Explained | Why the protests over the school syllabus in Karnataka

What are the major changes in the textbooks? What has been the response to the revisions?

June 05, 2022 02:10 am | Updated June 06, 2022 12:22 pm IST

Members of progressive organizations took out a protest march against the revision of textbooks by the committee headed by Rohit Chakratirtha in Hassan on May 30, 2022.

Members of progressive organizations took out a protest march against the revision of textbooks by the committee headed by Rohit Chakratirtha in Hassan on May 30, 2022. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The story so far: The Karnataka textbook revision committee, headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha, has included a speech by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder K.B. Hedgewar in the Class 10 Kannada (first language State syllabus) textbook. Works by several authors associated with the progressive stream in Kannada literature have been left out. As a mark of protest, many writers have written to the BJP government withdrawing permission to use their works in textbooks. In another development, seers associated with the Veerashiva-Lingayat and Vokkaliga castes, two powerful communities of Karnataka, have raised objections to some comments of Mr. Chakrathirtha.

What is the genesis of the controversy?

When COVID-19 struck two years ago, to manage the burden of a heavy syllabus in a truncated academic year, the government reduced 30% of the syllabus for all classes. In the process, lessons on Tipu Sultan, Sangolli Rayanna, Rani Chennamma and a few other historical figures were excluded for that year from the social science syllabus of Class 6 to Class 8.

Around the same time, the Karnataka Brahmin Mahasabha submitted a memorandum to the Primary and Secondary Education Minister B.C. Nagesh and Commissioner of the Department of Public Instruction demanding revision of some lessons in the Class 6 and Class 8 social science textbooks which they said “hurt the sentiments of the Brahmin community.” On the basis of this memorandum, the government formed a 16-member textbook revision committee and appointed Mr. Chakrathirtha as the chairperson in September 2021. Initially, the government had announced that the committee would only revise Class 6 and Class 8 social science textbooks which “hurt community sentiments.” However, eventually, the committee was given the responsibility of all the textbooks from Classes I to 10. The committee took around six months and submitted its report to the government in March, 2022.

What are the major changes in the textbooks?

While Hegdewar’s speech was added, the committee dropped texts of writers P. Lankesh, Sara Aboobacker, Aravind Malagatti, Neela, B.T. Lalita Naik, A.N. Murthy Rao among others, known for their progressive views. The committee included works of writers including Bannanje Govindacharya, Shatavadhani R. Ganesh, S.L. Bhyrappa and others. Inclusion of a chapter by Chakravarthi Sulibele, a strong defender of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was among the highlights. A chapter on Bhagat Singh authored by Marxist scholar G. Ramakrishna, initially dropped, was later restored.

There was outrage over dropping portions that spoke of social reformer Narayana Guru, Periyar and others, while the government in its defence said they were not dropped but only juggled between texts to make them more contextual. The manner in which details about Basaveshwara as well as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar were edited in the lessons of Class 9 textbooks has also drawn criticism.

What has been the response to the revisions?

Writers identified with progressive streams, Dalit organisations, student unions and others across the State protested against the “saffronisation” and “Brahminisation” of textbooks. Over 10 writers, including Devanooru Mahadeva and Prof. Ramakrishna, have told the government that they do not wish their writings included in the textbooks revised by the committee. Opposition Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) and other parties have also opposed the changes.

Also read | Confusion galore over new version of textbooks

Vokkaliga community organisations, leaders and mutt seers like Dr. Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji have demanded action against Mr. Chakrathirtha on the grounds that he has in the past defamed Jnanpith awardee and literary icon Kuvempu, who belonged to the community, by sharing a distorted version of the “nada geethe” (State anthem) penned by Kuvempu. Various Veerashiva-Lingayat seers have taken exception to the content on Basaveshwara, the 12th century philosopher-poet-social reformer and a proponent of Lingayat philosophy, which has now been partially addressed by a promise to revise it. Dalit organisations are unhappy with the portrayal of B.R. Ambedkar, on which the government has made no promises. Some old tweets and social media posts of Mr. Chakrathirtha have been questioned over their alleged anti-women and casteist stances. Critics also questioned his qualification to head the committee, which the government vociferously defended.

What is the government saying?

The BJP government in Karnataka, which had earlier stuck to its stand that there was no question of rolling back the changes, late on Friday showed signs of buckling under pressure from religious heads. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s statement that the government had an “open mind” followed a prolonged discussion with Primary and Secondary Education Minister B.C. Nagesh. While Mr.Bommai announced that the material related to Basaveshwara would be “suitably altered in order not to hurt sentiments”, there is no sign of anything else being changed in the textbooks so far. The government in its statement emphasised that the revision committee has been disbanded — the purpose for which it was set up has been met and its term has ended.

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