A textbook case: What’s in, what’s out of Karnataka school books

The revision of Kannada and social sciences textbooks for classes 1 to 10 in government schools in Karnataka by a textbook revision committee set up by the state BJP government and headed by a mathematics teacher has created a storm on account of the alleged political saffronisation of the textbooks .

Since the textbooks were made available in the public domain on May 23, writers, politicians, religious seers and academics have, while accusing the government of pushing a right-wing, conservative, pro-Hindutva ideology, asked for reverting to the previous version of the books.

The ruling BJP, its education minister, right-wing ideologues, and the textbook committee head, Rohith Chakrathirtha, have argued that the new textbooks have been sanitised of a previous bias towards “communist and anti-Brahmin definition”.

The textbook controversy is over omissions and commissions in chapters relating to religious icons such as Basavanna, the founding saint of the Lingayat community who form nearly 17 per cent of the state population, and personalities such as Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India. Even the BJP’s Dalit MLAs have raised objects while seers from several Lingayat mutts have given the government a 10-day deadline to revise the controversial chapter on Basavanna in a ninth standard social science textbook.

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The textbook row in Karnataka is expected to have political ramifications as protests continue to be staged against the changes. The Karnataka government has not indicated whether it will revert to the old textbook or brazen it out with changes to the most politically sensitive subject. For now, the government has agreed to revise the controversial chapters.

The current school textbook review committee has been dissolved since the controversy. The government has also withdrawn an exercise to review textbooks for pre-university classes under the leadership of Chakrathirtha.

Here is a list of some of the controversial changes carried out in school textbooks by the committee:

Chapter on Basavanna: While the previous Class 9 social science textbook described Basavanna, the founding saint of Lingayatism, as rebelling against Hindu practices and finding the Lingayat way of life, the revised textbooks only describe Basavanna as reforming the Veerashaiva faith. There is also no reference to his rebellion.

“The revised textbook shows a misrepresented story of Basavanna’s propagation of Linguatism and hides the real facts. The textbook says ‘scholars introduced reforms to the Veerashaiva caste’. It should have been ‘scholars introduced Lingayat dharma into the society’. There are several changes like these that have reflected very poorly on the Lingayat community,” Lingayat seer Shri Panditaradya Shivacharya Swami of the Sannehalli Math said in a recent letter to Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai.

Ambedkar as architect of Constitution removed: References to Ambedkar as the head of the Constituent Assembly that framed the Constitution of India and of his rebellion against the caste system have been dropped, according to Dalit leaders.

“A conspiracy has been carried out to wipe out Dr Ambedkar’s credentials as the architect of the Constitution of India. A poem attributed to Dr Ambedkar has been removed. The names of Dr. Ambedkar’s parents and the place of his origin have been removed. Why was the phrase that stated that Dr Ambedkar was the architect of the Constitution removed? Major social movements that Babasaheb was involved with — like the Mahar Satyagraha and the entry to the Kalaram Temple — have been omitted. The stand taken by Babasaheb Ambedkar regarding Hindutva and the caste system has been removed. Why?,” said Congress MLA Priyank Kharge.

P Lankesh out, Hegdewar in: Writings of eminent Kannada writers such as P Lankesh, Sara Abubacker and AN Murthy Rao have been dropped from the Class 10 Kannada textbooks and replaced by essays written by the RSS founder KB Hegdewar, right-wing ideologue Chakravarthy Sulibele and Sanskrit scholars Bannanje Govindacharya and Shathavadhani Ganesh. The essays written by Sulibele and Ganesh are on freedom fighters Rajguru and Sukhdev.

“We believe that Hegdewar is not an icon we look up to in this country. RSS was against the freedom movement on many occasions and this is evident in the writings of many RSS leaders who were opposed to Indians wasting time on fighting the British,” said the All India Democratic Students Organization (AIDS) general secretary Ajay Kamath.

Noted writers such as Devanur Mahadev, G Ramakrishna, SG Siddaramaiah, Roopa Hassan, Chandrashekhar Talya, Mundanakudu Chinnaswamy, and Sarju Katkar have withdrawn permission for use of their essays in the textbooks in protest against the dropping of the essays of Lankesh, Abubacker, Rao , and others.

“This protest is not against any particular person but the distorted lessons and ideologies that are being propagated. In the name of nationalism, the state is instilling communal and corrupt thoughts into the minds of the students,” said writer SG Siddaramaiah.

“I do not want my work to be included in a textbook that is communal. The Class 10 Kannada textbook also has lessons that are disrespectful of women. I do not wish to be part of such an ecosystem,” said Siddaramaiah.

Chapters on Bhakti, Sufi saints removed: “They have cut off parts on Purandaradasa, Kanakadasa, and Shishunala Sharif, which is very odd since they are all local figures and people need to know about them,” said Prof Chandan Gowda, the Ramakrishna Hegde chair at the Institute of Social and Economic Change. Akka Mahadevi, a 12th-century poet, has also been dropped from the Class 7 books.

Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on humanity: “The revised textbook uploaded in the public domain has a lot of changes in the Swami Vivekananda chapter, where lessons on humanity are excluded and replaced with religious sentiments,” said AIDSO’s Ajay Kamath.

A new flag: An image of Goddess Bhuvaneshwari holding the Kannada state flag in the Class 6 Kannada textbook has been replaced with an image of the Goddess holding a saffron flag. The Karnataka government has reportedly agreed to revert to the previous image after protests.

Ancient India as Bharathavarsha: In the Class 8 social science textbook, a chapter called ‘Geographical Features and Prehistoric India’ has now been titled ‘Bharathavarsha’.

The lesson says that India, along with Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, was earlier called “Bharathavarsha, Bharatha Khanda, Sindhudweepa, Akhandabharatha, and Greater India too.”

There are other issues, too, according to Prof Chandan Gowda of ISEC. “There are multiple textbooks for Classes 1 to 10 in Kannada and social science and we need to check all of them to see what has been included and dropped,” he said.

While denying the alleged saffronisation, the Karnataka government and Chakrathirtha, who headed the controversial textbook review committee, have claimed that these were only corrections to the alleged distortions that had been carried out under a previous committee headed by writer Baragur Ramachandrappa under a Congress government.

The distortions as alleged by the BJP government in the old textbooks:

* Glorification of Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan has been corrected, Education Minister BC Nagesh said. “The previous committee cut down lessons on Mysore Maharajas and their contribution towards social reforms from five pages to a few lines while giving more space to Tipu Sultan,” the minister said.

* According to Chakrathirtha, the introduction for a Class 8 social science lesson said food scarcity was caused during the Vedic period due to sacrifices of agricultural animals, the offering of milk, and ghee during “havans” by Brahmins. This was removed.

* A chapter that said Jainism and Buddhism began growing in India due to a disconnect from Sanskrit was removed after the committee reportedly found it to be “just an opinion”. “The changes reflect new thinking. These philosophers and their works will introduce students to new languages, especially Sanskrit,” Chakrathirtha said before the controversy erupted.

* “The old textbooks said Periyar believed that Rama represents Vedic culture and Ravana represents Dravidian culture. Moreover, Periyar was a staunch critic of Rama who even garlanded the photo of Lord Rama with slippers,” minister Nagesh said. “This is not what we intend to teach our children and these have been removed.”

“Most of the critics are Leftists and I can prove that they introduced the Communist ideology into the textbooks,” Nagesh claimed about the previous textbooks.

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