In Karnataka’s politically charged environment, a controversy surrounding revisions in the Kannada and social science textbooks has taken the centre stage over the past week, with the government’s review committee chaired by writer Rohith Chakrathirtha rubbing several people the wrong way, including even a senior BJP leader.
In 2014, author GS Mudambadithya led a campaign to rewrite textbooks based on the National Curriculum Framework of 2005. But the Congress-led government of Siddaramaiah appointed writer Baragaru Ramachandrappa as its textbook committee chairperson. The committee made sweeping content changes, especially in science and Kannada that the BJP and other right-wing organisations opposed. They were especially against the inclusion of a chapter on the birth of some religious communities and a study of caste history.
After coming to power, the BJP set up the Chakrathirtha committee in 2020 to review these changes. With the new academic year set to begin next month, the committee was last week reported to have excluded chapters on freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, social reformer Narayana Guru, and writer Sara Abubacker. These chapters were initially reported to have been replaced with speeches of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder KH Hegdewar. But, the Karnataka Textbook Society on May 17 clarified that the chapter on Bhagat Singh had not been dropped. The extent of the changes is not yet known as the books have not been made public.
The new additions include the works of philosophers and poets such as Bannanje Govindacharya, Shatavadhani Ganesh, and Manjeshwar Govinda Pai. Though according to some this reveals a shift towards the right, Chakrathirtha said these changes would help students think in a new way. “The changes made under the review committee reflect on the new thinking that one must adopt. These philosophers and their works will introduce students to new languages, especially Sanskrit. Moreover, in the Social Science textbook we have given more insights on Subhash Chandra Bose’s INA and some unsung revolutionaries such as Karnataka’s Surapura Venkatappa Nayaka, Manipur’s Rani Gaidinliu, among others,” he added.
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Former state education minister and BJP MLC AH Vishwanath said textbooks and political ideology must be separated. “Textbooks are bound to get politicised when someone who is not an expert in the education field is appointed the head of the (textbook review) committee. Textbooks come under the national curriculum and it must be free from political agenda,” he added.
Siddaramaiah demanded Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai stop printing the textbooks and discuss the changes with experts before going ahead. “Let the BJP use Hedgewar, (MS) Golwalkar and Nathuram Godse in their political rallies and to ask for votes. Let people evaluate them and decide. But politicising education for selfish reasons will hold no good,” he added.
State Congress President DK Shivakumar said next a chapter on Mahatma Gandhi could be removed. “Let us never forget the sacrifices of those who fought to get freedom from colonialism,” he added.
Development educationist Dr Niranjanaradhya VP said such attempts to revise curricula were not new. According to him, it started in 1998 when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power at the Centre.
Before that, this “saffronisation” used to happen through Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and Vidya Bharati schools, Dr Niranjanaradhya said, adding, “We see some of the schools and colleges that are run by groups promoting RSS ideology but it did not affect much. In 1998, when the NDA came to power they started to change but it did not happen as the institutions were unbiased and did not budge to political powers. But after 2014, things have changed and the entire process of preparing textbooks has gone for a toss. There needs to be a curriculum framework, a syllabus needs to be chalked out and textbooks must be prepared with the involvement of the best of the best academicians. It should be shared in the public domain and there needs to be a lot of debate on it. But everything has been cut short.”
Asked why parties use textbooks as a tool to promote their agenda, the educationist said, “Education is the foundation for social, political and cultural changes and that makes them do it.”
Retired bureaucrat Thirumala Rao, who was a joint director in the school education department, said textbooks should reflect society’s multicultural aspects. “Textbooks should represent the traditional, cultural and Constitutional values of our country, he added. “Making an omission of any chapter must be consulted with the right stakeholders. However, in this scenario, no consultations took place. Many committees go with the tide of the incumbent government. Hence, we need an overhaul in reviewing the textbooks by consulting all stakeholders, including children.”
Left students’ organisation All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (AIDSO) denounced what it claimed was an attempt to “saffronise textbooks”. AIDSO general secretary Sourav Ghosh said, “This is not an isolated instance. Earlier, several times such changes have been brought. A few days back, the CBSE changed its syllabus, thus bringing down an attack on the secular and democratic framework of contents in the school syllabus. Celebrated nazms by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a revolutionary poet who had always written for the people in distress, have been removed from the textbook. Before that, a story of Premchand was removed from the Class 12 textbook. And there are many more such instances. In fact, all political parties that have ruled so far, have been working to implement their agenda through academic textbooks.”
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