RIGHT ANGLE – Why Sickularists Hate the Gita?
I am provoked to write on this theme in this column after reading in the Times of India the logic of a fat salaried professor of Delhi University ,who proudly described himself as a “sickularist”, that the Gujarat government’s decision to introduce the Bhagwat Gita into the school curriculum for classes 6 to 12 will “give the ruling regime (in Gujarat and elsewhere) yet another stick to beat non-Hindus with, and these beatings will help (or so it is hoped) to maintain the regime’s electoral hold on power”.
But see his “pearls of wisdom” as he proceeds further to argue his case. He writes, “Unlike Semitic religions like Judaism, Christianity or Islam, Hinduism has never had a single ‘book’ as its authoritative source”. And then he adds, “Exclusive reliance on the Gita suggests that a specific group wants to impose its version of Hinduism on all other Hindus, an imperialist project that is bound to provoke a backlash eventually (emphasis added)”.
Just imagine the devilish thoughts this professor of Delhi University, drawing salary from the consolidated fund of India, must be imparting to the students. For him, teaching Gita is an “imperialist act”!
I do not know much about this Professor named Satish Deshpande, though he teaches sociology after earning his MA from JNU (no wonder) and Ph.D. from California. But what I am surprised about is that Universities in California do run courses on Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, as indeed on other major religions of the world. And I am sure he, like his many sickularist brethren, is a great admirer of Prof. Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago who has been notorious for demonizing Hinduism and Hindu practices in many of her books.
The point is that sickularist Deshpande does not want the Gita (or for that matter any text) to have a place in any Indian educational institution, but he has no problem with the fact that many Western universities do teach on religions, including Hinduism( Sanatan Dharma, to be more appropriate as there is nothing called Hinduism in Indian texts like the Gita).
The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies is a recognized “independent centre” of Oxford University. The principal aim of the Centre is “the study of Hindu culture, religion, languages, literature, philosophy, history, arts and society, in all periods and in all parts of the world.” Cambridge University teaches Vedanta, Vyakarana and Sanskrit philosophy along with Buddhism. London’s School of Oriental and African Studies offers courses on “Indian philosophy, especially Vyākaraṇa and Mīmāṃsā, Sanskrit philology, Sanskrit scientific literature.” In fact, many British universities such as Sussex, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh have departments on Theology and Religious Studies that teach, among others, “Sāṅkhya and Pātañjala Yoga.” Sweden’s Stockholm University has courses on Indian Philosophy, especially “Nyāya and Buddhism.” In Brussels (Belgium), “Vrije Universiteit” (Antwerp FVG: Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions) teaches Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Indian Philosophy, especially “Vedānta schools and Kaśmīr Śaivism.” University of Vienna (Institute of South Asian, Tibetology and Buddhist Studies) has programmes on “Sanskrit philosophy, Āyurveda and Sanskrit philology.” There are many universities and institutes in Germany that give special emphasis to Sanskrit, Indian philosophical texts and Indian religions, including “Veda, Pāli and Epics”.
Coming to the US, Concordia University has a chair in Hindu Studies that is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of Hinduism. There is the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University that studies Hinduism. Case Western Reserve University has a department on South Asian religions. So has Emory University.
No wonder why a report in The Hindu, dated 13 July, 2013 is not unusual for me. This report said that one Subadra Muthuswami, who had a Master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, hoped to pursue her interest in Hinduism when she returned to India. “Since I am in India, I decided to do research to understand why we practice rituals and rites in Hinduism. But I understand that no university offers a comprehensive course in Hinduism studies,” she told the paper. Subadra discovered that the University of Madras had programmes in Vaishnavism and Indian philosophy, but not on “Sanatan Dharma” (Hinduism) as a whole, even though the university “has separate departments for Christian and Islamic studies”. She was told by senior professors that “universities are secular places where Hinduism as a religion cannot be taught. Sources in the university said when the department wanted to offer a paper in yoga (which is also a shastra) last year, the move was opposed on the grounds that it was endorsed by a political party.” After going through this report one can ask why a university that has departments on Christian and Islamic Studies considers offering a paper on yoga, let alone Hinduism, will tarnish its secular character. As a result, in India one can study Hinduism—and this was what Subadra discovered—only in private or spiritual organisations like Swami Sivananda Institute, Chinmaya Mission, Iskcon and Vedanta Academy (Mumbai).
Our sickulars (the so-called liberals and seculars), who dominate the country’s education system, will leave no stone unturned to foil any attempt by any university in India to introduce courses on “Religions”. They will have nothing to do with the promotion of a “dead language” such as Sanskrit. Even any elective, repeat elective, course on “Vastu Sashtra” will be dismissed (as it happened in a Madhya Pradesh university some years ago) as attempts towards “saffronisation”.
However, in contrast, minorities can pursue studies on their respective religions. As a result, what we see today is that the Muslims children learn about Islam and the Quran in madrasas and the Christian children learn the essence of Christianity and the Bible in educational institutions founded and managed by them. Under the Indian Constitution, the minorities are allowed to have their own educational institutions and the certificates or degrees thereof are recognized legally.
However, the children of the majority of the Hindu community do not have such facilities. Even at the school-level, whenever there are attempts to teach the children about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Gita, the “secular brigade” makes a lot of hue and cry. And ironically, all these elements, who dominate the Indian academia and media, will want books critical of Hinduism to flourish in India but they will advise against the circulation of anything that is critical of other religions.
The sickulars do not realize that “Core values” of every religion are the same. These include compassion, courage, courtesy, fairness, honesty, kindness, loyalty, perseverance, respect and responsibility. In fact, there are scholars who argue that although rooted in world religions, core values are essentially secular values, which come from man rather than from God. Learning them goes a big way in building one’s character, not otherwise as our so called secularists in India apprehend. Take also the case of former Supreme Court Justice Anil R Dave’s suggestion some time ago that the Gita and the Mahabharata should be taught to the school children. “Our old tradition, such as guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) is lost; if it had been there, we would not have had all these problems in our country,” he had said, referring to the growing problems of violence and terrorism.
“Now we see terrorism in countries. Most of the countries are democratic. If everybody in a democratic country is good, then they would naturally elect somebody who is very good. And that person will never think of damaging anybody else,” he had said.
Is it correct to see the classics or epics of a country through religious prisms? In fact, in January 2012, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had dismissed a petition challenging introduction of ‘Gita Sar’ (essence of Gita) in the school curriculum. When the Catholic Bishop’s Council filed a PIL in August 2011, the court gave the petitioner’s counsel two months to read the holy book in its entirety and make up his mind. The court finally held that the Bhagavad-Gita was essentially Indian philosophy and not a religion.
If through the Gita and the Mahabharata we can better realise the values of truth, peace and righteous conduct (this implies respect for fundamental duties of the Constitution) which, among other things, talk of patriotism, love and awareness of the basics of all religions — it can hardly be viewed as an “attempt” towards the so-called saffronisation of the Indian education system.