Hindu-based education, going strong

Just 20 minutes from Anita Chaudary's village, past laborers wearing the loosely wrapped Rajasthani safa around their heads, lies the thatched-roof village of Harpalya. Educating women is a low priority here; of some 150 unmarried girls in the area, only about eight are in secondary school. The main public-policy problem is water. Every 10 days, the village scrapes together 300 rupees to buy 1,500 gallons of water that a tanker dumps into what is little more than a large, sandy hole.

But fortunate sons and daughters of Harpalya increasingly attend the Bharatiya Education Society school. A neat L-shaped building that is constantly under construction, the school is part of the fastest growing network of K-12 schools in India - run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, parent organization of the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu nationalist movement.

Some 200 RSS schools in Rajasthan in the 1980s have become 600 schools today, a ratio repeated across India. Each morning, students do exercises and sit in long rows repeating lines from the Veda, the Hindu sacred text. They attend classes in Hindu moral science, and study the regular Indian curriculum.

The attitude about the girls of Harpalya is summed up by the grandfather of one student, Gopal Gujar. "If they [girls] go to school, we don't mind. She will manage the household better. A job for a daughter is not our consideration. It is the marriage that will improve if she stays in school. The marriage is everything."

Students get a large dose of "Hindutva" values - teachings that argue for the preeminence of India's 5,000- year-old civilization. Girls learn that Hindu females are at their best as mothers. "The woman has a special place in the home," says Jagdish Prasad Gujar, the principal of BET. "Our women, our mothers, help to keep India strong." Mr. Prasad Gujar says his own daughter attends a private school in another village. He hopes she will complete 12th grade and consider going to college as he did. "But in the villages, most families don't let the girls out. They worry something will happen to them that will ruin the family name."

Critics of India's current Indian education policy, like Delhi University School of Education Dean Anil Sadgopal, throw up their hands at such commentary. "Our government knows better than you and I that there will be no jobs," Dr. Sadgopal says. "And so when you hear about education, we are talking about the top 15 percent. That is the emerging India. In the emerging India, you've got info-tech for 15 percent, and Hindutva values for the rest: Listen to what the elders say: Be obedient, sacrifice, be compliant."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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