Catholic Leaders Hail New Fairness in Indian Government
NEW DELHI, India — Church officials in India have welcomed the crucial decisions of the new federal government to undo the infiltration of Hindu nationalist ideology into administrative and educational systems under the previous government.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which headed India's government for six years before being defeated in national elections in May, had been widely accused of filling key government posts with officials with a Hindu nationalist background and loading the education system with a Hindu bias.
“This is the most serious and the worst thing they have done to the nation,” Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi said July 7.
Archbishop Concessao, who is chairman of the ecumenical United Christian Forum, an ecumenical forum of major church groups, hailed the “detoxification” measures the United Progressive Alliance government has announced since assuming office in late May.
The archbishop said the Bharatiya Janata Party government was “trying to brainwash the young minds with communal poison. This is exactly what Hitler did. We are happy the new government is trying to undo this damage.”
Apart from replacing several Bharatiya Janata-appointed officials in charge of education and other departments, the federal Human Resource Development Ministry has already announced a series of remedial steps, including withdrawal of controversial school textbooks the Bharatiya Janata Party regime had introduced.
“The mandate for this government is very clear,” said Father Donald de Souza, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. “The people don't want the education system to spread bias and hatred.”
After the Bharatiya Janata Party assumed power in 1998, leading educational bodies such as the Indian Council for Historical Research and the National Council of Educational Research and Training were filled with pro-Hindu “saffron” scholars.
Ignoring widespread protests from scholars and secular groups, history books authored by eminent secular scholars were taken off school curricula and replaced with new texts written by dubious Hindu nationalist authors who glorified Hinduism and demonized minorities.
In states where the Bharatiya Janata Party had a clear majority, the “saffron” interpretation of history and minority bashing were forced upon students through the textbooks. Students in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, for example, were taught that Jesus Christ spent several days in the Himalayas and imbibed knowledge and inspiration for Christianity from Hindu sadhus (monks).
Similarly, in school texts in Bharatiya Janata-ruled Gujarat, high-school students are taught to consider Muslims, Christians and Parsees as “foreigners.”
“They followed a crude and very biased pro-Hindu approach in education,” said Jesuit Father Tom Kunnunkal, one of the leading educators in India.
A former chairman of the Central Board of Secondary Education that oversees high-school education in India, Father Kunnunkal said “textbooks were withdrawn and rewritten arbitrarily bypassing mandatory steps.”
Father Kunnunkal added that the “values education” the Bharatiya Janata government introduced was “nothing but glorification of Hindu traditions while belittling non-Hindu faiths.” The priest recalled that he was invited couple of years ago to speak at a government-sponsored “values education” seminar for educators, “but when I reached there,” he said, “it turned out to be a seminar on the Bhagavat Gita [the Hindu holy book].”
Such blatant “saffron” bias in education had prompted even the normally quiet All India National Association of Catholic Schools — a forum of 15,000 Catholic schools in India — to speak out publicly.
The association in 2001 rejected the new National Curriculum Framework drafted by the Bharatiya Janata government, stating that it could “do untold harm to the multicultural, democratic and secular fabric of Indian society.”
While praising the new government's initial moves to repair the damage caused by Bharatiya Janata Party policies, Archbishop Concessao cautioned, “We have a long way to go. The communal poison has gone deep beyond the education system. We have saffron bureaucrats and media people.”
The government-controlled media, the archbishop said, have been “packed” with Hindu nationalists and the anti-minority sentiment “has spread deep into the villages, creating suspicion and hostility against the minorities.”
To counter this, Archbishop Concessao said, the Church will have to collaborate with secular groups “to promote understanding and harmony among the diverse communities.”
Meanwhile, the new coalition government took the saffron brigade by the horns July 2, firing four state governors appointed by the federal government because they belonged to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Bharatiya Janata Party is considered the political wing of the Rash-triya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is seen as the fountainhead of Hindu nationalism.
The United Progressive Alliance government is implementing other measures to boost the morale of religious minorities who suffered harsh persecution under Bharatiya Janata Party rule. Addressing a national seminar on minority rights July 3, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — a member of the minority Sikh religion — announced several measures including job reservations for religious minorities and establishment of a federal commission to allocate funds and university recognition to minority educational institutions.
“We welcome these announcements,” said Father Kunnunkal, who attended the two-day minority-rights seminar. “If implemented, these will help us get over the bureaucratic hurdles the community has been facing in strengthening our service to the needy.”
Anto Akkara writes from New Delhi, India.
- July 18-24, 2004