A large number of students joined academicians, activists and Dalit leaders here on Saturday to protest against the recent decision of the Human Resource Development Ministry to withdraw cartoons from NCERT textbooks in the wake of a furore in Parliament over a cartoon. Though the expressions varied, there appeared to be a consensus against withdrawing the cartoons.

The wisdom as well as the intentions of the political parties and the stand taken by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal also came in for questioning at the discussion, “Future of textbooks,” held at the Pink City Press Club here. The programme was jointly organised by the Shikshan Ka Adhikar Manch, PUCL Rajasthan, and a group of 60 students.

The speakers felt that the issue of dropping cartoons from the textbooks should not be taken in isolation. There had been campaigns against NCERT books in the past also though this time the political parties showed an amazing level of unity to “deride' them, they noted.

“The HRD Minister should have stood up to defend the books for, he is also the patron of NCERT. Instead, he disowned the books and even ordered an enquiry,” said Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand. “They are talking about offending Dalit sensibility. Dalit sensibility is being merely used as a lever,” he pointed out. “It took some time for them to reach science and history books. Back in 2006 they had opposed the contents of Hindi books,” he said.

Rohit Dhankar of Azim Premji University, Bangalore, said the strong link the country's education system had with democracy was clearly spelt as early as in the Mudaliyar committee report on education. The present tirade against cartoons in the texts was not an isolated incident as such attempts at defeating the very purpose of modern, scientific education had been witnessed on several occasions in the past as well, he noted.

Aman Madan, Sociology Professor at Azim Premji University, said the NCERT textbooks represented weaker sections and provoked inquisitiveness and created a quest for intellectual pursuits. “Now NCERT experts are frightened as the Minister has set up an enquiry committee,” he noted.

Dalit leader and patron of the Centre for Dalit Rights P.L. Mimorth said the whole noise over Dalit sensibilities was misplaced as there was nothing objectionable in the cartoon. “In fact, I feel happy about the content of the NCERT textbooks as they give more exposure to Baba Saheb than ever before,” he said. Mr. Mimorth said pitting Dalit against non-Dalits was not a healthy thing for the country's democracy.

Rajeev Gupta of Rajasthan University suspected ulterior motives in the present controversy. “Political parties are trying to do communal politics either overtly or covertly.”

Komal Srivastava of the Bharatiya Gyan Vigyan Samiti called for a country-wide campaign against textbook intolerance.

The teachers and students who spoke at the function strongly defended the NCERT textbooks and sought safeguarding their contents. “I have been teaching this book since 2005. This is a beautiful book. The cartoon helps in teaching,” Rubina Sen, a teacher of the Pink City St. Anselm School, said about the controversial textbook.

The event was followed by a cartoon exhibition put up at the Statue Circle.

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