This is the time of the year when anxious parents begin running about to ensure that their kids get admission to a good school. Soon, long queues will emerge outside favoured schools to pick up admission forms, children will be tutored to sit through interviews and calls will be made to influential people to help secure that coveted place.
Statistics are not available, but chances are a large number will want their child to get into an “English-medium” school. This can mean anything from an expensive one subscribing to international curriculum where the fees are stratospheric to the countless “convents”, the generic term for missionary institutions that are found all over the country. From maids to Memsahibs, parents want their child to get the best and it is almost universal conviction that learning in English is a sure passport to future success.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the cultural body that is the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as countless Hindutva organisations, wants to change that. It wants to set up a model school that will teach “Indian values” in every block of the country by 2017. Such schools will not just counter the evil influence of missionary schools but also produce model Indian children fully immersed in the right ideology. Missionary schools are bad, in the RSS scheme of things — “Your children may speak English today but he will leave you alone in the street when you are old,” says Ramendra Rai, the head of the RSS-affiliated Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan. You may laugh at this, but they are deadly serious.
English-speaking types have been enemies of the Sanghis for decades. Nor are the saffron brigade the only anti-English crusaders — the socialists have always wanted to throw English out of the country and in West Bengal, the bhadralok leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) turned local schools into Bengali medium, depriving them broader employment opportunities. But the Sanghis are in power and their opposition to the language is the most vociferous.
English-speaking types are seen as deracinated Indians, disconnected from the “real India”, scornful of everything that is Hindu. The English mentality is liberal, vaguely leftist, secular and Westernised, all red rags to the saffron brigades who find this stuff somehow anti-Indian. That great scholarly work has been done in English on Hindu texts does not matter to the Sanghis — their battle is not just with the language but the thinking it engenders.
One of the constant refrains of Hindutva groups and the nebulous “right wing” is that all these years, the national discourse has been dominated by the left-liberal types, and now “it is our turn.” Thus, they say, it is only natural that heads of institutions who were from among the left-liberals should be now replaced by ideologues from the right. That some of these ideologues may not be fully qualified and harbour some quaint ideas does not matter — they are true believers in the cause.
Indeed, what most people may consider plain weird, like some of the outlandish claims about history and science as found in hoary Indian texts, are fundamental tenets of many of the hard-core Sangh followers. For generations, these ideas have been dinned into the heads of young, impressionable children in Sanghi homes and the few institutions the RSS and its affiliates run. It supports their firm belief that Indian (or, more accurately, Hindu) civilisation is superior to all and gradually faded away into irrelevance because of 1,200 years of colonisation by foreigners, i.e.
Islamic and British (Christian) rule. For the Hindutva right wing, the most recent and most influential source of the non-Indian ideas that are prevalent in society is the schooling system that has been controlled by the left-liberal gang. For decades, the right wing ranted against the Macaulayputras (Children of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose famous Minute on Education of 1835 laid the foundation of English-speaking education). But they could not do much about it. Now, with their own government in power at the Centre and many states, they have begun with the education sector — changing the curriculum, installing their own people as bosses of key institutions, rewriting the text books and now, even constructing new schools — it is a grand plan that is moving swiftly.
The neo-supporters of the BJP and Narendra Modi, who see possibilities of economic revival under him, don’t necessarily subscribe to this skewed worldview. No scientist, economist, industrialist or academic who has converted to the Modi cause is likely to send his child to anything but an English-medium school, much less support the theory that all wisdom and knowledge, from plastic surgery to aviation and nuclear physics (and even Algebra), was first discovered in ancient India, but they know that it is best to keep quiet. There is much to gain from the current establishment — why rock the boat with impolitic remarks about passing off myth as history?
Will these attempts succeed? Up to a point. After all, if a book is compulsory in school, there is no way to avoid learning the subject, however bizarre it may sound. And the new schools that are proposed to be set up may be the only alternative for many parents who, for a number of reasons, will not be able to send their children to English medium schools which teach science, history and every thing else in the accepted, accurate way.
But the Sanghis have got it wrong. English is not the problem here. A large number of supporters of Mr Modi are from English-medium schools and colleges. The media is full of commentators who praise him in the most impeccable English. The economists and tycoons who are among his greatest fans are all English-speaking types. Most of all, a large number of Hindutvawadis, including those in the BJP, send their kids to English-medium institutions in India and abroad.
Unless the Sanghis can show that the schools they create can offer greater opportunities for employment and social mobility, their efforts will come to a naught. Parents are not spending sleepless nights over whether their sweet kid learning Ba Ba Blacksheep will chuck them out of their home 25 years later. They want him/her to get the best possible education which will lead to a good job, to a better salary and to a better life in general. And English-medium schools will be the best way to reach that goal. This is a battle the Sanghis will not win.