Yet another state government initiative to “saffronise” government schools has invited severe criticism from the Opposition and progressive thinkers.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai laid the foundation stone for the construction of classrooms under the “Viveka Classroom Scheme” at Madiyal Tanda of Kalaburagi taluka on Monday, 14 November. The government aims to develop 7,601 classrooms across the state under this scheme.
Politicians across parties welcomed the initiative but criticised the government for planning to give a saffron coat of paint to classroom walls.
In Gadag, Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh said that “the new classrooms built under Viveka Classroom Scheme will be named after philosopher Swami Vivekananda. All classrooms will be in the same structure and colour, and the sayings of Swami Vivekananda will be inscribed on the walls and pillars.”
‘Architects suggested saffron colour’
“On the suggestions of the architects, the classrooms will be painted saffron. The government has not chosen this colour; instead, the architects have found it suitable,” he added.
With his statement, Nagesh triggered a debate across the state over the state government’s move to “saffronise” educational institutions — quite literally.
Lashing out at the government, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee’s communications chief and Chittapur MLA Priyank Kharge asked, “Who is running the state government? Is it BJP leaders or architects?”
“The debate is not about the colour, but it is about the government’s priorities. Even if the government opted for green colour, my argument would have been on the priorities of the government on improving the infrastructure of the state-run schools,” he told South First.
“The schools have crumbling infrastructure. A Union government report has claimed that the dropout rate is increasing across the state. People are losing their tempers; mid-day meals are not in place, uniforms and textbooks are yet to be supplied, and malnutrition among children is high,” he said.
“Instead of addressing these issues, is the government’s priority to paint a wall,” Kharge questioned.
Bommai defends move
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, however, preferred to scoff at the Opposition.
“It has become a habit of a section of people to politicise and create a controversy whenever the government launches any initiatives,” he told the media in Kalaburagi on Monday.
“What’s wrong with having saffron colour? Saffron is one of the tricolours of the national flag. Why do these people’s (pointing at opposition) eyes turn red on hearing saffron,” he asked.
On whether the government is trying to saffronise schools, Bommai said: “It is not true. Swami Vivekananda is a saint. He enlightened the world with his thoughts and works. We have rolled out this scheme after his name to inspire the students.”
Reacting to this, AICC In-charge of Maharashtra Congress and Gadag MLA HK Patil said that he would like to respond once the expert committee submitted its report on the Viveka Classroom Scheme.
“We should not try to force any ideology and philosophy on students. Even the authorities must not try to influence students through communal and religious philosophy. Instead of opting for saffron or any other colour, the government has to go for a neutral colour code for the classrooms,” Kannada writer Jaiprakash Banjagere opined.
What is Viveka Classrooms Scheme?
Under this scheme, the state government aims to build new classrooms by replacing old and non-functional classrooms in the state-run schools in Karnataka.
The Department of School Education and Literacy has approved ₹992 crores for this scheme. A total of 7,601 Viveka classrooms will be developed from state government grants, and funds from SCP/TSP and Kalyana Karnataka Regional Development Board.
All the new classrooms built under this scheme are likely to be painted in saffron. The walls and pillars of the schools will display quotes by Swami Vivekananda.
Previous incidents: Textbook revision
The state witnessed similar incidents of alleged ‘saffronisation’ of educational institutions by the BJP-led government in recent times. One such incident was when the Social Science and Kannada textbooks for Class 6 to 10 students were revised.
The revised textbook had dropped chapters on social reformer Basavanna, freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan and many other prominent personalities. The government, however, approved to include a speech by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, founder of the RSS, in the Class 10 Kannada textbook.
The state witnessed one of the biggest controversies when it prohibited a group of students from wearing hijab in classrooms. This led to communal clashes and escalated into a national issue.
The government also banned skull caps in classrooms. A group of students challenged the government order in the High Court. The verdict favoured the government.
The students later approached the Supreme Court. A two-judge bench gave a split verdict and referred the case to the Chief Justice of India.
Meditation for students
In the first week of November 2022, Education Minister Nagesh ordered 10-minute daily meditation for school and pre-university students.
Nagesh said: “This is to increase concentration, health and good thoughts among the students. It will also help students to tackle stress and gain knowledge in schools and colleges.”
Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah questioned the government’s priority. “I have no objection to introducing meditation in schools. My question is what should be given priority? BJP is playing tricks to divert attention from real issues,” he said.
“Ever since Nagesh took charge as the education minister, he has been creating controversies by distorting textbooks, failing to improve infrastructure and recruiting sufficient teaching staff. He seems to be confused and should immediately take up meditation first,” Siddaramaiah tweeted.