Kolkata, India – On the three-storey constructing of Sarada Shishu Vidya Mandir, a college for grades 5 to 10 in Uluberia city within the jap Indian state of West Bengal, college students collect on daily basis on the prayer corridor quarter-hour earlier than their courses start.

The partitions within the prayer corridor are bedecked with vibrant posters of Hindu deities, saints, mythological figures, historical Indian students, kings and Hindu spiritual practices. The prayer begins with the Saraswati Vandana, a chant praising Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of data.

The identical routine is adopted at Sarada Shishu Mandir, the preprimary college for youngsters to grade 4 which stands subsequent to it.

Sarada Shishu Vidya Mandir, an RSS-run college in Howrah, West Bengal [Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Al Jazeera]

When college students enter the lecture rooms after the prayers, they encounter the identical historical figures but once more – in a collection of books referred to as Sanskriti Bodhmala, or cultural consciousness manuals, revealed in English, Hindi and a number of other different Indian languages. The Sanskriti Bodhmala books are obligatory for the scholars of courses 4 to 12, who additionally should take a nationally coordinated annual take a look at based mostly on these books.

For greater than two centuries, hundreds of thousands of Indians, particularly Hindus, have lengthy learn in regards to the concepts and philosophies attributed to historical students from what is called the Vedic period (1500 BC to 500 BC), when most of the faith’s scriptures had been written.

However underneath Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many of those ideas have made their approach into India’s huge formal education system, blurring the lines between spiritual Hindu beliefs on the one hand and established historical past and science on the opposite.

In a rustic the place half the inhabitants is youthful than 25, this, say critics, has given Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) and their Hindu majoritarian companions the power to make use of pedagogy to affect the minds of hundreds of thousands of younger Indians – lots of whom shall be voting for the primary time in nationwide elections anticipated to be held between March and Might.

Atoms to aviation

Vedic-era thinker Kanada was the world’s first atomic scientist, say the books meant for the scholars of courses 4 and 6.

Kanada, in his guide Vaisheshika Darshan, did write about anu (atoms) being the smallest particles of drugs that can’t be additional divided. However the substances he listed – prithvi (earth), jala (water), tejas (fireplace), vayu (air), akasha (ether), kala (time), dik (house), atma (soul) and manas (thoughts) — make it clear, say scientists, that he was talking in philosophical or metaphysical phrases.

The category 5 textbook tells them that Vedic sage Bharadwaja, who’s credited with writing the guide Vymaanika Shastra (Science of Aeronautics), was the “father of aviation”. The category 5 and sophistication 12 books name historical Indian doctor Sushruta “the inventor of cosmetic surgery”.

The Sanskriti Bodhmala books are usually not authorized by the federal government. However they’ve been taught along with the state-approved syllabus for many years in a big chain of faculties run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the far-right ideological mentor of the BJP.

The faculties are formally operated by Vidya Bharati, the schooling wing of the RSS, which controls greater than 12,000 such faculties catering to almost 32 million college students throughout India. The faculties are affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Training (CBSE) or the federal government schooling boards of the states they’re situated in.

India RSS history
A poster on a college wall depicts RSS founder KB Hedgewar and his successor MS Golwalkar as ‘nice males who birthed a brand new awakening within the Hindu society’ [Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Al Jazeera]

In recent times, unsubstantiated historical and scientific claims – being taught in Vidya Bharati faculties – have made their approach into the formal syllabus of state-run faculties.

The claims of Kanada’s atomic idea and Sushruta’s cosmetic surgery are already part of the curriculum of the Nationwide Institute of Open Education (NIOS) – an schooling board managed by the federal authorities. The NIOS describes itself as “the most important open education system on the planet with a cumulative enrolment of 4.13 million [during last five years]” college students.

The NIOS curriculum additionally encourages college students to seek out out about Vedic arithmetic – one other topic taught particularly at RSS faculties.

The Nationwide Council of Academic Analysis and Coaching’s (NCERT) new module on India’s moon mission says the guide Vymaanika Shaastra “seemingly reveals that our civilisation had the information of flying autos”.

The NCERT is the apex physique advising the federal and state governments on college schooling, together with mannequin textbooks. Nevertheless, varied state schooling boards might differ from NCERT’s recommendation and pursue their very own syllabus. Amongst federal authorities boards, CBSE had 1.2 million college students showing within the grade 12 exams and 1.8 million college students showing within the grade 10 exams in 2020.

India RSS history
In Vidya Bharati faculties, college students should maintain footwear exterior school rooms [Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Al Jazeera]

In 2019, federal Training Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal stated, “Our scriptures talked about the idea of gravity a lot earlier than Newton found it.” Sanskriti Bodhmala books say the identical, one in all its books attributing it to fifth-century mathematician Aryabhatta and one other to Twelfth-century mathematician Bhaskaracharya.

“The Sanskriti Bodhmala books haven’t any battle with the formal syllabus, because the historical past offered right here is solely lacking within the current formal syllabus, which totally neglects India’s pre-Mughal historical past. That’s the place we stress on,” Proloy Adhikary, accountable for Uluberia’s Sarada Vidya Mandir, instructed Al Jazeera.

He stated the Nationwide Training Coverage (NEP) that the Modi authorities has launched had been carried out in Vidya Bharati faculties for a number of years now.

“The NEP has taken a few of our faculties’ practices to the broader sphere,” he stated, hoping for extra info from the Sanskriti Bodhmala books to seek out their approach into the formal nationwide college syllabus.

‘Wonderful tradition’

Vidya Bharati says its cultural consciousness examination for college kids was launched of their faculties “with a view to transmitting a wonderful tradition to the brand new technology”.

Debangshu Kumar Pati, a Vidya Bharati official in West Bengal, claimed the contents of their books are well-researched. “We inform college students of the historical past that the colonialist and Marxist historians have suppressed to make generations of Hindus really feel inferior,” he instructed Al Jazeera.

India RSS history
A big photograph of Swami Vivekananda on the Vidya Bharati college [Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Al Jazeera]

However historians – not simply Marxists amongst them – in addition to scientists and different critics have accused the Modi authorities of altering college syllabi to go well with their Hindu nationalist agenda.

Hilal Ahmed, affiliate professor of historical past at New Delhi’s Centre for the Research of Creating Societies (CSDS), instructed Al Jazeera nobody might be blamed for telling new histories “as the invention of the previous all the time lies sooner or later – so long as correct historiographical strategies are adopted”.

“Since historical past writing is a posh course of, critical historians have advanced strategies and protocols, together with the necessities to confirm the veracity of the sources, introducing the sources, and explaining how the knowledge is being interpreted and connections are being made. However these faculties don’t observe the protocol of citing critical historical past,” he stated.

Ahmed thinks the Sanskriti Bodhmala textbooks current historical past as if they’ve found “the ultimate fact of the previous”, calling them “anti-student”.

“They introduce a type of pedagogy that will not enable the scholars to attract their very own meanings of the previous. The scholars could be hostile to different renditions of historical past. They’re being prevented from pondering of the previous afresh sooner or later,” he stated.

Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, one in all India’s best-known cosmologists, debunked many such claims in his 2003 guide, The Scientific Edge: The Indian Scientist from Vedic to Fashionable Instances. Most claims about fashionable scientific discoveries having a Vedic origin “don’t stand as much as scientific scrutiny”, Narlikar wrote, including: “That they had been curious in regards to the universe is past doubt. However that they knew what fashionable science talks about right this moment can’t be accepted.”

In 2023, when Indian Area Analysis Organisation (ISRO) chief S Somanath claimed that main scientific developments in branches like metallurgy, astrology, astronomy, aeronautical sciences, and physics passed off in historical India and had been later taken to Europe by the Arabs, Breakthrough Science Society (BSS) issued an announcement, asking, “If superior information in astronomy, aeronautical engineering, and many others., is accessible within the historical texts in Sanskrit, why isn’t the ISRO utilizing them?”

“Can he [Somanath] present one piece of know-how or idea that ISRO has taken from the Vedas and utilized to make a rocket or a satellite tv for pc?” the assertion requested. The BSS is a Kolkata-based group of rationalist scientists.

From fringe to mainstream

Vidya Bharati’s position in pushing a sure type of historical past is an element of a bigger venture of what critics have referred to as the “saffronisation” of education, after the favoured color of the Hindu proper. It’s a course of pursued by the Modi authorities and the establishments managed by it.

The Sanskriti Bodhmala books are revealed by Vidya Bharati Sanskriti Shiksha Sansthan, whose former president, Govind Prasad Sharma, served on the BJP authorities’s Nationwide Curriculum Framework’s steering committee shaped in 2021.

Of the 25 focus teams the state-run NCERT shaped to develop the Nationwide Curriculum Framework, based mostly on which new textbooks for presidency faculties had been written, 5 had Vidya Bharati officers as members.

India RSS history
The Bengali language variations of Sanskriti Bodhmala textbooks [Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Al Jazeera]

In response to Vidya Bharati’s nationwide president D Ramakrishna Rao, “senior and retired academics” of their faculties had been being picked up as useful resource folks in lots of Indian states for writing textbooks for presidency faculties.

“Vidya Bharati has been placing its all-out efforts and offering unstinted assist to the federal government on the [education] coverage preparation stage for nearly 5 years,” Rao wrote in a column for a right-wing web site in 2021.

A few of their faculties’ principals and workplace bearers are members of the committee for the event of the Nationwide Skilled Requirements for Lecturers, and nearly each state activity drive for the implementation of the NEP included their representatives who “actively monitor” the method, Rao added.

‘Catch the Hindu minds younger’

Between 1999 and 2004, when the BJP shaped its first-ever federal authorities, an identical effort to alter college curriculum was made.

A key identify to emerge for that venture was Dinanath Batra, then Vidya Bharati’s normal secretary. Shortly after Modi got here to nationwide energy in 2014, his dwelling state Gujarat made Batra’s books obligatory in authorities faculties.

Batra is a pioneer amongst Hindu nationalist historians, though globally acclaimed historians similar to Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib accuse him of turning each historical past and geography into fantasy.

Journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who has authored a number of books on Hindu nationalism, and has a biography of Modi, instructed Al Jazeera the Vidya Bharati faculties are a part of the RSS’s bigger technique of making hegemony over all walks of life, together with schooling.

Mukhopadhyay stated the thought behind the RSS working such a big community of faculties throughout the nation is to “catch the Hindu minds younger and instil the thought of historical Hindu invincibility, a previous when Hindu India was the dominant race all around the world and that the golden hen of Indian civilisation was destroyed by 1000’s of years of slavery, first within the arms of Muslims after which the [Christian] colonial powers”.

He stated Modi’s rule has given the Hindu nationalists “their greatest probability to revive that historical glory of world Hindu superiority”.

“For those who instil such ideas in youngsters’s minds, they are going to develop up with an incredible quantity of anger in opposition to Muslims and Christians. Such info makes an attempt to create a relentless state of paranoia in Hindu minds about the whole world being a conspirator in opposition to Hindu supremacy,” he stated.

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