Creationism, India Style

16 Dec 2001


Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Government has attracted charges of "Talebanising" the country's education system through blatant censorship of school history books that question conventional religious ideology.

The upper house of Parliament had to be adjourned on Friday amid tumultuous scenes after opposition Congress leaders accused the Education Ministry of aping the Taleban by passing edicts against the work of internationally renowned historians of ancient and medieval India.

"You have made a mess of everything and Talebanised the system," senior Congress politician Arjun Singh said.

The immediate provocation for the uproar was an order issued to high schools across the country by the Central Board of Secondary Education to delete, with immediate effect, portions from textbooks that refer to controversial issues such as the Hindu caste system, the archaeological evidence relating to gods such as Ram and Krishna, and the consumption of beef in pre- historic times.

The authorities have also commissioned textbooks to replace existing ones written before Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 1998.

Hindus, who constitute the majority of India's population, today regard the cow as a sacred animal and its slaughter is banned in most provinces.

The meteoric rise of the BJP during the past decade owes a lot to its espousal of Hindu causes.

In recent years, Hindu nationalists have taken over several national research and educational bodies, introduced university courses on quaint subjects such as astrology and Vedic (ancient Hindu mathematics), and are now censoring history books.

Heading the list of censored historians is Romila Thapar, a world authority on ancient India whose book of the period is part of the best-selling Pelican History of India.

In her textbook for Class VI students, Thapar examines the status of cows in village households in ancient India and mentions that "beef was served as a mark of honour to special guests" and that "in later centuries, Brahmans were forbidden to eat beef".

The Government has ordered schools not only to delete this topic, but to ensure that it is never discussed in the classroom.


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