We need a board to regulate traditional Indian knowledge

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

Makarand R Paranjape March 15, 2019 13:43:09 IST
We need a board to regulate traditional Indian knowledge
  • 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

Let’s get one thing straight: there’s no such thing as Vedic Education Board. The correct name for the proposed certifying authority is Bhartiya Shiksha Board (BSB). The Board is to be set up by the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). HRD minister Prakash Javadekar is the Pratishthan chairman, Ravindra Ambadas Mule the vice-chairman and Viroopaksha V Jaddipal the secretary.

The Pratishthan on February 11 called for proposals from registered societies, Trusts, or not-for-profit companies to set up BVB. The board’s objective is “to standardise Indian Traditional Knowledge …by way of forming syllabus, conducting examination, affiliating and recognising different forms of schools, issuing certificates of Indian Traditional Knowledge/Indian Traditional Knowledge blended with modern education up to senior Secondary level”.

We need a board to regulate traditional Indian knowledge

Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. PTI file photo

The conditions laid out for the applicants included an established track record “in the preservation, conservation, promotion and propagation of Vedic education”, including “Sanskrit education, Yoga in schools for, at least, five years”. The applying organisation had to be, at least, 10 years old with a net worth of “at least, `300 crore for the last three consecutive years” and be willing to offer “a corpus of, at least, `50 crore” apart from buildings, offices, and other infrastructure. The prerequisites were so daunting that only two applicants, apart from Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust, filed a letter of interest.

I gave this background because many of those campaigning against the Board have not acquainted themselves with the facts. Now, to the issue: is BVB a backward step? No, most certainly not. It is a step forward for several obvious reasons. First, such a board can ensure that bizarre, unverified, unscientific and misleading claims are not made in the name of Indian traditional knowledge. Are such statements really made? Yes, they are. Worse, people in positions of power, authority, or even so-called scientists, technologists, engineers, and educationists make them.

The proposed Board can ensure that whatever is included in its syllabi is accurate or verified by a committee of experts. The course content, in other words, should be in consonance with the present state of knowledge, as is recognised the world over, and not contrary to the current scientific knowledge. As a result, it will

be far more difficult to mock Indian culture, civilisation, or knowledge traditions on the basis of the irrational or over-enthusiastic assertions of a few.

Secondly, given the proliferation of teachers, schools and practices in areas such as Vedic thought, yoga, tantra, jyotish and agama, isn’t standardisation and accreditation the need of the hour? A well-established and reliable process of evaluation and certification will keep frauds and charlatans at bay. Thirdly, reliable certification will also ensure mobility across the country for those opting for such curricula. In addition, it will facilitate employment opportunities for graduates. There is, for instance, a huge demand for yoga teachers, astrologers and priests.

Finally, our fondness for rituals and traditional practices will be complemented by understanding what these rites actually mean. After a thousand years of colonisation, we will finally have an opportunity to study and present our tradition in a meaningful manner.

Let me end by recalling the words of Thomas Babington Macaulay, the bête noire of patriotic Indologists. In his notorious Minute (on education) of 1835, Macaulay complained, “What we spend on the Arabic and Sanscrit Colleges is not merely a dead loss to the cause of truth. It is bounty money paid to raise up champions of error.” He wrote thus because after some 10-12 years of training in “Hindoo literature and science” received at government expense, not to mention “certificates of proficiency”, these sponsored students were still without jobs.

The BSB is not being set up with government money nor will the students and teachers be paid, as far as we know, by the government. The government’s role will be to oversee and ensure that this sector of education is well run and regulated. What is wrong with that?

Those raising an alarm over the proposed Board and issuing dire warnings haven’t studied the matter properly. Their fears are based on their prejudices and presuppositions. I say to them, let the Board start functioning; let it produce results. Then we can evaluate it and even criticise its possible faults or failings. But to start grumbling and whingeing beforehand or prevent its formation is tantamount to bad form or, worse, bad faith.

(Makarand R Paranjape is the director of Indian Institute of Advanced Study)

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