India: Teaching of Hinduism books in Islamic madrasas sparks anger

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Muslim clerics have slammed mandatory teaching of Hindu epics in autonomous seminaries and educational institutions as a move to “Hinduize” India. Murali Krishnan reports.

The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), an autonomous organization under the Education Ministry, announced that it has prepared 15 courses on “Indian knowledge tradition.”

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal presented the new curricula last week, lauding India as a “knowledge superpower” in topics including Veda (ancient religious text), yoga, science, Sanskrit language, and Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita.

According to the ministry, teachings on such topics will shortly be incorporated into Muslim educational institutions known as madrasas.

The NIOS, which provides courses at primary, secondary, and senior levels, and follows standards similar to those of national and state education boards, said it would initially launch the program with 100 madrasas, extending to 500 in the future.

But the program has drawn sharp criticism from senior Muslim clerics, who feel that the courses are “unjustified” and “arbitrary.”

Some clerics even described the program as part of the wider efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to “Hinduize” India.

“It is almost akin to asking medical colleges to teach the Koran and the Bible instead of what it was set out for,” Maulana Khalid Rasheed, of the Lucknow-based Darul Uloom Farangi Mahal Islamic seminary, told DW.

“The new education policy emphasizes the creation of a sense of pride towards ‘Indianness’ within learners,” Rasheed said. “This goes against the directive of educational institutions,” he added.

In July last year, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India’s largest education board, announced that it had cut its 2021 syllabus by 30%.

Government-run schools were no longer required to give lessons on democratic rights, secularism, federalism, and citizenship, among other topics. The decision sparked concerns that the omission of such subjects was politically motivated.

“These concepts lie at the core of the Indian Constitution but have at times come into conflict with the Hindu-majoritarian ideology of the ruling right-wing BJP,” Sahil Husain, an education expert, told DW, adding that parties across India’s political spectrum have been accused of using education as a means of propagating their agendas.

Critics have accused the BJP of altering the education system to push its uniform brand of Indian identity.

The threat to religious stability
Maulana Yasoob Abbas, a Muslim cleric, told DW that the program is “divisive” and “goes against the grain of constitutional principles.” He said the new mandatory teachings would “increase the fault lines” between India’s Hindu and Muslim communities.

In addition, “teaching other religious scriptures is against the tenets of madrasas,” Abbas said.

“Would the current government accept the teaching of the Koran in the RSS-backed Sishu mandir schools?” he said, referring to the right-wing Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group.

Critics accuse the RSS of wanting to transform Hindus from a religious community into a political constituency and establish Hindu hegemony, sidelining religious minorities.

The civil rights activist Shabnam Hashmi told DW that the Indian government should focus on introducing secular education instead of religious teachings.

“This proposed course on yoga includes patanjali kritasutra, yogasutra surya namaskar. It is obvious that this is being done for further polarization and establishing the supremacy of one religion over another,” Hashmi said. “Are they teaching the Koran and the Bible in Hindu-run gurukuls (ancient Indian education system)?”

What happens next?
Sharp criticism of the announcement forced the Education Ministry to issue a clarification.

“Various subjects are offered to learners under this provision without any hard-line boundaries of fixed subject combinations unlike that in the formal education system. It is totally the discretion of the learner to opt for subject combination from the bouquet of the subjects provided by NIOS,” it said.

The ministry, however, did not specify whether it would still introduce Hindu epics into madrasas.

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