The resistance against the ideological whitewashing — saffronwashing? — of India’s education system must be indigenous in character. It is thus heartening to note that numerous states across the country that have elected non-Bharatiya Janata Party governments are now participating in a spirited pushback against the attempted revisions in history and pedagogy through the manipulation of formal academic school syllabi. Following the announcement by the Congress government in Karnataka that it would not follow the National Education Policy recommended by the Centre, the education department of Kerala has recently published some supplementary books for students of Class XI and XII. Chapters on the ideological leanings of Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer, Jawaharlal Nehru’s contributions to nation-building, and the Mughal dynasty — these had been deleted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training — have now been restored. The Central education body had sought to legitimise the incisions on pious grounds: the reduction of students’ workload was, apparently, on the NCERT’s mind. But the real motive, that of the tweaking of historical facts inimical to the project of ideological indoctrination, had always been clear. Removal of content concerning the centrality of historical figures, be it India’s first prime minister or its Muslim kings, to the nation’s history and progress could hardly be explained away as ‘exercises in rationalisation’. Similarly, purging paragraphs about Nathuram Godse’s links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and his vehement opposition to M.K. Gandhi’s aim of religious plurality only point to mischievous attempts to distort history and, consequently, prevent students from obtaining a holistic understanding of the past. India’s ruling regime is chuffed about the moon landing; yet it has thought nothing of introducing severe curtailments to chapters on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, unveiling an assault on the scientific mind.
Apart from Kerala and Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have also objected to the unilateral application of the NEP and its three-language formula, which envisages teaching Hindi as the second language besides English in non-Hindi-speaking states. Such interventions serve two critical purposes. First, they aim to restore the element of objectivity to learning. Second, and equally important, they can reinvigorate the spirit of federalism, which, like unbiased learning, has been under siege. Education was transferred to the concurrent list during the Emergency, and there have been numerous attempts to control young minds from Delhi, especially since 2014. Kerala and other states have shown that the Centre cannot ride roughshod over India’s diversity and its pluralist pedagogical practices; it is time for other states to take a stand.