An absurdity of liberal democracy is that it has to permit space to its sworn enemies, the illiberal fanatics. The latter are free to preach narrow politics and dig the foundations of the plural society they thrive in. And since there is no way to legally measure how prejudices translate into intolerance, it is tough to book them under law.
That is why nobody expects the hooligans of Mangalore to get punished for molesting college girls in ‘defence’ of Hinduism. Aditya Mukherjee, Mirdula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan argue that the ultimate objective of the communalists is to make the members of their own religion conform to what the hardliners consider as the ‘correct path.’
Is there a way out of this vicious cycle? Many believe that before taking action we need to measure the extent of the damage caused.
The authors do precisely that. They map out what appears to be the beginning of India’s ‘Talibanisation’. They believe that the 2002 Gujarat riots were a result of the poisoning of the minds of children over nearly two decades. Their book concentrates on the divisive ideology of the RSS and its cohorts who control about 6,000-odd Vidya Bharti schools and a large number of other educational institutions where text books are “designed to promote bigotry”.
In all fairness, the enemies of democratic values include the fanatics of all hues and not just Hindu extremists. Historian Bipin Chandra notes in the foreword that both majority and minority communal forces acted as a major bulwark against Indian nationalism during the freedom struggle. The authors, perhaps, recognise this. But the focus of their enquiry is the Hindu hardliners’ ideology, which pushes prejudices through distorted syllabi, attacks on minorities or Mangalore-style vandalism.
One such text book written for 8-9 year-olds demeans Buddhism and censures Emperor Ashoka for his love of Ahimsa: “…It had a bad effect on the army. Cowardice slowly spread throughout the kingdom. The state bore the burden of providing food to the Buddhist monks. Therefore people began to become monks. Victory through arms began to be viewed as bad. Soldiers
guarding the borders were demoralised…The preaching of Ahimsa had weakened the North India.”
The accounts of history in the Vidya Bharti and Shishu Mandir books vary between degrading other faiths and exaggerating India’s greatness.
Most of these ideas are ahistorical and based on blinkered imagination. For instance, India is called the ‘mother country’ of ancient China and ancient Indians are credited with lighting the lamp of culture in China. (The first people to settle in Iran were also Indians!) It also claims that the language of the indigenous North American people was derived from the ancient Indian languages and Homer composed a version of the Ramayana!
A Class 4 book, Gaurav Gatha, describes the rise of Islam: “Wherever they went, they had a sword in their hand. Their army went like a storm in the four directions. Any country that came [in] their way was destroyed... Mothers and sisters were humiliated. Mercy and justice were unknown to them.”
Gujarat State Social Studies Text Books for Class 9 ‘reveal’ that the Hindus are in minority in most Indian states.
Students learn in Class 10 that Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government and he instilled the spirit of adventure in the common people. These and many more motivated distortions, the authors argue, go well with the Hindu fanatics’ ideology, besides vitiating the idea of the ‘other’ in multicultural India.
The second part of the book explores the reasons for the Hindu extremists’ hatred for Mahatma Gandhi, which is also reflected in curricula. For instance, a Class 10 NCERT book on contemporary India, introduced during the BJP’s rule, had no mention of Gandhi’s assassination. (A single sentence was later added following a nationwide uproar).
The book’s concluding part goes on to link the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha with the Mahatma’s assassination.
The arguments are strong though the points are not new. The book’s valuable analysis would have been even more incisive if it had taken note of the Hindu sectarian tendencies of some non-BJP parties.