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Another Blow to V.H.P

Mukundan C Menon

Amidst the ongoing controversy over the UPA Government’s first anniversary celebration, not many took note of the Union Human Resources Development Ministry’s significant decision to stop grants to ‘Ekal Vidyalayas’ (one-teacher schools) run by the so-called Friends of Tribal Society (FTS), in collaboration with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), in the tribal belts of the country.

The decision follows a study, which revealed that the FTS which was provided assistance by the erstwhile NDA Government since 1999-2000 under the "Innovative and Experimental Education Component of the Education Guarantee Scheme and Alternative & Innovative Education," was "misusing these funds and using the grants for creating disharmony amongst religious groups and creating a political cadre". Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, a hard-core RSS ideologue, had been leading the HRD ministry during the Vajpayee Government.

Soon after the UPA Government took office last year, the new HRD Ministry headed by Arjun Singh constituted a four-member committee, comprising Avdesh Kaushal, Dipak Malik, P Sudhir Kumar and K R Meena, to submit a report on the numerous complaints that public funds were being used by FTS to support "institutions — some of which masqueraded as non-governmental organisations —that promote perverted ideologies."

Pending the probe, the HRD Ministry did not release grants to FTS in the last fiscal (2004-2005). Following the receipt of the probe report, the Ministry under Arjun Singh, a known RSS bet noire, has decided to stop funds and grants to FTS completely.The FTS main agenda was a systematic program to Hinduise primary education especially in States like Jharkhand where Christian missionaries have been working among tribals in remote distant tribal hamlets for long.

According to available information on funding details for the last three fiscals, the FTS in West Bengal unit had received the largest allocations of Rs. 49.97 lakhs in 2002-03. During the 2003-04, the three units of FTS in West Bengal, Assam and Jharkhand were allocated a total of Rs. 1.04 crores, which constituted nearly half of the total amount sanctioned across the country.

Among other places, the enquiry committee visited Singhbhum district of Jharkhand and Tinsukhia and Dibrugarh districts of Assam to collect details and corner evidences to reach its conclusions. Notably, the committee found that apart from the HRD Ministry, the Ministries of Rural Development, Tribal Welfare, Science & Technology and Women & Child Development also sanctioned funds to FTS.

"These funds were being diverted to generate hatred toward minorities, and condition the minds of children", it said. Citing an instance, the report says, during roll call in classrooms, students were made to respond with `Jai Shri Ram’, and only the names of Hindu Gods were used to teach English alphabet.

For example, English booklet in Jharkhand teach the Class-II primary students thus: A for Arjun, B for Brahma, C for Cow, D for Dhruva,…G for Ganesh, H…for Hanuman,…J for Jambavan,…M for Mahadev,…O for Om,…R for Ram,…T for Temple, U for Uma.

Ironically, the letters ‘E’, ‘F’, ‘Q’, ‘W’, ‘X’ and ‘Z’ simply does not exist in this booklet. For the FTS champions, these letters are not worthy enough for the tribal students to learn. Reason? No names of Hindu Gods beginning with these letters are readily available!

Daily school-prayers are devoted each day to different Hindu Gods like Lord Shiva, Hanuman etc.: Aaj Somwar Hai, Shivji ka var hai; sache man se bhajan karenge, sabka bera par hai; aaj mangalwar hai, Hanumanji ka var hai....

The committee also found that names of many students "enrolled" in the Ekal Vidyalaya registers were simply copied from government-run schools nearby. In many places the committee found that the Ekal Vidyalaya school registers were identical copies of government schools functioning in the same village. Since it is physically impossible for the same students to attend both schools regularly, the EV registers existed were aimed at merely siphoning off grants.

No reading or learning material was provided to students despite specific allocations to the FTS. If at all these were provided, it was through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and not the FTS, the report said. Interestingly, a base book (Khele, Kude, Nache, Gaye) for training teachers of EVs was written by one Rakesh Popli. He happened to be a member of the grants-in-aid committee of the HRD ministry that decided to which NGOs would be given funds for running these schools.

The book contains Popli’s version of Birsa Munda’s life as a definite eye-opener to both our historians and educationists. Popli wrote: "Birsa studied in a missionary school; converted to Christianity; was made to eat beef and forced to cut his tuft in hostel; returned home upset; began worshipping tulsi, wore sacred thread; roamed in forests; struggled against missionaries, landlords and British government...arrested, slowly poisoned in jail." In addition, Popli’s book also contains a series of rhymes on cow, Ram-Sita and other Gods of Hindu pantheon.

Apart from propagating communal education of hatred, EV teachers also participate in direct actions to promote the "Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva" ideology of Sangh Parivar. For instance, Manney Singh Kandiyan, an EV teacher at Tantnagar block of Singhbhum district in Jharkhand, frankly explained to the enquiry committee during their visit "how he, with his other colleagues, destroyed a half-built church in 2002". Kandiyan also told the inquiry team that charges against him were dropped at the behest of the ruling party.

While exposing the VHP-run Ekal Vidyalayas siphoning off public funds under the guise of providing non-formal education and learning materials to tribal and rural students, the enquiry committee also acknowledged the role of non-formal education for universalisation of elementary education and called for a review of the schemes to support such endeavors. Alternative schooling be allowed only in places where formal schools do not exist, it recommended.

The Committee, in particular, noted that the FTS and the Bharatiya Janata Party got foreign funds in the name of tribal education, and suggested that these sources of funding, too, be put under the scanner as they were being used for a divisive agenda.

Notably, several institutions other than the Evs, under FTS, had come up in different parts of India using public funds to make Hindutva inroads into Tribal belt during the erstwhile NDA regime. In Kerala, for example, a two-day event was held in the predominant tribal district of Wayanad to inaugurate the Akhila Kerala Vanavasi Sangamam organized by the Kerala Vanavasi Vikasa Kendram on January 15-16, 2003, functioning under the Akhil Bharateeya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram headed by Jagadev Ram Orone of Orissa.

Inaugurated by the RSS supremo K. S. Sudarshan, it was addressed among others by India’s Sprint queen P T Usha and Bharateeya Vichara Kendram Director P. Parameswaran. By exhorting the tribals to thwart attempts from various quarters to separate them from Hinduism, Sudarshan said, "The British had invented many theories like the Aryan invasion to divide the Hindus. Though the theory has no logical validity, it was used to create schism within the community. The Arya-Dravida, Brahmin-non-Brahmin, North India-South India divisions are the by-products of the theory,’’ he said.

According to Sudarshan, there were attempts to exclude Adivasis from the Hindu fold during the pre-Independence era. "At the time of census, the British said the tribals do not belong to Hinduism as they practice animism, a mode of worship which includes worship of plants and stones. But the then Census Director said animism is a part of Hinduism because Hindus also do worship plants and stones. However, the British eventually succeeded in separating tribals from Hindus in 1941."

Turning his guns against Christianity, Sudarshan put forward a relatively new theory: "Hindu concept of worshipping everything is not acceptable to Christianity as that religion cannot agree that the essence of divinity can exist in man. It took centuries for Christianity to agree that divinity is present in women. Before that, thousands of women were burnt alive in the name of witch-hunt. But atrocities against women were unheard of in India because Hindus worshipped the female gods along with male gods."

Christianity was not the lone target of Hindutva hate-campaign during the NDA ruling period. At a time when millions of public funds were siphoned off in the name of non-formal education to tribal students, the same Hindutva forces systematically unleashed an orchestrated campaign against Muslim madrassas throughout the country.

While inaugurating the delegate session of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) at Kozhikode in April 2002, the then Union Minister of State for Home, Vidyasagar Rao, alleged that madrasas in Kerala were serving as base-camps for Pakistani intelligence (ISI) agents to operate from. "ISI agents are luring students in many of these religious institutions to carry out militant mandates. We really need to be alert against the mushrooming of such madrasas all across the State".

Despite harping upon the convenient ISI charge against the Muslim madrasas, the NDA ruling period came to a close without providing any convincing evidence in support of these fallacious allegations.