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November 14, 1998


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UP government pushes through curricular changes sans opposition

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

While top leader were locked in a heated debate over what was being termed as saffronisation of education by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre, the Kalyan Singh-led government in Uttar Pradesh has already gone ahead with its agenda of adding several new chapters to the educational curriculum for the 30 million students in 1,50,000 primary and pre-secondary schools spread across the sprawling state.

And cleverly enough, the government has taken care to not just add on a few chapters on BJP-RSS icons like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya or Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, but also ensure the inclusion of several other 'forgotten' eminent personalities like Ramakrishna Paramhans, Vinoba Bhave, Jayaprakash Narayan, K M Munshi and, to top it all, Mother Teresa.

"Now tell me, how do you brand our move as communal," asks UP's Minister of State for Basic Education Ravindra Kumar Shukla, the main architect of the new curriculum that also includes the singing of Saraswati Vandana (invocation to the goddess of education) as well as the patriotic Vande Mataram as a part of daily routine.

Shukla hits out at all those who were lashing out at the BJP government for what they termed as 'Hinduisation' of education. "If singing Vande Mataram was communal, then even Ashfaq Ullah Khan, the well-known freedom fighter and martyr, would be dubbed as one; after all he kissed the gallows chanting Vande Mataram," he points out.

Significantly, the entire move has drawn very little criticism form any quarter. Only in a belated reaction, the state Minorities Welfare Minister Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan said vaguely at a function in Kanpur that he was against the very idea of introducing Saraswati Vandana . "This is communal," he remarked, while adding that he would soon take up the issue with the chief minister. However, Khan, who is the only Muslim in Kalyan's council of ministers, has yet to be heard making any noise over the issue and seems to be happily involved in the routine affairs of the government.

Strong protest was witnessed only from one important quarter -- the camp of renowned Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, who is also vice president of All India Muslim Personal Law Board. At a recent meet of Shias in Lucknow, he made it loud and clear, "Well, we love our country, but we cannot worship it, as our religion prohibits worshipping anything other than the God Almighty."

But Kalyan feels, "Some people are deliberately trying to make a mountain out of a molehill simply because they must politicise and give colour to anything and everything that the BJP does. Perhaps they think they can prove their self-proclaimed secular credentials only by opposing and condemning the BJP."

He goes on to point out, " Saraswati Vandana has been a part of university convocations for years; most schools and colleges in the country have observed Saraswati Vandana as a regular ritual to open their annual functions and not a word was ever raised against the practice, even by those who are now trying to fuel this issue."

Shukla claims that the new education policy evolved by him for the state's primary schools was something that should have been done decades ago. "There is simply no religion involved in what we seek to introduce in schools today; the whole exercise is directed toward improving the quality of education and building the overall personality of a student," he points out while adding, "Our arm is to provide a healthier teaching environment in educational institutions where some kind of accountability has also been fixed on teachers for the first time."

Shukla further goes on clarity, "Now look at the new daily routine drawn out by us -- this stresses the involvement of students in cleaning classrooms, besides building an ideal physical, psychological, educational and spiritual environment." He has also included periodical parent-teacher meetings, seminars as a matter of routine, besides creating a family-like atmosphere in schools. "After all, today's students are builders of tomorrow's society," he quips.

Shukla admits that Saraswati Vandana and Vande Mataram and even yoga sessions have been made part of the daily morning curriculum. And the day would conclude with showering of flowers over a picture of India, followed by the national anthem and raising of the slogan 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'. As a matter of routine, students will also take a vow at the end of the day to dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of the nation and its people.

Asks the minister, "Now tell me, what's wrong in saying India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters; I love my country and I am proud of its rich ideals and traditions, that are its greatest treasure. I will always strive to live up to them; I will respect my father-mother, teachers and guides and will remain courteous to all. I swear to remain true and sincere towards my country and countrymen because there lies my own happiness."

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