Shankar made me smile as I slogged

It was a few days ago that I came to know there was a controversy about a cartoon in our political science textbook. Articles by scholars, professors and experts on the one hand, and views of politicians on the other enabled me to delve deeper into this ostensibly complex issue. Yet no matter how hard I try, or how philosophical I try to get, I cannot go beyond the fact that it is a humorous representation that syncs with the written text. In the sea of monotonous and factual legal and political jargon, the cartoon makes understanding of the text clear and simple. I look at the cartoon and a pleasant smile spreads across my face. It is a break from studies while actually studying. I know it sounds paradoxical, but pictorial representation can and does have this effect. Moreover it enables one to think beyond the text. If the text describes the procedures and the know-how involved in making the Constitution, the cartoon explains how it actually came into being with all its problems and drawbacks. Thus it can be said that while the text is merely theoretical, cartoons are theoretical as well as practical.

Cartoons are essential

The metaphorical representation of the snail's hump as the Constitution and B.R. Ambedkar being the driver of the snail with Nehru to assist him in his quest speaks more than pages of written material.

Using this 5x3 picture, Shankar has encapsulated the very idea of the whole chapter. It enabled me to get a better understanding of the text. Using this very image, any student can successfully deduce the role played by Nehru and Ambedkar in the making of the Constitution. Imagine what any student with reasonable intelligence would be able to do with 20 such cartoons! Though cartoons in textbooks are very rarely directly tested, their presence is essential to understand what is tested. Without their wit and approach, the whole text would seem like an incoherent and never-ending harangue. The whole idea of eliminating them is preposterous. Students would be able to do better in their exams if these cartoons remain.

Political Science used to be my favourite subject in school. I found these classes both enjoyable and enriching. The understanding of political cartoons greatly contributed to this feeling. We used to look at these pictures for a better understanding of the chapter. It never appeared that the cartoons were meant to hurt someone's feelings nor did we think that way. Neither did we feel that they were morally or politically wrong. The cartoons were simply tools for more enjoyable and meaningful learning.

I would now like to illustrate the role played by these cartoons in broadening the mindset of students. If education stands for just memorising certain facts and reproducing them in the exams, then perhaps the utility of these cartoons can be called into question. Yet their presence and understanding is essential for a more holistic and meaningful approach to education. The best thing about pictures, drawings and sketches is that they are open to subjective interpretations. Thus while for some they may represent art and beauty, others may admire their grandeur, wit and humour. It is also possible that some people may develop a negative view of these pictures. This is what has happened in this context. The argument that the cartoon in question hurts Dalit identity is neither true nor false. It is only relative. And it is the relative strength of an argument which determines its validity. The vast diversity of opinion in India makes it difficult to know which arguments are valid and which are invalid. So it has been in the ongoing controversy. There has been a difference of opinion between those who support the cartoons and those who do not. However, as a student of political science I can say that we need to form our opinion on the basis of values of democracy, freedom, diversity and creativity, which is exactly what political science as a subject teaches us.

(Ishaan Sharma is a student of Springdales School, Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi. He wrote the Class XII CBSE Board exam this year, with Political Science as one of his subjects.)

More In: Comment | Opinion