There’s no way to justify a Vedic Education Board

Bhartiya Shiksha Board will standardise Vedic education. It will draft syllabus, conduct exams and issue certificates to gurukuls, pathshalas and schools

Vivek Kumar March 15, 2019 13:45:28 IST
There’s no way to justify a Vedic Education Board
  • Yoga guru Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust’s bid to establish the proposed Bhartiya Shikhsa Board (BSB) was adjudged the best

  • The BSB is likely to benefit educational institutions such as Ramdev’s Acharyakulam in Haridwar, Vidya Bharati schools run by the RSS and Arya Samaj gurukuls

  • The BSB will be the first private education board to be recognised by the government

There are some who feel ancient Indian knowledge has been unfairly sidelined in favour of its modern, Western counterparts. But let’s look at some basic facts. Article 30 of the Constitution permits all minorities, whether based on religion or language, to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. However, there is no such provision for the majority religion. In the same vein, Article 51-A (H) asks its citizens “to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and spirit of inquiry and reform”. Seen in the above light, how can one justify the idea of a ‘Board for Vedic education’?

Though we are not aware of the detailed terms and conditions of the proposed Board, one can imagine what is in store for us with a little help from Patanjali representative Balkrishna’s statement. According to him: “A student should also learn our Indian morals, culture and values. We are already running Acharyakulam on this model.” Standardisation of “Indian traditional knowledge”, such as Vedic education, Sanskrit education, Shastras and Darsanas, etc. will also form part of the syllabus of the proposed education system.

Theres no way to justify a Vedic Education Board

Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. PTI file photo

In this context, we should remember that every aspect of culture is not an asset. There are liabilities in every culture. If assets have to be preserved, then liabilities should be weeded out. Only an objective and value-free mind can do this job, not devotees. A prejudiced mind will fail to comprehend the liabilities. That is why one is forced to ask a few disturbing questions regarding the normative and prescriptive socio-political system existing in the Vedic period. It is because of aforesaid realities that one is sceptical about the whole idea of Vedic education.

For instance, whether Vedic education is going to deconstruct or reconstruct the type of social structure prescribed in the Rig Veda’s tenth Mandal (part), Purusha Sukta, 91st Richa (hymn). In this hymn, the origin of the fourfold Varna-based Hindu social order has been given—Brahmins, Rajnaya (we should be aware that the word ‘Kshatriya’ has not been mentioned in the Rig Veda), Vaishya and Shudra. How would this social structure accommodate the ex-untouchables, tribals, religious minorities, etc. or will they remain out of the social reconstruction based of Vedic education?

Further, the Hindu social order also consists of varnashrama-dharma: there are four ashramas which are akin to four epochs in the life of an individual: Brahmacharya, Grahastha, Vanaprashtha, and Sanyasa. Will the proposed Board prescribe these epochs for future generations too?

What type of duties (dharma) will the Board members assign to the followers of each Varna? Because each Varna has to take on various types of responsibilities. For example, in the hymns of the Rig Veda, the job of the Brahmin was to read and write, teach and preach, offer and officiate sacrifices.

In the same vein, sociologist GS Ghurey in his book Caste and Race in India (1936) argues that the duties of Kshatriyas (Rajanya) “must have consisted in administrative and military duties…In the prayer for the prosperity of Kshatriya, he is said to be an archer and good chariot fighter”. The Vaishya were supposed to be traders. Further, Ghurey argues that, “… the fourth class, the Shudra …represented domestic servants, approximating very nearly to the position of slaves”. The Shudra is described as “the servant of another”, “to be expelled at will”, and “to be slain at will”. The Panchavimshati-Brahmana defines this position still more precisely when it declares that the Shudra, even if he is prosperous, cannot be but a servant of another, washing his superior’s feet being his main business.

Ghurey goes on to argue that the Shatapatha Brahmana goes to the length of declaring that the Shudra is untruth itself. In this context, what duties would ex-untouchables and Adivasis will be assigned in the new syllabus and curriculum of Vedic education? Last, but not the least, what will be the position of women? Will ex-untouchables, Adivasis and women have their legitimate rights and privileges?

The idea for a ‘Board for Vedic education’ is a step towards reproduction of cultural hegemony and ethnocentrism. Is it an indirect path to establish Brahminical hegemony as they were/are the custodian of Sanskrit language and great tradition related to Sanskritic texts? Is it going to undermine other cultural traditions which need special attention? Rather than standardisation of cultures, what India needs is celebration of diversity and equal importance of every socio-political-cultural entity.

(Vivek Kumar is professor in the department of sociology, JNU, New Delhi)

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