From Cinemas To Schools: Let’s Shut Down The Patriotism Charade!

Posted by Soumadri Banerjee in Education, Politics
February 18, 2017

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently declared that students are to be graded on the basis of their display of “patriotism”.

The notice reads: “Students should be provided opportunities to get professionally trained in the areas of their interest. Indigenous sports, yoga and NCC must be encouraged in the schools to create a sense of physical fitness, discipline, sportsmanship, patriotism, self-sacrifice and health care.” This announcement comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court making it mandatory that the National Anthem be played in theatres.

We seem to be living in an era where we have to continually prove our patriotic credentials, whether in public or private spaces. What’s disturbing though is that in the case of education, “patriotism” seems to be serving as a guise for the saffronisation of educational institutions whereby marginalised narratives are erased and dissident voices are being suppressed. Here are some instances:

  • As early as 2014, Professor Y Sudershan Rao (also head of the Indian Council of Historical Research), baffled fellow historians by saying that it is sufficient to take Hindu epics at their word to understand the ancient world without any evidence or research.
  • Already, the CBSE has announced the removal of Dalit woman Nangeli’s struggle from history textbooks. Evidently, CBSE’s patriotism has no room for marginalised narratives.
  • States like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have leaned towards a highly valorised Hindu-heavy narrative in their history textbooks where for example Emperor Ashoka and Buddhism become the enemy.
  • In 2016, Ram Shankar Katheria, Member of Parliament from Agra, explicitly said, “There will be saffronisation of education and of the country,” and he elaborated that changes to the curriculum would enhance the nation’s honour in the eyes of the world.
  • Rohith Vemula’s suicide, the appointment of RSS-linked M Jagadesh Kumar as JNU’s Vice Chancellor and the siege on the university in 2016 further illustrates this.

Mixing Patriotism and Education = Bad idea

Currently, a whopping 80 million children are still out of school. As more and more private schools crop up charging exorbitant fees, our government expenditure on education remains among the lowest in the world at 4.3%, making education an impossible dream for the poor. However, recent events show the need to get our priorities back on track because no amount of chest-thumping rhetoric, introduced through textbooks or yoga, will alter the fact that our education system is in desperate need of fixing.

As for patriotism itself, it is a nebulous concept. On the one hand, it can simply mean the love of one’s homeland and its people, and on the other, looking at the world through a binary logic of “us” versus “them”. The second idea, instead of emphasising our shared humanity, is based on creating a fear of “the other”. It involves emphasising uniformity of thought wherein any voice of dissent is labelled as ‘unpatriotic’.

Enforcing this notion in educational institutions would amount to nothing more than indoctrination of the youth, and it will further shrink the space for dissent. After all, education, as a gateway to intellectual freedom and creative autonomy, is a basic human right, and its function, cannot be reduced to the creation of generations of unquestioning “yes men” who toe the state-sanctioned line at all times.The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can embark on the very real patriotic endeavour, that of not only fixing the flaws in our education system but making education a right that is accessible to all.

Image source: Asian Development Bank/ Flickr, Sanyam Bahga/ Flickr