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Day after cartoon row,Dalit group vandalises NCERT adviser Palshikar’s office in Pune

Police arrested 2 workers of the Republican Panther of India in connection with the incident.

Written by Pupul Chatterjee | Pune | Updated: January 6, 2014 6:13:57 pm

A day after the uproar in Parliament over a cartoon featuring Dr B R Ambedkar in an NCERT textbook,three men vandalised the Pune University office of Prof Suhas Palshikar,the political scientist who was an advisor for the text.

Professor Palshikar had blue powder thrown at him,but was not otherwise harmed physically. Police arrested two workers of the Republican Panther of India,a small Pune-based Dalit group in connection with the incident.

Palshikar and psephologist Yogendra Yadav,the chief advisers for NCERT’s political science texts for classes 9 to 12,resigned yesterday after the government announced it would scrap the book with the sketch that MPs found offensive,and review all school texts for similar material.

The cartoon,a commentary on the slow pace of India’s constitution-making exercise,was drawn by the legendary Shankar in 1949 when Babasaheb was still alive,and has been a part of the NCERT text since 2006.

Palshikar,who is head of political science at the University of Pune,said three men entered his office on campus on Saturday afternoon and said they wanted to register a protest against the statement he had made in his defence after the incidents in Parliament on Friday.

“I invited them to sit down and discuss the matter,but they were too agitated to listen to me. However,we spoke for some time,after which they started shouting slogans. Then they picked up chairs and started throwing them at the cupboard and at window panes. They also threw blue-coloured powder all over me and the office,but they did not seem to have any intention of causing me any physical harm. My computer too was not damaged,” he said.

In their resignation letter sent to the NCERT director yesterday,Palshikar and Yadav had said that the consensus in Parliament over the withdrawal of the cartoon “unsettles some fundamental canons of democratic society”. In the letter,and in a clarification sent on April 3,Palshikar and Yadav explained that the cartoon was among the “classic cartoons of the time concerned”,and that “in no way does the text or the cartoon denigrate or downplay the contribution of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar”.

“We think that the short,heated and not very well informed debate in Parliament did not do justice to the responsibility that a democratic society has towards its future generations,” the advisers wrote.

Palshikar said today that he did not wish to register a police complaint against the men who vandalised his office,or the leaders of the Republican Panther of India. “That would not be a solution to the issue that has been brought to the forefront by this attack,” he said.

“I am very inexperienced in such matters. I have never received any threats for any of my writings or thoughts. All this is very new to me,and frankly I don’t know how to deal with it,” Palshikar said.

He added that cartoons and caricature are an integral part of political commentary and therefore,political science studies,in any society. “The idea behind adding these cartoons was to add colour to the political science textbooks and make them more lively. No political or other group should take it the wrong way,” Palshikar said.

Later in the day,the Chaturshringi police registered an offence against four people for vandalising Palshikar’s office. Two of them,Rahul Bharat Khandagale and Subhash Waman Telgunte,both 25 years old,were arrested. A hunt was on for the other two,police said.

Republican Panther of India founder president Sachin Kharat said,“We did not intend to indulge in violence,but the cartoons have hurt the sentiments of people who worship Dr B R Ambedkar. So they lost control over their emotions. For the last six years we were not aware that such a cartoon is there in textbooks. We got to know only after the issue was raised in Parliament. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal should also resign,taking responsibility for such blasphemy.”

Vivek Ghotale,one of the three senior members of the university faculty who were present when Palshikar’s office was vandalised,said,“We hope that this matter is dealt with seriously and a good academic debate is generated on the larger questions this has brought forward in our democracy. Palshikar has been one of the greatest contributors to Dalit studies in our country. It is a very sad comment on our democracy when people like him are attacked.”

In a statement,Lokniti Network,a group of scholars and researchers of politics associated with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) of which Palshikar is a member,said: “We wish to condemn in the strongest possible terms the vandalism… We believe that such actions strike at the very core of democratic foundations of our society.”

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