A Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB) textbook for Class IX students learning Hindi as a second language has a reference to Jesus Christ as a “haivan” (demon/monster). Christian groups have been demanding for a month that the Gujarat government withdraw the books in question. GSSTB has since removed the controversial adjective from the online version of the book. The government has claimed that it is a typographical error — that “bhagvan” was misspelt as “haivan” — and ordered an inquiry. However, it has refused to withdraw the textbook citing logistical issues. This is unacceptable. The textbook, which reaches thousands of students, must be recalled and new ones with the corrected text printed and redistributed.
Inter-community relations in Gujarat have been fraught for decades now. Christians, who make up less than half a per cent of the state’s population, too have been targeted by fanatics. Through 1998 and 1999, churches and prayer meeting halls in The Dangs district were attacked and vandalised. Several other places of worship, including in Ahmedabad, were targeted. The Dangs, among the poorest districts in the country, has also been at the centre of “ghar vapasi” movements to “return” tribal Christians to the Hindu fold. Against this backdrop, referring to the fountain-head of the Christian faith as a “monster” could sharpen the polarisation and add to the insecurity of the Christian community in the state. Leaving it to teachers to tell the class that epithet in the textbook is an error may not necessarily ensure that the mistake is not internalised by the students.
The objectionable reference to Christ occurs in a chapter titled “Bharatiya sanskriti me guru-shishya sambandh” (the teacher-disciple relationship in Indian culture). Here, Christ is not discussed as a Semitic religious figure, but spoken about in the context of an aspect of his life and words that has a bearing on Indian culture. The text mentions that Christ as a guru loved and respected his disciples. This is a Christ who has evoked respect and admiration among many non-Christians in India as well. His teachings were a seminal influence on Gandhi. The cost of reprinting the textbook and the logistics of distribution pale against the potential damage the error can inflict.