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Cartoon row: Experts say Thorat panel ignored views

Following MPs’ objections to political cartoons in NCERT textbooks,6-member panel was formed.

Written by Anubhuti Vishnoi | New Delhi | Published: July 3, 2012 9:28:10 pm

Prof M S S Pandian is not the sole dissenter as far as the Thorat committee’s recommendations on removal of cartoons from NCERT textbooks go. A number of academic experts roped in by the committee to review Political Science textbooks,which are at the centre of a controversy over “controversial” cartoons,also echoed views similar to Pandian and fully supported the cartoons.

Set up in May following MPs’ objections to political cartoons in NCERT textbooks,including one on B R Ambedkar,the six-member panel headed by ICSSR Chairman S K Thorat has recommended deletion of 21 cartoons besides a host of modifications in cartoon captions,as first reported by The Indian Express.

A number of academic experts consulted by the Thorat committee,however,are disappointed saying their views were not reflected in the final report. None of the 13 experts consulted on the textbooks have even found mention.

The committee is also being accused of reproducing just what the political masters would have desired,with little thought or value to procedures — a claim Thorat hotly denies.

“None of the points I made are reflected in the final report. I had in my review termed the textbooks as admirable for choosing the visual items they did. I only felt that the use and rationale of cartoons as pedagogic tools should have been better explained in the textbooks. It is also a procedural problem that the list of experts consulted or their views finds place nowhere in the report,” said Prof P K Datta,Head of the Department of Political Science,Delhi University.

He added that it has to be understood that cartoons use the language of exaggeration and may use animal or inanimate forms to express a certain idea. “While cartoons can be disrespectful or irreverent,in NCERT books I found none that are disrespectful. Irreverence on the other hand should be encouraged to demolish old truths,” Datta told The Indian Express.

Prof Apurba K Barua,Head of the Department of Political Science,North East Hill University,Shillong,who was also consulted by the Thorat committee,echoed Datta. “I am angry about the selective use of comments of reviewers. I am also unhappy about the fact that in our first day’s meeting an impression was created as if we were talking to the committee,though only two members and the secretary of the committee (were present)… I have seen the Thorat committee report and found it unsatisfactory. It seems to have ignored opinions of the reviewers. It actually appears to be a report seeking to please politicians and bureaucrats,” Barua said.

In his rather detailed review of the textbooks — a copy of it is with this newspaper — Barua recommended withdrawal of no more than three cartoons and termed the rest as inoffensive.

“It is good that cartoons and photographs were used to give the students a feel of the time they are studying. The caricature and the lampooning of leaders actually celebrate the spirit of freedom of thought of expression and also the spirit of tolerance cultivated by democratic politics… It is necessary to keep in mind that any text of politics will contain interpretations and presentations that will offend one or the other sections of society… The fact that (Jawaharlal) Nehru,the darling of the masses,could be lampooned in a particular context in his time itself depicts the strength of Indian democracy,particularly the spirit of tolerance cultivated by these great leaders,” Barua wrote.

Dr Maninder Singh from JNU,who was also consulted,too supported cartoons in textbooks. “Academics should be free to decide what they teach and how they teach. The school system should not be politicised… These textbooks are the work of a huge number of scholars and very sensitive people with high credibility have been involved with these. A four-member member committee and a divided one at that even with academic experts can hardly sit in judgment. If there are some issues of concern in textbooks,a properly constituted committee must look at them following proper processes. It should not be hurriedly done,” he said.

In his dissent note,a copy of which is with The Express,Prof Pandian said that these textbooks and the visual material used by them were selected in a way to ensure that these “do not hand over a definite opinion to students but enable them to think on their own”. Pandian said that the books should remain just as these were as there was nothing “educationally inappropriate” in them.

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