Right To Learn Hinduism
I am writing this after going through the interview in The Hindu newspaper ( August 14) of Manjul Bhargava, one of the recipients of the Fields Medal, considered equivalent to a Nobel Prize in the discipline of Mathematics. It is not that Manjul, a Canadian national working in one of the premier universities of the United States, is of Indian origin. What impressed me more was his pride and faith in his “Indian upbringing”.
Let me quote a portion of Manjul’s interview: “I was born in Canada, but grew up mostly in the U.S. in a very Indian home. I learned Hindi and Sanskrit, read Indian literature, and learned classical Indian music. I ate mostly Indian food! On the other hand, I grew up playing with American kids and went to school mostly in the U.S. I liked growing up in two cultures like that because it allowed me to pick and choose the best of both worlds. My Indian upbringing was very important to me.
“I also spent a lot of time in India growing up. Every three or four years, I would take off six months of school to spend it in India—mostly in our hometown Jaipur—with my grandparents. There I had the opportunity to truly live in India for extended periods of time, go to school there, brush up on my Hindi and Sanskrit, and learn tabla (as well as some sitar and vocal music). I particularly enjoyed celebrating all the Indian holidays as a child, and flying kites on Makar Sankranti.”
In my considered opinion, what Manjul is trying to say is that he is proud of the Indian value system that has been inculcated in him by his parents and grandparents. But here in India, talking of Indian values and its traditional knowledge is becoming increasingly difficult these days. And that, in turn, is because of the perverse secularism that is being propagated, particularly by the dominant political and intellectual elite, in the country. It is argued that the values of a country are determined by its majority community and hence prejudicial to the interests of its minorities. As a result, what we see today that the Muslims children learn about Islam and the Quran in madrasas and the Christian children learn the essence of Christianity and the Bible in educational institutions founded and managed by them. Under the Indian Constitution, the minorities are allowed to have their own educational institutions and the certificates or degrees thereof are recognised legally.
In contrast, the children of the majority of the Hindu community do not have such facilities. Whenever there are attempts to teach them about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Gita in normal schools, the secular brigade makes a lot of hue and cry. And ironically, all these elements, who dominate the Indian academia and media, will want books critical of Hinduism to flourish in India but they will advise against the circulation of anything that is critical of other religions. The recent controversy over the book on Hinduism by American Indologist Wendy Doniger is the case in point. Doniger, a Professor of “Religions” in an American University is a great “secular” for our so-called liberals in India, but these very liberals will leave no stone unturned to foil any attempt by any university in India to introduce courses on “Religions”. In fact, they will have nothing to do with the promotion of a “dead language” such as Sanskrit. Even any elective course on “Vastu Sashtra” or “astrology” will be dismissed as attempts towards “saffronisation”. Such are the double standards of these so-called liberals!
Take also the case of Supreme Court Justice Anil R Dave’s suggestion the other day. He had made a point why the Gita and the Mahabharata should to be taught to the school children. “Our old tradition such as guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) is lost; if it had been there, we would not have had all these problems in our country,” he had said, referring to the growing problems of violence and terrorism. “Now we see terrorism in countries. Most of the countries are democratic. If everybody in a democratic country is good, then they would naturally elect somebody who is very good. And that person will never think of damaging anybody else,” he had said.
Predictably, the secular brigade got wild over Justice Dave’s “Hindutva remarks”. Now the question is: where will the children of the Hindus—who constitute the overwhelming majority in India—learn the Indian classics, if not in schools? Secondly, is it correct to see the classics or epics of a country through religious prisms? In fact, in January 2012, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had dismissed a petition challenging introduction of ‘Gita Sar’ (essence of Gita) in school curriculum. When the Catholic Bishop’s Council filed a PIL in August 2011, the court gave the petitioner’s counsel two months to read the holy book in entirety and make up his mind. The court finally held that Gita was essentially Indian philosophy and not a religion.
Of course, a case can be made that in our educational institutions, essence or fundamental values of all religions should be taught. But the more germane point is that our so-called secularists should realise that reading religions is not being communal or promoting communalism. In fact, the core values of every religion—compassion, courage, courtesy, fairness, honesty, kindness, loyalty, perseverance, respect and responsibility—are similar. Learning them goes a big way in building one’s character and country’s overall value system.
One should remember here that a nation’s rise and fall is determined by its value system. Scholarly works show that former world leaders such as Egypt, Iran, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain declined as much for their economic failure as for their failures in human and spiritual aspects. Even India under the great Mughals, as Paul Kennedy has explained in his classic The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, had to fall because of the then prevailing “ retarding factors in Indian life”—a Muslim elite whose conspicuous consumption ( servants and hangers on, extravagant clothes and jewels, harems and menageries) amidst the ocean of penury; and the sheer rigidity of the Hindu taboos such as the oppressive caste system which throttled initiative and instilled rituals of not killing even the rodents and insects, leading not only to loss of vast amount of food but also the bubonic plagues.
In this “Information Age”, the values of truthfulness, honesty, integrity and humility continue to be as relevant as ever. It is important for the educators to define expected skills for being successful in the family work, social and other environments and to include those aspects of character and moral development which are deemed important. Gone are the days of the rivalry between the advocates of “Asian value system” (responsibility towards the family, state and society) and the Western value system (individualistic culture and modernity). Now is the time of synergy between the two, something countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have achieved with great success. In a sense, these Asian countries have accepted the “secular” culture of the west—capitalism, liberalism and democracy—to a considerable extent.
The moral of the story is thus clear. It is time to re-examine the unnecessary politicisation of the question of value education through the fundamentals of all religions, including Hinduism, in India. If Hinduism cannot be taught in India but in the Unites States, Germany and Japan, then there is something wrong with our secularism. If through the Gita and the Mahabharata we can better realise the values of truth, peace, righteous conduct (this implies respect for fundamental duties of the Constitution) which, among other things, talk of patriotism, love and awareness of the basics of all religions—it can hardly be viewed as an “attempt” towards the so-called saffronisation of the Indian education system.
By Prakash Nanda