Former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan wanted his birthday celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India – a day set aside for teachers, rather than about his own birthday.
Till 2014, when Narendra Modi, in the very opposite of Radhakrishnan’s spirit, turned a day dedicated to teachers, into a day about himself.
Schools were ordered by the HRD to make arrangements for students all over the country to view Modi addressing an assembly of schoolchildren in the capital, and answering ‘questions’ that students had been coached to ask. Schools had to change timings in the last minute, to suit Modi’s schedule. So teachers spent the day making hectic arrangements for Modi’s speech rather than enjoying some well-earned rest, relaxation and respect.
All over the country, thousands of ill-paid, overworked, contractualized ‘para-teachers’ work in humiliating and exploitative conditions without basic job-security, salary and training. Modi said not a word on Teachers’ Day about improving their conditions and regularizing them, in keeping with their long-standing demands.
The HRD Ministry had said listening to the speech would not be mandatory. But what was the truth? Several schools, including schools in Delhi, warned that students would face tests on Modi’s speech, and warned students of ‘strict action’ for failing to attend the speech. The Delhi Directorate of Education issued a directive warning Delhi schools that “Any laxity in the arrangements shall be viewed seriously.”
Teachers’ Day, then, became an exercise in regimentation. Schools and students were roped by force into Modi’s image-building exercise, and Modi imposed his views on them.
The speech and ‘interaction’ was also a political exercise. Kids asked Modi ‘questions’ that were obviously tutored, to allow him to give a calculated political response, and repeat some of his pet phrases from his speeches.
In a so-called ‘live interaction’, a girl student from Bastar asked the PM about education in Bastar, Dantewada, giving Modi a chance to praise BJP CM Raman Singh and commend the girl on asking “a question on education that too from a land where there has been lot of blood due to Maoists.” Modi did not speak of the blood of little school-going girls and boys, shed by CRPF in the same areas in firings on harvest festival gatherings of adivasis. In the 2012 Sarkeguda massacre, 15-year-old Kaka Rahul and Madkam Ramvilas, students at a government school in Basaguda who were home on vacation, were shot dead and branded as ‘Maoists.’ 12-year-old Kaka Saraswati also was killed. Modi also didn’t speak of the rapes of little adivasi schoolgirls in Government-run schools in the same region – that the Chhattisgarh Home Minister blamed on ‘bad stars’!
Modi hijacked the day that Dr. Radhakrishnan dedicated to teachers with a mandatory viewing of his speech. Meanwhile Dinanath Batra’s textbooks, with a preface by Modi, that are mandatory reading in Gujarat schools, hijack Dr Radhakrishnan himself, turning his name into a vehicle for racist ideas. Those textbooks tell a racist tale of how the country’s second president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had told the British that white people were like undercooked rotis and Black people were like burnt rotis, while Indians were “rotis cooked right by God.”
With Modi using Teachers’ Day as an image building exercise and Batra’s absurd and reactionary textbooks being legitimized by Modi, the ‘thought control’ in India’s schools is entering into a new and intensified phase. However, the struggle against saffronization and privatization of education, and for regularization of contractualized teachers, will also be intensified.