TEXTBOOK POLITICS

What the government of Gujarat is encouraging children to read is dismaying

Quartz india
Quartz india

Once Dr Radhakrishnan went for a dinner. There was a Briton at the event who said, “We are very dear to God.” Radhakrishnan laughed and told the gathering, “Friends, one day God felt like making rotis. When he was cooking the rotis, the first one was cooked less and the English were born. The second one stayed longer on the fire and the Negroes were born. Alert after His first two mistakes, when God went on to cook the third roti, it came out just right and as a result Indians were born.”—Page 8, Prernadeep -3. (Dr Radhakrishnan was the second president of India.)

This and several other bizarre passages are part of books that school children are being encouraged to read by the education department in the state of Gujarat. These books instruct students to look down upon foreigners, worship cows, die for their religion and shun “western practices” such as blowing out candles on birthdays. A senior official in the education department said these books were “reference material” for primary and secondary schools in the state.

Most of these new books are written by Dina Nath Batra, a right-wing education crusader. Batra hit headlines earlier this year after publisher Penguin agreed to pulp American scholar Wendy Doniger’s On Hinduism, in response to a court case filed by him. His aim is to push for an “Indianised” educational system.

“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 an interview with Scroll.in.

He has written eight of the nine books that are now part of the supplementary reading list in primary and secondary schools in the state. The ninth, Tejomay Bharat (Shining India), has been reviewed by members of Vidya Bharti, the education wing of Hindutva group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In this book, all the South Asian countries are included in the map of India.

These books would be provided free of cost to more than 42,000 state government schools in Gujarat, according to the Indian Express newspaper, which ran a series of stories this week on these books.

“They are not part of the syllabus, but we recommend these books to students,” says Nitin Pethani, head of Gujarat State School Textbook Board. “They will be kept in the library but not taught in the classrooms.”

Such reading material instigate young children to be hostile towards other religions and communities, says Anita Rampal, dean at faculty of education, University of Delhi. “From what I have read in newspapers, there is a deliberate attempt in these books to go back to an imagined past, which may not be historically accurate,” Rampal said.

Here is a selection of passages from books that have been recommended for children by the state government.

Celebrating birthdays. Blowing candles is a western tradition. It should be shunned. Instead, on their birthdays, children should wear clothes manufactured in India, recite Gayatri Mantra, take part in religious ceremonies, feed cows and wind up their day by playing songs produced by Vidya Bharati.

India’s Map. Students are instructed to include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma in the map of India. “Undivided India is the truth, divided India is a lie. Division of India is unnatural and it can be united again…,” reads a chapter in Tejomay Bharat.

Motorcar was invented in India during the Vedic period (1500 to 500 BCE). “What we know today as the motorcar existed during the Vedic period. It was called anashva rath. Usually a rath (chariot) is pulled by horses but an anashva rath means the one that runs without horses or yantra-rath, what is today a motorcar. The Rig Veda refers to this…” — Page 60, Tejomay Bharat.

Stem cell research was invented in India thousands of years ago. The proof? In ancient Hindu text Mahabharata, a sage was able to convert a mass of flesh into 100 babies or Kauravas.

Indian sages have been using television for centuries. The country has known about live telecast since the time of Mahabharata. “There is no doubt that the invention of television goes back to this… In Mahabharata, Sanjaya sitting inside a palace in Hastinapur and using his divya shakti (divine powers) would give a live telecast of the battle of Mahabharata… to the blind Dhritarashtra.” — Page 64, Tejomay Bharat.

India is a “shudra” or lowly name given to us by the British.

It is better to die for your religion. “An alien religion is a source of sorrow.” —Tejomay Bharat

On the “negro” vs the “brave Indian”: “The aircraft was flying thousands of feet high in the sky. A very strongly built negro reached the rear door and tried to open it. The air-hostesses tried to stop him but the strongly built negro pushed the soft-bodied hostesses to the floor and shouted, ‘Nobody dare move a step ahead’. An Indian grabbed the negro and he could not escape. The pilot and the Indian together thrashed the negro and tied him up with a rope. Like a tied buffalo, he frantically tried to escape but could not. The plane landed safely in Chicago. The negro was a serious criminal in the Chicago records and this brave Indian was an employee of Air India.” — Page 3, Prernadeep-2

Cow worship will result in fine children. “King Dilip was sad and worried that he did not have children, and about how he would take his lineage forward. He went to Guru Vashisht’s ashram and told him of his problem. The rishi told him, ‘Take a pledge that you and your wife will take care of cows, herd them and follow them wherever they go’. The king and queen agreed. One day a lion attacked a cow. The king came forward and told the lion, ‘Eat me first but spare the cow’. Seeing the king’s commitment, worship and responsibility towards the cow, the lion released the cow and did not harm the king either. As time passed, the king had the best children and his lineage progressed.” — Page 39, Prernadeep-3

How to treat foreigners? “One day Swami Vivekananda went to give a lecture. He told the gathering, ‘We should always wear Indian clothes’… He was wearing saffron robes but his shoes were foreign. An Englishwoman noticed this and said, ‘Swamiji! You are insisting on wearing Indian clothes but your shoes are foreign’. Vivekanand listened to this and laughed. And he quietened down and said, ‘I was saying exactly this, that in our view, the place of a foreigner is here’. The woman was dumbfounded.” —Page 10, Prernadeep-1. Swami Vivekananda was a Bengali intellectual and is revered as a saint in India.

This is not the first time the Gujarat education board has come in the line of fire. Earlier this year, media reports said that many textbooks in the state were ridden with embarrassing errors and stereotypes. Middle school students were being taught that Japan launched a nuclear attack on the US. A social science textbook said that all the people in eastern India reside in houses made of wood and bamboos. These books were later revised.

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