Academics, eminent citizens dismayed over biases in textbooks

“Such texts detract from our fraternal, secular, plural, inclusive and democratic ideals and tend to introduce biases in young and impressionable minds”

Updated - November 03, 2016 07:40 am IST

Published - September 07, 2013 01:47 am IST - NEW DELHI

Academics and eminent citizens have expressed dismay over distortion of facts, interpretation and emphasis that has crept into certain history and social science textbooks in Karnataka and some other States containing elements of “saffronisation” and valourisation of specific regional heroes, ethnic identities and faith-based communities in a manner that do not do justice to or even denigrate others.

In a joint statement issued here, 24 academics and citizens said they were disturbed that despite renewed directions in this regard, school textbooks across the country were not always being produced in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005. They suggested the setting up of a committee to evaluate Social Sciences and Humanities textbooks.

This has happened in Maharashtra, Punjab and elsewhere (as cited by the CABE Committee of 2005 on non-governmental text books taught in private schools, chaired by Professor Zoya Hasan), and others.

“Such texts detract from our fraternal, secular, plural, inclusive and democratic ideals and tend to introduce biases in young and impressionable minds,” the statement said.

“In order to avoid such distortions and chaotic organisation of information, we would like to suggest the constitution of a National Commission to evaluate textbooks in the Social Sciences and Humanities, complementing the NCF. This body may have, say, three members for each important discipline and the right to vet textbooks and ask for the removal of those passages that do not come up to standard,” it said.

It could provide a useful institutional filter given the growing trend towards competitive, identity-based, vote-bank politics that derided and eroded the very idea of India, said the statement signed by Romila Thapar, historian; Zoya Hasan, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); Krishna Kumar, Delhi University; Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha; Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal; Naresh Chandra, former Cabinet Secretary; N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu ; U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad and Chandrashekhara Kambara, all Jnanpeeth awardees; B.K. Chandrashekar, former Minister for Education, Karnataka; Patricia Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times ; Mushirul Hasan, historian; Jayati Ghosh, JNU; Nivedita Menon, JNU; Ritu Menon, feminist publisher; Dileep Padgaonkar, Editorial Advisor, Times of India ; Achin Vanaik, Delhi University; Indu Agnihotri, Director, CWDS; Rajeev Bhargava, Director, CSDS; Shadaksharappa Shettar, Basawaraj Kadgudi and O.L. Nagabhushana Swamy, leading Karnataka educationists, and B.G. Verghese, columnist.

Citing examples from a report of the Committee for Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks (CRST), Karnataka, the statement says objectionable contents were found in the new VI standard Social Science Textbook prescribed in 2013 during the tenure of the previous government. The History Section of Social Science Semester 1 book appears to have been drafted ignoring appeals to resist saffronisation of textbooks. The social science textbook committee had strengthened stereotypes against Muslims and Christians and subdued the voices of women, Dalits and non-Vedic traditions, it said.

The first chapter, which introduces Christianity and Islam, is titled Bharatha matthu horaprapancha (India and the World Outside). The title itself alienates the two religions and those who follow them.

On the spread of Islam, it is written (P 5 of the Kannada text book), “...the Arabs also conquered the province of Sindh [in India] and spread Islamism in the land...The long rule of the Sultans led to the speedy spread of Islam in India.”

Whereas, in reality Islam spread earlier and more due to trade contacts and the rigidity of the caste system that had encouraged many to convert to Islam.

In the same chapter, the Crusades have been discussed in unnecessary detail.

Similarly, the IX Standard chapter on Protestants details immoral behaviour within the Catholic Church. On the other hand, in chapters titled Religious and Social Reform Movements (VI and IX Standards), Birth of Buddhism and Jainism (V and VIII Standards), there is just a casual, one-word mention about the caste system, untouchability, upper caste hegemony, blind beliefs and so on. For instance “...their reforms eradicated ignorance, evil practices...”

The chapter Bharatha matthu horaprapancha also introduces Genghis Khan and Timur and their cruelty, which strengthens negative stereotypes. The learner must think that the ‘World Outside’ ( horaprapancha ) is bad and cruel.

Later chapters entitled Rajputs, Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas of Kalyana, Hoysalas and the Cholas project mainstream history with little representation of subaltern voices or the history of the marginalised.

Social Science Semester II for Standard VI has a chapter on The Bhakti Cult which distorts facts. It states, “...many of them [for example, Baba Budan] were worshippers of Dattatreya...” This information is incorrect and biased. Sufism is here more projected as a Hindu tradition alone: for instance, “Sufis were influenced by Yoga, Vedanta... Budan-al-din wrote songs in praise of Lord Krishna... these practices were forbidden by orthodox Muslims...”

By presenting the Sufi cult in this manner, the textbook has not done justice to a great tradition.

The Civics Section of Class VI of Social Science book seems to have been used for instructing or cautioning minorities and Dalits and to strengthen right-wing ideologies. (PP.54-80).

Are questions like “What is the need for a Uniform Civil Code? (p.64)” appropriate topics for group discussion in this age group?” the report has sought to know.

The section on Fundamental Rights cautions minorities and inveighs against conversion: “... minority educational institutions are bound by the Government regulations.” Such examples clearly reveal a certain mind-set.

The section on “Unity in Diversity” in Civics section of Class VI Social Sciences Semester 11 does not mention any non-Vedic traditions and beliefs. It does not mention Christianity, Islam and other religions and their co-existence. It only makes mention of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This reveals where the sympathies of the Textbook Society lie.

Similarly, in the new Class IX Science Textbook — prepared during the tenure of the erstwhile BJP government — there is a discussion of assisted reproductive systems or ‘Test tube babies in ancient India’ (Chikitsa, 1979). This names Drona of the Mahabharata the first test tube baby 7,500 years ago. P 209 reads: “ day Baradwaja went to the Ganges for a bath and saw a beautiful apsara named Ghritachi. He was overcome with desire, causing him to ejaculate. Baradawaja captured the fluid in an earthen pot [drone], from which Drona was born and took his name.”

The text does not differentiate between myth and scientific truth, the CRST report says.

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