Published by Seth Oldmixon on July 16, 2015

The Gita is a religious book, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be taught

Haryana Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma claimed on Wednesday that the Bhagavad Gita is “not a religious book.” His statement came in response to concerns about the “saffronization” of education in India. Saffronization, which refers to the color of the robes worn by Hindu monks, is a term that describes a nationalist political Hindu ideology, much like the political Islam prevalent in neighboring Pakistan. This may seem unremarkable when considering that nearly 80 percent of India’s population identifies as Hindu, but it becomes problematic once we recognize that India is also the second largest Muslim country in the world, and is projected to be the largest by 2050. It becomes even more problematic once we factor in that India’s population is actually becoming more diverse.

Saffronization is partly a response to this diversification, but it doesn’t have to be. Neither do Hindu leaders need to deny the religious importance of holy books in order to justify their inclusion in educational curriculum. The problem isn’t teaching the Gita, the problem is teaching the Gita at the exclusion of other religious texts.

India can preserve, and even strengthen, it’s Hindu cultural heritage without alienating non-Hindu citizens by teaching the Gita and other Hindu religious texts together with non-Hindu religious texts as part of a comparative religion curriculum that emphasizes common themes shared by each of the country’s major religions. This would help build a stronger national identity that is not dependent on religious affiliation, and foster mutual respect and tolerance across India’s religious communities.

The Bhagavad Gita is a religious book, and there’s no reason for Minister Ram Bilas Sharma to pretend otherwise. And it’s perfectly fine to include the Gita in a moral education curriculum – it just shouldn’t be the only book, and Hinduism shouldn’t be the only religion.