Vidya Bharati, short for Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, is a non government educational organization which runs one of the largest private network of schools in India. It is the educational wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It has its registered headquarters in Lucknow, a functional headquarters in Delhi and a sub-office in Kurukshetra.
RSS established its first Saraswati Shishu Mandir brand of school in Gorakhpur in 1952, under the leadership of Nanaji Deshmukh. Prior to that a Gita school was established at Kurukshetra in 1946 with the initiative of the RSS chief M. S. Golwalkar. The ban on RSS in 1948 put a damper on the spread of the Gita school model. However, the Saraswati Shishu Mandir model was quickly replicated in several locations. As the number of schools increased, a committee Shishu Shiksha Prabandak Samiti, was set up to coordinate activities at the state level. Similar schools and committees were subsequently set up in Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. In 1977-78, an all-India apex body, Vidya Bharati was set up to coordinate the activities between the state committees, headquartered in Delhi. This coincided with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh coming to power in Delhi as part of the Janata Party. Vidya Bharati had an associated National Academic Council with educationists who were not necessarily associated with RSS and enjoyed the trust of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). By early 1990's, the network had grown to 5,000 schools and, by 2003, further grown to 14,000 schools with 1.7 million pupils. This expansion was facilitated by the growing demand for education in India and the disaffection with the state school system. It was also helped by patronage by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whenever it was in power in the states, or in the Centre during 1999-2004 with Murli Manohar Joshi as the education minister.
In addition to formal schools (which go by a variety of names such as shishu vatikas, shishu mandirs, vidya mandir, saraswati vidyalas etc.), Vidya Bharati also runs sanskar kendras (cultural schools) and single-teacher schools for cultural education. It controls over 250 intermediate colleges and about 25 institutions of higher education and training colleges. It has schools in remote areas of the north-eastern states as well as states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where RSS does not have much influence. Particular attention is given to underdeveloped regioins and regions inhabited by tribal communities. It has over 50 state and regional committees affiliated to it, making it the largest voluntary association in India. Funds for this expansion have been collected through various means, including charities across the world. According Awaaz, a London-based organisation, a significant portion of the Sewa International earthquake funds for Gujarat have been used to build RSS schools. The network also benefited from favourable allotment of land by Jana Sangh and BJP politicians. Nanaji Deshmukh believed that the movement had turned `materialistic,' obsessed with expansion, land, buildings and resources but not paying enough attention to recruiting high-quality teachers.
The schools attract the children of urban and small-town shopkeepers and those of professional and government official families.
Vidya Bharati runs one of the largest private network of schools in India. As of March 2002, it had 17,396 schools, 2.2 million students, over 93,000 teachers, 15 teacher training colleges, 12 degree colleges and 7 vocational and training institutions. Most of the Vidya Bharati schools are affiliated to the Central Board for Secondary Education or their local State Boards. Vidya Bharati-run educational programs were adopted in Madhya Pradesh as an alternate model of education when BJP was in power.
Ideology and Objectives
The organization believes that a large population in India do not have access to education and so its focus is villages under-privileged locality and tribal area. They encourage economic self-reliance, good health, and hygiene. It says that that all round development of a child has to be achieved through education and inculcation of time honored traditions.
It believes that the current system of education in India has its roots unduly based on the Western way of fulfillment of life and that the all-round development of the personality of the child is not possible without spiritual development. They aim to develop the students physically, mentally and spiritually, and make them capable of facing challenges of daily life and thus contribute to nation building.
At a 1998 conference of State education ministers, Vidya Bharati made proposals for school education to be "Indianized, nationalized and spiritualized", with the teaching of "the essentials of Indian culture" which was perceived as "Hindu education". There were concerns when the Uttar Pradesh Government made it mandatory to start the school day with Vande Mataram and Saraswati Vandana and the Muslim League forbade Muslim schoolchildren from joining in the singing. Vidya Bharati also demands that Sanskrit be taught in all schools and sponsors the revision of textbooks which give a Hindu outlook of history and use Hindu examples in comprehension exercises.
Dinanath Batra, former General Secretary of Vidya Bharati, said that they were fighting an "ideological battle against Macaulay, Marx and Madrasawadis". In comparison to which Vidya Bharati advocates "Indianization, nationalization and spiritualization" of education. In the areas of study that are peripheral to the core curriculum, like physical education, music and cultural education, the institution worked out its own curriculum.
Wherever they are forced to use the standard NCERT textbooks, Vidya Bharati schools supplement them with their own books which emphasize the Hindutva ideology. They blame the `internal disunity' of Hindus for the invasions of Turks, Mongols and Mughals. Any evidence of Hindu-Muslim collaboration is seen as a `betrayal' by Hindus. Christian pastors are described as instruments of colonialism. The Hindu divinities and historical Hindu heroes are listed along with RSS founders Hedgewar and Golwalkar.
In addition to the prescribed curriculum, the Vidya Bharati schools teach five extra subjects: moral education, which includes stories of heroes, songs, honesty and personal hygiene, physical education, which includes learning to wield a stick, martial arts and yoga, music, Sanskrit and Vedic mathematics. Girls are given kanya bharati sessions where they learn sowing and cooking and taught to become good housewives and mothers like "Jijabai" and "Lakshmibai".
In the morning assembly, the children are taught to sing prayers and songs steeped in religious devotion and the spirit of patriotism. Assemblies and stage performances organized on Hindu festivals also serve to convey the Hindutva ideology. The virtual absence of non-Hindu children in the schools leads to a collective sense of Hindu identity. In the words of a Vidya Bharati commentator "dedication to the mother land with a deep Bharatiya spirit inculcates in the child the will to change his character [and] adjust his nature and programme so as to fulfill the nation's will and necessity."
The schools place a great emphasis on physical `defence' of religion couched in nationalistic terms. During national day celebrations, like the Republic Day, pupils are given speeches on terrorism, self-defence and the need to fight Pakistan. Songs extol the need to fight the "neighbouring country" and demolish it as "brave children of Savarkar." India is placed as a peaceful nation sandwiched between "conservative, fundamentalist, terrorist Muslim community" and the "powerful American community". Hindus face danger from enemies both outside and inside the country. The Constitution laid down the rights and duties for all, but "some people" only thought of their own rights and did "injustice" to the rights of the others. Despite all appearances, students claim that they are taught only about 'Indian' culture and deny that they are taught to hate other communities.
The schools also use the students as conduits for spreading RSS ideology. The teachers to go to students' houses to tell the parents about their children's performance and the activities in the schools. Children are asked to take home pamphlets about RSS and VHP activities to their parents. Promising students and volunteers are sent to RSS summer camps for further ideological training.
The state-level affiliate committees of Vidya Bharati go by various names, depending on the socio-political situation in each state:
- Delhi: Hindu Shiksha Samiti
- Haryana: Hindu Shiksha Samiti
- Punjab: Sarv Hitkari Shiksha Samiti
- Bihar: Vidya Vikas Samiti
- Jharkhand: Vananchal Shiksha Samiti, Vidya Vikas Samiti, Shishu Shiksha Vikas Samiti
- Orissa: Shiksha Vikas Samiti
- Andhra Pradesh: Sri Saraswati Vidya Peetham
- Tamil Nadu: Tamil Kalvi Kazhagam, Vivekananda Kendra and others
- Kerala: Bharatiya Vidya Niketan
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