By Atharva Pandit:
On July 24th, “The Indian Express” reported that textbooks penned by Dina Nath Batra would now be included in the Gujarat school textbook curriculum, and eight of the nine books which the students would study would be authored by the man who is known across the media circles as the ‘Ban Man.’ Batra, an 85-year old retired school principal, is the member of the RSS and headed its education wing sometime back. Going by various profiles in newspapers, he comes across as a calm man, a man who knows what he is talking about, or to be precise, what he is trying to get banned. D. N. Batra became infamous after he managed to get Wendy Doniger’s book pulped, the book which was an account of Hinduism and the Hindu way of living through the passage of Gods, Myth and History. And sex, don’t forget sex (but more about that later).
Doniger, who is currently Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at University of Chicago, wrote a tome named “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, for which she received several awards, relative fame and an egg, hurled at her while she was in the midst of an on-stage interview (the egg missed its mark, by the way). To be fair to Doniger, she is, in fact, a scholar on the religion and its complex facets of studies- indeed; she knows more about the Hindu way of life than a Hindu himself would, which is saying a lot. Her analysis and in-depth study of the Hindu culture is something which takes us into that period so that she can make her readers understand the community and culture Hindus find themselves living in. Not to mention her prose, which is brilliantly fluent and splendidly crafted, with enough contemporary examples and parallels to fill up a footnote. Her argument rings valid – a book is a form of free speech, and it cannot, under any circumstances, be banned or pulped. Not in the internet age anyway, where you can find a book uploaded in its entirety only hours after it is banned. But to ban it, in the first place, is a grave violation of the freedom of speech and expression. Penguin India fell under that spell, unfortunately, when they were forced to pulp all the copies of “The Hindus” after a four year court battle with the man in question, Dina Nath Batra, who argued that the book and/or its content violated Article 295a of the Indian Penal Code. This Act forbids the deliberate and malicious acts which are intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of the citizens. To be partially fair to Batra at this point of time, it can be said that Doniger is a pretty daring chronicler of the sexual lives of Hinduism’s Holy Gods. She does not shy away from calling Rama a suspicious husband, afraid of being cuckolded; and that too with his brother Laxaman. To read this of the three most revered deities of Hindu scripture and mythology is nothing short of shocking. Doniger doesn’t stop there, though, going on to debunk a lot many Hindu beliefs and myths, and obsessing about every single God’s sexual life. Her psychosexual analysis of Gods adorned in every Hindu family’s household is bound to invite a lot of wrath and anger.
And yet, this isn’t half an excuse to pulp a book and cease its publication. A book should always remain where it is supposed to be – on the shelf. Batra sought to do the exact opposite, and had his way with it. And the guy is an institution in the history of banning – he was also successful in gettingÂ Megha Kumar’s book on sexual violence against women during the 2002 Gujarat riots pulped; he played a role in banning of sex education in the Indian schools, Batra also campaigned against the inclusion of A.K. Ramanujan’s essay, ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: five examples and three thoughts on translation’ in the Delhi University History syllabus, stopping its publisher OUP from printing the essay. To the Head of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, an organization which is composed of some like-minded teachers and activists, all these campaigns are just some of his escapades in saving the Hindu culture. To be honest, if he wanted to save the Hindu culture, he would have done better than to go about banning books. But Batra, who has been a key adviser to Murli Manohar Joshi during the last NDA rule, has found out another way of rescuing the culture, that of penning little books for little children which would make way towards the saffronisation of education.
The books, which have been translated from Hindi to Gujarati and would be distributed amongst 42,000 primary and secondary government schools across the state, delve not only into the cultural aspects, but also the political one of the idea of Akhand Bharat, instructing children to “make sure to include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar” while drawing India’s map (he forgot to include Vietnam, for the record). Other gems include: “Include August 14th as the Akhand Bharat Smiriti Divas”, “Don’t blow candles on your birthdays. It’s a Western culture, and needs to be shunned. Wear Swadeshi clothes, do havan, feed Indian cows.” Another lesson emphasizes that “Undivided India is the truth, divided India is a lie.” He goes on to proclaim that “India can be united again.” That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of Akhand Bharat, or Greater India.
Bharat Pandit, Director of Gujarat State School Textbook Board, claims that these books will “help students develop moral values, and are an integral part of education.” I don’t buy that. These books are nothing but texts intended to spread propaganda. A little bit of cultural education to our schoolchildren would certainly be of no harm, but to place such propaganda-worthy material in the hands of an innocent schoolchild is nothing short of a dangerous experiment in brain-washing and in politicizing the education.