Those concerned about the health of a modern democracy would like some clarity, perhaps, on how the new Indian State plans to align itself to some alarming tendencies in apparently “non-governmental” notions of education. The Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, an organization affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has set up the Indian Education Policy Commission — the first NGO of its kind — to suggest ways of reforming the Indian education system to make it more authentically Indian: “Bharat-centric” is the commission’s term for it. The interesting thing about this commission is that it is likely to be headed by Dina Nath Batra, the person whose civil suit against Wendy Doniger’s scholarly work on Hinduism managed to get the book pulped in India earlier this year. Even if he does not get to head this committee, Mr Batra’s idea of India — and of the pedagogy indigenous to that India — has made definite headway in the state whose experiments with different kinds of truth have acquired, by now, the status of a body of legends. A set of nine school textbooks authored by Mr Batra, as convenor of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, have been made compulsory “supplementary literature” in all government schools in Gujarat, as directed by a circular issued by the Gujarat State School Textbook Board. Translated from Hindi into Gujarati, they were released by the state education minister, each bearing a customized message from the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being actively concerned about the education of the young. But Mr Batra’s notion of scientific and historical knowledge, of what constitutes the facts of science and of history, and of the kinds of religious and nationalist sentiments to be encouraged in the younger citizens of an “akhand” and “tejomay” — undivided and powerful — Bharat should make serious educationists, indeed all rational citizens committed to moving forward in time, sit up with profound misgivings regarding the nation’s enlightenment. The questions to be asked, in this case, are clear. Does the prime minister — or his human resource development minister — still endorse these books? And will the Gujarat experiment in “Bharat-centric” education be extended to the rest of the country?