- While the phenomenon is not new, what was once directed mainly against Dalits, the RSS-run and influenced institutions are systematically targeting members of minority communities.
To grasp the gravity of this issue, we must turn back the clock to the 1840s and delve into the history of Savitribai Phule, a pioneer of education who faced numerous obstacles. During that period, a remarkable woman named Fatima Sheikh stood by her side. Not only did Fatima’s brother, Usman Sheikh, provide shelter to the Phule couple, but he also established a school for girls in his home in 1848. This was a time when lower-caste Hindus were systematically excluded from educational opportunities. Savitribai Phule encountered relentless opposition from upper-caste Hindus who socially humiliated and ostracized her. She endured physical attacks, including stone-throwing and dung-hurling. Fatima Sheikh, too, was a target of this bigotry.
Tragically, this animosity against marginalized sections of society among upper-caste Hindus seems ingrained in their upbringing. Today, this disturbing reality has metamorphosed from ‘caste-based hatred’ to ‘religion-based hatred.’ Even after the Muzaffarnagar school incident, numerous cases have emerged where children in classrooms exhibit ‘hatred,’ with teachers shamelessly displaying their biases.
A close friend of mine, a government school teacher in Bihar, recently confided that not a single Muslim student attends his school. Despite a nearby Muslim village, they opt to send their children to a government school located around two kilometers away, fearing the high number of teachers there with communal tendencies—individuals who promote enmity against other communities. Instances of derogatory remarks based on religion have been documented. When I asked him if this was true, he nodded, saying, “There was once a headmaster who was communal, but I can assure you that there is no one more communal than some teachers today. They openly endorse the concept of a Hindu nation and harbor animosity toward Muslims. Even the students are gradually succumbing to this prejudice. For instance, when they spot someone with a beard or wearing a cap, they derogatorily refer to them as ‘Miyaa’.”
I recently spoke with the older brother of a friend who has been researching countries to potentially relocate from India. When I asked why he contemplated leaving, especially since his business is based in Delhi, he expressed concern for his daughters. He cited numerous cases of mental and physical harassment targeting Muslim girls in schools and colleges due to the increasingly communal atmosphere.
The Muzaffarnagar school incident is just one in a long line of similar incidents. Videos on social media have exposed hatred among students, such as the incident in Indore where children brutally assaulted a young child while forcing him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Pakistan Murdabad.’ On August 21, a video from Bihar’s Kaimur district depicted a Muslim child in school uniform being attacked and coerced into chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ Another video from August 15 featured a ‘Rashtraputri’ celebrating the presence of Bajrang Dal members in her school, actively promoting Hindutva and declaring, “I have made them Hindu by raising them above castes.”
In a disturbing incident from Mehsana, Gujarat, a school chose to honor the second-ranking student instead of the top scorer, simply because the latter was a Muslim. A video from Delhi’s Gandhi Nagar went viral, showing a government school teacher making derogatory remarks about Muslims and Islam in the classroom. We must not forget the incident in a Jammu school where a student wrote ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on the blackboard. When a Muslim teacher intervened to stop this act of hatred, Hindutva supporters and students openly propagated ‘hate’ on the streets, leading to the teacher’s arrest. We also recall a teacher in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district who, on September 2, threatened Muslim children by saying, ‘Go to Pakistan.’
The list of such incidents is extensive, and merely debating them will not bring about change. Instead, the focus should be on understanding how the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) indoctrinates teachers with communal ideologies. What are the curricula and teachings in RSS-affiliated schools across India? What values are being imparted there?
Having personally witnessed how Hindutva organizations disseminated their divisive ideologies among school children in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region in 2016, I can attest to the insidious nature of this indoctrination. These organizations propagate the idea that all communities in India, apart from Hindus, are of foreign origin, labeling them treacherous and untrustworthy. To truly grasp the extent of this ideological trap, one must watch the documentary ‘Saffron War: A War Against Nation’ by Rajeev Yadav, Shahnawaz Alam, and Laxman Prasad.
Additionally, reading “RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project” by Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee, and Sucheta Mahajan, published by SAGE in 2008, is highly recommended. One can also review the report submitted by the Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE) to the Government of India in 2006, after which the then HRD Minister Arjun Singh cautioned against the “venom” being injected into society by RSS-affiliated institutions. He unequivocally stated, ‘The nation should understand the damage being done by RSS-run institutions.”
Religion-based hatred, or communalism, can only thrive in society if communal ideology is effectively inculcated in the younger generation. RSS identified schools as the ideal medium for spreading its ideology. In 1946, under the leadership of RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar, the “School of Hatred” was conceived, aimed at indoctrinating innocent young minds with hatred and mistrust toward Muslims and Christians. In pursuit of this objective, a Geeta school was established in Kurukshetra, Haryana. Although it briefly faltered when the RSS was banned in 1948, it resurfaced in 1952 when Nanaji Deshmukh founded the Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. Subsequently, numerous schools were established under different names, collectively boasting over 50,000 branches nationwide, producing an unknown number of ‘religious warriors’ from these hate-based institutions.
The leaders of the opposition parties of India, who have opened such a “shop of love” (Muhabbat Ki Dukaan), have to think that if they want to fight a long battle with the RSS and the BJP, which are getting stronger in India, then first of all, all the “haters” of the RSS will have to be defeated from the states where they are in power. The “hate schools” have to be closed. Along with this, “schools of love’” will also have to be established across India based on the thoughts of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Only then will the opposition parties be able to rebuild India in the next few decades, which was dreamed of by the freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the country? Otherwise, no one can stop India from burning in the fire of hatred in the future.
Afroz Alam Sahil is an Indian journalist and author. He can be contacted at @afrozsahil on Twitter.