"Episode an affront to freedom of expression and attacks on Ambedkar himself"

Activists and Dalit intellectuals have expressed concern over the move to carry out changes in NCERT textbooks, in the wake of the recent controversy over an Ambedkar cartoon. What happened in Parliament, where a section of members raised the issue of the 1949 cartoon by Shankar Pillai published in a Standard XI Political Science textbook, was a brazen attempt at wooing the Dalit vote bank, they charged at a meeting here. The NCERT books were well-produced and of high quality, they asserted.

The People's Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan; the Centre for Dalit Rights, the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh, the Bharatiya Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) and Idara termed the controversy “uncalled for.” The groups have decided to organise meetings to read out contents from all banned textbooks, including “300 Ramayanas,” and hold exhibitions of the banned cartoons.

“What is extremely disturbing is the manner in which Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal apologised in Parliament, and conceded the demands for removal of the cartoons and stopping of distribution of books,” said a statement issued by the groups.

“We are certain that there's nothing objectionable in the Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon by itself, and the text accompanying it. In fact, it is highly appreciative of the hard work by the Constituent Assembly under the leadership of Dr. B. R Ambedkar.”

Leading Dalit activist and Centre for Dalit Rights chairman P. L. Mimrot said, “In fact, it appeared to me, that it was for the first time, Baba Saheb received this kind of prominence in an NCERT book.”

Describing as “cowardly” the attack on Suhas Palsikar, who has since submitted his resignation as Chief Adviser to the NCERT (Political Science), Dalit activist and editor of Diamond India Bhanwar Meghwanshi, said: “If the caption is read with the cartoon, no one can find fault with it.”

“Fascist tendencies'

Rajeev Gupta, Professor of Sociology in Rajasthan University, termed the whole episode an affront to freedom of expression and attack on Ambedkar himself.

“The whole attitude reeks of fascist tendencies. The Minister ordered the removal of the cartoons, even without referring the matter to an academic committee.”

It was pointed out that out of the 32 cartoons in NCERT books, 16 pertained to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

‘Education implies openness'

“In the past also, texts have been deleted, and books have been tampered with, and people have had cases filed against them, merely in the name of upsetting public opinion.

“It is important to know that the endeavour of education isn't to indoctrinate the minds of the young, or teach them any one ideology… Education essentially implies having openness towards all points of view.

“The young must know that there are many dimensions to any issue,” said the statement signed by Prem Krishna Sharma, Kavita Srivastava and Radha Kant Saxena of the PUCL, Rajasthan; M. Hasan of Idara; Komal Srivastava of the BGVS; and academicians and activists Prakash Chaturvedi, Vishwambhar, Rajeev Gupta, Rajendra Saiwal, Govind Beniwal and Shiv Singh.

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