Decolonisation or Brahminisation: What’s the Thrust Behind Karnataka’s NEP Position Papers?

The 26 position papers prepared by the committee constituted by the Karnataka government to guide the path of the implementation of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 are out. The last to be published in the series was the paper on “Knowledge of India”, which is the key to understanding the thrust of the other papers also.

This position paper aggressively canvasses the agenda to re-assert Brahmanical ethos, intellectual currents and social order as the only “authentic” Indian knowledge system. And this campaign is portrayed as the civilisational project of de-colonising the Indian mind. Even though NEP-2020, which had 19 paragraphs on promoting Indian knowledge systems, had hinted that this ‘Indianisation’ will be sourced mostly from Vedic and Brahminical literature, it also mentioned the Buddha and Mahavira in passing. But the position paper does not even make such a pretence.

This re-Brahminisation is packaged as “Bhartiyata, Bharatiya Dharma Parampara” against the systems introduced by “invaders and colonisers”. This is achieved by promoting Brahminical literature, tradition, personalities, authors, and history as “Indian” and equating Sanskrit with “Bharatiya sanskriti” (Indian Culture).

Thus it is declared that Sanskrit or Saṁskṛta is the “language in which the overwhelming majority of Indian knowledge is available” and the paper recommends that Sanskrit is taught from the early childhood because it will help students in understanding of the concepts of ‘Knowledge of India’. It is also suggested that Sanskrit should be made the compulsory third language.

No deep scholarship is need to trace the inspiration for this in the doctrines of the Hindutva. In Essentials of Hindutva, V.D. Savarkar says:

“Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of the love we bear to a common fatherland and by the common blood that courses through our veins and keeps our hearts throbbing and our affections warm, but also by the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilization—our Hindu culture, which could not be better rendered than by the word Sanskriti suggestive as it is of that language, Sanskrit, which has been the chosen means of expression and preservation of that culture, of all that was best and worth-preserving in the history of our race. We are one because we are a nation a race and own a common Sanskriti.”

The position paper privileges Sanskrit . Photo: Harish Sharma/Pixabay

No monopoly on knowledge

No one can deny that the ancient Indian civilisation produced great and indigenous knowledge systems in many fields. Students should be aware of them. But the production of knowledge is a historical and collective enterprise where the confluence of different knowledge systems leads to new or improvised knowledge. This process is not unidirectional or bereft of conflicts of vested interests.

The primary beneficiary of this human labour is the social elites. This is evident in the histories of all countries, including India. The history of democracy also shows the resistance of social elites against the democratisation of knowledge. In India – before and after, Brahminical elites were the source of such controls. While Indians should be proud of the achivements of their ancestros – in spite of these  hurdles – these position papers want the students to appreciate the hurdles as benefactors.

Knowledge is also a reflection of the synthesis of different cultures and no single culture can claim a monopoly. But these position papers privilege the Brahminical wisdom as innate and inert and negate the contribution of other streams in the “Indian”. Thus the position papers not only blatantly erase Islamic influences on many disciplines but also systematically undermine non-Brahmin knowledge sources like the Buddhist, Jain and many other Shramanic knowledge systems.

The position paper derives the meaning of Indian not from the India described in the constitution but by the Vishnu purana, by Sri Ramachandra and Bankim Chandra. The “Viṣṇu Purāṇa (2.3.1) defines Bhārata as the land north of the oceans and south of the Himalayas”, it says while the “idea of Bhārata that truly resonates in the hearts of her children is the one uttered by Śrī Rāmachandra as ‘जननी जन्मभहूमश्च स्वरााद् हि र्रीयसी’ [Janani Janmabhumschya Swarad Hi Riasi] and reaffirmed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee as … the idea of Bhārata-mātā”.

The lack of understanding of India in such cultural idioms is blamed on the decades of education systems that were followed, “which in the garb of secularisation have systematically ushered our impressionable minds into the zone of rootlessness and ignorance of the achievements by their very own ancestors”.

The position paper also parrots the age-old RSS account of Indian history when it declares, “For a nation that has been colonized for nearly a thousand years it is only in the recent past that she is awakening to the concept of decoloniality.”

Thus, with one stroke, it authenticates the Hindutva narrative that Muslim rule is considered colonisation of Hindu India along with the British colonisation. Secondly, by implying that those who arrived in India before those thousand years are the “original inhabitants” of the region, it also tries to erase the debate over the Aryan migration. So decolonising also means de-Islamising – for which the best way is re-Brahminising.

The archaeological site of Harappa, of the Indus Valley civilisation. Photo: Sara jilani/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Thus Indianisation of history right from the early childhood (3-6 years) education is envisaged through Sanskrit, where Sanskrit substitute for words “can be picked up and taught are animals, birds, flowers, professions, verbs, family” so that the students become familiar with the language that carries Indian culture.

Even in other secular fields like economics, geography, botany and administration – where there are many pioneers and contributors from non-Brahmin communities – the suggestion in the position paper is to learn from texts like the Arthaśāstra, Pañca mahābhūta, tridoṣa theory, development, etc. It adds:

“The idea of good governance from Śānti Parva of Mahābhārata, Lessons of corporate governance from Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra, Defense and war, Management concepts from Indian Knowledge, Administration and Social life under Vijayanagara [can be incorporated].”

It also mentions the Gupta empire, in which period the Varnas degenerated into the most oppressive caste system, as instrumental in “shaping the Bhāratīya civilisation (intellectual achievements and social organization; social stability that gave rise to harmony, peace, and prosperity for a period of at least three centuries)” and that it has not been sufficiently highlighted.

While it cites the invasion of Muslim rulers as the cause of the decline of Buddhism and the census introduced by the British as the reason for the proliferation of the caste system, it absolves the Manusmriti of propagating any social stratification based on birth. The social science position paper relies heavily on S.N. Balagangadhara’s writings as source material, which completely rejects the existence of the caste system during the Hindu rule.

Also Read: Battle Over Textbook Revision in Karnataka Has Helped Expose the Ideology of Brahminical-Hindutva

The position paper also claims that the Devalaya-centred school system that prevailed prior to the British did not have any caste- based discrimination and in the future also the Devalaya premises could serve as a “great centre of education for multiple disciplines ranging from art, sculpture, architecture to cultural practices”.

Interestingly, the position paper says the student should develop a critical mind and should encourage “an attitude of questioning and not merely accepting whatever the textbooks say as infallible truth”, it  calls Pythagoras theorem, an apple falling on Newton’s  as “fake news”.

But the position paper in the same vein demands acceptance of what ever is written in the Smritis, including Manusmriti and Puranas, and calls any critique of the oppressive Brahmanical social order as a “colonial construct”.

In dealing with promoting the “Indian way” of understanding history, the paper calls for intellectual bravery to speak the truth about “events such as the genocide of the Malabar Hindus (referred to as the Moplah riots), the genocide of Maharashtrian Brahmins, the genocide and exodus of Kashmiri Hindus” and they should be taught in mainstream textbooks. While all these three events are important, the Brahminical bias is evident when Dalit massacres by savarna Hindus are not even mentioned.

Additionally, the position paper on health and wellbeing says eggs and meat should not be served to children as they lead to “lifestyle disorders”.

Thus, decolonisation is used as an alibi for the re-Brahminisation of the Indian mind. Any curriculum based on these position papers inculcates hatred towards non-Hindus and promotes internal slavery of non-Brahmin Hindus since all that is Brahminical would be taught as not only great and virtuous but also “authentically” Indian.

The author Bhanwar Megwanshi unveils the new strategy of the RSS in his book I Could Not Be a Hindu: The Story Of a Dalit In RSS. Brahminical supremacy is furthered not by directly denigrating non-Brahmins as inferior but by advocating all that is Brahminical as superior. It is for this reason that Ambedkar declared Brahminism as internal colonialism. There is no decolonisation without de-Brahminisation.

This article was first published on The Wire.