Indian revelers celebrate the Hindu spring festival of Holi at the Swaminarayan Temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on March 18. (Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP)
A Catholic priest and human rights activist from the western Indian state of Gujarat has welcomed the inclusion of a Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, in the school syllabus but warned against growing majoritarianism.
“The study of any and every religious or holy book needs to be welcomed all at all times. However, introducing only the study of Bhagavad Gita smacks of majoritarianism, which is violative of the secular fabric of the country,” Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash told UCA News.
The provincial government in Gujarat announced on March 17 that the Hindu scripture will be taught to students from classes 6-12 to cultivate a sense of pride and connection with their traditions.
The government in southern India's Karnataka state has also hinted at introducing Bhagavad Gita to its school syllabus. Both states are ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Father Prakash said the decision “though not totally unexpected” was “yet another step toward the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation).”
The Catholic priest said the government must reconsider and instead introduce a well-planned course involving the study of all major world religions and their holy books including the Bible, Quran, Guru Granth Sahib, Avesta, Tripitaka, Agamas and others along with the sacred Hindu scriptures.
“Maybe options could be given to individual students to choose religious books of their choice to enable learning irrespective of their family or individual faith”
“The whole nation today has much to learn from these holy scriptures that propagate love, non-violence, tolerance, respect, justice, equality, fraternity, unity and freedom of all,” Father Prakash said.
A.C. Michael, convener of the United Christian Forum, told UCA News that “minority educational institutions run by Christians, Sikhs, Jains and other communities are already teaching their students their respective religious texts.”
“Maybe options could be given to individual students to choose religious books of their choice to enable learning irrespective of their family or individual faith,” said the Catholic lay leader who is a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission.
Michael felt the study of multiple religions will “strengthen the secular and democratic fabric of our country as all religions teach equality.”
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as the Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata, dating back to the second half of the first millennium BCE.
Gujarat’s Education Minister Jitu Vaghani told the state’s assembly that the Bhagavad Gita’s message was universal and its values, principles and importance were accepted by people of all religions.
Vaghani said students will be introduced to the Hindu scripture in the form of essays, debates, plays and quizzes. The opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party welcomed the ruling BJP’s decision.