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Secularists asked for it

Secularists asked for it

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: September 16, 2002
URL: http://www.samachar.com/features/160902-editorial.html

The Supreme Court's rejection of the PIL against the alleged 'saffronisation' of education has come as a big slap against the self-proclaimed secularists. The petitioners had no case. Indeed, they were ill-informed and had based their plaint on half-baked rumours or plain suspicions. They had not cared to read the books they were protesting against. And they had not read those books which were to be prescribed by the NCERT because these were not out yet! Never before had the self-styled defenders of so-called secularist values in education had asked for such a rebuke from the apex court in the land. The fear that the BJP-led NDA Government was out to force its saffron world-view and its allegedly distorted view of history down the gullets of innocent.

Students had consumed a lot of people who viscerally oppose the Sangh Parivar. They may or may not have their reasons for their antipathy towards the Sangh parivar, but in the case of the model books prepared by the NCERT a needless controversy was raised. Primarily the roots of the controversy lay in the fear of the couple of left-leaning historians who had monopolised the writing of history for school-level students all these decades beginning with the late Education Minister Nurul Hassan's deliberate pro-left tilt in academic syllabi in the late 60s and early 70s. The Hussain legacy had not only led to the stranglehold of the left-oriented academics over the school and university set-up, worse, it had caused a hiatus between the country's own ethos and value system and its education system.

Thus it was that textbooks prescribed for secondary education taught students that their Hindu forefathers ate beef or their revered gods and goddesses were dacoits and plunderers. When the NCERT sought to delete but only five minor though provocative references of the foregoing type from school textbooks, secularists and professional BJP-baiters pounced on the Education Minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

Little did it seem to matter to these critics that these deletions were sought to be made at the urgent pleadings of the aggrieved groups. For instance, the Jains were up in arms against the offensive reference to their ancestors' eating habits. And the Sikhs were livid that little children were taught in schools that one of their gurus was a 'rapist and plunderer.' Deletion of these passages would not have detracted a wee bit from the importance or the underlying theme of the history books in which these occurred. Yet, because it was the BJP-led NDA Government, the professional secularists made much noise about it. And at least two among them went to court, petitioning it against what they called the 'saffronisation' of education.

The Supreme Court in its verdict last week upheld the Government's education policy. Indeed, it endorsed the National Curriculum Framework for Secondary Education. " We do not find that the National Education Policy 2002 runs counter to the concept of secularism. What is sought is to have value-based education and for 'religion' is stated that students be given the awareness that the essence of every religion is common. Only practices differ." This was a stinging indictment of the secularist brigade which had gratuitously taken upon itself the task of hindering the cleansing of the education system of the enormous distortions that had crept into it under the malign influence of the doctrinaire Left. The judgement mirrored society wisdom and broad-mindedness. " There is a specific caution that all steps should be taken in advance to ensure that personal prejudices or narrow-minded perceptions are not allowed to distort the real purpose.

Dogmas and superstitions should not be propagated in the name of education about religions. Value-based education is likely to help the nation fight against all kinds of prevailing fanaticism, ill-will, violence, dishonesty, corruption, exploitation and drug abuses," the Supreme Court said. The SC verdict, it is hoped, would allow the NCERT to come out with its model books. Contrary to the common misconception, these books cannot be forced on schools since education is a State subject. It is for respective State Education Departments to pick and choose from among the model books on offer. But the SC may have finally cleared the decks for what should be a universal course in human values and moral education. The need to teach the values of honesty, cleanliness, discipline, honour, fellow-feeling and trust, et al cannot be exaggerated. In fact, much of the rot in the country that we witness today is not because we have bad politicians. No, it is essentially because we have ill-equipped, ill-informed and ill-educated citizens who have no grounding in good civic values.

Schools can remedy the situation to a large extent if they teach students to imbibe the values of hard work, honesty, discipline etc. It may or may not be true that all religions basically are the same, as the SC said in its verdict, but no religion explicitly preaches hatred, violence and intolerance. To that extent, teaching of the basic tenets of various religions ought to be welcome.

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