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Karnataka: Inconvenient charge

EducationWorld February 13 | Education News EducationWorld

At an inconvenient time when the incumbent BJP government of Karnataka is confronted with a split in its ranks following the exit of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, and the state scheduled to go to the hustings in May, it is taking heat for infiltrating hindutva propaganda (“saffronisation”) into textbooks of primary and secondary children in over 50,000 state board-affiliated schools. In early January, a Mangalore-based Committee for Resisting Saffronisation of Education (CRSE) submitted a memorandum to Union human resource development minister M. Pallam Raju and the Delhi-based National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), alleging that class V and VIII textbooks published by the Karnataka Textbook Society (KTS) “instill non-secular values, religious fundamentalism and the idea of a Hindu rashtra in crores of young and impressionable minds”.

CRSE’s memorandum cites several examples of “saffronisation” culled from prescribed class V and VIII textbooks printed by KTS. For instance, in the social science class V textbook, the kings of the Keladi dynasty (1499-1763) are portrayed as promoters of Hinduism who fought against neighbouring Muslim kingdoms, while their battles with neighbouring Hindu kings are not mentioned. In the same text, the history of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region is depicted as a history of Muslim kings persecuting their Hindu subjects, and some Roman Catholic churches of Bangalore have been inaccurately been described as British built. In a class VIII Hindi textbook in a lesson titled ‘Punyakoti’, a tiger takes an oath saying “consumption of cow’s meat is a bad thought; henceforth, I will not eat cow’s meat”, whereas the original Kannada version of the fable contains no reference to any such oath.

Several high-profile educationists and minority organisations in the state including the Karnataka Regional Commission for Education (KRCE), Karnataka Unaided Minorities Schools Management Association, and Karnataka United Christian Forum have joined the fray. On January 12, at a seminar organised by KRCE, top-level academics and activists criticised the state’s beleaguered BJP government. “The social science textbooks of classes VI and VIII, as well as English, Kannada and Hindi textbooks, have been embedded with hindutva ideology. In a pluralistic society, it’s important that all regions and social groups are able to relate to textbooks. We have submitted a memorandum to governor H.R. Bhardwaj demanding withdrawal of the social science and language textbooks,” said Sr. M. Genevieve, KRCE secretary and former principal of Mount Carmel College.

Research scholar Francis D’souza, whose book Right Wing Ideology in the Textbooks of Karnataka — A Critical Appraisal was released at the seminar, believes the state’s textbooks writing and prescription processes need to be de-politicised and professionalised. “It’s common for political parties in power to tamper with school texts to propagate their ideologies. The textbook writing process should be depoliticised with genuine academics given full freedom to develop content. The benchmark for all textbook writers should be the National Curriculum Framework, 2005 which propagates a liberal, inclusive and egalitarian school curriculum,” says D’Souza, a Ph D student of Kuvempu University, Shimoga.

This is not the first time the BJP government in Karnataka has been accused of infiltrating religious ideology and biases into textbooks. In March last year, a huge row broke out on the same issue with the opposition Congress party demanding reconstitution of the state government-run KTS, which selects authors to write textbooks for government and aided schools affiliated with the Karnataka Secondary Education Examinations Board. At the time, former state education minister B.K. Chandrashekar alleged that Prof. G.S. Mudambadithaya, convenor of KTS and a card-carrying member of the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) together with state primary and secondary education minister Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, had “tinted the books with biases and prejudices”.

It’s an open secret that textbook writing committee members are selected on the basis of their proximity to politicians, ideology, and other commercial considerations than on merit or track record. Moreover, ‘educationists’ selected by KTS to write textbooks are invariably government school/college/university teachers. Reputed academics and experts from the private sector are rarely invited on textbook committees. In this flawed and tightly government-controlled Rs.120 crore textbooks printing business, quality, factual accuracy and excellence are secondary considerations.

Meanwhile with the state scheduled to go to the polls in May, and the BJP state government experiencing a rebellion, the campaign to “de-saffronise” texts is set to grow louder in the coming months. All of which is bad news for the BJP in Karnataka tottering on its last legs.

Summiya Yasmeen (Bangalore) 

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