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Indian education ministers in walk out; Religion and politics cloud Indian education

BBC_News_Online, Thursday 22 oct 1998, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK

Indian state education ministers have walked out of a conference in New Delhi, in protest at what they believe to be threats to the country's secular education system.

The education ministers, whose walk out followed the singing of an invocation to a Hindu goddess at the opening of the conference, believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is seeking to introduce Hindu nationalism into the country's schools.

The protestors also objected to an agenda paper backing the inclusion of ancient Hindu scriptures in the Indian school curriculum.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised to support diversity The document also recommends the compulsory learning of Sanskrit and stresses the importance of "moral and spiritual education".

Those who staged the walk out included education ministers from West Bengal, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Bihar, Punjab, Orissa, Kerala and Karnataka.

The conference was opened by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who said in a speech that there was no place for religious bigotry and intolerance in education.

"While promoting unity, we should keep in mind our diversity of religion, language and ethnicity," he said.

However the protesting ministers claimed that the aim of the BJP is to impose a Hindu character on education throughout India's divergent cultures.

The government has rejected claims that it is encouraging a bias against non-Hindu communities, arguing that opposition parties are misrepresenting the debate over education for political gain.