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Rohith Chakratirtha

Karnataka textbooks row: “I had no agenda”, says Rohith Chakratirtha

June 14, 2022
Reshma Ravishanker

Rohith Chakratirtha, hitherto chairperson of the Textbooks Revision Committee (TRC) of the Karnataka state government, spoke to Reshma Ravishanker about the controversy over alleged saffronisation of textbooks of state board affiliated schools. A well-known Kannada author and right-wing ideologue, Chakratirtha was appointed in 2021 to head a committee to suggest revisions in class VI-X Kannada and social studies texts. The committee submitted its recommendations in March. Since then media reports are rife that the committee has extensively revised class VI-X social science English and Kannada textbooks to project the hindutva perspective. Moreover, Chakratirtha has come under attack for sharing a distorted version of the state anthem penned by poet laureate Kuvempu and tweets promoting pornography and misogyny.

On June 3, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai disbanded the textbook review committee as its designated work was completed, and said that the government is open for further revision if there are any objectionable content.

It’s alleged that the new textbooks reflect the Hindutva perspective and are disrespectful of some communities such as the Dalits. Your comment.

The debate is no more textbook centric. From the beginning, discussions rarely revolved around the quality of content. Attempts are being made by some people and organisations to provoke communities on the pretext of textbook changes, based on one word or a picture in isolation. These so-called intellectual debates are neither informative nor healthy criticism.

Your social media posts, particularly relating to pornography and feminism, as well as on Kuvempu are being heavily criticized. Questions are being raised over whether you were the right person to head a Textbook Revision Committee.

Firstly, I have not said the unknown. So far as Kuvempu’s distorted works are concerned, I did not promote or concur it in my post. I shared what someone else did. A police complaint was lodged, and a B report filed back then. This and the other tweets that date back several years and are in the past. In my name, several miscreants are also morphing posts and adding what I never said.

Opposition parties believe that your only qualification for appointment as RTC chief was your reputation as a right-wing ideologue.

Can someone define right-wing ideology? This is a word used loosely by people who do not understand what it stands for. I have a “nationalistic” view. I believe in seeing beyond communities, religion. India comes first. I have never been associated with any party or its affiliates.

What qualifies you for this post?

Are there written rules on qualifications? I have 15 years-experience in the field of education. I was a Mathematics lecturer in three different colleges, helping students learn in the integrated approach to clear JEE among several other competitive exams. I moved to writing later. Does this make me underqualified? Since 2017, I have been researching and writing about half truths Baraguru Ramachandrappa (head of the previous TRC) presented to students. Not once did I receive a notice or rebuttal from him. In 2021, the education department reached out to me asking me to chair a 15-members expert committee. In fact, many members were part of the previous two committees as well.

When you were entrusted with the task of textbooks revision, what was your agenda?

The message from the education department was clear. Misrepresented facts were to be corrected, half-truths were to be eliminated, highly biased content and deviations from reality were to be rectified. What we did was not ‘agenda’ based but ‘evidence’ based.

Our suggestions have been manipulated to provoke some communities. For example, the Dalits were provoked saying a chapter on Ambedkar has been distorted. In class 7 and 8 texts, he has been revered as the ‘samvidanashilpi’ while opposition claimed otherwise. No changes were made to class 4 textbooks which talk about Kuvempu. It was not in our ambit. Yet, they shared the content and provoked Vokkaligas. Many more such instances can be narrated.

Did you have a public discussion or expert deliberations before publication of the changes?

DSERT guidelines have it that once changes are proposed, a set of teachers meet. We ask them if they have feedback or look for possible challenges while teaching the content. This is reviewed and changes incorporated. Another set of teachers are called in again and a second check is done. The DSERT experts are called in to evaluate if all objectives are met. There is no room for public debates. If Ramachandrappa claims to have done it, he has violated the rules of DSERT. To say the least, he has not even presented a fact sheet on changes his committee made to the DSERT yet.

Also read: Karnataka: Call for revoking textbook revisions grows stronger

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