A phrase, asking children to question without fear, has turned into a controversy in Karnataka

The decision sparked a controversy as the BJP claimed that the government was trying to create a “confrontational mindset” among students.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Feb 19, 2024 | 5:41 PMUpdatedFeb 19, 2024 | 5:41 PM

Karnataka Morarji Desai Schools Social Welfare Kuvempu BJP Controversy

Karnataka’s Social Department’s latest directive to all the residential schools asking to use the phrase “This is a temple of knowledge, question without fear” paved the way for fresh controversy in the state on Monday, 19 February. The first half of the phrase is borrowed from a popular line of Jnanpith awardee Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa (Kuvempu).

The original version of the phrase, written by Mahakavi Kuvempu, is: “This is a temple of knowledge, come inside with folded hands”.

Last week, the social welfare department of the state government directed all the residential schools under it to use the changed phrase at the entrance of all these institutions.

The decision sparked a controversy as the Opposition BJP in the state claimed that the government was trying to create a “confrontational mindset” among the students at residential schools.

Countering the BJP’s criticism, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar said: “BJP does not have any job. They will always be busy finding mistakes. They don’t think about life, instead, they think about the sentiments. We think about life but they work towards disturbing society.”

When the media asked Minister for Social Welfare Dr HC Mahadevappa, he appeared to have had no clue about the directives issued on making changes to Kuvempu’s phrase in the residential schools.

“Why should we change the writings of poets?” Mahadevappa asked reporters at Vidhana Soudha.

Also Read: Supreme Court grants relief to Siddaramaiah; stays proceedings

‘Trying to create a confrontational mindset’

Opposition leaders including former chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, BJP state president BY Vijayendra and former deputy chief minister and MLA Dr CN Ashwath Narayan criticised the government, stating that the Congress’ anti-Hindu mindset has led to issuing such orders.

Bommai told reporters: “With changing the following phrase from ‘This is a temple of knowledge, come with a folded hand’ to ‘This is a temple of knowledge, question boldly’ in the residential schools, the state government is seeding the confrontation attitude in the young minds.”

“The Congress government is trying to take political mileage by creating confrontation in the society as well as in the minds of youths. The rice is not available in the government residential schools. For this reason, the Opposition parties have been saying that the government treasury is empty.”

“Without giving funds for development, the government has put up the board of ‘Karnataka is free from hunger’. First, you give the food and knowledge to the school students,” charged Bommai.

Stating that this has been done to provoke students against teachers, BJP state chief Vijayendra said: “Schools are holy places. Congress is indulged in an anti-Hindu mindset by issuing an oral order through a senior IAS office to change the Kuvempu’s phrase in all the government residential schools.”

“A few days ago, the government issued a circular banning the celebration of religious festivals in schools. It was withdrawn after it faced severe backlash. This phrase appears like it encourages students to provoke against the teachers,” Vijayendra said.

He also cautioned the government of facing consequences, if it failed to change the directives issued pertaining to changes made for Kuvempu’s phrase in the residential schools.

Opposing this, Narayan said: “The Congress government is trying to brainwash the minds of the poor children by changing Kuvempu’s lines.”

“What is the intention of your government which is going to change these intuitive lines and sow Jihadi mentality and Naxal ideology in the minds of students?” Narayan wrote on X attempting to give a communal colour to the issue.

Also Read: Wayanad wild elephant attack: Karnataka government to pay compensation

Directive by the social welfare department

Last week, a senior official of the social welfare department reportedly issued an oral directive to all the residential schools to change Kuvempu’s phrase at the main building or the entrance of the schools.

The department had directed to change it in all the residential schools, especially in Moorarji Desai residential schools across the state.

Following the orders of the higher official, most of the residential schools have made changes to the phrase. The picture of the new phrase has gone viral on social media, attracting criticism from the Opposition leaders.

However, the officials at the department clarified that the phrase was changed to encourage students and their parents to question the facilities including food and basic amenities in the residential schools.

Vijayapura’s Social Welfare Department Deputy Director Pundalik Manavar told reporters on Monday: “Kuvempu’s phrase has been changed on the directives issued by the higher officials in the telegram channel. The main intention of changing the phrase is to encourage the students and their parents to question the school authorities.”

“The students and parents can boldly question the school authorities about the food and basic amenities being provided in the residential institutions,” added Manavar.

Criticizing the BJP, Shivakumar told reporters on Monday: “I don’t have much information on the matter. We are spreading the message, thoughts and works of Kuvempu, who has promoted the concept of universality.”

Meanwhile, Mahadevappa appeared to have had no idea about the developments that occurred in his own department.

Also Read: An ‘editor’ gave the Karnataka budget a communal spin

Expert’s take

Responding to the change made to Kuvempu’s phrase, Education Expert Niranjan Aradhya asserted that education was a tool to empower children and develop critical thinking among them and it was not a matter to create controversy.

He also points to the Constitution and National Education Policies that stress the need to develop a scientific temper and critical thinking.

According to the 42nd amendment to Article 51A(h): “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”

Aradhya told South First: “I am not in a position to understand why this trivial issue created such a big controversy. Education is to make students think critically and to educate what is right and wrong and ask questions as well.”

“If children are prevented from asking questions, then will create such a land of system where slavery prevails. Education is for liberation. It is to make students courageous and increase their questioning ability and thinking ability,” added the education expert.

He further pointed out: “Even in the Constitution and in all our education policies — from the beginning in 1968 — we talk about the scientific temper, critical thinking and many other things.”

“A renowned Brazilian philosopher explains the existing education system in a banking concept. He says that the teacher believes that he/she knows everything and deposits it in the students.”

“They should have changed the phrase to “This is a temple of knowledge, come inside with folded hands, question boldly”. Education is a tool to empower students and their critical thinking. If anything is wrong then it should be questioned. Students should be developed with such a mindset,” Niranjan Aradhya added that it is not a matter to create a controversy.

The Opposition party also raised this issue in the Assembly and demanded an answer from the government on the matter on Monday.