Learning in Saffron:
RSS Schools in Orissa
by Angana Chatterji
Asian Age, November 11, 2003 original
In Orissa, over the last five years the Sangh Parivar's tentacles
have spread and thickened. Minorities, refugees, and the poor --
the social crevices in which they live narrow from neglect. The
disenfranchised struggle to confront social violence. The annexation
of territory and resources from the subaltern, the imposition of
virulent ideologies and alienating economies, have produced diverse
identity politics defining contested practices of citizenship.
At the intersections of globalization and hyper nationalism, Hindutva
intervenes, unravelling the fragile fabric of democracy.
The communalization of education is a serious concern across India.
Sectarian education campaigns undertaken by Hindu extremist groups
demonize minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist curricula.
Such corruption of education incites the political and social fires
of communalism. The RSS has spearheaded the movement, successfully
penetrating into the educational systems of both the grassroots
and centralized regulatory commissions. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh (RSS) has fashioned an institutional umbrella that is having
a damaging impact on education at the grassroots. The RSS has established
Vanvasi Kalyan Parishads, Vivekananda Kendras, Sewa Bharatis and
other groups to advance the ideological agenda of Hindu nationalism.
The RSS administers 9,300 Ekal Vidyalayas in adivasi areas. For
the diversity of cultures allied under the rubric of 'adivasi',
the ongoing reality of Hinduization offers evidence of their gradual
and brutal incorporation into this caste system.
Created by the RSS in 1978, the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya
Shiksha Sansthan network focuses on moral, extracurricular and
physical education for 'mind, body and spirit'. The Vidya Bharati
system supervises over 18,000 schools across India, with 1.8 million
students and 80,000 teachers. A shared curriculum is used across
the country. The Vidya Bharati operates 60 graduate institutions.
About 5,000 Vidya Bharatis are endorsed by Education Boards primarily
in states where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power..
Known as Shiksha Vikas Samiti, Vidya Bharati directs 391 Saraswati
Shishu Mandir schools with 111,000 students in Orissa. The RSS
has constructed a network of educational institutions across the
state. Initially the RSS maintained a public distance between the
Sangh and Vidya Bharati. In recent years, as Hindutva consolidates
its position in Orissa, the RSS has actively declared its affiliation
with these schools. Rashtra Deepa, the RSS Oriya weekly, regularly
chronicles some of the academic aspirations of the Sangh Parivar.
Most RSS run schools are affiliated with the State Board of Education
and adhere to the state approved curricula. As the Sangh infiltrates
into regulatory bodies and actively leads the rewriting of textbooks
and reorganization of the curriculum, the classroom transforms
into an agent of Hindutva.
With the increasing impetus on the privatization of education,
the RSS has been actively inaugurating schools in areas across
Orissa where the government fails to provide public funding. The
vigorous assertion of Sanskrit provides for the erasure and Hinduization
of minority languages. History, science, geography, literature,
religious texts are interpreted into Hindutva. These texts, written
in Oriya, are taught in schools and available in bookstores. The
texts weave disparaging and malevolent fictions about minority
groups, inciting Hindus to revenge history. The curriculum is censored
and obscurantist, interpreted to legitimate the sanctity of a 'Hindu
worldview' in India and the assembling of a Hindu state. It enables
Hindu nationalism in advancing 'righteous' violence for ethnic
cleansing. The RSS broadcasts this education as 'holistic', patriotic
These schools are financed by individual donations and contributions
from various charitable organizations such as the Mumbai based
Bhansali Trust. These schools also offer income generation and
computer skills. They serve as gathering places for Sangh organizations
providing youth contact with Hindutva leaders. Parents say they
are drawn to RSS run schools because they are affordable and profess
to educate children in culture and religion, history and ritual.
Students receive ideological training through extra-curricular
activity as well. They participate in development work and disaster
relief, politicizing education and linking it to social service.
An RSS worker in Bhubaneswar speaks with pride. "We ask people
to devote one hour a day for their country, in the name of the
motherland. To gather in a field and play Indian games; with sticks,
swords, other exercises, teach youth to march, some musical instruments.
And then we workers discuss the ideology of the RSS -- what Hinduism
is, how Hindu culture was great and how it is fading, how the youth
must become involved to revive and purify it."
Through regular educational camps, he continues, the RSS recruits
teachers and campaigners. Their task is to draw people to the Sangh. "To
convince people that the country is in danger, the motherland is
in danger. To tell people that no matter who they are, if they
return to Hinduism there is place for them in the nation." After
training, RSS state and district units send campaigners to serve
within the different wings of the Sangh Parivar, and to the rural
areas to recruit and organize the Sangh cadre.
The RSS holds month long training sessions across Orissa during
summer vacations to attract students and young children. From these
sessions, the RSS recruits for the Officers Training Camps (OTC).
Held twice a year, the OTC provides schooling in self-defense and
leadership. Around 500 people attend each year. On completion,
approximately100 join the organization as campaigners. Graduates
take an oath, "I will devote my body, mind, and money (tana,
mana, bhana) to the motherland." For about 10 recruits, this
develops into a lifelong, intense and full time commitment. Each
December, the RSS organizes the Sita Shibir, a 7-10 day winter
camp. The families of attendees finance the camps. The growth of
the RSS testifies to the success of these camps. The RSS boasts
of 50,000 shakhas in India, 2500 in Orissa with a 100,000 strong
In Orissa, the RSS charges that aggressive Hinduization is a 'rational'
and warranted response to, among other factors, the growth of missionary
activity leading to an increase in the Christian population. In
fact, Christians constitute less than 3 percent of the population
in the state, with a 1 percent increase since 1981. The Christian
population in India does not record any appreciable increase from
2.6 percent in 1971, to 2.43 in 1981, 2.34 in 1991, and 2.6 in
History is animated through extra curricular activities, seminars
and workshops. New heroes, timelines, events emerge to construct
India's antiquity, to naturalize her geo-political borders, to
define her heritage as Hindu. History is rewritten to determine
belonging and un-belonging. Difference is represented as 'other',
a threat to the integrity of India as a Hindu nation, unless manipulated
and straitjacketed. A whole new generation is being grown indoctrinated
in Hindutva. It is a devious strategy to teach hate to the young.
Note: Information used in this article is derived from multiple
sources, including interviews with persons affiliated with Sangh
Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology
at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco