Renowned historian K.N. Panikkar on Wednesday said that the stand taken by Parliament in the controversy over a cartoon on B.R. Ambedkar was disturbing as it rather hurriedly intervened in an issue that called for more serious thought.
“The members of Parliament have reacted with rare unanimity and an unwarranted sense of outrage to the cartoon included in a textbook published by the NCERT. If they had not done so they would have realised that the text book in question was an excellent example of creative pedagogic innovation, which is rare in our school system,” Dr. Panikkar told The Hindu. He said that the cartoon was a thought-provoking lampooning of one of the major events in the history of modern India in which Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar were caricatured (but it did not imply any insult to either of them).
Dr. Panikkar, a former Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that some political leaders seemed to have thought otherwise and members of all parties joined in a vociferous protest.
“It appears that these over-enthusiastic members seem to have overlooked that the cartoon was employed as a pedagogic device. In fact, what the cartoon was critiquing was the slow pace of the process of Constitution-making, which it conveyed much more effectively than an authorial statement. The cartoon and the accompanying text could be used to highlight the various interests the makers of the Constitution had to contend with,” he said.
Dr. Panikkar said the MPs seemed to be oblivious of the ‘pedagogic revolution' in school education. “Following the adoption of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), school education has turned student-centred, with a view to stimulating their creative potential. This textbook, along with several others in different subjects, were prepared in pursuance of the NCF, in order to realise a challenging pedagogic practice,” he said.
Describing that an impediment to the implementation of the NCF had been the reluctance of scholars to undertake the arduous task of preparing text books, Dr. Panikkar said that Prof. Suhas Palshikar and Prof. Yogendra Yadav, two well-known scholars, accepted the challenge and produced a textbook, which had very many positives. “They felt so insulted by the attitude of the members of Parliament that they chose to resign from the advisory position they held in the NCERT,” he said.
Dr. Panikkar said the Union Minister of Education added insult to injury by welcoming their resignation, withdrawing the textbooks from circulation, ordering an enquiry and promising to punish all those involved with the preparation of the book.
“In order to sooth the ruffled feelings of the members, he also tendered an unqualified apology, whereas he should have apologised to the scholars for the intellectual insensitivity of his colleagues. Surely, the Minister should know that the quality of education cannot be improved without respect for scholarship,” he said.
Dr. Panikkar said civil society organisations had been rightly expressing their concern over the reaction of sections of political leaders to the cartoon in the textbook. “The supremacy of Parliament as the symbol of the representative system of democracy is indeed inviolable. But maintaining the supremacy also calls for the respect of other institutions,” he said.