There is nothing inappropriate in the NCERT social science textbooks and the tools used are indeed imaginative exercises in critical pedagogy, says M.S.S. Pandian in his note dissenting with the S.K. Thorat panel, which has ordered deletion of several cartoons and words.

The six-member committee was constituted in the wake of a controversy over an Ambedkar cartoon in a class XI textbook.

“I read all the textbooks with care, and from my own location as a teacher, as a parent, and as someone who has a steadfast commitment to certain kind of transformative politics. While reading these textbooks, I did take into account the suggestions by subject experts and the concerns expressed by political parties, educational and other NGOs, and public intellectuals. After the rewarding exercise of reading them, I do not find — let me confess, contrary to my expectation — anything educationally inappropriate in them; and they should be used as they are,” Prof. Pandian says in his three-page note.

This, however, does not mean, these textbooks are forever. Like everything else — be it life, society or political icons — these books will court redundancy over time. “In my judgment, that time is not yet. After all, what is often being perceived as ‘politically incorrect’ need not be ‘educationally inappropriate’.”

Prof. Pandian cites the particular role of visuals in the textbooks. Democratic Politics - I: Textbook in Political Science for Class IX, for instance, notes, “Munni and Unni are two characters specially designed for the book by cartoonist Irfan Khan. The two of them keep appearing every now and then to ask all kinds of questions: impish, irrelevant, irreverent or even impossible. The questions are sparked off by the points made in the text. But in most cases you will not find the answer in the textbook itself... They give the space to take a detour and get into a side discussion that is often richer than the main one...”

In other words, the visual material in the textbooks does not merely illustrate the text, but engages with it in a critical dialogue, opening up spaces for the learners to enquire, question, and interpret. Given this pedagogical method, the text and the visuals cannot work independent of each other. In a manner of speaking, only in the mutuality of the text and the visuals, these textbooks realize their pedagogical intent. Doing them apart will be pedagogically deleterious. “Let me add here, the visuals do not spare even the textbook writers.”

Referring to Indian Constitution at Work: Textbook in Political Science for Class X, Prof. Pandian says lrfan Khan’s Unni poses the question: “Am I just a figurehead or am I asking real questions? Did the textbook writers give me power to ask questions I wish to ask or am I asking questions they have in their mind?”

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