SAFFRON TEXTS : IN 264 CITY SCHOOLS, STUDENTS LEARN ‘TRUE VALUES’ FROM BOOKS ON RAMAYANA, MAHABHARATA AS CULTURAL BODY EXPANDS BASE
Pallavi Singh, Mumbai, February 28:
SITTING in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) nondescript office in Grant Road, Mohan Salekar, a banker, is a man on a mission.
‘‘There are 60,000 of these to be distributed among students in Mumbai,’’ he says, pointing to the pile of Mahabharata and Ramayana books around him. ‘‘Then, there are four other states too.’’
Salekar’s urgency is understandable. He’s the convenor of the Srimad Ramayan Parichay Yojana Samiti, a cultural organisation that’s conducting a VHP-sponsored ‘‘value education’’ course across 264 city schools—both civic and privately owned—to propagate what it considers are ‘‘true values’’.
The course is taught free to Std V to Std IX students during school hours. Students who clear the Samiti’s annual exam get a certificate and a silver medal.
The objective? ‘‘To reinforce the ideals of Lord Rama and Krishna in today’s children who are increasingly being influenced by violence and finding their role models in film actors,’’ explains Salekar.
So, the textbook Charitra Ramayan teaches students that Sita and Urmila are ‘ideal wives’ and Lakshman and Bharat, ‘ideal brothers’. Two of the books close with Sri Ram Rakshastrotra, a compilation of verses praising Lord Rama.
While volunteers have been touring Maharashtra and aggressively promoting the course since 2003—the initiative has spread to other states and abroad too (see box)—the Samiti is now planning to write to parent-teacher associations.
‘‘We will directly approach the parents as schools are often reluctant to adopt the programme fearing their objections,’’ says Salekar.
Recently, the Samiti even roped in TV actor and BJP leader Smriti Irani as its ‘brand ambassador’.
‘‘But we want to stay away from politics,’’ insists Salekar. ‘‘We began with a Congress-ruled state and have come this far. The BJP-ruled states on our expansion plan are coincidence.’’
The schools aren’t complaining either. ‘‘Twenty per cent of my students are Muslims, but no parent has opposed the programme so far,’’ says Priyanka Rajani, principal of Vidya Nidhi School, Juhu.
For two years, it’s a Vidya Nidhi student, Salman Siddiqui, who has been topping the exams. ‘‘That’s because we teach it as a value education subject, not as a religious book,’’ says Rajani.
Spreading the word
The 1,500-member Samiti has books on Katharup Ramayan for Std V students, Charitra Ramayan for Std VI students and Katharup Mahabharat for Std VII and VIII students
The course is taught in 429 schools across Maharashtra, in Marathi, Hindi, English and Gujarati. In other states, there are texts in the mother tongue and in English too
369 schools in Karnataka, 22 in Arunachal Pradesh, 14 in Assam and two in Nagaland have opted for the course. The initiative was also launched in the US this year
In 2007, the course will be introduced in schools in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat—all BJP-ruled states—and the United Kingdom