Karnataka: Emerging election issue

EducationWorld July 2022 | Education News Magazine

Karnataka’s school textbooks revision row shows no sign of dying down and could become a major issue in the state legislative assembly elections scheduled for next summer. Despite the state’s BJP government having consented to make addenda to new textbooks already distributed to class VI-X students for the academic year 2022-23 which began on May 16, several Kannada litterateurs, religious seers, social activists and opposition parties have continued to press their demand for the complete withdrawal of the new textbooks.

According to critics, the new textbooks have been rewritten from a hindutva, Aryan perspective and contain anti-Dravidian, caste and anti-Muslim prejudices of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor organisation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling at the Centre and in Karnataka. Protestors have highlighted that chapters on Mysore’s Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan, social reformer Basavanna, Dravidian movement pioneer Periyar and social reformer Narayana Guru who opposed the caste system, featured in previous textbooks, have been omitted in new textbooks.

The genesis of the textbooks row can be traced to last September when the BJP state government constituted a 15-member Textbook Revision Committee (TRC) headed by Rohit Chakratirtha, an RSS ideologue and Kannada language writer. In March when the committee completed its assignment, it became evident that class VI-X social science textbooks have been rewritten to propagate BJP propaganda. Since then opposition to the content included in new social science textbooks in particular, has escalated.

With the textbooks row snowballing into a major controversy, the state’s BJP government issued a statement on June 27 that it will make “eight corrections” in the revised textbooks “keeping in mind sentiments of the society”. The changes include re-introduction of ‘Samvidhana Shilpi’ (architect of the Constitution), a biography of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (class IX social studies textbook); inclusion of a lesson on the Bhakti sect and Sufi saints (class VII) and a chapter detailing the contributions of Siddaganga and Adichunchanagiri Mutts (class VI) to socio-economic development.

Moreover in the class IX social science text, portions about social reformer Basavanna will be re-written and photographs of poet laureate Kuvempu and Huilgol Narayana Rao will be included in the class VII textbook. Given that the distribution of new textbooks to students in the 74,000 state board schools is underway, the state’s Karnataka Textbook Society (KTS) will print these changes/additions as addenda and distribute them again. However, according to KTS sources, only one addenda booklet will be given per school.

Yet, these “cosmetic changes” have failed to placate the protestors and the opposition Congress party which is demanding complete withdrawal of the texts and continuing classes with previous year texts. Comments Harshakumar Kugwe, a researcher at the Bengaluru-based Kuvempu Horata Samithi, one of the organisations in the frontline of protests: “We demand total withdrawal of the new textbooks. They are written from the hindutva perspective and don’t reflect Karnataka’s plurality and diversity. The TRC headed by Rohit Chakratirtha didn’t invite any suggestions or feedback from the public, unlike the previous TRC headed by Baraguru Ramachandrappa which had 27 sub-committees and incorporated feedback of 30,000 teachers. No such public debate and discussion was encouraged by the Chakratirtha committee.”

Even as protests continue, well-informed educationists in the state are sceptical about the addenda/booklets reaching schools before year end. Though schools reopened on May 16, the new textbooks were not distributed until a month later with some news reports claiming that only 60-70 percent of the full set of textbooks has been printed.
“It’s a mystery as to why the textbook’s review process was not completed during the almost two years of pandemic lockdown of schools. There is no dearth of excellent academicians and experts who can be appointed on textbooks review committees. Neither is their lack of excellent model texts — the 2009 NCERT textbooks for instance. The duty of government is to provide school children textbooks which are well-balanced and factual, and not impose left or right ideologies. The entire textbooks production and distribution system needs radical overhaul,” says Maya Menon, founder-director of the Teacher Foundation (estb.2002), a Bengaluru-based teacher development organisation.
Even as it’s likely to be a long wait for the eight million children in state board schools to receive the textbook addenda, the opposition Congress party has vowed to make the ruling BJP’s textbooks amendments a major election issue in the run-up to the legislative assembly elections next May.

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