Red flag: Karnataka education minister wants seers to suggest Moral Science syllabus for students

Activists say the priority should be improving school infrastructure, addressing malnutrition, and tackling post-Covid crisis.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Nov 30, 2022 | 12:00 PM Updated Nov 30, 2022 | 12:00 PM

Karnataka Education Minister BC Nagesh

The controversy over the BJP government’s decision in Karnataka to, quite literally, saffronise classrooms has barely died down — and another of its plans on the education front has activists raising angry red flags.

What has sparked outrage is the fact that state Minister for School Education and Literacy BC Nagesh is keen to consult with seers of religious mathas (Hindu monasteries) to come up with a Moral Science syllabus for students.

The move comes at a time there are allegations of sexual assault against several religious figures in the state and one of the prominent seers of the famous Murugha Matha — Shivamurthy Shivasharanaru — continues to be in jail over allegations of raping several minor girls from the hostel attached to the matha.

That aside, education rights activists have raised concerns over the minister’s decision throwing the guidelines of National Curriculum Framework (NCF), 2005, out of the window.

Activists also wondered about the government’s priorities.

What the minister said

“The Education Department will consult pontiffs from certain mathas, along with educational experts and academicians, to create a syllabus for Moral Science which will start, ideally, from the next academic year — for Classes 1 to 10 — if all goes well,” Nagesh told South First.

“As of now, Moral Science is not taught as a subject at government schools and this is required to boost the morality of students along with their character building,” the minister added.

Sources in the Education Department said they would soon hold a seminar with pontiffs or other representatives of well-known mathas and organisations such as JSS, Adichunchanagiri, Chinmaya Mission, etc, to seek their recommendations on what could be included into the Moral Science syllabus.

More important issues

Several education rights activists and literacy experts South First spoke to said that there are other glaring issues with the state’s school education system that need addressing.

For  instance: Developing school infrastructure, addressing malnutrition, and also catering to students’ socio-emotional well-being as they have lost two years of regular studies due to the pandemic. There is still a lot to be done to recover from that crisis alone — and those need to be prioritised.

Karnataka Primary_School

A primary school in Dakshin Kanara. (Wikimedia Commons)

“The minister seems unaware of the fact that Value Education cannot be taught. It can only be integrated and inculcated into the curriculum. NCF, 2005, very clearly explains that values are interlinked with actual actions,” Gurumurthy Kasinathan, educator and member of the National Coalition on the Education Emergency, told South First.

“Post the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a huge crisis in children’s education. We have to put all our energies into solving educational emergencies instead of ‘teaching moral science’ which is actually a distraction now,” Kasinathan added.

Educationist Niranjan Aradhya VP said preparing a syllabus for Moral Science is the work of an academic authority, and the minister cannot decide on this in a unilateral way.

“Moral Science is nothing but Peace Education, where the children learn about co-existence, respecting other’s space, tolerance, living in a diverse culture. These are the values that children should imbibe. All that he can do is to write to the academic body, DSERT and recommend what he thinks can reform the existing education system,” Aradhya told South First.

“About involving seers for recommendations on preparing a syllabus for Moral Science, I have serious kinds of reservations over it. There is a suggested NCF for this, and the minister is not the competent authority for it,” Aradhya added.

Seers and controversies

There were also concerns over the propriety of consulting seers — exclusively of Hindu mathas — for syllabus framing in public institutions which are supposed to be inclusive and secular.

Swami Nithyananda

There is an Interpol Blue Corner notice out for Swami Nithyananda. (Supplied)

Reservations are also being expressed about the decision coming at a time when at least three religious seers have made it to the headlines for all the wrong reasons in Karnataka in the recent past.

Self-styled godman Nithyananda is still wanted by the Gujarat police for allegedly abducting and wrongfully confining children and forcing them to collect donations for his ashrams in Ahmedabad. He is also accused of allegedly raping one of his disciples and is wanted by Karnataka police.

As of now, the Interpol has issued a Blue-Corner Notice against Nithyananda — to locate or obtain information about him for criminal investigation pending against him. The Interpol is also working on issuing a Red Corner Notice which shall be issued if he is to be arrested sooner.

The self-styled Godman had fled India and went into hiding after which he announced the founding of his own self-proclaimed island nation — Kailasa.

More cases

In November 2017, Siddalinga Swamy, a controversial Sri Ram Sene leader who also heads the Lingayat Karuneshwara Matha in Gulbarga, was arrested by the state police for allegedly assaulting a Muslim restaurant owner named Nizamuddin, although he had complied with an administrative order to free up land for the widening of a road near the temple.

Pontiff Siddalinga Swamy was already on bail that time, booked for earlier cases including delivering hate speeches and spreading communal animosity.

On 1 September this year, the head of one of Karnataka’s influential Lingayat mathas, pontiff Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru was booked under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act along with rape under IPC sections.

Chitradurga Murugha Matha seer. (Supplied)

Chitradurga Murugha Matha seer. (Supplied)

There are two separate cases registered against the seer in which the first FIR is based on a complaint by two minor girls, while the second FIR was registered after a mother who was working as an assistant cook at the Murugha matha alleged that her two daughters were sexually assaulted by the seer.

In October, Basavalingeshwara Swamy, 44, was found dead in his room at the Kanchugal Bandemutt matha situated in Magadi taluk of Ramalinga district.

Basavalingeshwara Swamy was the head pontiff of the Kanchugal Bandemutt and was allegedly honey-trapped and blackmailed, the police said. The Ramanagara district police arrested a seer named Mruthyunjaya Swamy, a head pontiff of Kannur matha, Mahadevaiah, a retired teacher and a practising advocate and a 21-year-old engineering student Neelambike for allegedly honey-trapping and blackmailing the seer who died by suicide.

The police said that both Basavalingeshwara and Mruthyunjaya were cousins but had differences.

Basavasiddalinga Swami, 28, the head pontiff of a Lingayat matha at Neginhal village, Bailhongal taluk in Belagavi district, died by suicide in the first week of September.

The seer reportedly left behind a suicide note citing a phone conversation between two women discussing allegations of sexual assault against him, that went viral a few days before he took the extreme step.