This even as schools in Karnataka reopened on May 16 but three weeks later, teachers in most government schools are still waiting for the government to issue textbooks for this academic year.

Karnataka CM Bommai with students and textbooks in background: Despite CM Bommai's assurances, textbooks being printed with controversial changes
news Politics Tuesday, June 07, 2022 - 14:50

Educational institutions in Karnataka have once again become political and ideological battlefields, this time over textbooks. After outrage and protests over changes made to the syllabus, particularly in social studies and Kannada textbook, the state government recently announced the dissolution of the controversial Karnataka Textbook Society. The government also promised a rollback of any ‘objectionable’ changes, but TNM has learnt that textbooks that are being printed are the revised versions given by the Rohith Chakrathirtha, with all the contentious changes.

Currently, there are at least three versions of Kannada and social science textbooks doing the rounds and the head of the now dissolved Karnataka Textbook Society, Rohith Chakrathirtha says the final version has been submitted a few days ago to the government. Those opposing the revised text books say they cannot vouch for which one is finalised, as the version is not available on the government website and Rohith Chakrathirtha too, was evasive about which version was finalised by his committee. 

Government persisting with the revised textbooks

Rohith Chakrathirtha, speaking to TNM, has confirmed that the revised version submitted by the committee headed by him is being printed by the government. “We stand by the changes we have made and the government too has accepted them entirely. The committee was dissolved because our mandate was just to make revisions and that process has been completed. The protests had nothing to do with this,” he says.  

Educationists say that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s move to dissolve the committee headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha was just an eyewash given that the revised version of the textbooks they sent to the government with problematic changes they recommended, are being printed.

Educationist VP Niranjanaradhya, says that the manner in which changes have been made is tricky. “They have not changed entire lessons or even entire paragraphs. For example, the title of a social science lesson in Class 8 book has been changed to Bharathavarsha which is a RSS ideological term. In other places, there are references to Akhanda Bharath (Unified India),” he says. 

Schools still waiting for textbooks

Schools in Karnataka reopened on May 16, but three weeks later, teachers in most government schools are still waiting for the government to issue textbooks for this academic year. The Karnataka Textbook Society made changes to social science textbooks from Class 6 to Class 10 and Kannada language textbooks from Class 1 to Class 10. When a draft document of the new textbook came into public domain, educationalists, pedagogists and former members of committees constituted for textbook revision, called the latest version an attempt to saffronise the education system.

The controversy led to confusion in the Primary and Secondary Education department because of which the printing of textbooks got delayed, says an official, speaking to TNM on the condition of anonymity. “There was a new controversy every day and the textbook committee would keep making changes to the final draft. Since there is no set process to how textbooks are to be revised and why, we could not even question anyone. The students who already suffered because of online classes during the pandemic-induced lockdown have to further suffer,” the official said. 

Niranjanaradhya, alleges that there is no transparency on what has happened to textbooks, whether or not they have not reached the schools. “We understand that just around 15-20% of the schools have received the textbooks. We are hearing that there are issues with printing paper as well, which is delaying the process further. Officials are telling us that the textbooks will take another 15 days to reach schools,” he said. Niranjanaradhya has served on textbook committees constituted by previous governments. 

What was changed in the textbooks?

The content that is available on the public domain, has been flagged as being questionable on many charges. The first accusation has been that lessons written by progressive writers that were part of the syllabus till the academic year 2021-22 have been removed. Educationalist and former member of a text committee Sripad Bhat, an educationist told TNM that they have learnt, after sifting through one of the versions, that lessons of former ruler of Mysore kingdom, Tipu Sultan, have been reduced drastically. Tipu has been a controversial figure in Indian history, with some hailing him as one of the first freedom fighters against the British and documenting his largesse in preservation of the Hindu scriptures and rituals, and others accusing him of being a tyrannical ruler who ordered large scale conversions of Hindus and Christians to Islam. The BJP and Sangh have been opposing celebrations of his legacy for decades now.

“We have also learnt lessons on P Lankesh, Sara Aboobacker, Narayana Guru and Periyar have been dropped and chapters on Tipu Sultan have been reduced,” he added.

Sara Aboobacker is a Kannada writer who has written extensively on issues like marital rape, patriarchy and communal violence. P Lankesh was a Kannada journalist and filmmaker who edited the newspaper Lankesh Patrike. He was known to be a resolute believer in socialism and anti-caste movements and had been vocal against communalism. He is the father of journalist Gauri Lankesh who was assassinated in 2017 in Bengaluru. Narayana Guru is a nineteenth century philosopher and social reformer from Kerala who worked against the caste system and for social justice. Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy or Periyar, often called the father of the Dravidian movement was the father of the Dravidar Kazhagham in Tamil Nadu and worked towards social and gender justice and against the Brahminical order. 

Vimala S, an activist organising protests against the government’s move to revise textbooks alleges that secular values, gender justice, social justice have been eroded to make room for right-wing ideology. “Lessons on Aravind Malagatti, Lalitha Naik, Bhagat Singh, Gorur Ramaswamy Iyenger have been removed from the social science and Kannada textbooks,” she says. 

Aravind Malagatti is a celebrated Kannada author with over 40 books to his credit and winner of several awards including the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award. Apart from his anti-caste writings, he is also known for his association with several Dalit movements in Karnataka. Lalitha Naik is a former Karnataka minister and an author who has written against communalism and caste hierarchy. 

“In its place are lessons written by Brahmin writers propagating Brahminical thinking. Lessons that speak derogatorily of women have been added.  For example, a line in one of the lessons read that ‘woman named Siri (wealth) is of weak character, she does not stay with a single man.’ Later, after much protest, it was toned down. 

Vimala also questions the composition of the Chakrathirtha committee. She alleges that there is no woman in the committee and that most of them are from the Brahmin community. Chakrathirtha refuted these allegations and told TNM that there were ‘a few women’ in his committee, but did not give any names when asked.  

Teachers in government schools helpless

Several teachers in government schools tell TNM that the printed version of the textbooks are yet to reach them. The few textbooks that have been printed have been given to private schools and the government-run schools are yet to receive the textbooks.

“We cannot complain publicly because of fear of losing our jobs. We are yet to receive the textbooks and we have no clarity on when they might be given,” says a teacher working in a government school in Ballari district. “Even in the last academic year, we did not receive printed textbooks for several subjects. We took printouts of the softcopy sent to us and gave it to the students. We spent our money to do this, because the students who come to our school cannot be financially burdened.” 

Sripad Bhat says there is no fixed term to revise the syllabus periodically. “So far, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005, has been followed. There are some basic questions that we are asking the Rohith Chakrathirtha committee – who are the subject matter experts you consulted before making these changes? The previous committee had constituted a total of 27 sub-committees and had consulted over 170 experts and they too had committed a few mistakes,” he explains. 

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