New Education Policies of India And Pakistan Will Further Divide, Within and Without
ON July 29, Narendra Modi's government unveiled
what it calls a groundbreaking new national education policy (NEP 2020). The
65-page document's wide range - from primary to university - forces me to
consider here just a single issue: To what extent does NEP reflect the BJP
ideology of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan? And how does it compare against Pakistan's
newly declared single national curriculum with logo: one nation, one curriculum?
At face value NEP is innocuous, even charming.
It speaks of India's rich heritage, the ancient universities of Nalanda and
Takshashila, mathematicians like Bhaskaracharya and Brahmagupta, jnan
(knowledge) and satya (truth) etc. The goal of education is: “complete
realisation and liberation of the self”. Who can possibly object? Still better:
my computer word search yielded only two occurrences of the word 'religion',
both times in the harmless context of NEP's purported inclusion of all
NEP also engages our anti-colonial
sensibilities: Indian children up to grade 6-7 can learn English if they want
but, under its new three-language formula, states and regions can choose their
languages provided at least two of the three are native to India. In principle
Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian students will use the same books, study side
by side in the same classrooms, and take the same exams. Wonderful!
But inside NEP's not-so-hidden agenda are the
clear wishes of RSS, the BJP's ideological parent. RSS follows its guru, M.S.
Golwalkar, who suggested India learn from Hitler in keeping races pure. In
1947, RSS wanted all Muslims remaining in India expelled to Pakistan. Then a
minority, it now enjoys full state support.
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India must look towards its glorious past,
declares NEP, with that past exclusively Hindu. Although Sanskrit is a culturally
dead language, NEP calls it the fount of all sacred and secular knowledge.
Urdu, on the other hand, although spoken by tens of millions of Indians and
once the language of the Bombay film industry, is absent from a list that
includes Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Pali, Persian, and Prakrit.
All education policies are cooking recipes; the
final product depends upon ingredients. NEP hints at, but leaves unspecified,
what textbooks will contain. Will history be dispassionately presented as a series
of invasions which, layer by layer, built Indian culture over the millennia? Or
are Muslims merely wicked temple-destroyers who shattered the seraphic heaven
of Mother India? One worries because in BJP-ruled states, leaders have demanded
removal of references to Mughal emperors Akbar and Aurangzeb to make space for
Hindu kings like Maharana Pratap and Shivaji.
Interestingly, RSS's nativism appears driven
more by its anti-Christian agenda than its anti-Muslim one. Since the days of
Lord Macaulay, convents and other English-medium Christian missionary schools
have been the mainstay of modern Indian education. But today, tens of thousands
of RSS-associated vernacular language schools stand against them. These will
gain from downgrading English.
RSS pracharaks are jubilant but Indians face a
reality check. English-medium schools, not traditional patshalas and gurukuls,
modernised India and gave it global clout. While India can name its satellite 'Aryabhatta', Isaac Newton's laws actually guided it into orbit. Even the BJP
minister whose signature is on NEP, Prakash Javedekar, knows this. From Indian
press reports I found that he, along with nine other BJP ministers, has also
sent his children to study abroad.
NEP is a step backward for India's national
integration. In spite of 30 languages, 130 dialects, and well over a dozen
faiths, India took barely 50 years to create a national identity after
Jawaharlal Nehru set it on a secular track. Most Muslims, Sikhs and Christians
were then proud to declare themselves Indian. But, as Indian secularism
retreats, this is now disappearing.
Pakistan's new education policy, only parts of
which are known so far, is much more upfront on creating a religion-based
society. The goal is to put madressahs at the same level as all other kinds of
schools. Henceforth, bearded men from the Ittehad Tanzimat-i-Madaris (Coalition
of Madressah Organisers) will decide what Pakistani children will learn and
will also scrutinise their textbooks.
Religious materials are mandatory from nursery classes
onward. The new Class 1-5 curriculum is extremely detailed and reveals more
religious content to be memorised than even madressahs require. Discrimination
is automatic. Since non-Muslim students cannot be allowed to study from the
Holy Book, they must be separated.
Major changes are afoot at higher levels as
well. The governor of Punjab, Ghulam Sarwar, told me during an exclusive
one-on-one meeting in his office on July 23 of his decision to make the award
of all university degrees in Punjab contingent upon studying the Holy Quran
together with translation. Doing so, he said, will ensure that our university
students learn Arabic. He did not elaborate on how this would help make better
doctors, economists, engineers, or scientists.
For building national identity Pakistan seeks to
Arabicise and Islamise whereas India wants to indigenise and Hinduise. The
BJP's way is more subtle than Pakistan's but cleverer because it understands
the enormous power of culture. Programmes such as 'Aik Bharat Shreshtha Bharat' aim at developing a multilingual, multicultural (but not multi-religious)
Indian national identity.
Compare that with education policies in Pakistan
where regional cultures and languages find only fleeting references. With no
lessons learnt from 1971, Pakistan still assumes that solidifying its Islamic
identity will somehow create national integration. Even something as mild as
the 18th Amendment, which entrusts education to the provinces, has the sword of
Damocles hanging over it.
The new education policies of India and Pakistan
will further divide them, both from each other as well as within each country.
Majoritarian consensus against their respective religious minorities will be
hugely strengthened. The Indian policy is milder in tone than Pakistan's but is
probably more dangerous simply because it is better thought out and
professionally formulated, hence, likely to be more successful when
implemented. On the other hand, the Pakistani policy document is half-baked,
wrapped in multiple layers of confusion, and will almost certainly flounder.
But if it is implemented, it will lead to fasaadi extremism of a kind that
operations like Radul Fasaad cannot ever defeat.