The textbook review panel left much to be desired in ensuring participation in its deliberations, says a dissenting member

As a member of the NCERT committee on social science textbooks headed by Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, I have consciously kept away from the media so far. This was so, despite my dissenting note being made public. Now that Prof. Thorat has chosen to describe me as a ‘non-participant member’ of the committee in an article published in The Hindu (“Learning from a Controversy”, August 3), I am, against my wish and conviction, forced to share some details of how Prof. Thorat ensured the participation of the committee members in the deliberations of the committee. The details pertain to how the discussion with the experts was held and how my request for the draft report was treated.

On May 29 and 30, the chairperson, the convener, and a member of the committee met the subject experts in New Delhi. Majority of the committee members were kept in the dark about this crucial meeting. One of the committee members, objecting rightly, wrote on May 30 to the convener of the committee, “…I learnt that the meeting with the experts was held on May 29 and 30 in the absence of the majority of Committee members. Surely this is not in order since I would personally like to hear the comments of the experts before we launch into any further discussion on the matter of defining ‘appropriate study material.’ Was our presence not necessary? In that case what are we in the Committee for?”

I, too, responded on the same day to the convener: “I also had a strong feeling of disquiet about the subject experts’ meeting being held without the committee members’ presence… There was no discussion about a meeting of subject experts in Delhi. For whatever reason, I was not even informed about the subject experts’ meeting either by the Convener or the Chairperson of the Committee…”

Excuse

On May 31, one of the experts who attended the New Delhi meeting wrote to the convener, “If my memory serves me well we the members of the experts committee were informed… that the other members of the committee were not in town and that was why they could not attend the meetings with us... Please share the comments [with the committee members] made by Prof. Thorat on the parliamentary debates and his expectations from us, stated during his interaction with us and our reaction to his comments etc…”

We got an unconvincing post facto justification from the convener for keeping us out of the meeting, but not a word on the chairperson’s brief to the experts. What is more, we got a collation of experts’ opinions without any idea of who wrote what.

Now, to my request for the Draft Committee Report. On June 13, I wrote to the convener, “Today’s Times of India reports that the Review Committee is expected to submit its report on the 15th of June. Kindly ensure that the draft report is sent to me before it is finalised so that I can either endorse it (with or without modifications) or share my own opinion to be added to the report. I will ensure that there is no undue delay because of this.”

Unshared report

I persisted with my request. However, the report was not shared with me. Ten days later, on June 24, I wrote to the convener: “I am dismayed at the fact that the draft report of the committee on the NCERT textbooks has not been shared with me, while it has been sent to all other committee members. This is so, despite my specific request that it has to be shared with me… I continue to be a member of the committee and basic courtesies — such as sharing what is shared with other members — need to be maintained...”

On June 26, the Director of the NCERT wrote to Prof. Thorat, “Kindly read the attached mail from Prof. Pandian wherein he says that the draft report was never shared with him, in spite of his asking for the same. My understanding is that any report can only be finalised after all the members look at it carefully and give you their comments on it, which can then be discussed in a meeting with all present, and the report finalised. My request is that this be done in this case too.”

The final report was submitted on June 27 without my having a chance to go through it. So much for Prof. Thorat ensuring “participatory development” of the report. Let me assure Prof. Thorat, Manu is no scholar for me and the story above is no historian’s storytelling.

(M.S.S. Pandian is Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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