Education in India
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepared for it today,” Malcolm X famously said in 1964. It’s crucial, then, that across the world, education remains untouched by politics. Yet, over the past few years, education in India, the world’s most populous country, has been increasingly politicized. Indian students returning to school earlier this year in April were surprised to find that previously core sections of their curriculum had bene removed or modified. But what exactly is happening, and why does it even matter?
The past few years in India have seen the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, eventually becoming the ruling party in 2014 and maintaining power since. Much of the BJP’s political stance has been centered around Hindu nationalism, also called Hindutva. Since 2014, domestic and international spectators have seen a democratic backsliding in the world’s largest. Much of the BJP’s focus has been on the eventual creation of a Hindu state in India, which they claim is the original state of the subcontinent. As a result, ethnic and minorities, especially Muslims and Christains, have seen increasingly violent persecution across the country, from hijab bans at universities to the razing of Muslim neighborhoods.
The current Prime Minister, Narenda Modi, had been Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat previously, where communal riots in 2002 left over 2,000 dead–-mostly Muslims. Many at the time noted that the events fit the definitions for ethnic cleansing, and that Modi and the BJP had been at best complicit with the violence. In 2005, the US State Department denied Modi entry to the US because of his involvement, a decision not reversed until 2014. However, Modi has not stopped his intense persecution of Muslims.
Part of the BJP’s push against Muslims has also been in education. Recent years have seen a rejection of Muslim history as being “Indian history”, and curricula from primary schools to universities have been changed to remove Muslims–-and anti-Hindutva elements–-from being taught. The Indian Express notes that several sentences have been deleted from 12th-grade textbooks:
“He (Gandhi) was particularly disliked by those who wanted Hindus to take revenge or who wanted India to become a country for the Hindus, just as Pakistan was for Muslims…”
“His steadfast pursuit of Hindu-Muslim unity provoked Hindu extremists so much that they made several attempts to assassinate Gandhiji [an honorific used for Gandhi]…”
“Instances, like in Gujarat, alert us to the dangers involved in using religious sentiments for political purposes. This poses a threat to democratic politics.”
These changes are the last in a long string of effort by the BJP to erase the Muslim involvement in Indian history. Under the pretense of consolidation, textbooks across the nation have been changed and important details like the above removed.
Such events pose immense challenges for India’s education system. Increasingly, education is being weaponized in the BJP’s arsenal of anti-minority tools. With the largest share of youth in the world, India cannot afford to have education be used as a tool of oppression and intolerance. Removing crucial details of Indian history ends up self-defeating, and cripples the next generation of their ability to effectively better their country. Rather, education must be used to ensure that the India of the future is better than the India of today. Without learning the mistakes of the past, how can India avoid repeating them?