Students listen to a teacher on the opening day of the new academic year at a government primary school in Hyderabad, southern India, on June 13. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP)
The eminent French writer Honoré de Balzac once said, “How much easier it is to dream a novel than to write one.”
Playing on this aphorism, a well-known scholar of political science similarly observed, “Chopping off sections from a textbook is so much easier than writing one.”
The remark is related to the Indian government’s urge to delete chapters and rewrite school textbooks, especially in the social sciences and history. All part of India’s New Education Policy.
The question is ultimately about control, especially of how people think and how they act. Tampering with textbooks is one way to influence the student’s mind. And the Indian government desperately wants to control the thinking of young people.
It also wishes to outlaw all dissent, fill the television and radio waves with lies and mindless flattery, and suppress all discussion on the real issues facing the country — caste, communalism, the economy and the deteriorating environment.
It is common knowledge that traditional Indian society has been one of the worst regarding how so-called inferiors are treated, meaning socially poor Dalits, indigenous people and women
And since millions of our young people have their minds formed in schools, it is determined to delete and rewrite their textbooks.
There are three main strategies used by all governments. The first is denial. Delete the reference, pretend it never happened. In other words, censorship.
When students study a certain chapter in history — say the Mughals, for instance, the Emergency, or the Gujarat pogroms — certain processes of thinking take place: analyzing the data, arguing over, whether in agreement or dissent, comparing and contrasting, and so on.
Both the Emergency and the Gujarat pogroms point to the failure of multiple institutions. By deleting them from the students’ purview, we do not allow them to be examined, we pretend they never took place, or at the very least, we excise them from the public domain.
The second strategy which governments use is to sanitize the past, paint a rosy picture and create a golden age, which never existed.
Thus a fictitious ideal substitutes for the harsh reality. This is done especially with regard to caste.
It is common knowledge that traditional Indian society has been one of the worst regarding how so-called inferiors are treated, meaning socially poor Dalits, indigenous people and women. But instead of allowing students to comprehend the ramifications of this system of injustice, caste is presented as a pattern of mutual cooperation within a society airbrushed of all bitter inequality.
This means that in actual fact the deprivation of justice and of livelihood goes on as before. In fact, the state looks at protests as destructive of democracy when, in truth, they are its enrichment
The third strategy is perhaps the most subversive. It involves not so much deletion of the past as a restatement and reinterpretation of what “really” took place. In other words, the area of indoctrination.
An important foundational principle of the present fascist government is the ideology of the strong nation-state.
It is the task of this state to tame and domesticate the energy of its citizens whenever expressed in dissent and protests (notice how quickly the government frames charges of sedition and anti-national behavior).
And notice too how the boasts that India is the “largest democracy in the world” remains entirely at the level of a minimalist or electoral democracy. There’s nothing substantive about it at all.
This means that in actual fact the deprivation of justice and of livelihood goes on as before. In fact, the state looks at protests as destructive of democracy when, in truth, they are its enrichment.
Behind the messiness of protest movements is the uncomfortable principle that the same people who voted the government into power should also be capable of rejecting them.
What we’ve said about indoctrination and censorship is true of most governments, not just dictatorships. Sadly, it’s also been largely true of the Catholic Church.
For centuries after Trent , the Index of Forbidden Books kept Catholics from reading the writings of anyone critical of the papacy or the Church, especially philosophical and theological treatises.
Furthermore, those wishing to publish anything related to theology or religious studies had to get a “nihil obstat” (nothing objectionable) and an “imprimatur” (let it be printed) from their local bishop or religious superior.
And for centuries in the Church, in fact, until the Second Vatican Council, the hallmark of all Catholics was obedience verging on subservience and trademark uniformity
That certain church officials even today insist on these permissions only tells us how much the urge to control shaped the Catholic mind.
The question is ultimately about control, especially about controlling how people think and act.
This is why it may be validly asked, is the religious education given in catechism class or the diocesan seminary truly formative — or is it just another form of indoctrination?
Any form of education which doesn’t permit the freedom to question and dissent is simply indoctrination. Or as the Chinese would say, “brainwashing.”
And for centuries in the Church, in fact, until the Second Vatican Council, the hallmark of all Catholics was obedience verging on subservience and trademark uniformity.
Pope Francis has changed all this, but notice how he is ridiculed and hated for what he is trying to accomplish through synodality. Francis clearly wants various opinions aired in the Church, as the preparations for his earlier synods have shown.
It is his bishops and cardinals who are apprehensive of the voices of the laity. It is they who pretend to have all the answers.
Censorship and indoctrination, these two relics of feudal control, are unfortunately still with us. They need not be. It all depends on how seriously we take our civic responsibilities and our democratic liberties.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.