Blowing birthday candles is against Indian culture, says man who is now on Gujarat school library reading lists

The state has chosen nine books by Dina Nath Batra, the man who filed cases against Indologist Wendy Doniger's books on Hinduism, as supplementary literature meant to impart quality education.

Dina Nath Batra has struck again. The right-wing education crusader has been famous all year for filing cases against American Sanskritist and Indology scholar Wendy Doniger’s books on Hinduism, and causing two major publishing houses – Penguin and Aleph – to panic and withdraw those books from shelves in India.

Now he’s made his way into the syllabus of school children in Gujarat. Last month, nine books authored by Batra, translated from Hindi to Gujarati, were selected by the Gujarat State School Textbook Board to be provided free of cost in more than 42,000 state government schools and taught as supplementary literature to impart “quality education”. The books have titles like Indianisation of Education, Brilliant India, Vedic Mathematics.

Batra is the founder of the Delhi-based Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, an ‘education reforms’ non-profit affiliated to the Hindutva group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Samiti’s self-avowed aim is to push for an “Indianised” educational system that rejects Westernisation and focuses on “Indian culture, values and history”.

Batra’s books, written over several years, claim to be a manifestation of these ideas. “Textbooks currently taught in India do not evoke a sense of pride for the country, but my books contain Bharat gaurav (Indian pride), jeevan mulya (the essence of life) and samajik chetna (social conscience),” said Batra in a telephonic interview with Scroll.in.

For Batra, any discussion on the idea of Indian pride in education boils down to one subject – history. When it comes to school history textbooks, his focus often narrows down to the teaching of Mughal history, which Batra believes is the antithesis of ‘Indian’ history.

“We have suffered so much ghulami (enslavement) under the Mughal raj, but history texts have chapters on Akbar, while there are just a few lines on Shivaji or Rana Pratap,” said Batra. “Our revolutionaries are called mutineers in today’s history books.”

But challenging established history syllabi is not the only subject of Batra’s nine books that are now being read in Gujarat classrooms. According to a recent Indian Express report, his books also propose a new, imaginary geography in which he urges readers to draw maps of an undivided or ‘Akhand’ India that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Another favourite target is Western culture, and one of Batra’s books proposes doing away with cake-and-candle birthdays in favour of the country's traditions like wearing Indian clothes, praying, feeding cows and distributing prasad (offerings of food to gods that are later shared among devotees).

“Blowing out candles is not a good shagun (omen) in our culture – instead, one should light lamps and feed the needy on one’s birthday,” said Batra.

Doesn’t lighting lamps sound more like Hindu culture, and not Indian culture? Not to Batra. “I am talking about bharatiya culture, not about Hinduism,” he said emphatically. “This is what India is. When I say pray, I mean pray according to one’s own religion.”

Getting into the Gujarat school syllabus has been Batra’s biggest achievement after Bharatiya Janta Party’s Narendra Modi became prime minister in May.

In 2001, when the saffron party was in power at the centre through the National Democratic Alliance, Batra was the general secretary of the RSS’s education wing, Vidya Bharati, and was also a key advisor to then human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. At that time, backed by Batra, Joshi had pushed for several changes and deletions in the CBSE textbooks certified by the National Council of Education Research and Training.

This time, soon after the new cabinet was sworn in, Batra met HRD minister Smriti Irani in June, urging her to rework CBSE textbooks again, to make them more in line with his nationalist ideas. He claims he also asked her to transform the B Ed teacher training course from nine months to five years. “If we want students to be proud of India, teachers must also be properly trained in Indian psychology, philosophy and history.”

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