Some of Hinduism's most revered institutions are seeking exemption for traditional Sanskrit schools called ved pathshalas from the Right to Education Act, arguing that the law could kill the ancient practice of orally rendering texts.
Citing Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's pronouncement declaring exemption for madrassas from the law, the ved pathshalas — supported by major religious Mathas and the Arya Samaj — are arguing that they too be spared from the Act.
The Kanchi Matha, the Ahobila Matha, and the Andavan Ashram are among the major south-based institutions that have signed petitions seeking exemption from the Act.
Representatives of the pathshalas — which school the priests who chant verses and perform ceremonies including Hindu weddings — are likely to meet Sibal soon to discuss their concerns, sources have told HT.
"The RTE Act has very lofty and admirable aims. But the law in its current form could sound the death knell for the pathshalas – and with them, for one of Hinduism's oldest practices," said N. Rama Sharma, executive trustee of the Chennai-based Veda Rakshana Nidhi Trust. The Trust conducts examinations for about 150 pathshalas across south India.
The concerns of India's about 1,000 ved pathshalas — including some 200 run by the Arya Samaj — are two-fold.
They say they cannot be expected to meet norms on infrastructure, teacher-student ratio and other parameters mandatory for schools to be recognised under the Act. The HRD ministry's Ujjain-based Maharishi Sandipani Vedavidya Pratishthan has already threatened to withdraw grants if patshalas do not gain recognition under the Act.
The pathshalas are also concerned exemption might prevent parents from sending their children to the religious schools. "We want exemption but also need recognition," Sharma said.
Children, who join pathshalas at a young age, enter the formal schooling system at the class XI stage, by appearing in the class X exams through open schooling. Since schooling till class VIII is now acknowledged only from recognised schools under the Act, these students may now no longer be allowed to appear for the class X exams.