Friday, 22 June 2012

Gandhi on Religious Education

These were some comments on a thread that were deleted in Outlookindiaonline.

If only Hindu run educational institutions are given same privileges that are given to Christian/Muslim run educational institutions (exemptions from govt scrutiny, RTI etc), the whole issue wont arise. Christian run schools ensure that all students pray bible verses and participate in christian festivals and no one condemns that. Hindu run schools can do that and we can have them coexist with state run schools that are not saffronised.
Untill this is done, we have no choice but to allow majority religion texts in public schools.

>> Hindu run schools can do that and we can have them coexist with state run schools that are not saffronised.

Religious schools can of course teach religious texts. Religious texts in public schools are a no-no.

Making any holy book a school text is communal
Gandhiji would disagree. All holy books can be made optional subjects. It includes the Quran, The Sermon on the Mount and The Zend Avestha. This is the non-secular, but non-communal view.

Tearful Onion,
Gandhiji would disagree. All holy books can be made optional subjects.
Your claim does not follow from the links that you provided. He says
A curriculum of religious instruction must include a study of the tenets of faiths other than one's own. For this purpose the students should be trained to cultivate the habit of understanding and appreciating the doctrines of various great religions of the world in a spirit of reverence and broad-minded
In view of controversy generated over cartoons in textbooks, what do you have to say?

@ R.Saroja,
Your claim does not follow from the links that you provided.
I am surprised by your question. Your extract and text (tolerance and reverence to other religions) agrees with Gandhiji's views ("I am a Hindu, Christian, Jew and so are all of you"). So making holy books of all religions optional subjects is Gandhian. But it is not secular (strict separation of religion from state).
I think the Kapil Sibal-like moderators may remove your and my posts, they have done it before without real reason.

Tearful Onion,
Gandhiji was for everyone learning their and other's religions. Ramki was asking for religious instruction for majority community to be allowed in public schools till a time it is allowed in hindu run schools. Gandhi's idea was that everyone is able to respect other's religion. I thought that when you asked for optional religious instruction, you meant option of studying one particular religion, while Gandhiji would have students partaking of all.
I have studied in a CBSE secular school with no religious instruction. But we did study extract from Ram Charit Manas as part of our hindi syllabus in IX or X std. We also studied St.Joan by Bernard Shaw. And the stories of Nachiketa and of Angulimaal. Our history books did have something about different religions. Enough material for one to explore religion later on.
Here is what Gandhi and Tagore had to say about education here  .
In 1938 the Indian National Congress at its 51st session at Haripura accepted, certainly under guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, the principle of Basic National Education, and authorized the formation of an All-India Board to work out a practical implement able program. Next month, the Board was formed, under the name and style of Hindustani Tamili Sangh, under the advice and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, and immediately it’s work took concrete shape. The basic concepts can be noted as:-
1. Free and compulsory education for seven years on a nation wide scale.
2. The medium of instruction must be in mother tongue.
3. Through out this period education should centre round some form of manual and productive work,
Tagore had different ideas and I am not going into that. But Gandhi's reasoning led to his following assessment of Raja Rammohan Roy here
In the issue of his journal Young India dated April 27, 1921, Mahatma Gandhi published an article titled “Evil Wrought by the English Medium”. This argued that “Rammohun Roy would have been a greater reformer, and Lokmanya Tilak would have been a greater scholar, if they had not to start with the handicap of having to think in English and transmit their thoughts chiefly in English”.
Tagore responded with
“I strongly protest against Mahatma Gandhi’s trying to cut down such great personalities of Modern India as Rammohan Roy in his blind zeal for crying down our modern education”. These criticisms, added Tagore tellingly, showed that Gandhi “is growing enamoured of his own doctrines — a dangerous form of egotism..."
Tagore's assessment is valid today when he asserts that "hatred of the foreigner could later turn into a hatred of Indians different from oneself (he was particularly sceptical of the claim that non-co-operation had or would dissolve Hindu-Muslim differences)". (Ray's movie Ghare Baire based on Tagore's book is particularly instructive.).
You, being an admirer of Orwell, would be able to see how close is Tagore's assessment of "hatred" to Orwell's in 1984. The religion that various religious groups are claiming is not religion but politics. What good that would do in a class room, being taught by a possibly limited teacher, I shudder to think. Any way, another view on religious instruction here

desicontrarian said...
Hi Saroja,

Sorry for the long absence.

In India, everything is different from its name. This applies to secularism, Hindutva and popular religion. As Anurag Sanghiremarks, things in India have a mutant gene built in.

My assessment is that all Indian intellectuals are surface analysers. This applies to thoughtful commenters and bloggers as well. The root of the problem, as I see it, is Anglo-centrism. The categories of thought and classification are blindly borrowed from European enlightenment framework. This grafting of an alien framework creates a reality distortion field.

I can go on and on about this, but briefly, I do not find a left-right division healthy. Nor do I like "progress and development".

After independence, we could have delved into our roots to try for our own renaissance. There are unheard of treasures in indigenous literature, folk tradition and culture. These come from Sanskrit, the South Indian languages, Ayurveda, indigenous agriculture, naturopathy, oral education systems, native metallurgy, chemistry etc.

I have worked on Sanskrit language parsers in software and they show a regular structure that makes it possible to correctly check a natural sentence for syntactic and even semantic correctness. This is impossible in English.

We had 30,000 varieties of rice in the 19th century. Today it is about 30 varieties. Have you heard of Vriksh Ayurveda orAgricultural Astrology?

There was a steel called Wootz steel which was used to make Damascus swords, the best swords in the world. The word Wootz comes from Ukku (Kannada/telugu). The British had a monopoly on Indian Salt petre which was used for making gun powder. This built their empire.

The penetration of English into our ruling class minds has resulted in the destruction of many fields of knowledge. Apart from religion, we had "loukika " science. This has been lost. I agree with Gandhiji when he says English has destroyed our roots, and made us, in Shri Aurobindo's words, a docile pupil of Europe.

We are to blame for corrupting, distorting and neglecting our own roots for more than a millennium. But the repeated invasions (physical, mental and cultural) have added to these in the most poignant case of a meta-physical genocide of a people's spiritual and intellectual assets.
Saroja said...
From your comments I am going to respond to one that I have some knowledge about - rice varieties. When my grandparents were still around, we some times used to have red samba rice. It goes very well with sambar and the aval(poha) was divine. Now it is not so readily available - some farmers cultivate a limited amount for their personal requirements- since yield is low and procurement price is also low, farmers tend to go for the tasteless high yielding varieties, which fetch the same market price.

I can't agree with your analysis of English language. We won't be chatting with each other but for it, right! But I agree that there is something very unwholesome when we cannot read and write in our languages. But English to me is very Indian. I can read and write fluently in Tamil and Hindi and have read literature from other Indian languages translated into hindi.
Anyway I shall have much to discuss with you since your way of thinking is very different from mine.



I have been putting off writing about secularism because I am cent percent what goes under the name of pseudosecularist or sickularist or whatever.I really liked your response in one thread on unmarked graves in Kashmir where you said even what one thinks or says have karma or consequences. But as Gunter Grass would have said, I am going to do a crabwalk and write on what loosely can be termed Aryan invasion theory..?

1. My father was associated with a highways project and was in Nepal during 1967-71. He often used to say that the structure of village there and positionings of temples was very much like as in TN. (A Village would have Amman (Kali)temple at one end and Shiv temple at the other end as guardians). I remember him saying that the intervening north India was culturally different. 

2. When I came to live in Bombay, my mother gave me some powdered masalas. Then I noticed that while I used saunf in cooking, my friends didn't. I thought that was the difference between north and south. Then my mother explained to me that both in the north and in the south people used jeera, but in our small community we use saunf along with some jeera, just as Kashmiris do. That at least explained to me when a Kashmiri colleague cooked Rogan josh, it seemed to me like what I normally cook.

3.Now my contribution. I was in Xth std when Janata Party came to power in 1977. Soon there was controversy over history text books, but by the I was in XI Science. Our X history book by much maligned JNU historians was withdrawn or diluted and one of the controversial points was about burial customs amongst hindus. That puzzled me since in my mother's family they bury the dead while in my father's family they cremate. Our caste or community has presence in southern TN/Kerala. Long time back when there was a death in the Kerala side of the extended family, I was told that the body was buried in foetal position(sitting position as I was told! Now around 1980 I had a conversation with my great grand mother(!) about her childhood, she told me about what her elders had told her about a great flood when even Koonpaanais (literally- hunchback pots) were seen washed away with the flood waters. I asked what was that and she told me that they were burial urns. I was excited about that because I had read about burial urns in Mesopotamia or Egypt. She told that some of those floating koonpaanai s had lit lamp in them. Then our conversation turned to other topics. After my great grand mothers death, I talked to my grandmother and other elders. They were not aware of any such thing. You see those days, elders were held in such great awe that no one spoke to them. But being the first born of my generation(eldest child, eldest grand child, eldest greatgrandchild etc )I had a very previledged position and took liberties with my grand parents and  great grandparents that that their children/grand children or even my younger sisters did not take. 

I had prepared a note like this and googled and found something very interesting and tried to post it on Outlook, but the computer gobbled it up because may be I pressed a wrong button. Now I will try to google the same. Here it is

There is mention of Adichanallur site
When the Adichanallur site was re-excavated by Dr. Satyamurthy in 2004 and 2005, he found 185 burial urns there, including 90 intact and 36 with complete human skeletons inside.
Among the artefacts discovered were red ware, black ware, copper bangles and ear-rings, iron spearheads, daggers and swords (The Hindu, March 14 and July 25, 2004 and Frontline, July 1, 2005).
"If the railway line between Tirunelveli and Tiruchendur, cutting across the mounds at Adichanallur had not been laid by the British, Adichanallur would not have to come to notice,” he said.

The place mentioned is very close to my great grand mother's village! Also have a look at this.

From the account given here . it seems the bones were interned after cremation. Should be on look out for more information. Aryan Hypothesis and Indian Identity.doc 

My father would have been excited to hear about this, but he died before my great grand mother did.

7th Aug. 2012



  1. I don't quite understand the points you make.

    1 & 2. a) TN-like culture in Nepal, but North India(NI) is different? That shows invisible threads that weave the subcontinent together.
    b) NI was more affected by the invasions and developed more as a defeated, partly islamised colony of the invaders, while other parts retained the older patterns.
    c) Even today many South Indians find the south more in tune with "Hindu" practices and traditions, ornate and more magnificent temple and sculptures, and beloved-of-secularists tolerant multiculturalism ;-)

    2. a) Burial practices. Is it burial after cremation (ash) or without cremation. Be that as it may, Lingayats bury their dead without cremation even today.
    b) The Tibetan book of the dead (akin to Garuda Purana) tells of 4 types of burials (fire, earth, water and air). The most common type for Hindus seems to be fire, while the Semitic religions have earth burial, Zoroastrians have air burial and some communities have water burial. Some individuals have opted for water burial in the Ganga.
    c) I have seen that children are buried without cremation in many communities. I don't know the orthodox view on this.
    d) There is a spiritual reason for cremation. The identity (astral, soul-level) that lives on after physical death needs to be cut off from attachment to its old body, so it is burned. That may be one reason why renunciates are buried without cremation.

  2. 2. The practice in my mother's family is burial without cremation, while the excavation that I have quoted might well be describing burial after cremation. I could not make out. But even where the practice is burial without cremation, the first borns are cremated if they die young. The reason behind is interesting and I will write about that next week. Happy Diwali

    1. The first borns are usually cremated to avoid the desecration of their graves as their skulls are supposed to special. The first borns were also the preferred sacrifices when human sacrifices used to take place.This was the answer that I got from my grandmother when I asked her