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Cartoon controversy July 5, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Nelson, Barbara , trackback

Barbara Nelson

Textbooks are back in the news in India. The Republican Party of India (RPI) Athavale held a press conference in April to demand the removal of a 1949 Shankar cartoon depicting Ambedkar and Nehru from a Class 11 textbook, Indian Constitution at Work. This led to the government apologising and promising to remove the cartoon. Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, also commissioned a review of the six textbooks in Political Science “to identify educationally inappropriate material”. The report (Report of Committee to Review NCERT Textbooks and Note of Dissent by M. S. S. Pandian) is available from the Kafila website.

During the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) administration a new set of textbooks were produced which presented a Hindutva view of history. After NDA was defeated in 2004, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) set up teams of authors to produce new textbooks, which were then reviewed by senior academics. An Economic and Political Weekly editorial praises this democratic process, saying it is not up to Parliament to decide on the content of textbooks. The book containing the Ambedkar cartoon was published in 2006, so it has taken a while for the protesters to notice the offending item. Yogendra Yadav, and Suhas Palshikar who were chief advisors for the Political Science textbooks, resigned following the start of protests in April.

On 11 May uproar in the Lok Sabha over the cartoon distracted from questions being asked of Minister Chidambaram about the Aircel-Maxis deal. Protests also began in Tamil Nadu over a cartoon by Laxman  in the chapter on regionalism in the Political Science II textbook: Indian Politics since Partition, published in 2007.

The six-member panel headed by S. K. Thorat has recommended deletion of 21 cartoons and modifications to cartoon captions. Discussion continues on the wisdom of bowing to political pressure on matters that should be left to educators, and some of the experts consulted by the committee claim that their views were not represented in the final report.

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