Millennium Post

political encroachment of curricular freedoms

The recent controversy over the Ambedkar cartoon, in the Political Science textbook produced by the NCERT, raised several questions on the meaning of democracy and its relationship with political satire in our country. Although much has been written and debated, both in favour and against the withdrawal of the Ambedkar cartoon from the concerned textbook, the entire issue must be seen as a part of the larger ideology of the state.  

The state, run by the leading political party or political alliance, uses education as a mechanism to propagate its ideology among the masses. And this is not a contemporary phenomenon. Digging into the past gives an idea of how empires and ruling governments used education as an instrument to propagate its ideology. It is in this context that curriculum, pedagogy and textbooks become powerful cohesive weapons in the hands of rulers and governers to control the ruled, the governed.

In the initial years, the British were not interested in educating the Indian masses. However, they soon realised that they needed to develop a work force to run the vast British empire. They also realised that they needed to connect with the natives to contain disloyalty. Many saw ancient Indian texts as passive, outdated and hostile to the advanced literature and sciences of the West. Moreover, Indians gradually began to understand the importance of English education as a means to government jobs and significant posts under the British East India Company. The British also introduced the study of Civics to ‘civilise’ and ‘tame’ the Indian masses. The nationalist discourses on history were opposed to the colonial discourses of Indian history. The nationalist discourses made an attempt to go back to the glorious classical age when culture and literature were at its peak and when the economy and society had started developing.

The nationalist discourses celebrated India’s golden past because a sense of national pride had to be instilled among Indians. They established a link of ancient India with Hindus and medieval India with Muslims. In doing so, they celebrated the Hindu past by overlooking the achievements during the Muslim era. A controversy which attracted a good deal of attention was the controversy over the NCERT History textbooks during the National Democratic Alliance [NDA] regime. The National Curriculum Framework for School Education [NCFSE] 2000, which was drafted under the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]-led NDA government, included strong elements of Hindu cultural nationalism – the predominant ideology of the Sangh

 The NDA government, being a coalition of different parties, could not explicitly rewrite textbooks with a Hindu nationalist fervour. However, there was a succinct inclusion of elements in history textbooks which celebrated the Hindu glorious past and portrayed the Muslims as the ‘other’, as the enemy.  

The rewritten Civics textbooks of this period also reflect the ideology of the NDA government to use textbooks to tame the masses to be loyal citizens. The importance of Fundamental Duties over Fundamental Rights, structural and meaningless definitions of democracy and citizenship, restriction of women in the private sphere, gender being viewed simply as markers of development [like fertility rate, sex ratio] are highlights of these textbooks.

The National Curriculum Framework [NCF]2005, framed when the United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government came into power, presented a drastic change in the curriculum – a change which was well received. An attempt was being made to move away from societal biases, content overload and rote learning.

The textbooks created under the NCF 2005 clearly projected the manifestation of such an attempt. These textbooks addressed the problems of marginalised groups, gave representation to both genders, child protagonists and included pedagogical strategies to encourage critical thinking.  For the UPA government, the NCF 2005 served as a perfect mechanism to contain dissenting voices by giving representation to them.

The recent politically motivated moves of the UPA government undermines, not only the efforts of the best academicians and activists to create an inclusive curriculum, but also the spirit and promises of the National Curriculum Framework 2005.  

Anindya Dutta Gupta is a PhD research scholar at Centre for Political Studies, JNU.
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