By Faria Athar:
Since India elected the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as its new government in 2014, there has been an incredible amount of discussion surrounding the ‘Saffronization of Education’.
Critics believe that saffronizing education is an attempt to communalize history, to promote the Aryans, ‘predecessors of modern Hinduism’, and reduce Muslims and the other ‘dreadful minorities’ to invaders or converts. Muslim rulers like the Mughals will either be eliminated from textbooks or painted as barbaric philistines who plundered ‘the land of Hindus’ and destroyed its sanctity.
Proponents argue that with the saffronization of education, students will learn of the glory of India. The curriculum which aims to be heavily influenced by the Vedas, Upanishads and other texts that the Sangh Parivar claims to be worthy of being called ‘ancient Indian Literature’, will (hopefully) guide students into devout patriotism and love for the country. Love that often flows boundless as acts of compassion, love that roars at Indo-Pak matches and glows with pride every time a Satya Nadella or Sundar Pichai make it big, is now being coerced as narrations of half-told, half-true histories.
To be fair, ancient India has also produced books like the Kamasutra, a super comprehensive volume on the several ways of enjoying carnal pleasure, and the highly casteist Manusmriti. But don’t worry, your kids probably won’t learn them because they do not advance the ‘pure’ and ‘perfect’ picture of India’s past the Government wants them to learn.
Let’s focus then on what may be taught instead – the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Vedas. Most of these books mirror natural life. Their protagonists are kings and brothers, wives and sisters, divinely courageous but in most cases, very human. Deities who took human form, married and bred like humans, ate and dressed, waged war with passions ignited by jealousy, and celebrated victories.
However, with the changing centuries, convolutions between the east and the west, and in an attempt to secure our religion and culture we formed rules based on our understanding of holy and un-holy, accepted and profane. Perhaps we even made a few rules far more stringent than the gods had intended to them be.
The ‘Ancients’ have been codified. We sing of Sita’s coyness and her loyalty to her husband, of Radha and Krishna and their jealous, raw and eternal love story. However, would Krishna have been able to woo Radha on the streets of Pune today? Nope, especially not on the fourteenth of a certain imperfect month. They’d be forced to get married instead. Oh, but Radha and Krishna never married! Yes, they didn’t. What a perfect way to ruin an epic.
In this confused amalgam of the East and West, we have adopted some peripheral ideas of the ‘Angrez’ land and compromised many of our own in it. India was officially partitioned in 1947 but the country had started dividing much before. Hindus were different from Muslims and Christians; Men were separate from Women, and anything and anybody in-between was a digression. Men embodied courage, strength and power which was measured according to muscles, women were petite and pretty, while Hijras, India’s ‘notorious’ third gender, were criminalised. The Criminal Tribes Act stated that men (or Eunuchs) who wore and dressed like women could be arrested and imprisoned without a warrant. This particular law was repealed in Independent India, but another law, the Offences Against Persons Act of 1861, transformed into Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that now serves to criminalise homosexuality.
Old habits die hard, old ideas die hard, and old laws that have been ingrained into our society too will die hard. Fast forward to 2016, Men are still hyper-masculine, ‘nazuk‘ women are another category, and homosexuals are ‘chi chi‘. However times are changing and for this purpose, it’s fitting for us to, like our leaders, look back for answers in ‘Ancient Indian Literature’.
It is this ancient literature that taught us it is okay for men to cry (given that Ram cried at Sita’s abduction); that homosexuality is divine (given that Lord Ayyappa was the son of Shiva and Vishnu) and that gender is fluid and alterable (Mahabharata’s Shikhandi – the warrior who was born female but later became male).
If we are compelled to study these texts at school, they must be taught in their entirety, including all instances of non-conformism, so we can reason for ourselves and be a bit more considerate of our country folk.