‘I tried in vain to reason with attackers on cartoon'
A day after Suhas Palshikar quit as Chief Adviser of the National Council of Educational Research And Training (NCERT) over the Ambedkar cartoon row, a group of youths ransacked his office at the University of Pune. The Republican Panthers Party of India (affiliated to the RPI-Athawale) has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Professor Palshikar, who is the head of the Political Science department in the university, along with psephologist Yogendra Yadav, who also resigned as Chief Adviser on Friday, was instrumental in designing the NCERT syllabus in 2006. It was then that a decision was taken to include the caricature on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in a Class XI textbook, depicting the process of the framing of the Constitution. On Friday, following a ruckus in both Houses of Parliament, the government apologised for the cartoon, and promised to withdraw the textbook henceforth.
Speaking to The Hindu, Professor Palshikar said that on Saturday four people came to his office and told him they had come to protest his including the controversial caricature in the textbook. His efforts to reason with them were in vain. “They said, how can you insult Dr. Ambedkar? I tried to convince and pacify them. I even asked them to read the text around the cartoon which explains the entire process of the framing of the Constitution.”
But, “Unfortunately, they did not want to discuss anything. It feels like they had come to create a scene. They started shouting slogans, picked up chairs and vandalised the furniture.” Faculty members Yashwant Sumant, Harsh Jaglap and Vivek Ghotale were present at the time of the incident, which lasted 10 minutes.
The Pune police have arrested three of the youths. They said further action would be taken against them if the university filed a criminal complaint.
Professor Palshikar, however, said punishing the youths would serve no purpose. “Instead, whoever instigated them should be convinced of the futility of such actions. The people who attacked my office didn't know why they were doing it. Their leaders should be spoken to, and brought under pressure to stop such activity.”
Standing by his decision to quit as NCERT Chief Adviser, he said: “There was cross-party support to the idea of banning the caricature, stating that it insults Dr Ambedkar. This means that the government does not want to encourage creative textbooks anymore. We decided that when our views are at variance with the government, we cannot continue anymore.” The NCERT has not yet replied to his resignation. Professor Palshikar said: “Cartoons and caricatures are an integral part of political commentary, and the so-called controversial caricature did not target any particular group.”
The ransacking incident was condemned by a research organisation, Lokniti, of which Professor Palshikar is Director.
“We wish to condemn in the strongest possible terms the vandalism indulged in by certain elements ... We believe that such actions strike at the very core of democratic foundations of our society. Babasaheb Ambedkar represents the best of democratic values and traditions. It is a sad commentary that those who indulged in this mindless act of violence sought to muzzle free speech and expression, values that are at the core of Babasaheb's philosophy,” Sandeep Shastri, National Coordinator, Lokniti Network, said in a statement.