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Assault on Faith

Assault on Faith

Author: Bharat Putra
Publication: Indian Currents
Date: June 30 - July 6, 2008

The following is a lesson from the controversial Class VII Social Studies textbook in Kerala:

No religion for Jeevan (headline)

Jeevan's parents came to school seeking admission to him. The parents were seated on the chairs and the Headmaster started to fill up the application form.

"What is the name of your son?"

"Jeevan"

"Good, nice name.

Father's name?"

"Anwar Rashid"

"Mother's name?"

"Lakshmi Devi"

The Headmaster looked at the parents and asked:

"What about the religion of the child?"

"Need not record anything"

"Write no religion?"

"Caste"

"No need for that too?" The Headmaster reclined in the chair and asked seriously.

"When he grows up if he wishes to have a religion?"

"In that case, let him choose the religion of his choice"

This lesson has raised the hackles of the religious communities in Kerala. To be frank, I have not gone through the whole textbook but I have read a scholarly critique of the book by M.R. Chandrasekharan, who was "once a pro-CPM teachers' union leader". He says the lessons appeared to have been drafted by people well versed in preparing material for CPM study classes.

State Education Minister M.A. Baby has declined to withdraw or remove the contentious lessons. He sees the sinister hands of the fundamentalist forces who are out to destabilize the LDF government a la the infamous Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle) in the late fifties. Those supporting him like M.S. Jose of Muvattupuzha say that "religious fundamentalists, backed by the Congress, are whipping up communal passions by raising the bogey of infringement of religious rights and imposition of atheism. The Left Front deserves praise for its bold defence of the ideology of humanism". (The Hindu, June 28).

In the lesson I have chosen, the author makes some subtle points. Interreligious marriages are welcome and the ideal way of bringing up a child is to let him choose a religion of his choice when he becomes an adult. In other words, a child should not be brought up as a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian as if being one of them is dangerous. This is fallacious, to say the least.

The admission scene depicted in the book is not at all realistic. The couple in question, born a Hindu and a Muslim, are portrayed as incapable of filling up the admission form of their son. Otherwise, why should the Headmaster "fill up the application form"? This is not a good commentary on the state of literacy in the State, touted as the most literate in the country.

Now, I would like to juxtapose the lesson in question with a few others, also imaginary.

The Principal of a "convent" school is interviewing a student and his parents:

"What is your name, young man?"

"Sivadasan"

"Do you know the meaning of your name?"

"Yes, Sir. It means the 'servant of Lord Shiva"

"Are you a Hindu?"

"Yes, I am a Hindu"

"I notice that you wear a chain with the 'Om' symbol. What does 'Om' stand for?

"It is a representation and symbol of Brahma, i.e., Eshwar. The sound 'Om' is considered the essence of all sounds and thoughts. It is a combination of the sounds - 'a' as in 'ahimsa', 'u' as in 'Uttar ' and 'am' as in 'Ambika'. It also symbolizes the creative, preserving and destructive features of God".

"Who taught you all this?"

"My mother" (She teaches philosophy in a college) The Principal, a Catholic priest, is stunned by the clarity with which the young boy answered his questions. He calls for the next candidate.

A Muslim couple with their daughter enters the Principal's room.

"Good morning, Father" "Good morning"

"What is your name?"

"Fathima"

"What is the meaning of
Fathima?"

"I do not know the meaning of the name. Fathima was the sister of the Prophet. She was a devout but courageous Muslim."

"Where did you learn this?"

"I attend a religious school".

"In that case, what is the meaning of the word "Islam"?

"It means 'complete dependence'. The whole universe is dependent on God's will. So the eternal law of the universe is "Islam". So man's life should also be 'Islamic'. The world Islam also means peace".

The Principal is impressed with her performance. He calls for the next candidate. A Christian couple with their son enters the room.

"Good morning, Father"

"Good morning"

"What is your name?"

"Stephen"

"Are you named after any other Stephen?"

"Yes, Stephen was the first Christian martyr. I am named after him."

"Who taught you this?"

"I was inquisitive, so I asked my Sunday School teacher."

"What did Jesus teach?"

"He taught us to love one another".

We have now four sets of parents. One atheist but cannot fill up an application form. Their child is so dull that the Headmaster does not even feel like asking him a question.

The others are educated and religious. The children are smart and are so educated in the fundamentals of their religions that they are able to answer difficult questions. However, it is the former model that the Curriculum Committee, which prepared the textbook, wants to promote.

This writer has no objection to inter-religious marriages. Those who jump into it should, however, know that it is far more difficult to make such a marriage a success than an intrareligious marriage. In Kerala, one of the most famous inter-religious marriages was that of the late T.V. Thomas and K.R. Gowriamma. Both were Communist leaders.

Though they never applied for divorce, they lived separate lives. When the Communist Party split into two, he preferred to be in the CPI and she in the CPM. And when both of them became ministers in the E.M.S. Namboodiripad Ministry, they sought and obtained different bungalows to stay.

Unfortunately for them, they did not have a child. Otherwise, they would have brought him or her up like Jeevan. We can only hope that the protagonists in the lesson, Anwar Rashid and Lakshmi Devi, will stay united and bring up Jeevan as an atheist par excellence. They need to be complimented for their courage to choose a secular name for their son. They did not emulate Sitaram Yechury, the CPM spokesman who has Sita and Ram in his name. Nor did they give the caste name of either the father or the mother to Jeevan. Incidentally, E.M.S. Namboodiripad never felt burdened by the caste name, Namboodiripad.

Needless to say, all Communists, including M.A. Baby, are great admirers of Lenin, who wrote in a letter to Russian writer Maxim Gorky in 1913: "Every religious idea, every little god, even flirting with a little god, is unutterable vileness… vileness of the most dangerous kind, a plague of the most abominable kind. A million sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical plagues are much less dangerous".

Many of the readers would not have read this comment of Lenin but they would be aware of the opium-of-the-people observation of Karl Marx. Lenin and Stalin who followed him were all ruthless atheists, who forced the closure of thousands of churches and monasteries. Lakhs of believers were killed or tortured by their security forces. Many of those arrested were sent to the famous Solovetsky Monastery, in the far north of Russia, which in 1921 was turned into one of the earliest models of the Soviet labour camp system.

According to Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, under the Soviet penal code Article 58- 10 which deals with "counterrevolutionary agitation and propaganda" and went into effect in 1927, teaching a child about religious belief was a crime, and the sentence for instructing a son or daughter in the Lord's Prayer, for example, was 10 years in the gulag. A Russian Christian poet, Tanya Khodkevich, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing these words:

You can pray freely,

But just so God alone can hear. (Emphasis in the original) Atheists like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot have together killed millions of believers. They put in the shade the crusades and other wars inspired by religion.

Studies have shown that religious persons are less susceptible to crime. They are better citizens than those who call themselves irreligious. Describing how a consensus emerged on a Republicanstyle government in the US, several commentators have stressed the relationship that the founding fathers seemed to envisage of freedom, virtue and religion:

Freedom needs virtue in order to be sustained;

Virtue needs the reinforcement of religion;

Religion to be effective in influencing people, has to be free.

The physician and writer Benjamin Rush, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Continental Congress, expressed this principle in 1798, in writing, "The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments."

He added, "Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the deity, or a future state of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend is that of the New Testament".

Rush made it clear that his purpose was not to evangelise on behalf of Christianity. "It is foreign to my purpose to hint at the arguments which establish the truth of the Christian revelation" he explained. "My only business is to declare, that all its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society, and the safety and well being of civil government".

It is not for the disparaging remarks on religion alone that the book has caused ire among the teachers and parents. There is an attempt to glorify some little struggles in Kerala like the one at Punnapra-Vayalar. Martyrdom, agitation, attacking the police etc have been portrayed in a good light. The authors do not seem to realize that the students are impressionable and they should not be exposed to such dangerous thoughts.

The book glorifies, for instance, the land reform measures introduced by the Communist government in the past. Everybody in Kerala and outside knows that the so-called land reforms did not increase the production of foodgrain in Kerala. On the contrary, the area under cultivation in the state has shrunk drastically. The dependence of Kerala on other states for rice and wheat and even vegetables has been growing.

A Kerala daily recently published the story of a multi-millionaire businessman of North Kerala, who had to face a labour problem in his factory. The trade unionists saw to it that the factory was closed. One of his sons committed suicide while the other died of heart attack at a young age. Today the man who counted lakhs of rupees every day is living at the mercy of others. Now he wants to be in jail so that he would have regular food and he can admit his wife to an "old age home where her needs would be taken care of". The union leader, who brought him to this condition, still talks about the rights of workers and how valiantly they fought against the "bourgeois factory owner".

Instead of asking party sympathisers to prepare textbooks, M.A. Baby should ponder over the fact that the education system in Kerala is in such a bad shape that students passing out from there are unable to get admission to prestigious institutions like the IITs and the IIMs. More candidates from a small city like Chandigarh get admission to these institutions than from the whole of Kerala. Think, Education Minister, think.

(The writer can be reached at bharataputra@gmail.com)


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