NCERT nuances negative comments in textbooks on politicians, bureaucracy

Six years after it dropped several “offensive” cartoons from its Political Science textbooks, the NCERT has gone a step further and toned down the commentary on Indian politics and politicians in its Class 10 book.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi | Updated: June 1, 2018 10:47:08 am
NCERT nuances negative comments in textbooks on politicians, bureaucracy Six years after it dropped several “offensive” cartoons from its Political Science textbooks, the NCERT has gone a step further and toned down the commentary on Indian politics and politicians in its Class 10 book. (Representational/Files)

The revised NCERT Class 10 Political Science textbook, Democratic Politics-II, has retained a cartoon by Surendra, from The Hindu, in Chapter 5 — Popular Struggles and Movements. But there’s a difference. The caption of the cartoon, which shows the bureaucracy hindering implementation of the Right to Information Act, has been changed.

It no longer reads “The Right to Information Act is one of the recent legislations passed by Parliament. Who is shown as obstructing the implementation of the legislation?”. That has been changed to “Many democratic governments provide the Right to Information (RTI) to the citizens. The RTI Act, 2005 is a landmark legislation passed by our Parliament. Under this Act, citizens can seek information from government offices pertaining to different activities. Do you think the cartoon exaggerates the obstructionist role of bureaucracy in the implementation of the Act?”.

– In Chapter 6 (Political Parties) of the earlier textbook, Munni, one of two characters — the other being Unni — used as pedagogical tools by the NCERT to ask searching questions intended to start a classroom discussion around concepts, asked: “Okay, granted that we can’t live without political parties. But tell me how do we live with the kind of political parties we have?”. The revised textbook has Munni asking: “Okay, granted that we can’t live without political parties. But tell me on what grounds do people support a political party?

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Six years after it dropped several “offensive” cartoons from its Political Science textbooks, the NCERT has gone a step further and toned down the commentary on Indian politics and politicians in its Class 10 book.

In 2012, Opposition parties had protested the use of political cartoons in NCERT textbooks on the ground that political satire wasn’t suitable for young minds. Back then, the BJP too had accused the UPA-II of including anti-politician content in textbooks. The flak forced the government to set up a committee, headed by former UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat, to review content. While the panel had recommended deletion of 20 cartoons, the NCERT, eventually, agreed to drop six from political science textbooks of classes 9, 10, 11 and 12.

And now, political commentary in the textbooks has been further diluted.

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The Indian Express compared old and new versions of 25 textbooks across six subjects — History, Geography, Political Science, Economics, Science and English — and spotted instances of either a cartoon caption or a comment attributed to characters Unni and Munni being tweaked to sound neutral, at times even bordering the positive, about governance and politics in the country.

Consider some of the other changes made in the Class 10 Political Science textbook:

– Old version: In Chapter 6, Munni says, “I don’t like so many parties. It’s such a mess. I wonder how the politicians manage these coalitions. I can’t even remember the names of all the parties.”

New: Her comment has been changed: “I wonder how politicians manage these coalitions. I can’t even remember the names of all the parties.”

– Old: Chapter 6 carries a cartoon on political corruption by Manjul from the DNA newspaper.

New: The cartoon is now accompanied by a comment from Unni: “Does this suggest that in democracies people contest elections only to make money? But isn’t it true that there are politicians committed to the well-being of the people?”.

– Old: Chapter 7 (Outcomes of Democracy) has a cartoon by R K Laxman on page 90. It represents the huge expectations people have from democracy and how people think that democracy can address all socio-economic and political problems. The cartoon does not have a caption.

New: NCERT has introduced a caption to the cartoon which reads, “Is democracy all about coping with multiple pressures and accommodating diverse demands?”.

These changes are part of the textbook review — the first since 2007 — undertaken last year by the NCERT, an autonomous organisation that advises the HRD Ministry on school education.

Sources in the NCERT maintain that all changes in textbooks this year are based on suggestions and feedback it received.

Incidentally, the Thorat committee, constituted by UPA II to review content of Political Science textbooks, had also recommended that the above cartoon captions and comments by Unni and Munni be changed. At that point, the NCERT had not accepted the suggestion.

The NCERT textbooks follow the National Curriculum Framework and were re-written extensively in 2007 under the UPA-II. The textbooks since then include extensive use of visuals, cartoons, story-telling, puzzles and illustrations. This was done with the purpose of enabling the students to think on their own and be critically appreciative.

More changes

* Chapter 8 (A Social History) of the Class 9 History textbook: In the old textbook, a section on transformations witnessed in colonial India stated: “Western-style clothing was also especially attractive to groups of dalit converts to Christianity who now found it liberating.” The words “groups of dalit converts to Christianity” have been replaced with “some sections of society”.

* Chapter 3 (Water Resource) of the Class 10 Geography textbook now describe Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Tehri Dam Andolan as environmental movements, and not social movements.

* Chapter 6 (Political Parties) of the Class 10 Political Science textbook has an imaginary narrative based on the life of socialist leader Shri Kishen Patnaik (1930-2004). The earlier version only had the narrative, but now NCERT has clarified (with a note) who the real inspiration behind the story is. This has been done after the character “Kishenji” was mistaken by readers for Naxalite leader Kishenji.

* Chapter 6 of the Class 10 textbook has added Trinamool Congress Party to the list of recognised national parties in the country.

* Chapter 8 (Novels, Society and History) of the Class 10 History textbook has introduced Lakshmikant Bezbaruah as the doyen of modern Assamese literature.

* Chapter 11 (Transportation in Plants & Animals) of the Class 7 Science textbook talks about the virtues of blood donation.

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