Just as the controversy over a cartoon on B.R. Ambedkar in a textbook prepared by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is settling down, another row has erupted over a cartoon in a class XII Political Science text book of the NCERT. The cartoon relates to the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 in Tamil Nadu and politicians here say it depicts the student protagonists of the agitation in a poor light.
Political parties have demanded the removal of the cartoon drawn by R.K. Laxman from the textbook as it gives an impression that the student agitators knew neither English nor Hindi. The cartoon appears on page 153 of the Political Science book in the chapter, ‘Politics in India, since Independence.'
Describing the cartoon as deplorable, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko on Friday wrote to Union Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD) Kabil Sibal, saying the cartoon was a total distortion of history and hurt the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu and maligned the Dravidian Movement.
Mr Vaiko, who has also written a similar letter to Prof. P. Sinclair, director of NCERT, requested the Minister to take steps to remove the cartoon from the textbook and defer to the emotions of the people of Tamil Nadu.
He said even Dr. Sunithkumar Chatterjee, Member of the Official Language Commission, strongly opposed the imposition of Hindi, “due to the reasonable apprehension that the non-Hindi speaking people would become second class citizens.”
Echoing Mr. Vaiko's view that “the cartoon represents a distortion of history” former legislator and general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) Ravikumar said though C. Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji, [who is shown in the cartoon as trying to assure the agitators that Hindi would not be imposed on them] turned against the Congress and opposed imposition of Hindi for political reasons, it was he who first imposed Hindi in Tamil Nadu.
“The widespread protests in 1939 resulted in the death of Natarajan, a Dalit, and Thalamuthu Nadar at the hands of the police during an anti-Hindi agitation,” recalled Mr. Ravikumar.
He said the entire country knew how Mr. M. Bhaktavatsalam, as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, unleashed repressive measures against the student movement during the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965.
“But the cartoon seeks to give a picture that both Rajaji and Bhaktavatsalam gave assurances that Hindi would not be imposed and English will continue,” he said.
Making it clear that he was not against the use of cartoons in textbooks, Mr. Ravikumar said he was only opposing the inappropriate manner in which the cartoon had been used.
“If the text had given a fair account of the anti-Hindi agitation and the Dravidian movement, a student could view the cartoon critically. On the other hand, the text gives one point of view and the cartoon gives another. By portraying that students from Tamil Nadu do not know English, the cartoon humiliated the entire student community in the State,” Mr. Ravikumar said, adding that inclusion of experts from Tamil Nadu in the book preparation committee would have avoided such embarrassment.
Senior DMK leader Duraimurugan, who was in the forefront of the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation, said it was laughable that the cartoon had tried to tell the world that Tamil Nadu students lacked English knowledge.
“When they deliberately rejected Hindi, how do you expect them to learn it? As far as English is concerned, few could match Tamils in acquiring the skills of the language,” he said, recalling how orators such as Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Sastri, Sathyamurthi and Dr. S. Radhakrishan proved their felicity with the language.
Demanding that the cartoon be withdrawn, Mr. Duraimurugan said the DMK that braved the Army in 1965, would not allow such humiliation to the Tamils.
Novelist and former Tamil professor of Delhi University, Indira Parthasarathy, said those who prepared the text books had no business to use cartoons that make a political statement. “A cartoon could have been drawn in the different context in the past and it could convey a different meaning in a changed context. You cannot expect a student to keep in mind the earlier context and view the cartoon,” he said.
Mr. Parthasarathy said though it was a matter a debate whether one should sacrifice one's life for a protest like the anti-Hindi agitation, the person's commitment to the cause should be respected.