‘Saffronising’ Education: The Vedic Education Board

Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Vedavidya Pratishthan (MSRVP), a fully-funded autonomous body under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), has given its ‘in-principle’ clearance to a new national board of education, the Bhartiya Shiksha Board (BSB), with the objective of ‘standardising Vedic education’. MSRVP was formed in 1987 to promote ‘Ved-Vidya’ (Vedic learning). The meeting, in which the clearance was given, was chaired by HRD minister Prakash Javadekar and attended by the minister of state for law and justice, P.P. Chaudhary. The board will award Ved Bhushan and Ved Vibhushan qualifications equivalent to class 10 and 12 education. Mr Javadekar said that the objective is to blend Vedic education with modern education where students can take their majors in Sanskrit and the Vedas and their minors in other modern subjects [1]. The BSB will standardise ‘Indian traditional knowledge’ such as Vedic education, Sanskrit education, Shastras and Darsanas and ‘Bhartiya Parampara’ [2]. It will also draft syllabus, conduct examinations and issue certificates. This board is likely to benefit institutions such as Ramdev’s Acharyakulam, Vidya Bharati schools (run by the RSS) and Gurukuls (run by the Arya Samaj) which are not recognised currently by the school boards such as CBSE [2].

Initially, a proposal was submitted in this regard by the Haridwar based Vedic Education Research Institute (VERI) run by Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth in 2015. However, it was dismissed on the ground that a state sanction for a private board would lead to similar requests by others. A similar proposal was made in 2016 under the then HRD minister Smriti Irani. Thereafter, on February 12 of this year, the government agreed to let private players to set up the board. With a view to the forthcoming election, the ‘Expression of Interest’ (EOI) inviting applications was given only a week’s time. The trust Patanjali Yogpeeth’s bid was judged the best by a selection committee. The other two private contenders for the same were Ritnand Balved Education Foundation (which runs the Amity group of institutions) and Pune-based Maharashtra Institute of Technology. Patanjali Yogpeeth was represented by Acharya Balkrishna who said that the trust is willing to commit Rs 21 crore for the development of the board and has the necessary infrastructure ready for the headquarters. Also, they will appoint Baba Ramdev as its chairperson. Balkrishna’s promise to fund Rs 21 crore (highest among the three applicants) is believed to be the key factor for the selection [3].

There is ample proof that the Narendra Modi government has shown endeavors to change history books to portray its discriminatory policies against religious minorities, meddled with school textbooks, funded questionable research projects not grounded on the scientific method and passively condoned pseudoscientific remarks [4]. The attempt to saffronise the school education system in India is taking place in various forms in the BJP-ruled states before 2014, and on the national level post 2014. The set-up of the BSB symbolises an escalation of the Centre’s drive to infuse the beliefs of the Vedas and other Hindu religious texts, and it is also a direct attack on the education based on critical inquiry, rationality and scientific temper.

For the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and other right-wing organisations, the ‘Westernised’ education system is responsible for the moral, religious and cultural degradation of the Indian people. While it is true that Macaulay introduced English education in colonial India to recruit Indians to low-level government service in order to make the Indians more compliant and servile to the Empire, however, monopoly of the Brahmin and other upper-caste men in obtaining education was undermined to a certain extent [5]. Although, it may be admitted that we need a major reform to eliminate colonial hangover and achieve a secular and modern education system, the Modi government is trying to go back to the education system founded on caste discrimination. In the Rig Veda’s tenth Mandal (part), Purusha Sukta, 91st Richa (hymn), the origin of the fourfold Varna-based Hindu social order has been given, namely Brahmins, Rajanya (the word ‘Kshatriya’ was not mentioned in the Rig Veda), Vaishya and Shudra [6]. Will this structure be followed even today? How will this accommodate the ex-untouchables, tribals, religious minorities, etc? What will be the position of women and dalits? Will the students who learn Vedic education also follow the Brahminical ritualistic practices? Here, it may be mentioned that Vedic pathshalas which exist in many places in the country have an essential caste character [7]. And if this is promoted further, it will have a serious regressive impact on the society.

Therefore, the idea of setting the BSB and equating ‘Vedic’ with ‘Indian’ is clearly an attempt of reproducing the cultural hegemony and ethnocentrism of the BJP government and the right-wing organisations.

 

 

References

[1] https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2019/01/yes-it-sounds-bizarre-but-vedic-education-actually-has-pros-and-cons-you-can-pick-from/

[2] https://indianexpress.com/article/education/government-rushes-to-set-up-vedic-board-ahead-of-polls-5582853/

[3] https://www.businesstoday.in/current/corporate/baba-ramdev-likely-head-india-first-vedic-board-patanjali-promises-fund-rs-21-crore/story/322019.html

[4] https://thewire.in/education/govt-body-okays-new-board-to-standardise-vedic-education

[5] https://www.newsclick.in/bjp-government-plans-set-vedic-education-board

[6] https://www.firstpost.com/india/theres-no-way-to-justify-a-vedic-education-board-6266981.html

[7] https://www.epw.in/journal/2019/11/editorials/hidden-agenda-behind-proposed-vedic-education.html

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