Home Lead Story Karnataka govt draws flak for ‘saffronising’ school textbooks

Karnataka govt draws flak for ‘saffronising’ school textbooks

Picture used for representational purposes. | Photo: Deccan Herald

After the government in Karnataka made modifications to several school textbooks following allegations of saffronisation of education, student groups, and activists termed these changes as “too inadequate”, demanding a roll back. 

Muhammed Nihad PV | TwoCircles.net 

KARNATAKA — Several student organisations in Karnataka have vowed to continue the agitation against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) run government for failing to remove ‘controversial lessons’ from the newly revised school textbooks. 

On June 27, the Karnataka government issued a notification making eight corrections in Class 1 to Class 10 Kannada and Social Science textbooks. These modifications were made after hundreds of objections were raised by several sections of the society to the changes made by the Textbook Revision Committee, headed by author Rohith Chakrathirtha. 

Despite these few modifications to the revised textbooks, the opposition and various writers, educationists, and seers have called the changes to “too inadequate” and unequivocally demanded that the amended textbooks be completely withdrawn.

“Rohit Chakrathirta-led textbook committee included Hedgewar’s speech in a chapter named “Who is an ideal person?”. We question the government how the founder of RSS, a terrorist organisation which has carried out genocides across the country and has been banned several times can be an ideal person?” Athaulla Punjalkatte, Karnataka State President of Campus Front of India, told TwoCircles.net.  

Punjalkatte said that the committee ignored Ambedkar’s teachings and disrespected the famous poet Kuvrmpu. “We have decided to intensify the agitations in the state,” he said.  

Satish Kamble, President of Ambedkar Students Association, Central University of Karnataka, told TwoCircles.net the progressive citizens will not allow the government to “propagate the thoughts of Hedgewar, Sulibele, and other right-wing ideologues through the syllabus by cutting off the teachings of Mahatma Basaveshwar, Bhagat Singh, Mata Savitri Bai Phule and Dr B R Ambedkar and many others who fought for equality and human dignity.” 

“This is an attempt to saffronise innocent minds,” he added.

Origin of the textbook row
A textbook reform committee was established by the Karnataka government in 2020 in response to allegations that certain chapters or sections in Kannada textbooks were biased against the Brahmin population. 

The social science textbooks from class 6 to 10 and the Kannada language textbooks from 1 to 10 underwent revisions by the committee led by Rohith Chakrathirtha. Following the revision, reports emerged that the chapters on the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, the ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, the Lingayat social reformer Basavanna, the founder of the Dravidian movement, Periyar, and the reformers Narayana Guru and Swami Vivekananda had been removed or severely distorted. Also, the new class 10 Kannada textbook contained a lecture by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the right-wing Hindu nationalist party Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). However, opposition parties, authors, writers, and other critics criticised the committee for “saffronizing” the textbooks and “distorting” facts in the amended content. Congress and other political parties urged the chief minister to drop the new syllabus and continue with the old. 

The Karnataka Textbook Society and Education Minister BC Nagesh confirmed on May 17 that the chapter on Bhagat Singh has not been removed. Critics claimed that this initial ambiguous response was yet another attempt to cover up several other larger issues with the revised textbooks. A list compiled by the researcher and author Harshakumar Kugve, reveals several lessons by Dalit authors as well as progressive, reformist authors who spoke out against communalism and caste hierarchy and in favour of gender equality and social justice were left off. The books no longer contain any chapters on social reforms like the abolition of untouchability, eliminating gender inequality, or stopping child trafficking. 

The addition of lessons on RSS ideologues Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and KB Hedgewar and the deletion of major lessons on Mahatma Gandhi, Dr BR Ambedkar, and Jawaharlal Nehru are also among the alterations. 

According to Kugve, 95 per cent of the lessons that were substituted for the writings of the approximately 27 Dalit writers were authored by Brahmins. Apart from that, Muslim writers have been selectively removed. In the Class 10 Kannada textbook, ‘Yuddha’ (War), a prose poem by Sara Aboobacker, a renowned Muslim Kannada writer, has been dropped. ‘Sullu Helabaradu’ (One should not lie) by writer Bolwar Mahammad Kunhi has been deleted from the class 5 Kannada textbook without explanation. Kunhi was the first to introduce Muslim culture into Kannada fiction and his writings are known for substantially dealing with the misconceptions and stereotypes about Islam.

Some of the other major changes clearly unveil the saffronisation agenda in the current textbook reforms. The map of India’s political divisions has been replaced by the ‘Akhand Bharath’ imagination of RSS in the Social Science textbook of class 8. In the same textbook, a chapter on human rights has also been removed. In class 7 Social Science, content on women social reformers including Savitribai Phule, Tarabai Shinde and Pandit Ramabai has been dropped. ‘Nanna Kavithe’ (My poems) by well-known poet Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy has been removed from class 5. Chinnaswamy is one of the major figures in Bandaya’s progressive literary movement started in 1974 and he strongly opposed the caste system through his poems. 

The lesson on the freedom struggle during Gandhi’s lifetime has been excluded from the Social Science class 10 textbook. In this lesson, it was stated that Ambedkar was “tired of the caste system, he left Hinduism, opposed caste system and social stratification and adopted Buddhism.” It now reads, “From a young age, he was tired of Hinduism and adopted Buddhism, which is part of the Hindu culture.” 

Educationists and scholars argue that there could be more subtle distortions that are more dangerous since they stand the chance to remain unaccounted for. 

Govt firm in its stand
While the agitation against the revised textbooks is far from dying down, the state government is equally resolute about not changing its decision. While some adjustments have been made, according to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, the administration has also chosen not to make major changes to the updated textbooks.

Muhammad Nihad PV is a sociology student at the University of Hyderabad. He tweets at @nihadbinnisar