CHENNAI: Religious education must have no place in schools, said former Union minister and senior Congress leader Manish Tewari.
Chairing a session on Religious Education: Is it relevant in Secular India, Tewari opened the discussion by sharing his arrow-straight views. “I don’t think that it should have a place in schools. The concept of universal values and moral sciences can be explored instead,” he said.
Though this was a statement that his co-panelists from both sides of the ideological line concurred with, the conversation did heat up substantially from then on. “There is a competition for pushing religious people in schools but in a country which needs to abolish caste inequality and human untouchability, I offer a solution: teach the dignity of human labour to the children,” said Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, noted academic, writer and Dalit rights activist.
“Religious component in Central and State syllabus is on the rise. The left and right wing discourse is on collision course,” he added. Former Union minister Mohammed Arif Khan agreed and said that religious studies must be kept separate –in a theological sphere – without the interference of the government. “Education of theology can’t be undertaken by State and State-funded agencies. Theology must be left to the people,” said Khan, adding that we needed to rely on our Indian philosophy and past and not on theories “borrowed from the West”.
Thinker and academician Rakesh Sinha, who disputed the claim that saffronisation was creeping into education, pointed out that blaming Hinduism was not helping. “We must make a difference between Semitic and non-Semitic religions,” he said and added, “Hinduism is not Semitic, it is a quest for the truth. Schoolchildren need to understand this and they must be liberated from religious prejudices, whichever way it is.”