🔴 “A Dalit is likely to be confined to traditional occupations such as agricultural labour, scavenging, or leather work…”
🔴 Minorities “must face the risk that the majority community will capture political power and use the state machinery to suppress their religious or cultural institutions…”
These sentences are among the several on the caste system and discrimination that have now been pruned from school textbooks by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). These redactions are part of the most sweeping set of changes in textbooks in the past eight years since the BJP-led NDA came to power.
The Indian Express scrutinised 21 current history, political science and sociology textbooks for Classes 6 to 12 and matched their content with tables circulated within NCERT on the changes. It found that the cuts included several examples of discrimination faced by lower castes and minorities, which were introduced in 2007 to “build a sense of a just society”.
According to NCERT, the latest “rationalisation” exercise aims to reduce the curriculum load to help students make a “speedy recovery” from learning setbacks suffered during Covid. However, the Council has been in the eye of the storm in the past over its content on caste.
During the Congress-led UPA rule, a cartoon on Dalit icon B R Ambedkar was removed from the Class 11 political science textbook following protests. Last year, a report by a think-tank headed by BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, which was submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Education, claimed that the textbooks give “disproportionate attention” to caste.
Now consider some of the key changes carried out this time:
🔴 The section on varnas in the Class 6 history textbook (‘Our Past – I’) is reduced by half. Sentences on the hereditary nature of varnas, classification of people as untouchables and rejection of the varna system have been removed from the chapter ‘Kingdom, Kings and an Early Republic’.
The deleted portion reads: “The priests also said that these groups were decided on the basis of birth. For example, if one’s father and mother were brahmins one would automatically become a brahmin, and so on. Later, they classified some people as untouchable. These included some crafts persons, hunters and gatherers, as well as people who helped perform burials and cremations. The priests said that contact with these groups was polluting. Many people did not accept the system of varna laid down by the brahmins…”
🔴 The following sentences from the section on “ashramas” — the four stages of life as defined by priests — in Chapter 6 of the Class 6 history textbook are now deleted: “The system of ashramas allowed men to spend some part of their lives in meditation. Generally, women were not allowed to study the Vedas, and they had to follow the ashramas chosen by their husbands.”
🔴 A mention of women and shudras not being allowed to study the Vedas in ancient India has been dropped from a section on the “Puranas” in the chapter titled ‘Buildings, Paintings and Books’ in the Class 6 history textbook. The original sentence reads: “The Puranas were written in simple Sanskrit verse, and were meant to be heard by everybody, including women and shudras, who were not allowed to study the Vedas.” The revised sentence now ends at “everybody”.
🔴 A big chunk of the section on discrimination in the Chapter titled ‘Diversity and Discrimination’ in Class 6 political science textbook (‘Social and Political Life – Part I’) has been dropped. The deleted portion reads: “…Caste rules were set which did not allow the so-called “untouchables” to take on work, other than what they were meant to do. For example, some groups were forced to pick garbage and remove dead animals from the village. But they were not allowed to enter the homes of the upper castes or take water from the village well, or even enter temples. Their children could not sit next to children of other castes in school…”
Another paragraph has been removed, which states that “caste-based discrimination is not only limited to preventing Dalits from undertaking certain economic activities but it also denies them the respect and dignity given to others”.
🔴 Four examples of how “untouchability” operates have been dropped from a chapter on “social inequity and exclusion” in the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Indian Society’. These include:
1) “A Dalit is likely to be confined to traditional occupations such as agricultural labour, scavenging, or leather work, with little chance of being able to get high-paying white-collar or professional work.”
2) “At the same time, untouchability may also involve forced inclusion in a subordinated role, such as being compelled to play the drums at a religious event. The performance of publicly visible acts of (self) humiliation and subordination is an important part of the practice of untouchability. Common instances include the imposition of gestures of deference (such as taking off headgear, carrying footwear in the hand, standing with bowed head, not wearing clean or ‘bright’ clothes, and so on) as well as routinised abuse and humiliation.”
3) A passage from social activist Harsh Mander’s book ‘Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives’, describing the ordeal of a Dalit manual scavenger, is out. It reads: “….The excrement only piles up at each seat, or flows into open drains. It is Narayanamma’s job to collect it with her broom onto a flat, tin plate, and pile it into her basket. When the basket is filled, she carries it on her head to a waiting tractor-trolley parked at a distance of half a kilometre. And then she is back, waiting for the next call from the toilet…”
🔴 A section has been removed from the last chapter of the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Social Change and Development in India’ on the upper caste response to increased visibility of Dalits and other backwards classes through social movements. The section states how some members of the upper caste now feel that the government “does not pay any heed to them because they are numerically not significant enough”.
This section also had an excerpt from Satish Deshpande’s book ‘Contemporary India: A Sociological View’ on why earlier upper-caste generations did not think of caste as a living reality of modern India. Deshpande is a professor of sociology at Delhi University.
🔴 In the same textbook, an extract from a paper on how Dalit women face greater threats than their upper-caste counterparts has been removed from the last chapter on “social movements”.
🔴 Four imaginary narratives from the chapter on “equality” in the Class 7 political science textbook ‘Social and Political Life – Part II’ have been removed. They introduce students to a domestic helper, a Dalit writer and a Muslim couple, all of whom have experienced discrimination.
🔴 A box describing a common stereotype about Muslims that they are not interested in educating girls, and why this is far from the truth, has been deleted from the chapter ‘Diversity and Discrimination’ in the Class 6 political science textbook ‘Social and Political Life – II’. An accompanying photo of three girls studying together has also been left out.
🔴 A reference to the “resurgence and newly acquired political power of the Hindu communalists” and how this makes it harder to settle disagreements over steps taken by the Government to protect minorities has been removed from Chapter 6 titled ‘The Challenges of Cultural Diversity’ in the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Indian Society’.
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🔴 In the same chapter, the following sentences on the possibility of a numerical majority winning political power and its impact on the minority community has been dropped. “In democratic politics, it is always possible to convert a numerical majority into political power through elections. This means that religious or cultural minorities — regardless of their economic or social position — are politically vulnerable. They must face the risk that the majority community will capture political power and use the state machinery to suppress their religious or cultural institutions, ultimately forcing them to abandon their distinctive identity,” it reads.
🔴 A first-person account of a Muslim woman being asked to change her traditional attire to jeans following communal disturbances in her area has been deleted from the chapter on marginalisation in the Class 8 political science textbook (‘Social and Political Life — III’).
Tomorrow: Part 3 — Textbook revision slashes portion in history on Islamic rulers of India