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Whipping a dalit in a text book also

Whipping a dalit in a text book also
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Many intellectuals of India are making the cartoon in a text book of NCERT an issue of pedagogy and teaching political science through cartoons as a pedagogical practice. They want to project this as an attack against new academic experiment in pedagogy. We must therefore see what this debate is all about.

All the Scheduled Caste members of parliament - both houses - felt that there is an offence to the stature and self respect of Dr B R Ambedkar who was sitting on a snail and Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru was whipping from behind (we do not know whether he was whipping the snail or Ambedkar himself) in the cartoon that got included in XI class school text book. Though the cartoon was drawn in 1849 by a well know upper caste cartoonist, who would not have been sympathetic to Ambedkar's agendas at that time, who along with many other upper caste Hindu leaders, must have shared the view that Ambedkar was not a worthy legal pundit to head the drafting committee of the constitution. It was picked up by two academics Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav (both somewhat Marxist, Lohiaites) in 2006 to put in the text (though it was not very relevant there)

One version is that one of the Dalit MPs, who saw that cartoon long time back wrote for its withdrawal but nobody bothered about it. However, they raised the issue in the parliament. Mayawati, Ramvilas Paswan, D Raja and many others, cutting across all parties felt that the HRD minister must take immediate action. The demand was so strong that Kapil Sibal made a statement that he would order for the withdrawal of the cartoon and also he apologised to the nation in general and to the Dalit community in particular for allowing such a cartoon to go into a text book.

What happened later was more surprising. Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav resigned from their advisory positions, instead of they too apologising to the Dalits community, as they are the most exploited and oppressed of the nation, went to the media attacking the Dalit MPs and minister. However, all this lead to a further discussion on rest of the political science books supervised by these two persons and a committee, headed by Prof Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman of the ICSSR was constituted.

What followed later is interesting. Several intellectuals of upper castes from all backgrounds of politics are waging a battle on TV channels and English newspapers that a Dalit counter-revolution is on the cards, that a newly innovated pedagogy called 'teaching through cartoons' is in danger. This decision of the parliament is being projected as taking away the academic freedom.

The issue in the parliament was offence against Ambedkar, whose stature is that of a prophet of untouchable communities of India. He has not only lead them in their socio-political liberation, wrote volumes to give them their history back but gave them a religion - Navayana Buddhism - of greatest values. The upper caste Hindu intellectuals live around immoral Gods but do not want to engage with prophets like Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. Surely Ambedkar is to Dalits, what Prophet Mohammed to Muslims. The unanimous approval of Indian parliament of the offence that this cartoon caused is enough to accept it with intellectual humility. But the upper caste intellectuals, whom Ambedkar always suspected, turned the argument upside down.

The issue, I believe, is not whether text books should be written by politicians or academicians. Of course, they should be written by teachers themselves. But now scores of articles are being written how cartoon teaching at school level is most creative of all methods. They do not want to teach dignity of labour. They do not want that the rural children should learn English but they want that school education should take place through cartoons drawn for the pleasure of upper caste English educated people. Have the oppressed children of India reached to a stage of enjoying education as an abstract fun?

The war for cartoon based school education is in its full swing now. These are the same intellectuals who were silently indifferent or openly opposed when Dalit-Adivasi, OBC, minority students asked for beef menu in the university messes as it is an offence to their culture. None has written a single article to say that the same standard of school education in the same English language should be given to all Dalit-Adivasi children.

In this whole media war Mayawati is the target. Any intellectual who is supporting her is being pooh—poohed. Assuming that she has politicised the cartoon issue. She has forced the Congress Government to do what it did. Why should not she do it? For one thing I admire her is for her political astuteness. Are all these intellectuals who are shouting from their roof tops about politicising cartoon issue want to tell us that 'politics should be the resort of only upper caste people'. We all - including me - were opposed to the text books prepared by the Hindutva school during NDA regime. We all in general were appreciative of the present group's efforts for putting the text books of higher quality in place. But why should this group think that what it did is flawless? Why were they not gracious to say sorry for selecting this cartoon? Grace is a quality of caste free communities. That does not exist in Indian Hindu dictionary at all. All of them claim that they are caste free. Where is the proof?

They need not agree with my view that Ambedkar is a prophet. But when did the Delhi intellectuals treat him as intellectual worthy to be taught in the class room? Only after Mandal movement. The Mandal movement was brought into play by politicians only. What role did JNU and Delhi university teachers, who are claiming to be the custodians of intellectual autonomy, play on the issue of reservations? In India there is no intellectual history of they playing critical role in social change. Was not that the opinion of Ambedkar too?

Seriously, there is a need to examine this whole notion of new pedagogy through cartoons. If this new cartoon school fills text books with cartoons, how should the tribal/Dalit/OBC children who are first generation kids in education engage with them? Suppose on the same Ambedkar and Nehru cartoon there is a question in the examination - how do you understand this cartoon, explain? Do not answers differ based on the background of the students? If one student answers that since Ambedkar was a reservation promoting stupid man Nehru is whipping him for writing a good, meritorious and fast track constitution will he be wrong? If another student writes an answer that Amebakar being whipped by Nehru as he was a Dalit. Would it be wrong? Are our rural students capable of handling this kind of urban centered cartoon based cultural education? Please do not whip a Dalit in a text book also.

Kancha Ilaiah is an activist and writer.
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