There’s a new case of religion making its way into public schools, where fiction is taught as fact and mythical beliefs override what academic scholars say.
Except this case has nothing to do with Christianity or Creationism. It takes place in India, where 42,000 schools across the western state of Gujarat have some new compulsory reading material.
The 125-page book, Tejomay Bharat,… was recently mandated as supplementary reading by the Gujarat government for all government primary and secondary schools.
Published by the Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB), the book seeks to teach children “facts” about history, science, geography, religion and other “basics”.
What are some of these “facts”?
“… America wants to take the credit for invention of stem cell research, but the truth is that India’s Dr Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar has already got a patent for regenerating body parts…. You would be surprised to know that this research is not new and that Dr Matapurkar was inspired by the Mahabharata [an ancient epic that includes the Bhagavad Gita].
“We know that television was invented by a priest from Scotland called John Logie Baird in 1926. But we want to take you to an even older Doordarshan… Indian rishis using their yog vidya would attain divya drishti. There is no doubt that the invention of television goes back to this… In Mahabharata, Sanjaya sitting inside a palace in Hastinapur and using his divya shakti would give a live telecast of the battle of Mahabharata… to the blind Dhritarashtra”.
“What we know today as the motorcar existed during the Vedic period. It was called anashva rath. Usually a rath (chariot) is pulled by horses but an anashva rath means the one that runs without horses or yantra-rath, what is today a motorcar. The Rig Veda refers to this…”
“It is better to die for one’s religion. An alien religion is a source of sorrow,” the book says on Page 118. “Guru Gobind Singh had four sons — Ajit Singh, Juzar Singh, Zoravar Singh and Fateh Singh… King’s men tried hard to convince them, but they courageously replied, ‘Our grandfather Guru Tegh Bahadur gave his head for saving Hindu religion and we will also give our lives but will never leave our religion’.”
Frightening. And just inaccurate in so many ways. Thinking of a hypothetical technology doesn’t mean you created it or necessarily inspired it. And saying it was all predicted in ancient epics misleads students into thinking there’s something more to those ancient texts than there really is.
The textbook in question — along with several others — is written by Dina Nath Batra (his name is sometimes spelled in other ways), a former teacher who essentially has the same mindset as a Religious Right school board member from Texas. Batra has a history of complaining about the contents of history and science books. In 2007, the government of Madhya Pradesh (a state in India) followed Batra’s advice and replaced sex education with yoga.
Each book also includes a message from now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat.
Despite criticism, the state government says it has no plans to replace or correct the textbooks this year.