By Mary Ann Chacko
Many Muslims in the South Indian state of Kerala paint their houses green. When I pass by a house painted green, I assume it belongs to a Muslim. Green is the color associated with Muslims and Islam. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have green flags and so does the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a political party based primarily in northern Kerala. But it was not until recently that I realized the ludicrous levels to which this association between green and Muslims could be taken.
A few days ago a controversy broke out in Kerala over, guess what, the introduction of green writing boards in classrooms. A green writing board was installed in a government school in the Muslim dominated Malappuram district in northern Kerala. The writing board was introduced by C. Mammooty, an IUML Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) in his constituency as part of infrastructure development and with the support of the MLA’s development funds.
This move kicked up a controversy in God’s Own Country with members of other political parties, particularly Communist Party of India (Marxist), questioning the “ulterior motives” of the Muslim League and accusing the MLA and his party of trying to communalize public education. Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI(M) state unit secretary, who raised this accusation, stated that “…the move to replace black boards with green writing boards was immature. Normally such changes would have to be introduced on the basis of the recommendations of an expert panel, [but] no such committee had been formed.”
The fact that Kerala’s Education Minister Mr. P.K. Abdu Rabb is a Muslim and a member of the IUML (which is in an alliance with the ruling Congress party) only added vigor to these accusations.
Education is never ideologically neutral and debates over the communalization of education are not new in India. For instance, from 1998 – 2000, the national government was led by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition government, led by the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This period was marked by, what critics of the right-wing government refer to as the process of “saffronisation.”
Saffron is the color of the robe worn by Hindu monks and priests and, hence, has been associated with Hindu religion in India. Saffornisation and, specifically, the “saffronisation of education”, refers to the ways in which the educational domain—policy, textbooks, especially history textbooks, and national institutions, including the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) came under strong pressure to accommodate the ideology of Hindu religious revivalism. Numerous decisions taken by the NCERT during this time, including the contents of National Curriculum Framework (2000), were controversial and critiqued by numerous bodies and individuals across India.
Some of these controversial measures included a new NCERT policy to seek the approval of the selection and representation of historical facts from religious and caste leaders, NCF’s (2000) emphasis on imparting “value education” in schools which was viewed by many as a euphemism for the propagation of a “Hindu heritage”, and the speedy release of new history textbooks whose contents boosted Hindu right-wing ideology. While this was indeed not the first time in India’s history that Hindu nationalists at the Center had attempted to intervene in the question of “what is worth teaching?”, this was certainly the first time that such efforts were successful in penetrating institutions of national importance. In fact Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan who was speaking at a function organized by the Kerala School Teachers’ Association (KSTA), a left-leaning teachers’ union in Kerala, said that “while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Center was trying to saffronize the education sector, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) was attempting to turn it into green.”
In response to these accusations the MLA, the Education Minister, and others have argued that green boards are used in classrooms internationally. The green board was adopted because it is pleasing to the eyes, has a smooth surface, causes less friction and less consumption of chalk, and is line with “the global trend to make everything green.”
Anyway, the people of Kerala have got yet another topic to discuss over cups of tea. As a teacher vehemently declared during tea break in a government school staffroom I was in: “The Muslim League might get away with introducing green writing boards in Malappuram. But it will not be acceptable elsewhere!”
Mary Ann Chacko is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her dissertation examines the Student Police Cadet program implemented in government schools across Kerala, India with a focus on adolescent citizenship and school-community relations. She is an Editor of Cafe Dissensus. Read more of her work on her blog, Chintavishta.
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