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'Hindu values, what is wrong with them? After all, 85 per cent of Indians are Hindus - Rediff on the Net

Interview with PD Chitlangia ()
October 27, 1998

Title: 'Hindu values, what is wrong with them? After all, 85 per cent
of Indians are Hindus
Author: Interview with PD Chitlangia
Publication: Rediff on the Net
Date: October 27, 1998

'Hindu values, what is wrong with them? After all, 85 per cent of
Indians are Hindus'

Purshottam Das Chitlangia was in the eye of a political storm last week.
He was scheduled to deliver a speech at the state education ministers
and secretaries conference in New Delhi. However, with many political
parties opposed to the various proposals suggested by Human Resource
Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Chitlangia was forced to drop
his speech after politicians questioned his locus standi. The reason for
the opposition to him: Chitlangia is neither a minister nor a secretary;
he is only president of the Friends of Tribals Society, a voluntary
organisation involved in the spread of primary education.

The Calcutta-based Chitlangia, naturally, is rather bitter about the
experience, and spoke about it to Rediff On The NeT Senior Assistant
Editor Amberish K Diwanjiover the telephone.

Can you tell us something about the organisation you run, the Friends of
Tribals Society?

The Friends of Tribals Society was set up in 1989-90 with the idea of
spreading literacy to the tribal areas. Some friends of mine had visited
the tribal areas in Orissa and were horrified at the conditions that
existed there. And we felt that something must be done about it.

The question is, how to provide primary education in rural areas. The
main objective is to have a cost-effective method, otherwise it is
impossible. Every year, India adds 20 million (more than the population
of Australia) children to the country who will need education. Add to
this vast sum the massive backlog of illiterates. Given the government's
financial situation, the government itself can do very little. And even
what the government has done over the years, which is not insubstantial,
has been further harmed by bureaucracy, inefficiency and a bad system.

For instance, the government will set up a school in a village, but the
teacher is from the town, who will then never visit the school but
collect his salary. We seek to step in here.

How does the Society work?

What we do is go to villages and seek out children who are educated, who
have passed Class VIII or Class X. We seek people who are motivated and
whom we can motivate to do something for the village. When we find such
people, we give them a one-month training and provide certain basic
tools such as the alphabet charts, numeral charts, slates, boards,
pencils, notebooks, etc. This person will then be asked to provide
primary education to his or her village for three hours a day. Often
this is done in the person's house or under a tree.

Our method has worked successfully. The entire cost is not more than Rs
10,000 per village per year, and the students are charged only Rs 350
per annum. Attendance rate is around 60 to 70 per cent. To teach primary
subjects, why do you need teachers who have done Bachelor of Education
courses (now mandatory under government rules)?

We have found it is very important to have the school in the village
itself. This is for primary students, around three to fives years of
age. In a small village of 200, there are about 40 children up to the
age of 10, and hence no school. Will any parent then send them five
kilometres away to the nearest school? So what happens is that such
children skip primary school, and when it is time for middle school
(ages 8 to 10), they are too uninterested in studies. They are children
of illiterate parents who are themselves unable to do much.

Have you been successful in your efforts?

We have been running this gurukul system for 10 years now. Today, we
have such schools in 1,300 villages, and every school has around 30 to
40 students. We don't take any aid, neither from the government nor from
non-governmental organisations. The honourable HRD minister (Dr Murli
Manohar Joshi) invited me to share my experience with the delegates so
that this model and our methodology can then be replicated throughout
the country. There was no other reason.

So why are the non-Bharatiya Janata Parties against you?

I don't really know. Today, what is happening is that no matter what the
BJP says or does, it is opposed. Everything today is politicised. These
are groups who have been against the BJP for the last 20 years, and who
are simply motivated by electoral politics.

There are complaints about your course and of Hindu elements in what you
teach?

In our teachings, we have an interest in character building, which is
part of our heritage. Besides being literate and numerate, young
students must be inculcated with the right ideals, and I am sure no one
disagrees with this. So we imbue our students with such ideals and
values that will nurture their character.

Regarding Hindu values, what is wrong with them? After all, 85 per cent
of Indians are Hindus. And we have never said we are against Christian
or Muslim or any other values. Let the right values and ideals come from
the Bhagvad Gita, Ramayan, Guru Granth Sahib, Bible, Quran, etc. Let
them come from all sides, and this is what I was going to mention in my
aborted speech.

Every community and country has certain values, which are often
contained in religious books. And it is for the country to pick up the
relevant parts from the religious books.

But aren't many Hindu teachings irrational? For instance, in the Ramayan
there is the sad story of Shambu, a low-caste person killed by Rama
simply because he wanted to go to heaven, and in the Mahabharat, there
is Eklavya, a tribal who was asked to cut off his thumb so as not to
challenge the upper-caste Arjuna's supremacy in archery.

What is in Hinduism is most rational. India is the only country where
all religions are treated equally. But as and when there are parts which
are wrong, we will simply not accept them. For instance, there are many
things in the Quran which some others may not like, but there are other
aspects which are very good and must be taught.

Our interest is in the child's mind, on his values. Even UNESCO today
recognises the need for value-based education. And all this is at the
primary level, where the teaching is very basic. After primary
education, if the student is interested, he or she will go to a
government or private school where he or she will learn other things
also.

It is a fallacy to believe that everything a child learns is through
books or through schools alone. There are other influences and factors
in their life.

Are you associated with the BJP and the Vidya Bharati?

Yes, I am. I am part of the BJP's national council, I am involved with
the BJP (West Bengal) state secretariat, and also with the state BJP
finance committee. I am not at all associated with the Vidya Bharati and
I have no idea how my name was linked to the Vidya Bharati, though I
have respect for the work they have done. They are an honourable
institution.

People suspect a hidden agenda of the BJP in seeking to change the
education system.

Every education system is part of the political system. And every
political party will try to put out its philosophy and its ideology. The
Communist Party of India-Marxist put a communist angle to the books
after they came to power in West Bengal.

The BJP has no hidden agenda. In fact, it is very open about its agenda,
its ideology and philosophy, unlike the other political parties. And it
is keen spread this ideology and philosophy.

Tell us something about yourself.

I am now 62 years old. I graduated from the Institute of Jute Technology
in Calcutta in 1957, where I stood first. After working in jute, I went
in to business in plywood, and am now doing business in other areas
also.

I had decided long ago, that like serving people, I too would retire at
the age of 58, and I did that. I also believe in the Hindu philosophy of
four periods. The first is your young life where you acquire knowledge;
the second is your early manhood where you marry and work; and the third
is where you give something back to society. I am now at this stage
where I now work for the benefit of society. At the age of 50, I began
to do social work, and after I reached 58, I have devoted myself to
charitable work.


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