Several Christian, Muslim and secular groups came together Thursday in the Indian state of Karnataka to protest a recent move by the state government to teach Hindu scripture in state-run schools.
In the second such protest in three days in the capital city of Bangalore, protesters gathered at the Gandhi Statue asking the government to cancel the circular – a written policy statement – that made it mandatory for the state-run schools to teach Bhagavad Gita to all its students.
The state is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and officials have admitted that policy promoted by the state’s education department was prompted by Hindu priests who have been campaigning to teach the Hindu scripture among school children since 2006.
Representatives of Sondhe Swarnavalli Math, a Hindu religious organization, approached the state’s minister for primary and secondary education Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri to support their mission to promote Gita in the schools and later received his approval.
“The government has always supported programs with good motives. The Bhagavad Gita campaign is one such program. We will include our students and teachers in all such programs,” Kageri told DNA newspaper.
The pressure from various groups, however, forced the administration to revoke the order in certain pockets in the state but the minister has continued to support the campaign openly.
In a public function Wednesday, Kageri said, “Studying Gita will help mold one’s life, as it teaches good values. Gita is not only the prominent religious book but it belongs to our country and culture. There is nothing wrong in learning such a book. Everyone must study the Gita,” The Deccan Herald reported.
Christian and Muslim minorities as well as secular groups have opposed this development calling it a discriminatory practice.
Thursday’s protest comes close on heels of another held two days earlier at the Town Hall in the city where a large crowd was reported to have gathered.
“Except Hinduism, no other religion believes in Karma. That is the main teaching of the Bhagavad Gita and we don’t disagree that some good life principles could be learnt from it. But, this should apply to the Bible and the Quran, since all religions have values,” said the Rev. Dr. D. Manohar Chandra Prasad, reported Mid-Day.
“This will affect the minds of innocent kids at an early age and create enmity amongst them. The government will have to deal with serious agitation from our community if they go ahead with this plan,” he added.
Protesters suggested they would intensify their struggle if the state government did not accept their demand.
“We will shut down all schools and not allow the government to impose such a blanket rule. This will create rampant discrimination amongst students and when secularism is a fundamental right for all Indians, how can the education department impose such a rule?” said Syed Mohammed Iqbal of the Karnataka Muslim Muttahida Mahaz.
The minister, however, has called these protests “futile” while implying that the administration would continue to promote the campaign.
“The argument between the various communities will be futile since anyone from any religion can learn good things from the Bhagavad Gita or other religious books,” said Kageri.
Bhagavad Gita, or the Song of the Divine, is a Hindu scripture that teaches immortality of soul and the theory of rebirth on the basis of one’s karma. Gita is part of ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata that culminates in a deadly war between two factions of a royal family in North India.
Arjuna, the ace archer, decides just before the war that he would not fight against his cousins to win back the kingdom of Hastinapur. His mentor and charioteer, Krishna, a Hindu deity, reminds him that it is his caste duty as a Kshatriya (warrior) to fight, without thinking of the result.
During colonial times, Indian leaders used its religious message to fight the enemy to arouse Hindu masses against the British rule.
People from the former untouchable castes have for long opposed this sacred text of the Hindus, saying it supports caste-based discrimination.
BJP governments, whether at the federal or the state level, have been frequently criticized for trying to Hinduize – or popularly speaking, saffronize – education. Recently, the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh drew flak for trying to adopt a similar policy of teaching Gita in the state-run schools.
Earlier, members of a left-wing Students Federation of India, staged a peaceful protest in front of the office of Deputy Director of Public Instruction of the state against the circular.
H. R. Naveen Kumar, state president of SFI, told Press PTI that “the circular is anti-constitutional because India is a secular country and teaching religious texts, which is holy for the Hindus, to students belonging to different religions is not correct.”