With an expert panel rejecting the SK Thorat committee’s recommendations for large scale deletion of cartoons of politicians from school textbooks, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is likely to do away with only two illustrations from political science texts for classes IX to XII.
A formal response to the Thorat report is being prepared, but NCERT is expected to delete two cartoons – one featuring Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar sketched by the famous cartoonist Shankar in 1949 and another on the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s – that had led to repeated stalling of Parliament in the Budget session.
Excising the cartoons will provide some relief to the government ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, expected to get underway in early August, even though NCERT may not carry out as severe a purge of political cartoons as the Centre might have hoped for.
NCERT’s national monitoring committee (NMC) found itself in disagreement with the Thorat panel’s views and felt public debate and parliamentary oversight had to be balanced with the functional autonomy of academic bodies.
NMC members felt the Thorat committee had done slapdash job without explaining the basis for recommending removal of 21 cartoons and changes in captions and texts that were largely seen to involve references to politicians.
Explaining why the panel will need some more time to draft a formal response, NMC member Zoya Hasan said decisions cannot be taken “instantaneously” as they relate to textbook materials. “You have to respect the public debate…but by and large it was felt there are many inadequacies in the report,” she said.
“At a personal level, I feel there are a number of problems with the panel report. It has not really given convincing reasons for the deletion of the cartoons and I think it has not done justice to the complexities of the issues under discussion,” Hasan said.
An official NCERT statement said that it would prepare a formal response to Thorat committee report. “Keeping in mind the public debate on some cartoons in the political science textbooks it was decided that the textbook development committees concerned would work with director, NCERT, and make whatever changes are required,” it stated.
The Thorat committee was set up after widespread resentment in the political class over what were seen to be derogatory representations of politicians. Tamil Nadu parties and dalit activists protested over the Ambedkar and anti-Hindi cartoons with Parliament being stalled by agitated MPs.
The outrage expressed by politicians was, however, not mirrored by other sections as it was felt that cartoons are a useful tool in kindling the interest of school students in political science. Academics felt their turf was being encroached on while public reaction reflected a general lack of sympathy for MPs.
Resisting pressure to delete cartoons, NCM members felt a few could be looked at afresh keeping in mind “public sentiment”. The consensus on minimal changes came after sources said a majority of the NCM members felt that there should be no alterations at all.
“No one defended the Thorat committee report. We could not understand what criteria were followed to identify the cartoons that the committee felt should be deleted. Some of the members felt none of the cartoons, including the two that stalled Parliament, should be removed. Many asked why the cartoons should be a problem when they were there in the texts for years,” said one of the participants.
While the Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon led to numerous adjournments of both Houses of Parliament during budget session, one on the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu kicked up another controversy in the state with key UPA ally DMK demanding its removal and other parties joining the chorus.
As a consequence, the government suspended the circulation and publication of six political science textbooks of Class IX, X, XI and XII. The Thorat committee sought removal of about 21 cartoons and recommended some changes in words and phrases with “negative” implications.
NMC is likely to send its formal response on the Thorat committee report by July 23. Two textbooks in which no changes were suggested have already been sent for distribution.
NMC has also advised NCERT to have a general and independent mechanism to review textbooks more frequently so that they are updated. Members have suggested that changes should be carried out in other textbooks swiftly keeping students’ interests in mind.