In ordering the deletion of certain cartoons and words from a number of social and political science school textbooks, the committee constituted by the National Council for Educational Research and Training appears to have followed the line of least resistance. First the two cartoons that have generated political controversies were promptly sent to the trash tray; and then, many, many more. With a mandate to review the textbooks and identify educationally inappropriate material, the panel headed by S.K. Thorat was expected to take a detailed look at all visual material with the help of subject experts. But the number of cartoons erased and the flimsy and even bizarre reasons given mark the whole exercise as politically coloured from beginning to end. Many of the changes seem to have been recommended with the interest of the political and bureaucratic classes in mind, and not on pedagogic grounds. Some cartoons are to be removed because they convey a “negative message” about politicians and bureaucrats, others because they are politically “sensitive”. A few cartoons were seen as too “ambiguous.” Surely, these cannot be grounds for exclusion while preparing instruction material to develop critical thinking among students in Classes XI and XII. Indeed, going by the suggested deletions, the “politically sensitive” argument looks tailor-made to ensure the removal of cartoons seen as causing offence to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
As the dissenting member of the committee M.S.S. Pandian sagely notes, what is perceived as “politically incorrect” need not be “educationally inappropriate” for students being initiated into critical thinking. The National Curriculum Framework from which the current textbooks sprang broke new ground precisely because they sought to encourage young learners to ask questions for which there may not be a single correct answer. True, the authors of the textbook may have gone overboard here and there; a sensible, nuanced review could have easily set things right. But the deletions now being ordered defy all reason and commonsense. For example, an American cartoon in which the Republican and Democratic parties are shown as an elephant and donkey is to be dropped because “politicians and institutions are represented as animals.” This despite the fact that the two animals are party mascots! Agreed, there is nothing sacrosanct about the textbooks and the cartoons they carry. Other cartoons and other textbooks could have served the pedagogic purpose just as well. But inclusion and exclusion of material in textbooks cannot be carried out, as the Thorat committee has done, keeping in mind narrowly defined political sensitivities and imaginary community sensibilities. It will be a matter of national shame if its recommended deletions are accepted by the NCERT.