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Gujarat government’s move to introduce Bhagavad Gita in schools is fraught with pitfalls

By Kingshuk Nag
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In what can be termed a significant step towards saffronisation of education, the Gujarat government has now decided to teach the Bhagavad Gita to school students between classes 6 and 12. An announcement to this effect was made by the state's education minister Jitu Vaghani and the move will be implemented from the school sessions beginning 2022-23.

Naturally, the teaching of the Gita will be compulsory only in schools under the Gujarat school board and will not apply to schools under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or the Indian School Certificate Examination (ISCE) board.

In the middle classes from Class 6-8, the scripture will be introduced in the textbook of 'Sarvangi Shikshan' or holistic education. In the higher classes, there will be lessons in the understanding of the Gita and its philosophy and the morals it beholds. For classes between 9 and 12, Gita will be introduced to students in the form of storytelling. The government will also ask schools to initiate various extracurricular activities based on the Bhagavad Gita in the form of chanting of slokas, recitations, prayers, drama, quizzes, elocution competitions, amongst others. Recitations and storytelling from the Gita will also be part of school assemblies.

The union government had told the Lok Sabha with reference to an answer to a question in late December last year that the New Education Policy (NEP) empowered schools to take up imparting lessons from the Bhagavad Gita if they so desired. The Gujarat government's move draws power from this provision, but it conducted no informal vote to decide whether the stakeholders, including parents, approve of such a move.

At the time of the NEP's enunciation, there were no complaints about this move. In fact, it must have been lost in the din that often accompanies Lok Sabha sessions and could have gone unnoticed. Interestingly, the elections to the Gujarat state assembly is slated for later this year, and the move in all likelihood is expected to have a positive bearing on the ruling party BJP.

The government's move to introduce the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, more popularly known as the Gita, which is considered as one of the holy scriptures of Hinduism, is fraught with multiple challenges. It will be interesting to see how this decision will be seen by many Jesuit schools that teach their courses under the Gujarat state education board. This includes the prominent St Xavier's School in Gandhinagar, where children of top bureaucrats study.

Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, was a greenfield city, and to provide good social infrastructure services to the city, the Jesuits were invited to set up the school at the beginning of the 1970s. In order to make the project attractive, financial support on a continuous basis was extended to the school; but in lieu, the school was asked to subscribe to the higher secondary education of the Gujarat board. What the Jesuits will now do is a relevant question. This will be a hard issue for them and whether they would like to opt-out of the state board and move to the central board is something only time will tell. However, the move to opt-out will entail a huge cost: it will imply the withdrawal of subsidies. If the state government so decides, it may charge the Jesuits for the cheap land allotted to the school when it had started.

That apart, the moot point is whether the schools have the relevant infrastructure to provide lessons on the Gita. Are there enough teachers who are formally trained in teaching the Gita lessons or better still, do they themselves have enough understanding of the Gita in the formal sense? In fact, if the state government is keen to impart education on the Gita, it should have fuelled the start of the programme with the formal training of the teachers first. It is still not known whether the teachers will be imparted training on how and what of the Gita should be taught to the students.

Further, who will provide this training? It is also unclear under which subject the Gita will be taught in schools. Will it be taught under moral science lessons? Additionally, whatever will be taught of the Gita, will it fall under the purview of the exams? Will the marks awarded go towards the final results? Besides these vexed issues, with the non-implementation of the program to train teachers, the whole plan could well not have the desired results except for the results the move is going to produce for the ruling party in the forthcoming assembly elections.

Besides the practicability of the move of teaching the Gita, there is a wider question on how the religious minorities in the country see this move. As per the preamble, the Indian Constitution is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. However, such moves as compulsory lessons in the Gita makes many wonder, whether one likes it or not, is there a slow movement underway to turn India into a Hindu religious republic without it being announced so?

Though strictly speaking, the Gita is not a religious text because it talks of the way of life but it is broadly understood by most as a Hindu sacred scripture. Predictably, for most people in Gujarat, it will have no adverse effect. In a state like Gujarat, where a majority of the families are accustomed to following the Hindu way of life, imparting education in Gita will be just seen as a natural progression.

A vast majority of people in Gujarat, who are Hindus and Jains, will not complain. Muslims are too small a percentage to resist, and they have accepted things as they have been in Gujarat for years. Christians in Gujarat will fall in line with the status quo and not make much noise. Therefore, as planned, the formal imparting of Bhagavad Gita in schools will begin without much resistance in the state.

But this may soon have other repercussions. Once the process of teaching the Gita in schools begins successfully in Gujarat, it is but natural for this to spread in other states where rightist governments are in power like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttaranchal and others. Slowly, pressure could be built on state governments that are non-saffron, and at least some of them – like Odisha - will not be able to resist.

However, it remains to be seen whether some rights groups will move the court to stall the Gujarat government's move. If so, it will be interesting to see if and whether the judiciary will see this as a transgression of various sections of the Constitution.

It is too early to foretell the entire extent of the fallouts from the move, but one thing is certain, the Gujarat education minister has definitely stirred a hornet's nest with his announcement.


Kingshuk Nag is a senior journalist who spent about 25 years reporting for The Times of India across various locations. He is also the author of around ten best-selling works on politics and business. In a career spanning over four decades, Nag has reported on politics and the economy. He is a recipient of the Prem Bhatia award.