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Know your values

Know your values

Author: K R Malkani
Publication: The Hindustan  Times
Date: November 29, 2001

Recently, the NCERT produced the National Curriculum Framework for School Education. Here was, in the words of NCERT Director J.S. Rajput, "the first ever honest attempt to modernise education by upholding not only the deepest but forgotten values of Indian civilisation, but also the sagely advice of the founding fathers of our nation".

But without waiting for the curriculum to be actually developed, some friends promptly dubbed the changes as 'saffronisation' and even rubbished it as 'Talibanisation'.

Incidentally, why should anybody be allergic to saffron? It is a colour sacred not only to Indians but also to Arabs. The Congress Flag Committee had unanimously recommended a saffron flag in place of the tricolour in 1931. And its members included Nehru, Patel and Azad.

It is good to note that former Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, who had earlier associated himself with the critics, has in a letter to the HRD minister said, "I drop my criticism of the NCERT stand."

The Congress chief minister of Kerala, A.K. Antony, has condemned the misuse of the term 'saffronisation' and said, "Saffron is a symbol of Indianness." He added: "By using and misusing the word off and on, we are hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus."

Congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, has said that astrology is a science and there is nothing wrong in teaching it. And he is an engineer by training and profession.

Objection has been taken to 'Vedic mathematics'. Now there is no mathematics as such in any Veda. But all ancient mathematics is being called 'Vedic mathematics' for the sake of convenience. Here is a country that developed the concepts of zero, the decimal system and much else besides. All that the NCERT document says is that "the students may be encouraged to enhance their computational skills by the use of Vedic mathematics". Why should anyone object to that? After all, education is a concurrent subject in the Constitution and states can take a different line on educational matters.

The West Bengal government had rejected the National Policy of Education developed in the Eighties; and, for years, they had refused to have any Navodaya School. (NCERT decisions are recommendatory and not mandatory. NCERT books are optional, not compulsory.) That being so, why should anybody object to anybody else exploring ancient sciences?

The same with astrology. Here is a subject difficult to believe and even more difficult to disbelieve. There are people who go to the ridiculous length of being guided in everything by the stars. (In Tamil Nadu, everything - including the courts - comes to a standstill during 'Rahu kaalam'.) But when we consider that the sun and the moon churn up whole oceans and cause tidal waves, one begins to wonder whether they would not have some influence on life on earth.

Life is full of uncertainties. Man has always wanted - and tried - to know the future. From Alexander to Napoleon to Ronald Reagan, leaders have consulted astrologers and soothsayers. As Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your (secular and scientific) philosophy." Even Motilal Nehru used to show his son's horoscope to pandits.

Decades ago, I used to see a pandit, complete with tilak and turban and even an artificial beard sitting on the footpath, predicting things for passersby. In the evening, he would wrap up his beard and things and go home. Would it not be better to have regular courses in astrology so that bogus astrologers do not bring a bad name to astrology?

The UGC has suggested astrology as a "discipline which lets us know the events happening in human life and in the universe on time scale". On a lighter note, astrology can, perhaps, earn us more employment and money in the West than information technology. We teach meteorology. How accurate is it? Is it any more accurate than astrology?

The other day, a noted scientist working with the World Seismic Safety Initiative, predicted that "one lakh people might lose their lives" in an earthquake in Delhi. He did not say when. We teach seismology; but is seismology more accurate than astrology? The astrologers at least tell you nice things; seismologists etc. tell you only about impending tragedies.

A third whipping boy of our secular friends is Sanskrit. Sanskrit, they say, is dead. All right, but why then do they worry about something that is dead? They fear that Sanskrit is very much alive in itself and through other Indian and European languages.

Why, even Nehru said: "If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her greatest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly that it is the Sanskrit language and literature and all that it contains. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as this endures and influences the life of our people, so long will the basic genius of India continue."

Even Dr Ambedkar was all for Sanskrit. In September 1949, along with B.V. Keskar, T.T.K. Durgabai, Naziruddin and other MPs, he gave notice of an amendment to the Draft Constitution which read: "Official language of the Union shall be Sanskrit." How it did not materialise is another story.

Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the primacy of Sanskrit. It held that "in view of the importance of Sanskrit for nurturing our cultural heritage, making of Sanskrit alone as an elective subject, while not conceding this status to Arabic and/or Persian, would not in any way militate against the basic tenet of secularism," (Justices Kuldip Singh and Hansaria, October 4, 1994).

The real fear of these friends is that this HRD programme will revive and strengthen Indian culture. They have little understanding and no appreciation of this culture. But culture - which includes religion - is the soul of a nation. And every nation must protect and promote its culture. That is what value education is all about.

Life for mankind, said Freud, is hard to endure. It is religion that humanises nature and with that "much is already won". Religion is an inescapable part of being human. Life is un-navigable without the mast, sail and flag of religion.

Some people think that science, technology and computers are everything. They are not. Jerry Mander rightly warns that "all technologies should be presumed to be guilty until proved innocent". He points out (In the Absence of the Sacred) that millions of gallons of carcinogenic computers seep into the soil and water and poison them. Thanks to chemicalised foods and carcinogenic computers, today 30 per cent of American males are infertile; 30 years ago it was only half a per cent (Miracles Do Happen by Normal Shealy).

In this bewildering situation of a "holiness gap" only belief in god can strengthen man. As Davis Kingsley puts it, "Religion gives the individual a sense of identity with the distant past and the limitless future. It expands his ego by making his spirit significant for the universe and the universe significant for him."

Even science is rooted in spirituality. Isaac Newton invented calculus and developed his theory of gravity at the age of 23, during the plague ridden years of 1655 and 1666. Columbia University historian Lynn Thorndyke compared Newton's method of discovery to "that of a medium coming out of a trance". Lord Maynard Kenyes, speaking at the tercentenary of Newton in 1947, said, "His deepest instincts were occult, esoteric, semantic. with a profound shrinking from the world."

Einstein was a school drop-out who worked in a patent office because no university would have him. And yet, in an inexplicable burst of genius which can only be described as supra-mental, he suddenly produced in one year, 1905, six papers that created the theory of relativity and quantum physics.

Edison held over one thousand patents including that of the electric bulb, phonograph and motions-picture projector. The Search magazine wrote that "much of what he put down on paper originated from a higher source, and that he was simply a vehicle or channel through which this information could flow freely".

This is not the first time that our secular friends have objected to the BJP approach to education policy. A few years back, they had objected to some improvements in school history texts in UP and MP. A fitting reply came from N.J. Nanporia, veteran journalist: "The BJP is striving to do in the states it rules what the nation as a whole should have done immediately after Independence. Only a well-defined sense of national identity can provide the kind of vitality and motivation a nation needs. In calling for a national ideology, the BJP has struck the right note.

"India is an ancient civilisation that wrested a sense of nationalism in response to the British. It has yet to discover an ideology of its own. And that is not something a computer can do for us." I say, Amen.

(The writer is a senior BJP leader and ideologue)

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