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What does the Basavaraj Bommai government aim to achieve with changes in SSLC textbooks?

Print edition : Jun 09, 2022 T+T-

What does the Basavaraj Bommai government aim to achieve with changes in SSLC textbooks?

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (right) and Minister of Primary & Secondary Education B.C. Nagesh distributing textbooks at Tumakuru. Nagesh endorsed the changes with the comment that textbooks had been revised to “teach real history”.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (right) and Minister of Primary & Secondary Education B.C. Nagesh distributing textbooks at Tumakuru. Nagesh endorsed the changes with the comment that textbooks had been revised to “teach real history”. | Photo Credit: Handout

With the Karnataka Assembly election less than a year away, the actions of the Basavaraj Bommai government in bringing changes in SSLC textbooks suggest that the BJP intends to use aggressive Hindutva as a dominant poll plank.

The communal temperature in Karnataka has risen ever since Basavaraj Bommai became Chief Minister last July. The eager brashness with which he wants to conform to the Sangh Parivar agenda was not seen even during the tenure of his predecessor, B.S. Yediyurappa, who was groomed in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Bommai, whose roots can be traced to the socialist ideology of the Janata Parivar that prevailed in Karnataka in the 1980s and 1990s, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2008.

Last October, Bommai made a statement justifying vigilante activism, signalling the cadre of right-wing Hindu organisations that the State would back them. The passage of the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Act, 2021, which safeguards illegally constructed religious structures, and the promulgation of the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022, on May 17 (after the BJP failed to get the Bill, popularly known as the ‘anti-conversion law’, passed in the Legislative Council) have also made his government’s intentions plain.

Further, Bommai has also allowed several contentious issues raised by Hindu right-wing organisations to fester. Since January, Karnataka has been reeling under a spate of disputes sparked by right-wing organisations, including the hijab issue (“Tearing the social fabric”,  Frontline, March 11, 2022), the ban on Muslim traders at temple fairs, the call for a boycott of ‘halal’ meat, and a demand to ban the ‘azaan’, or the Muslim call to prayer, on loudspeakers. In early May, the premises of an educational institution at Ponnampet in Kodagu district was used to provide arms training to Bajrang Dal cadres, sparking a new controversy.

The latest controversy revolves around changes in textbooks that are part of the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) syllabus in the State. All government schools and a significant number of private schools across the State follow the SSLC syllabus.

Textbook review committee

When the government constituted a committee to review textbooks in September 2021 with Rohith Chakrathirtha as its head, progressive Kannada writers as well as educational experts criticised it because of his vocal support for Hindutva. The fear that Chakrathirtha would meddle with the school syllabus to further the Hindutva ideology was realised when news emerged in mid-May that a speech titled “Who Should be an Ideal Role Model?” by K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, would be incorporated in the Kannada (first language) textbook of Class 10 students from the 2022-23 academic year. Besides, the committee removed essays of prominent Kannada writers such as P. Lankesh, G. Ramakrishna, Sara Aboobacker, A.N. Murthy Rao, and Shivakotiacharya from the syllabus. In their place comes the works of writers such as M. Govinda Pai, Shivananda Kalave, Bannanje Govindacharya, and Shatavadhani Ganesh. An essay by Chakravarthy Sulibele, a noted Hindutva propagandist and provocateur, has also been made part of the syllabus.

Rohith Chakratheertha speaking at Mangaluru Lit Fest on April 9.  Progressive Kannada writers and educational experts criticised his appointment as head of the committee to review textbooks in September 2021.
Rohith Chakratheertha speaking at Mangaluru Lit Fest on April 9. Progressive Kannada writers and educational experts criticised his appointment as head of the committee to review textbooks in September 2021. | Photo Credit: H S MANJUNATH

Other changes proposed by the textbook review committee in social science textbooks in the past include the removal of certain references to Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Mysore ruler, and changes in chapters on the founding of new religions and the ‘Sindhu Saraswati Civilisation’. B. C. Nagesh, Primary and Secondary Education Minister, endorsed these changes with the comment that textbooks have been revised to “teach real history”.

What experts say

Responding to the changes, the noted social activist and educational expert Sripad Bhat, said, “First, the government needs to understand what the job of a textbook review committee is; the syllabus has to be designed as per the guidelines laid out in the National Curriculum Framework and changes have to be recommended by technical experts. Is Chakrathirtha a technical expert in the field of education? The syllabus must reflect the diversity of our society. Is this being done now? Who is Hedgewar? Why is his essay being made part of the syllabus? He is someone who asked his followers to honour the saffron flag and hated Muslims. He also supported the caste system.”

C.S. Dwarakanath, former chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes, said the changes would lead to the ‘Brahminisation’ of the education system in the State. “Only Brahmins, who constitute a mere 3 per cent of the State’s population, will be happy about these changes. The sentiments of the remaining 97 per cent of the population, including other castes, backward castes, Dalits and tribal people and religious minorities, have been ignored. The committee consists mainly of Brahmins, and the textbooks that have been introduced are also by Brahmins.” He added that the lessons would endorse “religious hatred and caste supremacy”, leading to “fascism”.

Also read: BJP attempt to rewrite textbooks a disservice to history

S.G. Siddaramaiah, former Kannada Development Authority chairman and Kannada writer, said it was clear that the changes were made to “introduce the RSS agenda to the tender minds of schoolchildren”. He said, “The RSS may be a big organisation according to them [the BJP], but it is a communal organisation. By removing the work of several Kannada writers who are prominent in Karnataka, the BJP has insulted Kannada pride. Has the committee seriously considered the suitability of the content that has been introduced? I read some of this new content and it is unfit for SSLC students.”

Development educationist Niranjanaradhya V. P. expressed similar sentiments. He said, “It is astounding to see how textbooks are being converted into a party’s manifesto. This is a shameful and toxic act. Schoolchildren should be taught to become conscientious citizens. What is painful is that an essay on Bhagat Singh [by G. Ramakrishna] has been removed. Is it possible to have someone who was more of a nationalist than Bhagat Singh? What kind of nationalists are these [BJP-led government]? Tomorrow, it may not be surprising if this committee recommends that Mahatma Gandhi’s content should be removed and Nathuram Godse’s lessons be included. In 2005, when a committee was appointed to review textbooks, thousands of experts were consulted and years were spent on conceptualising how textbooks should be revised. What is happening now?”

According to a statement by the Kannada writer Baraguru Ramachandrappa, who headed the textbook review committee in 2005, the exercise included “27 sub-committees and 172 technical experts and teachers”.

Also read: Communalising history textbooks

Minister Nagesh has accused “intellectuals and certain politically motivated individuals” such as Ramachandrappa of stymying the process of revising textbooks by perpetuating “false history”. “It is impossible for us to teach wrong history. These people cannot see the Indian flag flying high, should we then raise the Pakistani flag?” he asked in a press conference on May 23 alleging that people such as Ramachandrappa were Congress party appointees who had dropped the lessons on prominent freedom fighters. In a detailed note released to media a day later, Ramachandrappa stated that the Minister’s accusations were blatantly false.

Pre-University syllabus next

In an interview, Chakrathirtha, the man at the centre of the controversy, stated that the revisions in the SSLC syllabus were “needed until the textbooks are made error-free” and that the lessons of some writers were removed because they had become “regressive”. According to informed sources, despite the growing protests against the changes and the demands to remove Chakrathirtha from his position as head of the textbooks review committee, it would soon be recommending revisions in Pre-University College (Classes 11 and 12) textbooks.

Devanur Mahadeva, a noted Kannada writer and founder of Dalit Sangharsh Samiti, who is known for his opposition to the BJP’s majoritarian policies, has written an open letter asking that a chapter by him be removed from school textbooks. “Looking at the kind of people whose texts have been removed, it seems like the texts that have been retained are of those people who do not represent Kannada literature, land and culture. Hence, I do not give my permission to have my story to be part of the syllabus and rescind my earlier consent,” he wrote.

Also read: The BJP’s devious game plan in Karnataka

Siddaramaiah, former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, also came down heavily on the changes being made to the SSLC syllabus. “Chakrathirtha should be immediately sacked and a subject technical expert should be appointed to head the committee,” he said.

With Karnataka Assembly election less than a year away, the Bommai government’s stubborn approach in implementing changes in the school syllabus is just another sign that the party intends to use aggressive Hindutva as one of its main poll planks.

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