1. Whether we see the elimination of cartoons from textbooks as involving issues of freedom of expression would depend on how we view the status of images in the text. Surely different genres of texts connote different forms of creativity. Contrary to what Bilgrami thinks, images in most of these NCERT textbooks are not merely ‘illustrations' but are constitutive of the text, shaping the meaning of what is being said. At times they say things that the written text does not, at times they question the text, and at times they offer a different reading of events. Their constitutive and expressive function in pedagogic practice cannot be judged through a frame that is appropriate for evaluating literature.
2. Bilgrami entirely misses the point I was making about academic autonomy. The issue is not whether review committees have academics, though that too is very important. I was concerned more with the way Patnaik conflates semi-autonomous structures like the National Council Of Educational Research And Training (NCERT) with other state institutions and the implication this has for our understanding of academic autonomy. Surely we have to recognise that the fragile autonomy and institutionalised democratic processes of all such semi-autonomous institutions need to be defended.
3. Bilgrami's nuanced twist to the dialectic at work in Patnaik's argument proceeds by smoothening the contradictions, ambiguities and slippages in the text. In this particular article, Patnaik refers to academics and experts interchangeably, collapsing their difference. A critique of the idea of ‘experts' surely cannot be mapped on to academics in general.
It seems to me that Bilgrami unwittingly supports my argument. In talking of academics, as distinct from experts, Bilgrami writes: ‘The ordinary people are the possessors of knowledge that is the business of pedagogy in the academy to produce.' I entirely agree. But there is no trace of this argument in Patnaik's essay. He conflates the terms that Bilgrami separates. Remember Patnaik's statement: ‘Academics are not accountable to anybody', and so this accountability had to be ensured through Parliamentary intervention. It is against this view I emphasised that myriad ties of intellectual responsibility and accountability, not just Parliamentary mediation, ought to link academics to the social and political world they inhabit.
Anyone familiar with the NCF (National Curriculum Framework) and the new textbooks would know that they explicitly question the authority of the ‘expert'. They mark a fundamental shift in seeing children as active learners, participating in the production of knowledge, questioning what they read, rather than seeing textbooks as repositories of unquestionable truths. Different forms of knowledge that people produce in their daily lives are sought to be understood, not demeaned.
4. Patnaik warns about the logic of global capital. But this logic is manifest not simply in the move towards privatisation and setting up of totally autonomous institutions. It is equally visible in the efforts to destroy existing democratic structures within institutions, the multiple sites in which democracy works. Is it not necessary to strengthen these against the disciplinary drive of capital and state? That is why, in reading Patnaik's essay, I expressed a deep sense of disquiet. Bilgrami has not persuaded me to change my mind.
(The author is a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the Chief Adviser of the NCERT history textbooks.)