Imparting 'core values' through Gita, Mahabharata is no saffronisation of education
If through the Gita and Mahabharata we can teach values of truth, peace and righteous conduct, is it still an 'attempt' at the saffronisation of education?
A 200-page report containing close to 90 suggestions recommend by a five-member committee – headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian – towards educational reforms has been handed over to the Modi government, and is likely to generate intense debates in the days to come.
Though the report is not yet officially out, one does not need to be an astrologer to predict that the debates will be highly partisan, once the report is made public. Instead of focussing on the merits and demerits of the proposed measures – such as creation of an all-India service like the Indian Education Service, allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India, and overhauling the educational regulatory bodies, the tone and tenors of the discussions in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, evening 'news hours' in televisions, press conferences of the political parties and the legislatures are likely to be dominated by the theme of saffronisation of education under Modi.
Why? Because, one of the 90 suggestions is to have “a strong focus on value education”. In this context, the Indian Express has quoted a senior official, saying, “Every student should be proud to be an Indian and schools have a vital role in inculcating that (value education).”
If experience in recent years is any indication, talking of Indian values and its traditional knowledge is a taboo in our intellectual circles, overwhelmingly dominated, as these generally are, by the so-called liberals/seculars. Their invariable argument is that the values of a country are determined by its majority community and hence prejudicial to the interests of its minorities.
Those against value-education argue that teachers of values do not teach; they “moralise”, “preach”, “indoctrinate”, “manipulate”, and so forth. These teachers are also said to be “rigid”, as a result of which “the idea of free inquiry, thoughtfulness and reason” seems to be lost on a student; “he or she is thus unable to examine and weigh his or her own values.”
Incidentally, similar arguments were made by the intellectual elites of United States during 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But ideas changed when during these three decades the US saw a 560 percent increase in violent crimes, a cent increase in illegitimate births, and a quadrupling in divorce rates, not to speak of the rising teen-pregnancies and incidents of AIDS. Compared to other developed countries, the US had the highest divorce rate and the highest percentage of violent deaths among the youth.
Against this background, the results of the 1994 Gallup Poll of the public’s attitude towards value education in America were instructive. A majority of the residents talked of the importance of teaching values and ethical behaviour in schools. More than 90 percent of those surveyed favoured the teaching of “core values”. Two-thirds of the subjects also favoured non-devotional instruction about world religions.
“Core values” have been defined as values that are universally accepted by all religions. These include compassion, courage, courtesy, fairness, honesty, kindness, loyalty, perseverance, respect and responsibility. It is in this sense that more and more Americans are now talking of the importance of learning the fundamentals of all religions so that they can promote the legitimacy of the values and character traits that they are emphasising to the students.
In fact, some are even arguing that although rooted in world religions, core values are essentially secular values, which come from man rather than from God. Learning them goes a big way in building one’s character, not otherwise as our so called secularists in India apprehend.
As a matter of fact, what we see in India today is that the Muslim children learn about Islam and the Quran in madrasas and the Christian children learn the essence of Christianity and the Bible in educational institutions founded and managed by them. Under the Indian Constitution, the minorities are allowed to have their own educational institutions, and certificates or degrees thereof are recognised legally.
In contrast, the children of a majority of the Hindu community do not have such facilities. Whenever there are attempts to teach them about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Gita in normal schools, the secular brigade makes a lot of hue and cry.
Take also the case of Supreme Court Justice Anil R Dave’s suggestion sometime ago. He had made a point why the Gita and the Mahabharata should to be taught to school children.
“Our old tradition, such as guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) is lost; if it had been there, we would not have had all these problems in our country,” he had said, referring to the growing problems of violence and terrorism.
“Now we see terrorism in countries. Most of the countries are democratic. If everybody in a democratic country is good, then they would naturally elect somebody who is very good. And that person will never think of damaging anybody else,” he had said.
Predictably, the secular brigade got wild over Justice Dave’s “Hindutva remarks”. Now the question is: where will the children of the Hindus — who constitute an overwhelming majority in India — learn from the Indian classics, if not in schools?
Secondly, is it correct to see the classics or epics of a country through religious prisms? In fact, in January 2012, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had dismissed a petition challenging introduction of ‘Gita Sar’ (essence of Gita) in the school curriculum. When the Catholic Bishop’s Council filed a PIL in August 2011, the court gave the petitioner’s counsel two months to read the holy book in its entirety and make up his mind. The court finally held that the Bhagavad-Gita was essentially Indian philosophy and not a religion.
Of course, a case can be made that in our educational institutions, essence or fundamental values of all religions should be taught. But the more germane point is that our so-called secularists should realise that reading religions is not being communal or promoting communalism.
In fact, the core values of every religion are similar. Learning them goes a big way in building one’s character and the country’s overall value system.
Notably, there are many scholarly works that prove that a nation’s rise or fall is determined by its value system. It is argued that former world leaders such as Egypt, Iran, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain declined as much for their economic failures as for their failures in human and spiritual aspects.
Even India under the great Mughals, as Paul Kennedy has explained in his classic – The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, had to fall because of the then prevailing “retarding factors in Indian life” — a Muslim elite whose conspicuous consumption (servants and hangers-on, extravagant clothes and jewels, harems and menageries) amidst the ocean of penury; and the sheer rigidity of the Hindu taboos such as the oppressive caste system which throttled initiative and instilled rituals of not killing even rodents and insects, leading not only to the loss of vast amounts of food but also the bubonic plagues.
In this 'Information Age', the values of truthfulness, honesty, integrity, humility, justice, steadfastness and dependability continue to be as relevant as ever. It is important for the educators to define expected skills for being successful in family work, social and other environments, and to include those aspects of character and moral development that are deemed important.
Gone are the days of the rivalry between the advocates of 'Asian value system' (responsibility towards the family, state and society) and the 'Western value system' (individualistic culture and modernity). Now is the time of synergy between the two, something countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have achieved with great success. In a sense, these Asian countries have accepted the “secular” culture of the west — capitalism, liberalism and democracy—to a considerable extent.
The moral of the story is thus clear. It is time to re-examine the unnecessary politicisation of the question of value education through the fundamentals of all religions, including Hinduism, in India.
If through the Gita and the Mahabharata we can better realise the values of truth, peace and righteous conduct (this implies respect for fundamental duties of the Constitution) which, among other things, talk of patriotism, love and awareness of the basics of all religions — it can hardly be viewed as an “attempt” towards the so-called saffronisation of the Indian education system.
In fact, it is through value education that one will be able to get rid of the racial prejudice and insularity among our youth that is reflected unfortunately in the recurring attacks on the African students in our national capital.
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