Call for wider debate against saffronisation of education
NEW DELHI, AUG. 4. With the Government ``pursuing its agenda'' to change the mindset of society, the need is increasingly being felt to take the debate on saffronisation of education out of conference rooms and the limited circle of the ``converted'' to a wider audience. And a call to this effect was given on the first day of a three-day convention against the ``communalisation of education'' here today.
Organised by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), the convention will provide an alternative platform to Education Ministers of the non-NDA-governed States to air their views on the ongoing revision of the national curriculum. While the Education Ministers will be drawn into the debate only on the last day of the convention, day one saw a good many secular academics training their guns on the Sangh Parivar for not just ``saffronising'' education, but also eroding the space for discourse and damaging the essence of the very religion it seeks to protect.
Dwelling upon the communal agenda, the eminent historian, Prof. Irfan Habib, said ``the RSS is belittling Hinduism''. About the National Curriculum Framework, Prof. Habib said it was strange that a Government which had called for a national debate on conversions when churches were attacked in Gujarat should be so reluctant to have a discussion on the curriculum. While fellow historian, Prof. K. N. Panikkar, sought to link communalism to globalisation as both destroy plurality, the editor of Communalism Combat, Ms. Teesta Setalvad, was of the view that saffronisation of education preceded the BJP's arrival on the centrestage. Though a debatable point for many in the audience, her opinion found a supporter in the lawyer and columnist, Mr. A. G. Noorani.
Stating that NGOs associated with the Sangh Parivar were flushed with funds while those critical were cash-strapped, Mr. Noorani said there were any number of instances of abuse of power by the BJP in its short stint at the helm. Such being the case, he was of the view that there was a need for secular forces to get their act together and document every instance of nepotism and attack on pluralism. He suggested that a White Book be brought out on the saffronisation of education and the assault on educational institutions. Mincing no words, the former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University, Ms. Rooprekha Verma, said already the Sangh Parivar had managed to create an ``us and them divide''. A case in point, she said was the manner in which the BJP Government in U.P. took preemptive action against the SIMI while its partner in Orissa refused to take action against the Dara Sena in Orissa on the premise that it had not broken the law.
Though concerned about the saffronisation of education, Ms. Verma said the biggest danger of the Hindutva agenda was not that it was anti-minority but that it was anti- people and did not give any space to the marginalised. About the assault on educational institutions in U.P., she said all Vice- Chancellors appointed in universities in the State after the BJP came to power were members of the Sangh Parivar. ``Those who were not appointed by the BJP are constantly harassed.''
Also, according to the former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University who has drawn considerable flak from the Sangh Parivar, the number of Saraswati Shishu Mandirs had increased in U.P. ever since the BJP had acquired control over affairs of the State.
Though most of the speakers have been critics of the Sangh prior to its first taste of power, Prof. Mushirul Hasan of Jamia Millia Islamia spoke for all of them when he said that the consistency and tenacity with which the BJP was pursuing its agenda had been rather surprising.
Commenting on this ``remarkable consistency'' from an otherwise ``inconsistent'' political entity, Prof. Hasan said the enormity of the danger to India's plural society and the magnitude of the threat made it necessary for the ongoing debate to be taken to a wider audience.