Saffronising and Corporatising Indian Education: Critique of the National Educational Policy 2016 Draft
August 10, 2016
Ajay S Sekher
After almost three decades the Hindu Nationalist Party in power has proposed paradigmatic shifts through an elaborate restructuring of the Indian educational policy frameworks. It is a drastic change from the previous NPE 1986 of Rajiv Gandhi government. The NEP 2016 Draft is released by the MHRD with reference to a background document called TSR Subramanian Committee Report, May 2016.
There was very little criticism in the media with the required critical accent. Now it has been widely concluded that NEP 2016 is an attempt to Hinduise and saffronise Indian educational policy. This is a continuation of the saffronisation agenda of the Vajpayee regime during which the ICHR heads like MGS officiated the saffronisation of NCERT history text books (See Sarkar 2002, Thapar 2000). The current news that Amit Shah and RSS ideologues have met Javadekar and insisted on implementing this draft also confirms and validates this critique. There is no sufficient addressing of the crucial issues such as gender, caste and the environment in the draft. Human rights and constitutional rights issues are grossly excluded and Sanskrit and Yoga are projected beyond all reasonable proportions right from school education. As per the draft, Hindu religious dogmas and Varnasramadharma should be injected into young minds in the guise of moral education in schools. This detailed critique of its Cultural Nationalist vision or totalitarian philosophy and flawed historical premises, is done in the context of the incorporation of RSS agendas in both TSR Subramanian Committee Report and in NEP Draft 2016. The Preamble to Vision/ Mission clearly shows the Cultural Nationalist or Hindu Brahminical agenda that works in perfect unison with the global corporate capitalist forces.
Erasure of the Indigenous Educational Legacy
The preliminary statement of the NEP 2016 draft, released by MHRD, says that Vedic Education is the earliest form of education. This is not based on historical or archeological premises, and is contestable in the light of new findings on Indus valley civilization and its Sramana legacies and antiquity (See Ratnagar 2000; Shendge 2002). The Indus valley civilisation and its art, architecture and epistemological cultures are now found to be older than 8000 years, and is the oldest civilisation known in the world (Sarkar 2016). It clearly pre dates the “Vedic age” which begins just 4000 years back, somewhere around the period BC 2000-1500, also marking the end of the Indus valley civilization. The concrete archeological evidences including the Yogi in Padmasana explains this ancient Sramana indigenous enlightenment legacy in India which was based on learning and the ethical dissemination of knowledge. The Jains view this Padmasana Yogi as Adinatha or Rishabha, and the Buddhists view him as a pre Buddha in sharp contrast to the Hindu claims that it is Pasupati Siva. This dominant claim is as anachronistic as the claim that Pasupata Saivism originated in parts of north India only in the 5th and 6th centuriy AD.
The draft begins with such an erasure of the true indigenous Sramana educational legacy of India, and ascribes it to the “Vedic” legacy from Iran:
The Education System which was evolved first in ancient India is known as the Vedic system. The ultimate aim of education in ancient India was not knowledge, as preparation for life in this world or for life beyond, but for complete realisation of the self. The Gurukul system fostered a bond between the Guru & the Shishya and established a teacher centric system in which the pupil was subjected to a rigid discipline and was under certain obligations towards his/her teacher. (1)
Reviving and Revamping the Teacher-centric Gurukul Vedic System
Further, the notion of the Vedic Gurukula system of education as teacher centric, and the ultimate aim as self realisation, is also foregrounded to obscure and cover up the Sramanic knowledge traditions. Sramanic traditions are democratic, anti caste/Varna/patriarchal, and much more rational and oriented towards the student/learner, than the centralised patriarchal hegemonic exclusivist paradigm of the Vedic Gurukul system. The latter system was denied to the non Brahman Varnas within the Varnasramadharma, women, and Avarnas in general. The notion of Vedic education or Gurukul system as a teacher centric model and for it to be revived or modeled, is also against modern and democratic decentered approaches to pedagogy and contemporary educational practice (Sen 2002).
Anachronisms, Fabrications and Distortions of India’s Educational History
The dating of the oldest universities in the world and India are also deliberately skewed and distorted by the draft, clearly against the concerted opinion of the leading educationists and historians in India today who have dated Nalanda and Takshila in rational ways (Sen 2011). The time period of Takshila and Nalanda are pushed into unbelievable anachronisms, evidently distorting the history of education in ancient India with a hidden Hindu agenda:
The world's first university was established in Takshila in 700 BC. The University of Nalanda, or the Nalanda Mahavihara as it was known at the time, established in 4th century BCE, was one of the first great universities in the world. (1)
The dating of Takshila to 700 BC is bogus, and is done in the manner of Sudarshan Rao who was obsessed with pushing the dating of the Mahabharata further into the remote past, in order to increase the antiquity of the Hindu epic. It is evident that this pre-cursive and preclusive dating is done to obscure the life and teachings of the Buddha and his Sanghas in the 6th century BC. To mask the Buddhist university system that has its beginning in Nalanda, Vikramasila and Odantapuri, a Vedic origin story in the manner of Purushasukta of the Rigveda is fabricated and placed well in advance. It may also be attributed to the obscuring of the Indus valley legacy of culture and knowledge that may be continuing in fractured and decentered forms even after BC 1500 during the Sramanic traditions of democratic education. Nalanda’s dating to BC 4th century is also problematic as it came up in early CE to prominence especially after 4th century AD in the Gupta period, as rightly pointed out by Amartya Sen in the earlier reference. An acceleration in time is given to Nalanda Mahavihara to guard the undue early dating of Takshila. It has to be perceived in its own context critically.
Stress on “Nationalist” Legacies and Gokhale/Roy/Malaviya Trio Instead of Phule/Savitribai/Narayanaguru
The glorification of Gokhale, Ram Mohan Roy and Malaviya during their “Nationalist days”, and the silence on Phule and Savitribai from Maharashtra and the LMS and CMS missionaries, Narayanaguru and Ayyankali from Kerala, regarding their pioneering educational missions from early 19th century onwards, is highly unjust and parochial. Like the distortions done regarding the early universities and educational history in India, this “Nationalist” legacy of Indian education is also ahistoric, full of erasure, and partial or biased. It was Narayanaguru in Kerala who gave the untouchable Avarna the message of liberation through education and empowerment through organisation (Sekher 2016). It was Ayyankali and Poyka in Kerala who pioneered such educational struggles among the dalits of Kerala. It was Ayyothee Thassar in Tamilakam who championed the educational activities along with his neo-Buddhism in Tamil Nadu in the late 19th century. There is not even a mention of Ambedkar — the greatest Indian academic scholar of his time who advised the people to “educate, agitate and organide” during the “Nationalist” period and provided scathing critiques of this “Nationalist” and cultural Nationalist discourses, which are, in the present time, assuming fascist proportions (Sekher 2015).
Over Emphasis on Skill Acquisition in the Changed “Knowledge Economy”
The report is also self-contradictory. There is a sharp contrast between the Vedic ideal of self realisation presented in the beginning, and in the thrust on skill acquisition (4) and the very concept of “knowledge economy”. Conceiving and conceptualising knowledge systems and its sustenance as an economy is part of the neo-liberal agenda and corporate capitalism. Such a “knowledge economy” serves the interests of the market and the players of globalised capital. It is the logic of late capitalism that harps on unchecked growth and globalisation in such a knowledge economy which can be “developed or boosted” by misusing Indian education. For skill learning we already have departments of technical education and professional engineering colleges, poly techniques and ITI systems and technical training networks, in addition to various private institutions imparting technical skills based training and certification, all over the country. This emphasis on skill and technology is also part of a planned global agenda to deconstruct the philosophy of liberal humanities education based on social sciences and critical humanities which provide a critique of such ruthless commercialisation and neo liberal agendas. That Thatcherism choked the Birmingham School of Contemporary Cultural Studies (BCCCS) to its death because critical scholars like Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy critiqued the racial neo-liberal agenda of Britain is a case in point here.
Image courtesy mhrd.gov.in
Elaborate Restructuring in Indian Education Under “National Developmental Goals”
It is in continuation with the impetus on the “National” that the idea of “national developmental goals” is proposed by MHRD’s NEP 2016 draft (5). What is national and what is development are issues to be contested and debated thoroughly in a democratic world. An aggressive growth and development agenda which is rendered as everything and the end goal without any state control and ethical regulation, is a messianic and destructive imagination of late capitalism and corporate-right wing nexus in the third world. It is imperative to define nationalism in a clear and democratic way and to set the lucid agendas of development and its goals after elaborate debates and reformulations.
Changed Vocabulary: No Emphasis on Secularism, Scientific Spirit or Democracy
This “Nationalist and Developmental” agenda pushes some of the key concerns of equity and justice to the periphery in the educational agenda in India. Words like secularism, socialism, equality, rationalism, democracy, inclusion etc. are rendered insignificant or obsolete by this neo-liberal Nationalist developmental goals, working in tandem with the cultural Nationalism thrust on heritage, tradition and religious amity (5). A discourse of exclusion and reactionary retrogression is in place in this drastic change in vocabulary.
Stress on “Nation’s Well Being and Development” and Lack of Emphasis on People’s Welfare
Nation’s well being and National identity is stressed and conceived as a major goal of education (5) and this is also in marked contrast with the self realisation Vedic model presented in the beginning (1). Though Gandhi’s quote here is presented as against the misuse of education for economic gains, his concept of basic education and that of Varnasramadharma, along with the projects of Harijanodharana and Gramswaraj or Hindu Swaraj, were actually Hindu hegemonic and Brahmanical in orientation, and paternalistic in practice. He viewed the crucial issue of caste as an internal issue of the Hindus to be addressed and redressed by the caste Hindus denying agency, speech, and self-determination to the victims of Varnasramadharma. It is worth remembering that his lethal use of the hunger strike to save the caste Hindus from becoming a minority led to the Poona Pact, which was criticised and exposed in Kerala in 1936 itself by critical thinkers and editors like Sahodaran Ayyappan as “Poona Pattini” — a term that has set the media idiom here in Kerala. The untouchables rejected his term “Harijan” outrightly as it was the term of abuse imposed upon the children of Devdasis in the Vaishnava temples of Gujarat. Dr. Ambedkar's own work, What Congress and Gandhi have Done to the Untouchables, are historic lessons worth remembering here (Ambedkar 2002; Sekher 2012) . Thus, the Gandhi's vision on education is again reactionary with the Hindu commonsense and Varnasrama consensus that shape it from behind.
Monoculturalism and National Goals
The NEP 2016 draft calls upon “the youth to become global citizens, with their roots deeply embedded in Indian culture and traditions” (5). What is Indian culture in the first place? There is no such monolith. In reality, it is only a plurality of regional vernacular cultures which exist in India. The old and Nationalist Upanishadic and Vedic, or Brahmanical Hindu hegemonic culture, cannot be thrust upon the vast majority of people who are outside the caste Hindu system or the Varnasramadharma (Sekher 2008). The dalit bahujans are Avarna who have a Buddhist and non-Hindu lineage (Omvedt 2006). Thus, what India has is a pluralistic tradition composed of a polyphony of cultures. A totalitarian essentialism lurks behind this violent and reductionist homogenous view of Indian culture as singular and Hindu or Vedic.
It almost sounds like Macaulay talking about the creation of native sahibs in his Minutes of 1835. The creation of such global citizens that is fixed and entrenched in Indian Culture and catering to the global “knowledge economy”, elaborates the globalised agenda of Indian Corporatism and Cultural Nationalism. A perfect union of corporate, global late-capitalism and cultural, elitist neo-Brahmanism of India, is visible in this global India agenda. The merging of the state apparatuses and modes of corporate production or market is another visible reminder of the onslaught of the coming to power of fascism (Griffin 1995). The Culture projected here as Indian is apparently the Hindu, or specifically the caste Hindu or Brahmanical Vedic/Vedantic or Upanishadic culture. It goes well with the type pf hegemonic discourse of Hindu – Hindi – Hindustani – Dilli – Sanskrit. Are cultures of the outcastes and women or minorities included here? Why is there no mention of the cultures of the North East and the South in particular? These cultures inevitably become subcultures or even counter cultures of the National. Thus the draft envisages a totalitarian and fascist monoculture of Hinduism for the whole of India in a perfect Cultural Nationalist manner or totalitarian fascist way.
Another important omission and silence on constitutional rights and guarantees in the draft must be read in this context of rising India image from Aurobindo. The vision of overwhelming India from Aurobindo (6) is like the “India Shining” campaign done during Pramod Mahajan’s and Vajpayee’s time. The passages of the draft here force a “rising India” sentiment which must be inculcated among every Indians. In a critical view, it is nothing but the Nationalist and more specifically the cultural Nationalist fervor that has become fascism in the present (Jaffrelot 2009). How this cultural Nationalist mobilisation has come to power misusing democratic process, and how it makes a mockery of our democracy and constitution, is also evident in the presence of extreme xenophobia and violence done to dalits and minorities in the country today. As a genuine early spokesman of Hindu India and divine life, Aurobindo had this sentiment earlier when he advocates a firm faith in rising India despite “every difficulty” and atrocity or caste violence in the presentas per the draft:
In the words of Sri Aurobindo, “The Indians must have the firm faith that India must rise and be great and that everything that happened, every difficulty, every reverse must help and further their end… The dawn will would soon be complete and the sun will rise over the horizon. The sun of India’s destiny would rise and fill all India with its light and overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world.” The rest of the 21st century could then belong to India.(5)
The problem with the Aurobindian vision is that it is deeply fixed in the Vedic/Vedantic worldview and its Brahmanical ideals; and is in sharp contrast to modern, democratic and secular vision of India enshrined in the Constitution. His books such as Savitri, The Life Divine, Raja Yoga and Future Poetry are increasingly recognised to be totalitarian texts of Vedic obscurantism and Hindu revisionism (Sharma 2003). Aurobindo’s overwhelming India and Vivekananda’s regenerated Hinduism often push forth and reiterate the Brahmanical hermeneutics that form the base of cultural Nationalism in India (Misra 2005).
Gandhian Basic Education and Swadharma
The crisis with Gandhian basic education is also similar in reproducing and reinforcing the Brahmanical notion of Varnasramadharma as Swadharma (Gandhi 1962). His works like Ideal Bhangi and Varnasramadharma reveal this reality. His project of Harijanodharana and the very term Harijan originally used to refer to the Children of Devdasis in Gujrati Vaishnava Hindu temples; were out rightly rejected by the people at the bottom in his own life time as we have seen earlier. Ambedkar has also written volumes about the Gandhian mode of negotiating the caste issue as a mere eradication of untouchability and a reinstatement of Varnasrama. His notions of Gramswaraj and Hindswaraj also reinforce and reestablish the caste Hindu hegemony and the Brahmanical values in indirect and covert ways. Thus there is an urgent necessity to rethink and critique his basic education model and his view of education and social transformation especially in the light of 60 years of post republican Gandhian propaganda done using public funds through the All India Radio and DD television by the state. Such a propaganda eventually Hinduised the society, and now the Hindu Nationalists are in power through the ballet itself by making a charade of the Indian constitution and democracy. The distance between Hindswaraj and Hindurashtra is very little, as time tells us.
Silence on Issues of Gender, Caste, Sexuality and Ecology
The draft mentions the word gender only once in the section "Preamble to Mission". The precarious use of the term “gender gap” (11) to substitute, or erase grave issues of gender inequality and systemic discriminations based on embodied forms of subjugation, is highly contestable. Despite the bloody institutional violence done on historic victims of gender and caste, as in the case of numberless dalit girls and dalit researchers like Rohit Vemula in leading central universities in the country, there is no acknowledgement or an action plan to counter these serious issues of social exclusion and cultural forms of hierarchy and violence. Gender inequality in education, and its nexus with caste inequality, are not even addressed by the draft. Another major omission is that of the sexual minorities and transgenders in Indian society who are experiencing serious human rights and civil rights violations. While Sanskrit and Yoga are pushed into the draft from all corners, it keeps mum on the crucial issue of ecological crisis, as seen in the recent devastation of the Yamuna flood plains and evasion of legal penaltee by an “Art of Living” cult group led by Sri Sri — a disguised Hindu demigod. The careful and cunning evasion and silence on issues such as gender, ecology, caste and sexuality are typical examples of the totalitarian and repressive regime and its social, political and ecological vision.
Education and the Globalisation Model
The NEP Draft 2016 talks about certain “Global Commitment”(13). It is ambiguous and in tandem with globalisation models of education which try to supply cheap labor to the globalisation processes, and misuse or allow the exploitation of a trained work force or developed human potentials, in a developing society like India. It must be remembered here that our commitment is primarily to our democracy, republic and constitution. We are also citizens of the world and it is based on the cosmopolitan and democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity, rather than on any global commitment to any global corporate giants or MNCs. The impetus given to this global corporate commitment once again exposes the corporate-Brahmanical alliance that operates to supply human resources to the global capital.
Education as Performance/Growth
The Vision of “high performing education” is again another corporate vision and therefore contestable (14). It also contradicts the self realisation Vedic model, or the Gandhian model too (1). Also it is in sharp contrast to the social and cultural models of any form of liberal education in the modern world, and reduces the conception of education into growth and competition based on the capitalist and corporate models. It marks a paradigm shift from the social commitments in Indian educational policies from Kothari Commission to 1985 NPE. This corporate model is that of unimaginable performance and unchecked growth. Education, especially university education as a site of creation of critical consciousness in multi and inter-disciplinary formations, is largely ignored and sidelined by this performance agenda of speed, and unlimited growth and free trade. The economic logic of competition and high speed of growth or performance, again points towards the corporate Brahmanical model of “excellence” and “high performance.”
Education as the Manufacture of “Products”
In an extreme vein of this corporate capitalistic commercialised view of education, students are termed as mere “products.” It is an extreme case of crass commercialisation and a dehumanising of the humans subjects in higher learning. Commodification of the whole system of education and students or researchers are evident in such expressions as “improve employability of the products of school and higher education”, under the section "Goals and Objectives" (14). Thus the goals and objectives are revealed to be that of global corporate capitalism. Its Indian Cultural Nationalist avatar of Hindutva fascism has merged perfectly with the corporate apparatuses in a perfect, totalitarian unison.
Another strategy of Cultural Nationalism is to project Sanskrit and regional languages beyond limits, and curtail the academic standards of higher education achieved and maintained through English throughout the university system. In the higher academia, this indirect attack and restriction on English is the attack on modernity and the rational cosmopolitan discourse. We have already discussed the check on secular and scientific temper enshrined in the Constitution in this draft. By catering to the regional linguistic chauvinisms and Cultural elites, the forces of Cultural Nationalism are deliberately playing the parochial linguistic identity card to centralise Sanskrit at the cost of the regional language chauvinists.
Conclusion: RSS Agenda and Saffronisation of Education
There were media reports that the Modi government has given maximum preference to the suggestions made by the RSS in this policy draft (Mahajan 2016). The latest news of the recent meeting of Amit Shah, RSS high priests and Javadekar, — the new head of MHRD — prove this premise of a Hindutva conspiracy. The suggestion to introduce value based education (carefully concealed caste Hindu values of Varnasramadharma obviously as the value); mother tongue teaching; reversal of non-detention policy; prominence to Sanskrit as a “living language” and not as a classical language; and intense inclusion of Yoga in the schools, were also suggested by the RSS. The TSR Subramanian Committee that studied these things have accepted and carefully incorporated the Sangha Parivar agendas into the back ground document of NEP 2016 draft. Bureaucrats and Parivar/VHP affiliates like J.S. Rajput, who was at the helm of NCERT and its saffronisation, Shailaja Chandra, Sevaram Sharma, and Sudhir Mankad are the other members of the committee that submitted the reports after RSS dictates in May 2016.
In short, the think tanks of MHRD and the ruling Hindu Nationalist party, and the purely Brahmanical RSS ideologues are clearly behind this NEP 2016 draft. It stands for the Vedic and Varnasrama Hindu world view and the neo-liberal corporate Brahmanism. It has to be challenged, checked, and resisted in general by the secular academic community and citizens in general if we need to save the idea of a democratic and secular India.
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Ajay S Sekher is an Assistant Professor, Dept of English, S S U S Kalady.
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