By Ankita Gupta
Maneka Gandhi, the Minister for Women and Child Development, has said that students should be well versed in the texts of the six major religion in order to inculcate tolerance and allay religious stereotypes. She has raised this issue at a recent Central Advisory Board of Education meeting and urged the Human Resource and Development ministry to hold classes on major religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism at least twice a week.
The secret weapon against religious hatred
India is grappling with problems of religious friction and communal violence. Young children are continually being brainwashed to become instruments of blind hatred. This state of affairs has necessitated the spread of the gospel of peace amongst the country’s youth.
“How many of us have read our religious scriptures? I have read the Quran. How many of us know that Prophet Mohammed was anti-war? We were taught moral science during our school days, but it is not done anymore,” said Maneka Gandhi. The scriptures from all religions emphasise the principles of honesty, compassion, peace, non-violence, and forgiveness. Yet, they are widely ignored due to a lack of awareness. Religious texts are even distorted by extremists in order to propagate hatred.
Contaminating young minds
Religious extremists have systematically targeted small children to spread the seeds of intolerance and hatred. For example, a school textbook for nine-year-olds, titled ‘Gaurav Gatha’ endorses anti-Muslim sentiments. It reads: “Wherever they went, they had a sword in their hand. Their army went like a storm in all the four directions. Any country that came their way was destroyed. Houses of prayers and universities were destroyed. Libraries were burnt and religious books were destroyed. Mothers and sisters were humiliated. Mercy and justice were unknown to them.”
This misleading book has been published by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) run publishing house. It is being circulated to lakhs of students who attend RSS schools. The RSS has previously been accused of preaching murder to school children under the guise of organising exercise drills. In another book published by the RSS-backed Vidya Bharati Sansthan, Christians have been depicted as anti-nationalists who threaten the integrity of India. Such lessons are slowly poisoning the minds of the readers and inspiring communal clashes.
Minority schoolchildren are being bullied
These extremist ideologies can have disastrous consequences on the lives of students. Schools and playgrounds have turned into danger zones for bullying and isolation. Insults are often aimed at minority students on the basis of their appearance, caste and skin colour. In a research conducted of 100 students and 25 A-List schools, writer Nazia Erum noted that children as young as five have become targets of communal hatred. “A lot of it is said in jest, it’s meant to be funny, to evoke a laugh. It’s subtle and it can seem like harmless banter, but it’s not. It’s actually bullying and tormenting,” Erum points out. In her study she observed that the following questions are often hurled at Muslim students as joking taunts:
- Are you a Pakistani?
- Are you a terrorist?
- Are you a Muslim? (I hate Muslims)
- Do your parents design bombs at home?
- Do you plan on joining the Taliban?
- Don’t piss him off, he might bomb you.
Recently, there was news of attacks against Christian children, as the Hindu Jagran Manch threatened the authorities of Christian schools in Aligarh. The group claimed that if the Christians celebrated Christmas in their schools they would be doing so at their “own risk.” These religious slurs have pushed these vulnerable children into a corner, forcing them to find their resilience in a reactive shell that encourages counter-biases and hatreds.
Revisiting our roots to end religion-based violence
Erum has urged schools to counter the increasing problem of communal violence. “The first step is to accept that there’s a problem, and then have a conversation about it.” It is the ignorance of our shared culture and tradition that is giving birth to religious bigotry and racism. Religious hatred has consumed the nation and revisiting our scriptures is the only possible solution.
Millennials, especially the youngest of that generation, have to be equipped with knowledge of our past traditions and culture if they are to stand up against fanatical hatred. Teaching the diverse religious scriptures and their common ethical lessons will help students to dispel religious stereotypes at an early age.
India’s entire education system needs to be detoxified of its religious bias. There is an urgent need to impose a strict regulatory framework and guidelines for how the young are educated. Ms Gandhi has proposed that the government start by regulating playschools throughout the country. “The WCD ministry has no feet on the ground to do it (regulate playschools). The enforcement has to be done by the HRD ministry. I have requested the HRD minister to take up this issue, so we can work jointly towards a solution.” This is the approach that will be required if India is to successfully preserve its secular, pluralist society.
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