New Delhi: It was time. Everything was ready for the biggest function in the school – a grand stage, a hall decorated with magnificent lighting, jam packed audience seats, and high-profile chief guests: Union minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, Puducherry governor Kiran Bedi and several ministers from Karnataka.
And then the curtains were up.
At least 100 students – most of them from Class 11 and 12 – dressed in white shirts, white pants and saffron dhotis, some carrying saffron flags, ran towards the centre of the stage where a huge poster of the Babri Masjid was placed. That’s when the narrator announced (in Kannada) on a loudspeaker, “They demolish the structure with anything they can get their hands on. With enthusiasm, Hanuman bhakts, with Hanuman’s anger, demolish the Babri structure.” As the narrator, the students on the stage and the audience cheered in excitement — ‘Bolo Shri Ramachandra ki Jai! Bajrang Bali ji jai, Bharat Mata ki, Jai!’ – the poster of the Babri Masjid was torn down.
This was the School Day function at Sri Rama Vidya Kendra High School located in Kalladka, Dakshina Kannada district, Karnataka. On December 15, 2019 – around a month after the Supreme Court ruling which called the demolition of the Babri Masjid a ‘violation of law’ – the students of this school were made to enact the demolition. The school is owned by a powerful RSS leader from Karnataka, Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, who defended the play in front of the media: “It is not a mosque. It is just a building. It is a historical event that we are depicting… Who are Babur’s children? We are not against Muslims. We are against terrorists. The play was done to show historical events and what is the problem with it.” Bhat is also known as one of the political mentors of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This was not the first time that a school run by the RSS was accused of indoctrinating its students with Islamophobia and other undemocratic, unconstitutional and intolerant beliefs.
Bhonsala Military School (BMS) in Nagpur has been linked to various attacks by Hindu extremists in the recent past. During the investigation into the 2008 Malegaon blasts and 2006 Nanded bomb blast case, Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) found — (1) training camps were organised in BMS where several terror-accused were trained, and (2) meetings, to plan the bombings, were held in BMS between the accused, senior RSS leaders and their affiliates. According to an Outlook article on the Maharashtra Military Foundation, Pune — run by Lt Col (Retd) Jayant Chitale — the school’s visitor’s book, which also preserves the names of all the men trained on campus, revealed that Shrikant Prasad Purohit, who later became an accused in the Malegaon bomb blast case, was also enrolled there.
The past, the present
Under the leadership of M.S. Golwalkar, in the year 1946, the RSS established its first school in Kurukshetra named Gita School. But the ban on the RSS, soon after the assassination of M.K. Gandhi by Nathuram Godse in 1948, put a roadblock on the expansion of the Gita School model. After the ban was lifted, in the year 1952, RSS leaders Krishna Chandra Gandhi, Bhaurao Deoras and Nanaji Deshmukh together laid the foundation stone of India’s first Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, in a building rented at a monthly rent of Rs 5.
With time, such schools began to be established across several locations in Uttar Pradesh. To manage and coordinate their functioning, a state-level Shishu Shiksha Prabandak Samiti was set up. Later on, with the expansion of these schools to other states, such committees were also set up in Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, Sarvhitkari Shiksha Samiti was established in Punjab and Chandigarh while Haryana had a Hindu Shiksha Samiti.
In the year 1977, an apex all-India body named Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan (Vidya Bharati) was formed to coordinate the activities between these state committees and administer all the schools run by the RSS across the country. The registered office of Vidya Bharati was in Lucknow, while the functional headquarters were in Delhi. In their book titled RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project, Professors Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan highlight that by the time this body was formed, “there were already about 500 RSS schools in the country with around 20,000 students enrolled in them”.
Their book explains the trajectory of expansion of Vidya Bharati schools:
“In the early 1990s the BJP governments in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh encouraged the growth of Vidya Bharati schools and even permitted them to set their own syllabus and conduct examinations for the lower classes and run teacher training programmes. By 1993–94 the total number of schools run by Vidya Bharati was claimed to be 6,000 with 40,000 teachers and 1,200,000 students. With state power coming to the BJP at the centre in 1998, the RSS influence in schools took a quantum leap. In 1999, there were reportedly 14,000 Vidya Bharati schools with 80,000 teachers and 1,800,000 students… In September 1998, the Kalyan Singh government sought to link all state run schools to the RSS shakha. It was made compulsory for all primary schools in the state to involve RSS pracharaks for imparting Naitik Shiksha or moral education.”
According to Vidya Bharati’s official website, it currently runs 12,828 formal schools across India with more than 3.4 million students enrolled in these schools. It also runs more than 6,400 informal education centres by the name ‘Sanskar Kendras’. The website clearly defines the ‘Mission’ of Vidya Bharati: “To develop a National System of Education which would help building a generation of young men and women that is committed to Hindutva and infused with patriotic fervour; physically, vitally, mentally and spiritually fully developed; capable of successfully facing challenges of life; dedicated to the service of those of our brothers and sisters who dwell in villages, forests, caves and slums; and are deprived and destitute, so that they are liberated from the shackles of social evils and injustice and thus devoted, may contribute to build up a harmonious, prosperous, and culturally rich Nation [emphasis added].”
The Wire looked into the Vidya Bharati schools and their curriculum, which look designed to promote communal hatred and produce RSS footsoldiers. What follows was revealed from their books, their curriculum and interviews with students and alumni of RSS-run schools in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar.
From Vidya Bharati textbooks
“Name the young scientist of Kanpur who invented the Jyoti lamp which burns with cow urine.” – Here’s one of the questions from Bodhmala 5, a book series taught in Vidya Bharati schools.
Vidya Bharti Sanskriti Shiksha Sansthan (VBSSS), headquartered in Kurukshetra, Haryana, publishes a book series named Bodhmala for Classes 4 to 12. Books in this series discuss diverse subjects/topics – history, geography, politics, personalities, martyrs, morals, festivals (only Hindu ones), religious books, science, general knowledge and much more. With no dedicated subject teacher, the students are expected to read these books on their own. However, on the basis of these books, a Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha (All India Culture Examination) is conducted across the country wherein the students scoring more than 50% are given certificates. Students from outside of Vidya Bharati schools also appear in the exam. The Wire learned in its interviews that there have been instances where students from government schools too appeared for the Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha – though this was a choice made by the individual students and not by the schools.
A deep study of the Bodhmala series reveals that by glorifying Hinduism, projecting it as the only religion in India and attaching an inflated sense of pride to it, all of these books instil the ideology of Hindutva into young minds. The book by Mukherjees and Mahajan writes about the Bodhmala series, “The Vidya Bharati Sansthan claims to be engaged in providing to the young generation education in religion, culture and nationalism. The catechistic series is part of Sansthan’s effort in this direction… Much of the material in these books is designed to promote blatantly communal and chauvinist ideas, and popularise RSS and its policies and programmes.”
National chauvinism and Hindu supremacy
These books make unabashed efforts to gradually suffuse the concept of Hindu supremacy into the minds of students. Every textbook in the Bodhmala series ensures that it fulfils the purpose of (1) establishing India as the origin of all civilisations that have ever existed; (2) referring to the Hindu Sanatan religion as the supreme religion of India by either negating the existence of other religions or by appropriating them; and (3) belittling and ridiculing other nations, their cultures and history. For instance, Bodhmala 8 claims, “Hindu culture is like a deep ocean in which different ideas merge into one. Different cultures and civilizations were born in the world, but today they do not even have a name’ and ‘All human beings originate from India.”
Bodhmala 9 cites a poem —
जब धरती पर घोर जंगली मानव ही बसते थे,
वस्त्र पहनना नहीं जानते, पशुवत ही फिरते थे,
भाषा हीन विचारहीन होकर बात संकेतों से करते…
हिमसागर की पुण्य भूमि पर प्रथम मनुष्य प्रकट हुआ
(When only wild humans used to live on the earth
(They) did not know how to wear clothes, used to roam like animals
Without any language, without any thoughts, talking with signs…
The first man appeared on the holy land of Himsagar)
These books speak in rhetoric, often making unverified, unsupported and illogical claims. Bodhmala 9 says, “Symbols of Hindu culture are inscribed on Greek coins. San Agustin, the holy city of Colombia is named after Rishi Agastya. Legend of Karna is popular in Babylon, the Caspian Sea is the land of Kashyap… There has been an indelible influence of India on the literary tradition and poetry of Malaya and Java. Ramayana is the national book of Shyam Desh. The old name of Iran is Aryaan. The scriptures of the Parsis said — We offer sacrifices to the works of the Aryans.”
The content is filled with false claims with no supporting evidence. For example, Bodhmala 6 states, “This universe has been created from the supreme conscious element ‘Brahma’… Many cultures of the world have originated from this beautiful land of India. It has been an inspiration for mankind all over the earth.” The research by Mukherjees and Mahajan notes the examples mentioned to describe the ‘spread of the light of Aryatva by Bharatiya Manishis’ – “The credit for lighting the lamp of culture in China goes to the ancient Indians. India is the mother country of ancient China. Their ancestors were Indian kshatriyas….The first people who began to inhabit China were Indians. The first people to settle in Iran were Indians (Aryans). The popularity of the great work of the Aryans—Valmiki Ramayana—influenced Yunan (Greece) and there also the great poet Homer composed a version of the Ramayana. The Languages of the indigenous people(Red Indians) of the northern part of America were derived from ancient Indian languages.”
In the year 2005, a committee was set up under the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) of the Ministry of Human Resources Development to discuss the ‘Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks taught in Schools outside the Government System’. It was asked to study and report on both textbooks used in government schools not following the CBSE syllabus, as well as books used in non-government schools, including those run by religious and social organisations. Many experts from different states, various governmental and non-governmental organisations, educational institutions and concerned citizens all over India were brought into the process and gave their suggestions to the committee.
In its report, the committee made stern observations about the textbooks used in schools run by the RSS:
“The textual materials greatly exaggerate ancient India’s achievements without any of the factual and empirical substantiation required to make that case. They also echo the Hindutva chauvinist narratives that present the country as a victim of repeated foreign aggressions and invasions, especially by Muslim rulers. All past achievements are referred back to the ancient pre-Islamic era. The landscape is bereft of all Muslim or Christian cultural or religious presence. History is shown to develop around a single axis, which bifurcates Indian people into true Indians and aliens, as Hindus and others, as victims and tyrants, as invaders and vanquished. The fact that India has since ancient times been a multicultural, multi-religious, syncretic society has not been emphasised sufficiently thus manipulating the future generation into a pattern of narrow-minded and intolerant thinking.”
The classroom and corridor walls of Vidya Bharati schools are decorated with glossy maps and large graffiti depicting Bharat Mata, as a woman clad in a saffron sari holding the saffron flag – a symbol of Hindutva – accompanied by a lion. Behind her is a map of ‘Akhand Bharat’, the RSS ideal of an undivided India, often referred to as ‘Vrihattara Bharat’, or greater India, which posits that modern-day Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were once a part of India. Many students confirmed that August 14 is celebrated in RSS schools as Akhand Bharat Diwas since RSS believes that it was till August 14, 1947 that India was undivided. Tilak Pal Singh Baghel, an alumnus (2003-05) of Saraswati Shishu Vidhya Mandir, Bhander – a school run by the RSS in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh – told The Wire, “They laid more importance on August 14 than August 15 [Independence Day].”
The curriculum also makes many mentions of an ‘Akhand Bharat’. Bodhmala books mention the ‘ancient names’ of various countries – Moy (Mexico), Aryan/Parshu-desh (Iran), Upaganasthan (Afghanistan), Lava deep (Laos), Varun Dweep (Borneo), Shyam Desh (Thailand), Champa Desh (Vietnam), Brahma Desh (Myanmar), and Malay Dweep (Malaysia). Bodhmala 5 emphasises that “the division of Akhand Bharat engineered by the enemies is getting manifested in our thoughts” and appeals to the students, “We have to make a pledge that we will restore the Akhand Bharat that we worship.”
Tilak, who works in a multinational company while pursuing his interest in anthropology on the side, said, “‘Our school used to organise essay competitions. Usually, the topics given were reflective of the ideology of Hindutva and Akhand Bharat. I remember in one of the competitions, I got the topic ‘Akhand Bharat ki parikalpana aur us mein Hindutva ka sthan (The concept of Akhand Bharat and the relevance of Hindutva in it).”
For the books used in Vidya Bharati schools in Bihar, the CABE report observed, “They mention that on ‘achieving worthy ‘sanskar’, people began to be called Aryans… and they travelled east and south to spread Vedic culture.” Similarly, on the books used in Uttar Pradesh, the report commented, “The existence of Bharat as one nation in the modern sense of ‘nation’ is projected into the ancient past repeatedly to fill the child’s consciousness with racial national pride.”
Along with the Bodhmala series, VBSSS also publishes guidebooks for teachers – Praveshika (Elementary), Madhyama (Middle) and Uttama (Senior). These books too push the idea of an Akhand Bharat, “…New history proves that today’s independent countries like Trivishtapa (Tibet), Upaganasthan (Afghanistan), Brahmadesh (Myanmar), Sinhala (Sri Lanka) and Kingpurush (Nepal) had once been part of undivided India.”
हर बाला देवी की प्रतिमा बच्चा बच्चा राम है
हर शरीर मन्दिर सा पावन है
गाय जहाँ माँ प्यारी है
इसके सैनिक समरभूमि पर गाया करते गीता थे
These lines from Bodhmala 4 construct in young minds an image of India being a Hindu nation by using religious symbols and concepts from Hinduism – Devi, Ram, Temple, Cow and Bhagwad Gita – to describe the nation as a whole. In its very first paragraph, these lines mention India, “The holy mountains, holy rivers, many pilgrimages, temples and gurudwaras were built here from time to time, seeing which we are still holy and blessed.”
Like Bodhmala, Itihas Ga Raha Hai (IGRH) is also a series of supplementary textbooks taught in Vidya Bharati schools. The CABE report made an important observation on the IGRH series taught in Chhattisgarh, “One of the central planks of the RSS is the equation of ‘holyland’ with ‘motherland’– and the claim that because Muslims and Christians have their Meccas elsewhere, they are not fully loyal to the country. The text exhorts children to remember who they are so as not to become slaves again and asks rhetorically, ‘Whose is this country? Whose motherland, fatherland and holyland is it? Whose customs and festivals are celebrated according to the agricultural rhythms and climate of this land? Which people call Sivaji, Rana Pratap, Chandragupta, Bhagwan Ram, Krishna, Dayanand their great leaders?’ (The implication clearly is that festivals like Eid and Christmas are not locally rooted)… The books refer constantly to ‘Mother India’ from whose womb many brave sons were born, who worshipped her and died for her, with the Gita in their hands and Vande Mataram on their lips.”
Who is a Hindu?
The books clearly define ‘Who is a Hindu?’ and add that Hindutva is the “ideal ideology” and the “need of the hour”.
Bodhmala for Class 10 has a separate topic titled ‘Hindu kaun?’ The content explains (in Hindi), “While defining Hindutva, Dr Radhakrishnan said that Hindutva is a way of life, a flow that leads to smooth life and prosperity, a tradition and an ideal that thinks of the welfare of everyone, from humans to animals, birds and all parts of nature” and adds, “Hindutva is the only power that can bring peace to the whole world, happiness and prosperity to mankind. It is the need of the hour. It is an ideal lifestyle which teaches a man to live as a human being…It is not right to consider Hinduism [the text subtly changes ‘हिंदुत्व’ to ‘हिन्दू धर्म’ ] as a communal word.” The theory given by Savarkar in a pamphlet named “Essentials of Hindutva” – which was retitled “Hindutva: Who is Hindu” and reprinted in 1928 – is iterated in the book, “Every citizen living in this country is a Hindu only if they pay respect to this land by considering it as their motherland, fatherland, holyland.”
Mukherjees-Mahajan’s research writes about the different Q&A series present in almost every Bodhmala book: “They present RSS–VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) propaganda in the form of catechisms to be memorised by the faithful as absolute truths.” Here are a few examples to highlight their point —
Q. Who got the first temple built on [sic] the birthplace of Shri Ram in Ayodhya?
A. Shri Ram’s son Maharaja Kush.
Q. Who was the first foreign invader who destroyed the Sri Ram temple?
A. Menander of Greece (150 BC)
Q. Who got the present Rama Temple built?
A. Maharaja Chandragupta Vikramaditya (AD 380–413).
Q. Which Muslim plunderer invaded the temples in Ayodhya in AD 1033?
A. Mahmud Ghaznavi’s nephew Salar Masud.
Q. Which Mughal invader destroyed the Rama Temple in AD 1528?
Q. Why is Babri Masjid not a mosque?
A. Because Muslims have never till today offered Namaz there.
Q. How many devotees of Rama laid down their life [sic] to liberate Rama temple from A.D. 1528 to A.D. 1914?
A. Three lakh fifty thousand.
Q. How many times did the foreigners invade Shri Ramajanmabhumi?
A. Seventy-seven times.
Q. Which day was decided by Sri Ram Kar Sewa Samiti to start Kar Sewa?
A. October 30, 1990.
Q. Why will 2 November 1990 be inscribed in black letters in the history of India?
A. Because on that day, the then Chief Minister by ordering the Police to shoot unarmed Kar Sewaks massacred hundreds of them.
Q. When were the Shilanyas of the temple laid in Sri Ram Janmabhoomi?
A. 1 November 1989.
Q. What was the number of the struggle for the liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi which was launched on 30 October 1990?
A. 78th struggle.
Some other questions which have been included along with answers are:
Q. ‘When did Ramabhakta Kar Sewaks unfurl the saffron flag on Shri Ramjanmabhumi?’
Q. ‘Mention the names of the young boys who laid down their life while unfurling the saffron flag’.
The CABE report also stated, “Students taking Vidya Bharati’s Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha are made to memorise that 350,000 “Rambhakts” sacrificed their lives to “liberate the temple”.” Vinay Sultan, a 34-year-old journalist who studied in Sharda Bal Niketan, a school run by the RSS in Nagaur, Rajasthan from 1993 to 2005, told The Wire, “‘Vidya Bharati schools in Rajasthan used to have a series named ‘Sanskar Saurav’. They used to talk about the Ramjanmabhumi movement and the Kothari brothers (The Kothari Brothers came to Ayodhya from Kolkata to participate in the Kar Seva in October 1990. They were killed by police while performing the kar seva. Ram was 23 and Sharad was just 20 years old when they were killed.) They used to teach us about all the ‘martyrs’ from Rajasthan who died in the Ramjanmabhumi movement. Later on, one chapter on the Godhra pogrom was also added to the book.” He added, “They used to have a separate paper for Sanskar Saurav and the marks would get counted in the final result. It was one of the main subjects, not a secondary one.”
There is also a Q&A on the Kothari brothers in Bodhmala 8. Bodhmala for Class 9 talks about Bhagyachandra who had ‘spread Vaishnavism in Manipur’ and whose ‘grandfather Pamhiba made Hinduism the state religion’. It also mentions Narayan Guru, “The temples built by Narayan Guru became the centres of the organisation of the Hindu society. If Narayan Guru had not done the memorable work of stopping the trend of conversion in Hindu society in Kerala, Hindus would have become minority from majority.” Here’s an excerpt from Bodhmala for Class 6 that talks about the heroes who laid down their lives for the Hindu religion–
“‘You will get money, you will get the kingdom!’
‘Just leave your religion and accept Islam.’
‘No, never’… And in the end he was killed. The child was Haqeeqat Rai Prithvi Singh.”
Who are ‘others’?
The CABE Committee noted that much of the material in the so-called Sanskrit Jnan series taught in the RSS-run schools is “designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation.”
Mukherjees-Mahajan’s research highlighted some of the extracts from the reports submitted to the CABE committee”
During the reign of Ashoka, Gaurav Gatha – books published by Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan – for Class 4 says, “Ahimsa began to be … advocated. Every kind of violence began to be considered a crime. Even hunting, sacrifices in yajnas and use of arms began to be considered bad. 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 north India.”
On the rise of Islam, the same book teaches, “Wherever they went, they had a sword in their hand. Their army went like a storm in all the four directions. Any country that came their way was destroyed. Houses of prayers and universities were destroyed. Libraries were burnt. Religious books were destroyed. Mothers and sisters were humiliated. Mercy and justice were unknown to them.’ It spreads Hindutva propaganda masquerading as history, ‘Delhi’s Qutb Minar is even today famous in his (Qutbuddin Aibak) name. This had not been built by him. He could not have been able to build it. It was actually built by emperor Samudragupta. Its real name was Vishnu Stambha…. This Sultan actually got some parts of it demolished and its name was changed.”
‘Itihaas Gaa Raha Hai’ (IGRH), another supplementary series taught in Shishu Mandir schools, in its book for Class 5 talks about the “forceful conversion” of Hindus: “Innumerable Hindus were forcibly made Musalmans on the point of the sword. The struggle for freedom became a religious war. Innumerable sacrifices were made for religion. We went on and on winning one battle after another. We never allowed foreign rulers to settle down but we could not reconvert our separated brethren to Hinduism.”
In IGRH 12, one of the statements on Christianity reads – “It is because of the conspiratorial policies of the followers of this religion that India was partitioned. Even today Christian missionaries are engaged in fostering anti-national tendencies in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Bihar, Kerala, and other regions of our country because of which there is a grave danger to the integrity of present day India.”
The same book says about Islam – “Thousands of opponents of idol worship, the followers of Islam, go to the pilgrimage centre of Islamic community at Kaaba to worship “Shivalinga”. In Muslim society, the greatest wish is to have a darshan of that black stone (Shivalinga). In another question, children are asked to fill in the blanks ‘rivers of blood’ as an answer to the question on the means by which Prophet Mohammad spread Islam.”
According to the CABE report, these books communalise the psyche of students, sharpen their Hindu identity and provide space and legitimacy for the promotion of crude propaganda against minorities by a two-fold process: “(a) through repeated glorification of Hindu icons, practices, kings and other persons in history and (b) by presenting non-Hindus mostly in highly negative manner and belittling their characters and contributions.”
Pushpendra Singh Baghel, an ex-student from Saraswati Shishu Vidhya Mandir, Bhander, Madhya Pradesh told The Wire, “Every year on Christmas and New Year, our teachers used to say in class that this is not from our culture. This was also written in the magazine Devputra which was distributed in all Vidya Bharati schools.” Vinay Sultan recalled, “In our books ‘Sanskar Saurabh’, sometimes, for Muslims, they would use the words ‘Aakranta’, ‘Videshi Aakranta’, ‘Vidharmi’ etc.” Tilak Pal added, “Devputra had articles by RSS ideologues saying that there were a lot of mistakes made between 1945 and 1949. If they [Muslims] had followed the two-nation theory and built a Muslim country, why didn’t we build a Hindu country?… It had a travelogue series where the writer argued that all the countries in Europe are religiously aligned, mainly to Christianity. When they can have a state religion, why can’t India have it? In all those articles, there was no space for coexistence with other religions…In their entire curriculum, there was no place for secularism. Their ideology enforces that no other community should stay in India other than the Hindus.” He continued, “Our teachers, directly or indirectly, used to teach us that Muslims are people you cannot trust. They would say, ‘Muslims are foreigners. They have come from outside. They are violent. They are all the converted Hindu population who have forgotten their past. These are the ones who left their religion for the fear of life. How can you trust such people?’”
The curriculum establishes a clear and impermeable demarcation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Bodhmala 7 states, “We believe in pre-birth” – thus clearly demarcating ‘we’ as ‘Hindus/Jains/Buddhists’ since other religions don’t believe in pre-birth. Bodhmala 8 says saffron, the colour associated with the RSS and Hindu rightwing, is a “symbol of quietness, has scientific and chemical qualities and inspires us towards renunciation and sacrifice”. In an attempt to further define ‘us vs them’, Bodhmala 9 says, “Our rituals are not complete without Gangajal…It is our lifestyle to consider Cow, Ganga and Tulsi as motherhood.”
All the students we talked to echoed the same experience – there were hardly 2-3 Muslim students in the entire school. There was no teacher who belonged to the religious minority. No Muslim or Christian festival was celebrated in the school. The principal was a member of the RSS, usually the Shakha Pramukh, and a Brahmin by caste. Most of the students, teachers and headmasters would go to the RSS shakhas regularly.
The CABE report commented on the Vidya Bharati textbooks, “There is no distinction between fact, fiction and mythology… [Bodhmala 7 clearly states “Mahabharata is our history book”] The entire aim of the history written in these textbooks appears to be the projection of the Hindu communal imagination that the Indian nation has always been primarily and essentially a Hindu one, with its most glorious moments and highest achievements unfolding under Hindu kings.” These books focus excessively on the Mughal invasion of India, highlighting its role in the destruction of the Hindu temples. The report discovered statements encouraging bigotry in the Vidya Bharati textbooks, like “Muhammad bin Qasim died the death of a dog… Shivaji protected the cow, dharma, sanskriti, he is known as the protector of cows and Brahmins.” Vinay Sultan said about the curriculum followed in his school, “During all those years, they would focus on all rulers and the characters which had fought against Muslims like Haqeeqat Rai, Maharana Pratap, Chatrapati Shivaji. They walk you slowly and steadily into that Hindutva mindset.”
Bodhmala 10 talks about the ‘Foreign Invasions Of India And Their Counterattacks’, covering the invasion by the Iranian emperor Purush Mahan, Greek emperor Alexander, multiple attacks by Arabs, attacks by Mahmud Ghaznavi, Muhammad Ghori, Alauddin Khilji, Ibrahim Lodi, Vasco da Gama. It clearly states, “In 1947 Pakistan, a part of India, became our enemy. They send unannounced invaders in the form of tribal boys to capture Kashmir. They got some success in the name of Azad Kashmir, but the Indian forces were forced to chase away these invaders.” The Bodhmala books teach a factually incorrect version of the Battle of Haldighati, saying, “…In this fierce battle, Rana Pratap was able to defeat the Mughal soldiers and the battle of Haldighati ended.”
The CABE report notes, “These textbooks exaggerate and valorise the role of certain figures and personalities as against others. When Gandhi and Nehru are perforce mentioned as national leaders, Hindutva leaders are given equal importance… Most books mention that the Muslim League is a communal organisation and rightly so but the communal orientation of the RSS as an organisation openly committed to the launching of a Hindu Rashtra do not find mention in these books.”
Pushpendra told The Wire about a monthly magazine Devputra published by Vidya Bharati, “The magazine used to hail Golwalkar, Savarkar, Hedgewar and other RSS ideologues. They would boast about the contribution of RSS in the Indian freedom struggle. There were articles saying that Nehru had put a ban on the RSS and he used to hate it.”
Tilak revealed the various rumours popular in RSS schools, “Our teachers used to talk in a way that was not very respectful of Gandhi. They would say that if Sardar Patel wasn’t there, the country would have been divided into pieces. Also, they would say that Gandhi didn’t want Bhagat Singh to live. If he had tried enough, he could have saved Bhagat Singh’s life.” About Nehru, he added, “They would say that he was such an elitist that his clothes went to London for laundry. They would raise suspicions like — Why did the Britishers always release him from jail? Why didn’t he die in jail like others? There must be some reason. Also, they would trace Nehru’s ancestry to Afghanistan and would say that he was originally a Muslim and got converted later.”
Tilak told The Wire about what his teachers said about Godse, “They viewed Godse in high regard and considered him a revolutionary. They would say that if he hadn’t killed Gandhi, Gandhi would have caused more damage to the Hindus. I remember a teacher saying in the class — Godse might be having some reasons. Review the files of that case. Nobody would kill someone just like that. There must have been some reason. There are many facts which have been deliberately hidden.”
The CABE report revealed, “In Karnataka, RSS-leaning organisations distribute books in slum literacy centres, but the source of these books is yet to be traced (they are not easily available, being distributed directly). For example, the Infosys library programme distributes supplementary material among government and non-government schools biographies of “great Indians”, mainly published by the Rashtrothana Publication, which is linked to the RSS… Exclusively upper caste Hindu, these icons include religious and mythical figures, rulers, and a handful of reformers, mostly from the Karnataka region… The RSS ideologues are prominent among nationalist leaders, and significantly Gandhi and Nehru are absent.”
Vinay recalled, “Teachers in our school would openly say that Godse did the right thing [by killing Gandhi]. And that Gandhi was responsible for the partition because he wanted to make Nehru the Prime Minister of the country… Books like ‘Maine Gandhi Ko Kyu Maara’ and other RSS literature were openly sold in the school.”
From students to foot soldiers
In a series of interviews, the ex-students of Vidya Bharati schools revealed how the curriculum and the functions and events organised by their schools made them a part of the Hindutva ecosystem. A few of them confessed that they have still not been able to withdraw themselves completely from it.
From men in 60s to young teenage boys, all dressed in crisp khaki shorts, spotless white shirts tucked in, black caps soaring high on their heads, march with an army-like symmetry in what the RSS calls ‘Shakti Pradarshan’ – a display of strength. It further translates into an unabashed and butch display of armed strength by the Hindu right-wing aimed at browbeating the religious minorities in the area. Tilak said, “Every year on Dussehra, they used to parade with open swords, trishuls, lathis, bhaalas, sometimes even firearms. The ‘Shakti Pradarshan’ was carried out in Bhopal, the regional headquarters of both Vidya Bharati and the RSS. Most of the students and teachers from Vidya Bharati participated. Though no official letter was released, teachers used to announce in the class that participation is compulsory. Also, there was an unsaid rule that these parades will be taken out in Muslim-dominated areas to intimidate the people.”
He added,”‘Our teachers would say that along with every big mandir, Muslims have built a masjid. We need to take a stand otherwise our mandirs won’t be saved… There was direct involvement of RSS in our schools. Their leaders would come to the schools and say — You should be prepared to use different types of weapons. Otherwise, how will you protect yourself in times of riots? In classrooms, we were told that Hitler was a great man. He was a nationalist and was fighting for his rights. Teachers would go on to justify ethnic cleansing and would indirectly convey that all the sufferings are because of the Muslims.”
Vinay Sultan, who in his own words “was a dedicated Swayamsevak since the age of 6 and remained so until the last decade”, said, “It was the year 2002, when the Godhra pogrom had happened. I remember how charged up our classrooms were. Teachers would discuss how the Ram bhakts were killed there.” When asked to elaborate, he revealed, “Every month there was a Mukhya Sthan Shakha which was organised and all the shakhas and Vidya Bharati schools in the city would participate in it. Around 15-20 people from my shakha had also joined. I was one of them. I clearly remember that while returning we purposely went through the Muslim dominated areas and raised provocative slogans. We were holding those lathis – we called them ‘dand’ in the RSS. Doing this was a weird kind of thrill.” He added, “Many teachers in my school, including the headmaster, were themselves Kar Sevaks. They had participated in the demolition of Babri Masjid. They used to come to the class and narrate how bravely they fought. They even glorified the demolition.”
Pushpendra, who is now a researcher, recalled, “When the Ram Setu movement and the agitation was going on during 2007-08, the school administration made all the students write individual letters to the President of India demanding the Ram Setu to not be abolished since it is an important part of Hindu culture. All of us had to bring postcards from home and write the letter in school.”
In just a few words, he summarised what these schools intend to do, “As students we never get to know, but slowly and steadily, they keep instilling Hindutva in us. So, whenever there is a communal riot, all the students will rise up as Kattar Hindus. They prepare us for that day.”
Astha Savyasachi is a journalist based in New Delhi.
This article was reported under the Human Rights And Religious Freedom Grant given by the Indian American Muslim Council.