Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI January 14 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins, 26 secs

Humra Quraishi elaborates on the double standards of the right-wing government in India, and warns that what is taught in schools to children manifests in harmful ways over the years.

It was surprising to see videos of Union Minister Smriti Irani walking around the holy city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia. It is being said that she was there to finalize the details of the upcoming Haj 2024. I wish she had walked through the cities, towns and villages of India instead, to see the challenges faced by Muslims here. It’s a known fact that the Muslims in the country are going through a crisis.

Let me also hasten to write that recently I was watching an interview of the Assam chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, where his tone of voice and words for the Muslims were communal and blatantly biased. So aggressive and provocative that I wasn’t able to watch beyond a few minutes. This is not one of those rare instances. Many ministers, members of parliaments and legislative assemblies talk in the crassest way when it comes to minority communities. They get away with all the abuse they heap upon members of the minority communities, be it men, women or children.

Today, there is negligible protest when ministers in the BJP ruled states in the country order government school children (including those from the minority communities) to sing Vande Mataram, to do the Surya Namaskar, to read religious scriptures of one particular religion. Why don’t they include scriptures from all faiths? Also, why are questions not raised on Child Rights forums about the effects of these Hindutva dictates on the psyche of all the children and teenagers? Isn’t this a fascist way to introduce supremacy among children belonging to the majority community, and also fear in all the others?

Provocative communal remarks and orders are passed by BJP leaders but there is no question asked of them. Not even when the BJP MLA from Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh, Surendra Singh, publicly said, “There are very few Muslims who are patriotic. Once India becomes a Hindu rashtra (Hindu nation), Muslims who assimilate into our culture will stay in India. Those who will not are free to take asylum in any other country,” He has also claimed that by 2024, India would become a Hindu nation. Instead, they are rewarded with promotions!

The likes of Sangeet Som, Sadhvi  Niranjan, Giriraj  Singh, Sakshi  Maharaja, Togadia, Hedge have been openly threatening, abusing and taunting sections of the minority community, yet they move around freely. Even though news-reports reveal that the VHP and  Bajrang Dal have been conducting arms training camps in Greater Noida, Varanasi, Ayodhya and in other locations, where young boys and girls are being  trained to  attack ‘the enemy’, authorities are silent.

And in contrast stands out the State fury unleashed upon other academics, activists. In 2019, MM Akbar, head of Niche of Truth, a regular speaker on platforms of Mujahid organizations, and director of Peace International School, was arrested. A case against him was  based on the allegation that the text books of Peace School created communal discord, and charges against him under IPC 153(A) were made. The religious text book for Class II of Peace School had a question, ‘If your classmate decides to embrace Islam, what advice would you give him?’

The case was registered following the conclusion of the District Educational Officer of Ernakulam that this question and the answers to it would spread religious hatred. The school officials explained that once they found the disputed part of the lesson inappropriate, they had given instructions that it should not be taught, and the publishers clarified that although the part was included as an activity to teach children that declaration of faith by truth (kalima shahada in Arabic) is the first step to becoming a Muslim, they were withdrawing the book.

If the establishment wants to remove all possible traces of biased teachings, shouldn’t it also look at what’s taught in the Right Wing backed/supported schools? In 2016, during an interview given to me, the former IIT Mumbai Professor, Ram Puniyani, detailed the teachings in the RSS run schools. “RSS has single teacher schools, Ekal Vidyalaya, and bigger ones as Shishu Mandirs. The pattern of authoritarianism between the teachers and the taught, senior-junior, is rigid. The main values, which are promoted are those of conformism. Along with this the books in these schools are structured around the mythical history of superiority of Hinduism, that all was well with Hindus till Muslim aggressors came. Caste is presented as having given stability to society, Muslim Kings are presented as cruel and so on. The hatred for religious minorities is drilled into the children.”  

I had first heard the former Delhi University Professor Nalini Taneja talk in an open forum of the history taught in the RSS run schools. She read aloud several of the provocative passages from the text books of the RSS run schools: “The History texts are unadulterated illustrations of the RSS view and are used for its sectarian agenda. Aryans are the original inhabitants of India, the Indian civilization is essentially Aryan, the ancient period when Hindus ruled was golden and India had enormous advantages. According to the texts, the Mughals brought darkness, cruelty and Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Savarkar are among the greatest freedom fighters. They also teach children that Muslims are traitors, Hinduism is synonymous with nationalism, and they defend caste, child marriages and sati. Muslims, Christians and Parsis are called foreigners. Urdu is referred to as a foreign language." 

And, before I end this column, I must share this message, which I received from the Lucknow based activist and academic Sandeep Pandey. Sandeep has returned his Magsaysay Award and US degrees in the backdrop of the “role of the US in war in Gaza. He writes:

When I received the Magsaysay Award in 2002, a little controversy was created due to my decision to participate in a protest outside the United States embassy in Manila against the impending attack on Iraq, immediately a day after the award ceremony in which the award was handed over by the Philippines President. The then Chairperson of Magsaysay Foundation had tried to dissuade me from participating in the protest on the pretext that it’ll harm the reputation of the foundation. My contention was that the award mentioned my participation in a peace march in India for global nuclear disarmament from Pokaran to Sarnath in 1999 and hence my anti-war position was well known. I had to honour the decision taken at a peace conference at University in Manila which, coincidently, concluded on 31 August, the day Magsaysay Awards were handed over, to stage a protest at the US embassy as I was invited to the conference as well.

After the protest on 1 September, a Manila newspaper, in an editorial, challenged me saying that if I was the principled man that I would like them to believe then I should return the award to the US embassy before returning to India. This made the decision easier for me. I returned the cash component of the award from the airport, which came from the Ford Foundation of the U.S., but in a letter to the Chairperson of Magsaysay Foundation I said that for the time being I was keeping the award as it was named after a former popular Philippines President and had been given in my country to personalities like Jayaprakash Narayan, Vinoba Bhave and Baba Amte, whom I considered as my ideals. I had mentioned in that letter that if the Magsaysay Foundation ever thought that I was harming their reputation too much, I would be happy to return the award as well.

I think that the time has now come.

Magsaysay Award is primarily funded by Rockefeller Foundation and the category in which I received the award is funded by Ford Foundation, both American foundations. Given the role of the US in blatantly supporting Israel in the current offensive against Palestinian citizens, more than 21,500 of whom are dead, and still continuing to sell arms to Israel, it has become unbearable for me to keep the award.

I, therefore, am deciding to finally return the award too. I would like to apologise to the people of the Philippines if they feel hurt because of President Ramon Magsaysay’s name associated with this award. My protest is only because of the American connection with the award. I have to take the hard decision because I think the US is singularly responsible in encouraging Israel to continue its aggression against Palestinians contrary to the popular world opinion. It could have played the role of mediator, like it once did, and tried to negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine.

Creation of the sovereign state of Palestine and its recognition by the United Nations as a full member is essential towards the solution of the problem. But it is strange that US, which not very long back handed over Afghanistan, much bigger in area, to Taliban on a silver platter, knowing well that it was jeopardizing the civil liberties of common Afghans, especially the women, parrots the Israeli position about Hamas being a terrorist organization ignoring the fact that Hamas has won an election in Palestine, unlike the Taliban.

I feel that it is time to call out the double standards of US government…it is inexplicable why the US chooses to turn a blind eye to the misfortunes and sufferings of the Palestinians and overlook the crimes of Israeli defence forces. Had it been any other country, it would have imposed sanctions against it, like it did along with the rest of the world against South Africa, when apartheid was still practiced there.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.