Furore over Golwalkar and Savarkar texts reveals our failure to understand purpose of syllabus and pedagogy

Kannur University has reportedly decided to drop the writings of V D Savarkar and M S Golwalkar from its master of arts course on Governance and Politics. The university had included portions from Golwalkar’s books, including Bunch of Thoughts, and Savarkar’s Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? in the syllabus of PG Governance and Politics. This course is taught only in Brennen College, under Kannur University, so the syllabus was prepared by the faculty of the Brennan College, which is how it should be.

After opposition by the student wing of the Congress and the IUML, the CPM’s student wing SFI, which was earlier silent on the issue, found the readings unacceptable. The student outfits of the opposition parties agitated, alleging that the university was saffronising the syllabus by including these two ideologues of Hindutva.

The state government led by the CPM sought an explanation from the university. Vice-Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran rejected the charges, saying: “The saffronisation allegation is completely baseless. If you raise such allegations against Kannur University, you can raise similar charges against Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi also. V D Savarkar is included in the syllabus of JNU also.”

This is not a very sound argument. JNU cannot be a benchmark for all academic decisions. They should stand on their own merit. The VC was right to an extent when he said that the syllabus should have representation from all ideologies to allow students to study them critically with a comparative mind.


But a syllabus cannot fight politics. So, the VC had to form an external expert committee, which has apparently suggested that it be removed from the third semester.

This controversy reminded me of an unrelated incident. Approximately 15 years ago, when the UPA was in power and DU was looking for a new VC, I bumped into a leader of a communist party. She informed me that she had managed to stop a problematic academic from being considered for the post. How can a scholar who had made Savarkar part of the syllabus be allowed to head DU, she asked. I was dumbstruck. That having Savarkar in the PG course of political science would pollute the minds of the students was an absurd idea.

Hindutva is a political reality of our times and we need to understand how it works intellectually. Savarkar and Golwalkar are the most significant proponents of this ideology. Without reading them, how can you have an idea of this project which has overrun India and is attractive to many minds?

A syllabus is not a set of propaganda material. When we include readings of different kinds, we expect them to be read and examined critically from all angles. Obviously, you do not compromise with some fundamental values. Genocide or racial supremacy cannot be treated as valid viewpoints. But we do need to understand how genocidal ideas turn into common sense. For that, we would need to study those who successfully drove their masses towards such an ideology. How do you understand fascism if you do not read Mussolini or Mein Kampf?

But we fight our syllabus battles in a very unacademic manner. It remains all about representation, be it historical figures or writers. We never look at the making of a syllabus from the pedagogical angle. In his essay, ‘Education after Auschwitz’, Theodore Adorno said that the primary task before education today is to not let another Auschwitz happen. How can you achieve this if you do not understand how people willingly became complicit in the crime and how others found it acceptable? Also, why did many people not think it their business to be bothered about it?

It would be instructive to look at the debate in Germany on the teaching of Mein Kampf in schools. After the expiry of the book’s copyright, its publication became possible. The German teachers’ union and Social-Democratic Party (SPD) asked for extracts from the book to be included in the school curriculum as a means of teaching students about the roots of racism and modern anti-Semitism in Germany.

It was argued that it was important to historically unmask this anti-Semitic, dehumanising polemical pamphlet. It could be done by explaining the propaganda mechanism with the help of appropriately qualified teachers.

The reference to Mein Kampf evokes strong emotions and the concerns of the Jews cannot be ignored. But by not critically analysing “this antithesis of humanity, freedom and openness to the world”, you leave it open to be read only as propaganda.

The VC of the Kannur University should have engaged the critics in a discussion on these lines, as to how we deal with an anti-human text to build society’s resistance to the temptation of such a monstrous ideology. It is not a question of doing a balancing act by having the texts of all ideologies together without any educational objective. In a country like India, where Islamophobia is ruining national life, the task of education is to make young minds aware of the theoretical underpinnings of this disease. It is all the more important as followers of Savarkar and Golwalkar do not want their writings to be discussed critically. The RSS wants to whitewash Golwalkar to hide his real intent. The task before the scholarship is to present him in his entirety to make the students see what his ideology is.

While discussing syllabi and readings, we need to treat our teachers and students as intelligent, responsible beings. The teacher does not merely transfer something cooked and the student is not an inert recipient. This is what the VC of Kannur University should have conveyed to the government. And the government should not have interfered in the academic decision-making process of the university.

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