right turn

Protests in Kerala over saffron books in schools, circular calling for a tribute to Sangh leader

The books circulated by the RSS education wing, without the state’s permission, allegedly distort historical facts.

Kerala is battling twin controversies over the alleged saffronisation of education in the state. The first controversy erupted last week after it came to light that the Vidya Bharti Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s education wing – was circulating books in government schools that allegedly distorted historical facts. Parents and political parties protested, saying the texts were Right-wing propaganda and a deliberate attempt to create communal tension. The Left government in the state said the organisation did not have the required permission to distribute the books and ordered an inquiry.

However, on Wednesday, criticism veered towards the state government with the emergence of a circular directing schools to celebrate the birth centenary of Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyaya in September. The circular was issued by the Director of Public Instruction on August 31. Education Minister C Ravindranath clarified that the state government had not instructed schools to hold the celebrations. “The government officers might have forwarded the Union government’s circular directly to the schools,” he said.

But angry posts on social media accused the state government of taking a soft Hindutva approach. Writer NS Madhavan tweeted on Tuesday:

There have been several instances in the past where the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have been accused of bringing about changes in school curriculum along Hindutva lines.

The Vidya Bharti claims the books it circulated in government schools in Kerala are reference material for a scholarship test – the Vidya Bharti Samskruthi Jnan Examination – it holds every year. This year, it is scheduled to be conducted across the state in December.

Right-wing agenda

There are nine books in all in the Malayalam language for students of Classes 4-12, priced at Rs 50 a piece. Each book has nine chapters: Mother India, Valiant sons of Mother India, Indian way of life, India’s cultural heritage, Inspiring Indian epics and history, Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam (the world is one family), India’s scientific tradition, General knowledge, and Vedic mathematics. Included in the books are a current political map of India and a cultural map of the country with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan a part of it.

The texts for Classes 4-7 mainly contain questions and answers that students are expected to memorise. The Hindutva agenda becomes more obvious in the books for Classes 8-12.

For instance, this is a paragraph from a Class 8 book: “Pushpak Viman in Ramayana may be a fictitious vehicle, but Bharadwaj Maharshi had written a book [on] aeronautical science in which he had introduced the aerospace scientists who lived before him.” (Bharadwaj Maharshi was a vedic sage and scholar). The text makes no mention of the Wright Brothers, who invented the first powered aircraft in 1903.

A section in a Class 9 book claims: “Mughal emperor Aurangazeb had demolished a temple in Sri Krishna’s birth place. Efforts are on to liberate the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi to fulfil the wishes of devotees.”

A Class 5 book calls Onam Kerala’s national festival, but adds that Vaman Jayanti is celebrated on the same day. Onam, which marks the end of the crop season and heralds the annual visit of the Asura king Mahabali, is the state’s biggest festival. Vaman Jayanti is a celebration of Vishnu, who is said to have banished Mahabali to the underworld. Malayali society has for long been divided over the two festivals.

Another book, this one for Class 4 students, describes Hanuman and Manu (who wrote the ancient legal text Manusmriti) as valiant sons of mother India.

The books also hail various Right-wing leaders. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders KS Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar are included in a list of famous Indian personalities alongside Mahatma Gandhi in a book for Class 6 students. This list does not have the name of Jawaharlal Nehru though.

In addition, the books have the photographs of prominent personalities such as social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, Swamy Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita, former president APJ Abdul Kalam, poet G Shankara Kurup, badminton player Saina Nehwal and Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyaya on their covers.

The cultural map shows Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are part of India.
The cultural map shows Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are part of India.

No permission

On October 20, the Government Vocational Higher Secondary School in Koyilandi in Kozhikode district became one of the first schools in the state to receive the books. These were circulated under the supervision of Hindi teacher K Murali, a Sangh Parivar sympathiser.

Parents immediately raised objections to the books. Soon after, several political parties, excluding the BJP, and student organisations took out protest marches. They accused the Bharatiya Vidya Niketan, the Vidya Bharti’s Kerala unit, of distributing the books without the permission of the state education department.

Acting on their complaints, the Director of Public Instructions ordered an inquiry and Education Minister C Ravindranath said that government schools must not conduct the examination without approval. The Hindi teacher at the Koyilandi school was suspended on Tuesday.

Vidya Bharti national joint secretary NCT Rajagopal admitted the organisation had not sought the education department’s permission to hold the test, but added that the matter was being politicised. “We never insisted that students appear for the examination,” he said. “The current controversy is a creation of political parties who do not know the culture and tradition of Bharath.”

He added, “We conducted the examination in government schools in 2016. It did not become an issue then. Why now?”

Bharatiya Vidya Niketan officials say they have been conducting scholarship exams in schools run by the organisation in Kerala for 30 years now. The group owns 417 educational institutions in the state with a student strength of 75,913. Besides, students of schools managed by the Chinmaya Mission, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Nair Service Society and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam are also encouraged to take the test.

The officials claimed that more than 32,000 students in Kerala had appeared for the exam last year.

‘Initiative to bring change’

The Bharatiya Vidya Niketan rejected the claims that the books distort historical facts in order to toe the Sangh line. Rajagopal said, “It is a lie.”

He added, “We can prove the aeroplane was not invented by the Wright Brothers. We have got the details of aerospace science that flourished in ancient India from Vimana Sarvaswam. Those who read it should counter our arguments.”

Rajagopal said the books were published after extensive research. He said an expert panel of academics had spent months referencing rare books on Indian history at the Vidya Bharti office in Kurukshetra.

Rajagopal insisted that in fact it was Marxist historians such as Romila Thapar and Satish Chandra who have been distorting facts for years. “It is high time to correct those wrongs,” he said. “This is part of our initiative to bring in change.”

He added, “We are planning to meet the Director of Public Education in Kerala to convince him that the books do not contain any misleading information. If he raises any doubts we will clear them scientifically.”

A political map of India in one of the books circulated by the Vidya Bharti in Kerala.
A political map of India in one of the books circulated by the Vidya Bharti in Kerala.

All photographs courtesy TA Ameerudheen.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.