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August 7, 2020

Modi's textbook manipulations: India removes democracy, secularism from school curricula

Top Story

August 7, 2020

NEW DELHI: As students across India logged in to their virtual classrooms last month, many of them no doubt felt their prayers had been answered, foreign media reported.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India's largest education board, announced in July that it had cut this year's syllabus by 30 percent. It hopes that the move will relieve stressed-out students who have lost valuable hours in the classroom to COVID-19 and are trying to adapt to online learning.

But not everyone is pleased. The move has fueled controversy over the fact that government-run schools no longer have to teach chapters on democratic rights, secularism, federalism, and citizenship, among other topics. 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 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party's well-established interest in using the education system to spread its own unitary brand of Indian identity has further raised concerns that the omissions are politically motivated.

After a victory in last year’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP began rolling out a set of controversial citizenship policies that critics have called unconstitutional and anti-Muslim and that have been condemned for promoting an ethnoreligious idea of India. The country has since witnessed a series of large-scale national protests against the measures, including the Citizenship Amendment Act-a law designed to aid refugees from neighboring countries but which excludes Muslims-and a new National Register of Citizens. When combined, the two measures could end up disenfranchising large numbers of India’s Muslim population. (That’s the point, Home Minister Amit Shah, has admitted.) The protests were the largest public challenge to Modi’s rule since he first came to power in 2014.

When chapters like “Popular Struggles and Movements” and “Democracy and Diversity” were removed from the Class 10 political science syllabus, stakeholders and opposition groups were quick to frame the cuts as being in line with the other steps for which Modi has been criticized. The move advances the vision of an “exclusivist, theocratic, intolerant, fascistic nation,” Sitaram Yechury, the leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote on Facebook in July. His party later called for the cuts to be rescinded, saying they hurt “secular democratic India’s future.”