our goddesses. But that hasn’t changed our situation in India, has it?
All this should, therefore, be presented in our syllabus in a positive way. Children should be taught that everyone is equal. And this needs to be taught to them through example, not theory.
Do you think that children should be taught sex education in school?
What you are calling “sex education” that should generally be given by the family. This is the parents’ responsibility. This is why sex education is necessary for parents more than it is necessary for students. It is the parents who can properly teach their children on this topic. The thing is, many teachers aren’t mature enough to handle or teach this subject. If they don’t have a Science background, how can they possibly teach children about this?
Our society is so conservative that sometimes even the parents feel shy talking about the subject. In such situations, isn’t it important that sex education be taught in school?
See, despite what you say, there are more problems regarding this in western countries in comparison to ours. Even though sex education is taught over there, those countries have more problems than us. So we need to find out what is the reason behind the problem that is there.
What is India’s answer to sex education then?
It’s like this: weakness in a child’s development leads to such problems. These issues begin to emerge when the child’s development is weak or when something is lacking in his/her life –like when he/she doesn’t get enough love (from family). Because of these reasons, such thoughts begin to surface.
So this “super energy” that exists in adolescents should be channelized properly. For these reasons, they should be given health education; they should do sports and other physical activities. In addition, there should be a chapter on “How to know your body” – such chapters should be taught to all students, not only those who study Science. Through this, not only will they have a scientific approach for living their life, but their “energy” will be used properly; it will be channelized properly. Then this “problem” will automatically “reduce”.
There are several rape incidents occurring in our country. Should children be taught about incidents such as the Nirbhaya case?
Look, when the Nirbhaya tragedy happened, many said that it should be included in textbooks. However, do you think any change will come about by only including the incident in the syllabus? If you teach children about Nirbhaya, they will have several other questions in their minds. Their concern should only be on absorbing the correct family values in life.
Define ‘family values’.
Children who belong to small families, it seems, are more prone to committing suicides. Nowadays there are a number of divorce cases. We should teach children about the importance and benefits of living in joint families.
How do you plan to impart ‘family values’ through education?
Families ought to impart education as well. It is up to the family to impart certain knowledge to girls. However, in school textbooks, we can have a section or a chapter on the importance of family values.
How can young girls gain self-confidence and protect themselves in society?
We should focus on their personality development and physical fitness – that should be of supreme importance, so that no man can look at the girls in a bad way. Judo should be taught to girls. Women should be free of fear; we should teach them to be fearless.
How can children be taught love for the nation through education?
We need to completely change things around. Like in mathematics, if we include a chapter on (Srinivasa) Ramanujan, then the love for one’s nation, love for mathematics and love for values will come automatically in a child. If we teach them about M. Visvesvaraya and his life to those pursuing engineering, or teach those who are studying Science about Jagdish Chandra Bose, C V Raman and (Dr. A P J) Abdul Kalam, then the values of such greats will organically be inculcated in the children. See, we can’t address the topic of building nationalism in children in isolation. These are the kind of values that should be mentioned in our textbooks.
What are your thoughts on certain textbooks that spread false information? For instance, Tejomay Bharat is a textbook that has been made compulsory in government schools across Gujarat. It mentions that stem cell research was first done in India and that it finds a mention in Mahabharata. This book, whose content advisor is Harshad Shah, has been distributed along with books written by Dinanath Batra. Is Mr. Shah affiliated to SBAS?
No, we have nothing to do with him. However, if an individual has done some work, then we should not immediately push him in a corner and interrogate his work. We should take time and give his work some thought first. We should question whether there is some truth to what he is saying or not. In addition, we should ask whether some more work can be done on it.
Today, the world is accepting our research and wisdom. If we talk about Sanskrit in India, then people called it communalism, but it’s okay when NASA is doing research on Sanskrit. If we talk about making Sanskrit compulsory in Assam, people are outraged. However, when St. James School in London made Sanskrit compulsory, then no one said anything. So we should not immediately criticise someone’s work or thinking. [Shah] hasn’t done or said anything wrong about anyone. He must have done his own research and on the basis of that he must have written what he has. Therefore, we must look at this rationally. This kind of criticism is quite dangerous for our country.
What kinds of efforts are currently carried by SBAS to make schools better?
Well, I traveled around the country for a year and went to schools to see which ones had an exceptional way of working. I went to Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and many other states. In Nagpur, for instance, school timing is 10 am to 3 pm for teachers. For students, however, the school timing is 7 am to 6 pm. In the morning, at 7 am, a spiritual prayer meeting is held, which is held solely by the students. Responsibility is left with them and that’s how they learn and develop into responsible people. Through such travel and research experiments, this kind of model was prepared, which now we can replicate anywhere. Earlier we used to approach schools, now schools approach us.
#GenderAnd — Rethinking how we cover gender in mainstream media. Click here to read about our new series. You can also help us find more such stories using #GenderAnd in your conversations.