‘Politicians becoming intolerant to slightest criticism a worry'

“Atrocious” — this was the first word that came out of almost every academic's mouth when asked how they felt about a 50-plus-year-old cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar, occupying space in an NCERT textbook since 2006, suddenly becoming the subject matter of a raging controversy — leading to an uproar in Parliament, an apology from the Human Resource Development Minister and finally an assurance of its deletion from the textbook.

“It is just foolish! How can you be ‘hurt' by a political statement made more than 50 years ago? Political cartoons are political statements and a reflection of the times; it shows our leaders are ruled by emotions that say another person's viewpoint cannot be tolerated,” said Delhi University Professor Abha Dev Habib, adding growing instances of politicians who were intolerant of the slightest criticism, whether in the form of cartoons or otherwise, was something that any academic should be worried about.

Academic integrity aside, most teachers were alarmed at the sudden uproar in the highest lawmaking authority in the country.

“If something has been published in 2006 and then comes to the notice of someone in 2012 and suddenly a responsible and respected organisation is forced to withdraw the ‘offensive' material, it is worrisome for all of us. Instead of entertaining someone making it such a political issue, the problem should be solved in the right manner,” said Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Harmeet Singh.

His sentiments were echoed by DU professor Saikat Ghosh, who said: “There is something horribly wrong about an HRD Minister apologising for something that has been there since 2006 and which he did not even know about until this whole fracas started. Offensive or not, this is just wrong.”

Some academics who did not know about the contents of the cartoon said that while offensive material should not be tolerated in any form, they were simply disgusted at the manner in which the whole issue was raked up.

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