Letter to Arjun Singh (HRD Minister) on communal content in National Open School on
21 April 2005

Dear Shri Arjun Singh ji,

We would like to draw your attention to the state of affairs in the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS, formerly, National Open School), especially the continued use of this major educational institution as a vehicle for propagating the ideology of the Sangh parivar. Whereas in the recent period public attention has largely been focused on the process of saffronization and communalization of orgnizations such as the NCERT, particularly the history textbooks published by it during the NDA regime, the NIOs has largely escaped scrutiny. This is partly due to the perception that open schooling is marginal to the educational system. However, it needs to be emphasized that the NIOS, which is directly under the Union HRD ministry, has a very wide reach. It is the apex body in the country in the area of open and distance education at the school level. Every year about three lakh students take admission to its courses from all over the country and abroad. Active enrolment at a given time in NIOS is about 12 lakhs.
Under the BJP-led NDA government there was a systematic attempt to impose the ideology of the Sangh parivar on the courses and study material of the NIOS. This was largely carried out under the direction of N.K. Ambasht, former chairman, an appointee of Murli Manohar Joshi, and Kuldeep Agrawal, former director (academic). Further, K.G. Rastogi who, it may be recalled, was removed from various committees of the NCERT due to the controversy surrounding him, was appointed on various course committees of the NIOS. Rastogi eventually became the main channel through whom links of the NIOS were established with different RSS organizations such as the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati.
During the tenure of Ambasht a huge number of schools and institutions which are part of the networks of Vidya Bharati, Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Seva Bharati, etc. have been given accreditation without following proper procedures. The accredited institutions of the NIOS are authorized to run various academic/vocational courses of the NIOS. The extent of the damage being done through the accreditation of institutions with RSS affiliations may well be imagined.



Whereas on the one hand Ambasht halted the ongoing exercise for development of material for the senior secondary course in history, which was being carried out by a committee comprising a number of outstanding historians and which had completed most of its work, on the other hand course material relating to social sciences was redesigned (often surreptitiously introducing new passages in existing published material) in order to make it conform to the communal-fascist world view of the Sangh parivar.
Suddenly RSS stalwarts such as Hedgewar and the supposed contribution of the RSS to the anti-imperialist struggle found an important place in the course material. Some of the course material was virtually reduced to crude RSS propaganda. For instance a social science text states that the RSS is ‘today, making great contributions to India’s resurgence through its social wings like “Vidya Bharati” and “Seva Bharati”’! (some excerpts from the textbook entitled Social Science 2 for the secondary course which continues to be in use are enclosed). Special booklets on Shyama Prasad Mookerji and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya were brought out in a series on prominent Indians presented as role models for students.
It is a matter of grave concern that the same study material and generally saffronized approach in the running of the institute continues even under the UPA government. The present chairman, M.C. Pant, was appointed by the former Union HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi at the fag end of the tenure of the BJP government. He has been given a tenure of five years. This will ensure that the Sangh parivar becomes fully entrenched in the institution and its programmes at public expense. That he means business is clear also from the intensified victimization and harassment of employees/scholars who do not subscribe to the views of the Sangh parivar and have resisted, whenever possible and at grave personal risk, the saffron onslaught.
We urge upon you to urgently intervene in this matter and initiate effective steps to stop the saffronization of NIOS and restore its secular, liberal and democratic character,

Irfan Habib, Arjun Dev, D.N. Jha, Shireen Moosvi, R.C. Thakran, V.M. Jha, Amar Farooqui