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Batra’s books negate all that India represents: inclusiveness, pluralism

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
The Gujarat Government has done it again! That it does so, is on expected lines; but that it is doing so by throwing all caution and Constitutional propriety to the wind should be a cause of great concern to every citizen who values the principles of democracy and pluralism, which are the heart and soul of India. The topic in question is the approval and introduction of nine books (eight of which are written and edited by Dina Nath Batra) in more than 42,000 Government-run primary and secondary schools all over Gujarat.
In a circular dated June 30, 2014, the Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB) states, “These books on supplementary literature are aimed at imparting quality education. They will be provided free of cost to all government primary and secondary schools, public libraries and will be also available at GSSTB, Gandhinagar, for individuals interested in these books. These are to be incorporated from this academic session.”
Dina Nath Batra has earned his “fame” as the founder of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti and who thinks that he and his organization will “save” the Hindu religion and culture. Sometime ago, he succeeded in getting Penguin to pulp the famed historian Wendy Doniger’s book on The Hindus: An alternative History and later because of his threats, Orient Black Swan undertook ‘a comprehensive assessment’ of Megha Kumar’s book, Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969.
Batra, 85 , has become the rallying point for the right-wing forces in the country; today they leave no stone unturned to seize every opportunity they get to mainstream the Hindutva ideology; manipulating the educational system is an easy first step for them.
It is interesting to note that these books were officially published (in Gujarati) in January 2014 with laudatory messages from the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi (today the Prime Minister of India) and also from Gujarat education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and his ministerial colleagues Vasuben Trivedi and Nanubhai Vanani. After a formal launching in March 2014, they were kept in cold storage till after the General Elections and very surreptiously introduced in the schools only early in July 2014!
The set of nine books are Shikshan nu Bhartiyakaran (Indianisation of Education), Tejomay Bharat (Shining India), Prernadeep 1, 2, 3 and 4 (Inspirational Light), Vidyalaya: Pravrutiyon nu Ghar (School: House of Activities), Shikshan ma Triveni (Trinitarian Education) and Vedic Ganit (Vedic Maths). The titles in themselves are seemingly innocuous but a careful analysis of these books indicate that their contents are capable (according to a well-known intellectual) of taking India “back into the dark ages”. The books are replete with myths and falsehoods, with superstitions and prejudices, with gross distortions and manipulations – propagating an ideology which is fascist and totally against the grain of all that Indian culture represents: inclusiveness, pluralism and the rights of all.
The books are clearly violative of Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child since their contents are not only sub-standard but are also not a source of qualitative, accurate and objective knowledge to a growing child. Unfortunately, the children who are targeted by these books are those who go to Government schools (and most of them are surely from the poor and marginalized sections of society); the major objective of those who propagate such perverted knowledge seems to keep these sections of society ‘in the dark ages’.

Perverted knowledge

The contents of these books will surely shock any right-thinking citizen!
‘Racism’ seems to be high on the agenda. An anecdote entitled ‘Courageous Gurudevsinh’ in Prernadeep-2 (p 3) reads thus: “Sn aeroplane was flying at a height of thousands of feet. A strong and well-built Negro reached the back door of the plane and attempted to open it. The air hostess stopped him. The strong Negro knocked down the delicate-bodied air hostess. “Beware, if any one dares to move forward towards me”. An Indian jawan (soldier) came forward and hit him such a sweeping blow that the Negro’s firm feet were shaken. The Negro tried all kinds of boxing stunts but the grip of the Indian youth was so firm that the Negro could not free himself. In the meanwhile, the pilot also joined the jawan and both of them gave him a good thrashing and tied him up with a rope. The murderous terrorist struggled like a tied up buffalo. The plane landed at Chicago. All the passengers alighted safely and expressed their gratitude to the Indian jawan. The Negro turned out to be notorious criminal in the Chicago police records. The one who had the Negro arrested was an Air-India employee Gurudevsinh.”
In Prernadeep-3 (p 8) there is an obnoxious passage citing our former President Dr S Radhakrishnan: “Once before Independence Dr. Radhakrishnan went for a dinner party. There was an Englishman at the event who said “the English are very dear to God.” Hearing this, Radhakrishnan laughed and told the gathering, “Friends, one day God was making rotlis (Indian bread). The first rotli that he made was half-baked and that’s how the English were born. The second was over-baked and that’s how the Negro race was born. Realizing his previous two mistakes, he decided to bake a third one which turned out to be perfect and that was how Indians were born.”
There are several stories/ examples that advocate shunning of anything that is ‘western’; so an Indian according to Batra’s philosophy should not blow candles on one’s birthday but instead feed cows and listen to songs produced by Vidya Bharati (the RSS mouthpiece); he cites the example of Swami Vivekanand who apparently told an Englishwoman that he wore foreign shoes because that was where foreigners were meant to be – on his feet! While trying to propagate a disdain for anything ‘western’, Batra’s fantasies include that the motor car was invented first by the Indians during the Vedic period; research on stem cell began in India thousands of years ago, because in the Mahabharata, it is said that a holy man was able to convert a mass of flesh into hundred babies or Kauravas; that India has been using television, centuries before the rest of the world invented it because again in the Mahabharata it is written that Sanjaya sitting in the Hastinapur palace would give a live telecast of the Mahabharata battle to Dhristarashtra (who was blind) by using his ‘divya shakti’ (divine powers).
In keeping with the general trend of these books, it is natural that the English language should come under attack. Sanskrit shlokas are freely used throughout. He takes a categorical stand against the domination of the English language which he feels has sidelined the learning of Sanskrit. When the children do not know Sanskrit, he believes they will not be able to imbibe the pure ‘Indian culture’ and the vast knowledge that comes from the great epics. Added to Batra’s philosophy is the manner in which the Gujarat Government is also trying to promote Vedic Maths among the students.

Communal nature of books

The books are very communal in nature. Muslims and Christians are sometimes blatantly and other times subtly denigrated. Prernadeep – 2 narrates how Swami Vivekanand systematically exposed the selfishness and evil deeds of Christian missionaries (pg. 45). Tejomay Bharat emphatically states “it is better to die for one’s religion; a foreign religion is a source of sorrow” (pg. 118). The caste system gets legitimized in several ways; though the British are to be blamed for giving the lowly name ‘Shudra’.
The books also suggest the redrawing of geographical boundaries. Batra suggests that the students should now think of ‘Akhand Bharat’. In Tejomay Bharat, he says: “Students, how would you go about drawing a map of India? Do you know that countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma are part of undivided India? These countries are part of Akhand Bharat.” (pg.49). In another chapter, the students are told that “a divided India is a lie, whereas undivided India is the truth; the division of India is unnatural and India can easily be united again.”

In spite of his unabashed attack on “western” culture, language, inventions, people and even on what he calls “non-Indian” religions, Batra seems to ignore the fact that all his books are being printed in printing presses invented by the West. He does not call for a ban on the railways or on industries, he does not speak against cricket or tennis or for that matter against the computers, mobile phones and thousands of other things which India has happily adopted from the West. While Modi has blessed Batra and his books, it would be interesting now to see what is Batra’s take on Modi’s invitation to the rest of world “to come and make in India” from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day. Very significantly, ‘Manogat’ (August 2014), the BJP mouth-piece, openly endorses Batra’s books and its contents; highlighting their two-pronged strategy, ‘to simultaneously run with the hare and hunt with the hound’.

Much of the content of Batra’s books are laughable and could even pass off as third-rate joke books; but the attacks both direct and subtle on several sections of society are certainly no laughing matter. Given the fact that they target formative minds should be serious enough for civil society to voice their protests strongly on this matter. Mitali Saran in a very telling article entitled ‘Back to School’ (Business Standard, Ahmedabad August 2/3, 2014) sums it up: “A poor education teaches children disdain, excessive pride, exclusionary or majoritarian thinking, outright fiction in place of facts, and an inability to tolerate dissent or to think for themselves.”

Can we continue to remain silent when the Gujarat Government violates the ‘Rights of a Child’ – in such a blatant manner?



* Director, PRASHANT, Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace

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