It is axiomatic that all school curriculum frameworks and thereby textbooks must draw solely from a framework of which the pillars are the Indian Constitution and the national policy on education. Schools, institutions and individuals involved in the preparation of textual material must have as a strong reference point this postulate – installing an awareness of constitutional rights and values. Ensuring an emphasis on the egalitarian content of citizenship and inculcating a consciousness of the cultural diversity underpinning national identity is therefore a useful template on which to assess textbooks. For example, if textbooks which should have as their primary aim the building of harmony and unity between people are found instead to have the impact of insidiously polarising young people, creating antagonism and friction among them, based on unsubstantiated and politically motivated arguments designed to perpetuate social, economic and gender oppression or to enhance the hegemony of a particular identity whether relating to region, caste, religion or language, these must be unhesitatingly weeded out of the reckoning. Such books, which are not based on rigorous research and are in effect part of an ideologically motivated political or cultural project, must be rejected as being violative of the basic tenets of the Constitution and educational policies. There is a need to identify the sources of these distortions.
Though not always easy to locate the sources, in some cases deviations occur because of the ideological predilections of the ruling establishment. More often distortions arise from the failure to ensure a rigorous and scientific scrutiny of the process of the gathering and assembling of facts that are set down in curricula and textbooks. Given that this textual material is intended for use in schools that are obliged to function in the secular and culturally pluralist environment mandated by the Indian Constitution, there is a need to make sure that all the textual material is as factually verifiable as possible and that it reflects the range of cultural and social identities that underlie citizenship of this republic. In this context, it is important and necessary that the template which should be used to judge the utility of curricula and textbooks is of how much the spirit of inclusiveness and the truth of Indian cultural heterogeneity permeate their content. There can be no escaping the fact that Indian education would have to meticulously and visibly shake off any tendency to allow the dominance of any communal impulse. It should not allow the overwhelming presence of the majority cultures and their own group preferences to submerge and further marginalise the disadvantaged and marginal communities. This would result in a dangerous erosion of pluralism, diversity and syncretism – principles critical for egalitarian citizenship and common nationhood embedded in our Constitution.
Few would quarrel with the notion that there are many ways of presenting the facts and that it is legitimate to contest them, and in fact necessary to do so in order to sharpen minds, but it must be recognised that at the school level, where the building of a civic consciousness and a sense of egalitarian patriotism are essential ingredients of education, the emphasis should be on transacting facts to these young minds in as broad-based, forward-looking and progressive a manner as possible. Certainly, emphasising an exclusivist and communal point of view, or one that justifies the domination of one social group over others or of one gender over the other, would only be counterproductive in the attempt to develop the intellectual faculties of the next generation of citizens of a democracy that has high hopes of taking its place as a front-ranking country in the world.
Constitutional tenets are realised inter alia through educational policies, NCFs and syllabi. Therefore the content analyses will also be with respect to: whether the textual materials adhere to the aims/purposes/objectives of education as stated in the policy (in this case the NPE 1986). This survey and content analysis is prepared to identify texts that are not in consonance with the principles enshrined in the Constitution and which promote values and sociocultural and historical perceptions contrary to (a) national policy, (b) curricular framework approved by the CABE, (c) the notion of composite culture as evolved during the freedom struggle, (d) the multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual basis of Indian nationhood; and (e) the Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties specified in the Constitution.
Framework for Content Analysis
Reading of textbooks requires the pedagogic as well as the subject/discipline frames. The pedagogic frame is devised with the help of the theory of knowledge about children’s intellectual development. It is also intended to provide innovative kinds of presentation and representation of information, facts, analysis and arguments meant to help in the cultivation of an open mind and rational thinking. The other frame derives from the survey of the subject area: the development of the disciplines, the major findings and frame of analyses, arguments and interpretation not only in History but also in other social sciences. Both are equally important and the choice of selection of textual materials and their treatment needs to be looked at from both frames of reference. While acknowledging that process and content are interconnected, this report is however located in the frame of content analysis and places greater emphasis on the latter in view of the Committee’s TOR.
Within this broad framework, the survey and analysis of textbooks in schools within and outside the government system has been done with respect to adherence to the basic tenets of the Constitution and the aims and purposes of education outlined in the NPE 1986. The reports summarised below address an enduring concern – the extent to which it is possible to foster egalitarian citizenship within a framework provided by the Constitution. The analysis is broad-based and includes discussion of class and caste in India, issues of communalism in historical knowledge, the role of women in society and the impact of environmental factors.
Why Mainly Social Science Books?
Of all the textbooks used in schools, notwithstanding the policy directive that these principles should cut across all subjects, it is only the content of social science textbooks that clearly address the core curricular issues of paramount social significance, such as the inculcation of secular values and the equality of the sexes. An effective programme of teaching social sciences in schools should help the pupils to take a keen interest in the ways people live and function through various socio-economic and political institutions. It should also help children to develop insights into human relationships, social values and attitudes. These are essential to enable the growing citizen of tomorrow to participate effectively in the affairs of the community, the state, the country and the world at large. This is reiterated by the NCF 1988 which says that the teaching of social sciences should enable children to appreciate India’s rich cultural heritage as also recognise and get rid of what is undesirable and antiquated, especially in the context of social change. The schools should see that narrow parochial, chauvinistic and obscurantist tendencies are not allowed to grow in our pupils. Thus instruction in social sciences should promote the values and ideals of humanism, secularism, socialism and democracy. Further, in our culturally plural society, education should foster values oriented towards the unity and integration of our people. Such education should help eliminate obscurantism, religious fanaticism, violence, superstition and fatalism. To promote equality it will be necessary to provide for equal opportunity to all not only in terms of access to opportunities but also in the conditions of success. The purpose is to remove prejudices and complexes transmitted through the social environment and the accident of birth.
Communal politics appears to be a strong reference point in the History textbooks of several states
Available Studies of Content Analyses of Social Science Textbooks
The earliest analyses of social science textbooks were located within the government organisations. In the 1980s the Steering Committee on Textbooks studied textbooks published by a few states and religious organisations. The National Steering Committee once again evaluated textbooks in 1992. Several social organisations, academic institutions and many individual historians and concerned citizens have been very active in analysing textbooks, especially those prepared by state governments and religious organisations as well as the new NCERT textbooks. These analyses heralded a new era of critical thinking and public scrutiny of school textbooks.1 These analyses have stemmed from several frameworks and have been studied along several lines. These studies have examined school textbooks from different angles, including communalism, secularism, gender, caste and regional chauvinism. Their impact has been enormous in terms of raising awareness and turning the spotlight on a hitherto neglected issue – the purpose of education. They have also looked at the role of textbooks, the rationale for content selection, the implications of the texts, etc.
These studies have not only made a signal contribution to textbook analyses but also performed the useful function of bringing into the public eye the crucial importance of the whole issue of textbook preparation in the country. Since these reports were written at different points in time by diverse groups of individuals and organisations following diverse frames of analyses, it is difficult to incorporate these in the framework of analysis arrived at by this Committee.
Review of Various Types of Textbooks in Use in the States
The report and analysis presented in this chapter bases itself entirely upon the content analysis of textbooks of 11 states, prepared by experts invited by our Committee to undertake this task. These experts submitted reports of a sample of textbooks examined by them and these reports have been extensively used in this chapter. The sample for content analysis by these experts was drawn mainly to cover three types of schools identified in the Committee’s TOR:
(1) Textbooks prescribed by State Boards and used in state government schools, which cover the majority of school-going children in the state.
(2) Textbooks prescribed by private schools from private publishers.
(3) Textbooks prescribed by schools run by religious and social organisations.
Sample for Content Analysis
The textbooks available in the states are of three types: those prepared by state government agencies for government schools; textbooks produced by private publishers, frequently used in private schools; textbooks prepared by cultural and social organisations. From the studies commissioned by this Committee, accounts and analyses of all three types of textbooks are presented below. The reports contained accounts of textbooks prepared by state governments, private publishers, religious and social organisations. Taken together, the states covered in the interim report are: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The difference between these three types of schools – public, private and schools run by social and religious organisations, many of them affiliated to communal and fundamentalist ideologies – is fairly wide and it is expected that it would be sufficient to represent the range of regional variations in textbook content and textbook production in the country.2 The content analysis covers classes from primary to higher secondary levels although many of the books deal with texts used from Class VI onwards.
Textbooks in Government Schools Not Using the CBSE Syllabus
The importance of government textbooks cannot be overemphasised. This has to do not only with the extent of their reach (as emerges from the state reports, private schools avail of them as well, particularly for public examinations) but also with the parameters that they set for curriculum frameworks of other bodies. As pointed out in the Kerala report, this is the most important source that can have an impact on the approaches, content and quality of the textbooks of private publishers which rely in fact upon the textbooks of the NCERT and SCERTs.4 We therefore begin the content analysis with state government books.
The importance of government textbooks in setting the parameters of school education among institutions run by religious and social organisations is outlined below.
In the state government History books, Dalits or tribals are invisible as, by and large, are women
CHHATTISGARH is a case in point. The Loyola Boys’ School in Kunkuri follows government textbooks for all subjects except Moral Science and a religious class for Catholics. In the Gyanodaya School, Jagdalpur (Bastar), which is an English medium primary school run by the Catholic diocese, for Classes I and II, they teach their own textbooks but these do not appear to have any religious message and are just chosen for their large format and illustration. In Classes III and V, they have to follow government textbooks because Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have board exams in Classes V, VIII, X and XII. In the Ramakrishna Sarada Sevashram, Jagdalpur, the swami pointed out that there is no question of using material supplementary to the government textbooks because students are unwilling to learn more than the bare minimum. Similarly, at the Mata Rukmini Devi Sansthan (run by sarvodaya followers of Vinoba Bhave) in Dimrapal near Jagdalpur, they follow only government textbooks in the classroom.
In JAMMU AND KASHMIR, the textbooks brought out by the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education are made mandatory for both government and private schools, a state of affairs endorsed by the report as “a step towards the common school system”.5 Although the Board is autonomous, its material is a “replica” of NCERT books. The report observes that Jammu and Kashmir’s position as “a very sensitive state” has led to schools and publishers being cautious lest the content of the curriculum offend constitutional values through material “supporting communalism, regionalism… terrorism, or any sentence against National Integration”.6 It claims that a majority of the books were published in 2000, totally in accordance with NCERT books, and that the texts have no unwanted or objectionable material. In 2002 protests against the revised NCERT textbooks were mobilised around the belief that these did introduce “objectionable material”, among other things because of the communal interpretation of history underlying the textbook on medieval India.7
Also, although the line quoted above interprets “regionalism” as a divisive ideology, a recurring concern in this critique of Urdu and social science textbooks is that they convey nothing of the environment and history of the state, in which is included its “contribution in national development”.8 In duplicating material from the NCERT, the State Board has lost out on the density of local experience. While Urdu does discuss “state personalities” along with “national personalities”,9 its very centrality in the state’s curriculum is questionable, given that “it is not the mother tongue of any region of the state”. Urdu has superseded Kashmiri in the valley, just as Hindi has superseded Dogri in Jammu. The writer envisages representation of the state as including, but going beyond, familiarity with its Constitution. Neither Urdu nor Social Studies books are able to deal with diversity within the state whose different regions are unequally represented in Urdu and not discussed at all in Social Studies.10
The report observes that Urdu lessons, though at no point opposing democratic and secular values, have done little to bring these to life. It provides insights into a more creative approach both to the social sciences and to fostering respect for diversity and the environment. It is consistently critical of the absence of local history and geography in the books produced by the State Board. In staying so close to the NCERT, they contain no local maps. The report points out that such an approach loses out on the opportunity for productive classroom discussions as, for instance, on how Kashmir had been able to sustain communal harmony during a period when many parts of India were in the throes of communal conflict.11
Just as the child’s immediate environment is seldom registered in the Urdu textbooks, social science project work related to the local environment “is not taken seriously and not evaluated”.12 Yet the Environment would no longer present a problem of impossible magnitude if, through the teaching of local geography, students have become aware both of local environmental degradation and the measures that have been undertaken to check this. The report recommends that the immediate environment should be the main focus at the elementary stage with “a gradual and systematic movement from known to unknown”.13
The state curriculum never engages with the manifest economic disparities in society
To elaborate on this, only textbooks that are more responsive to the actual ground experience of the reader would encourage her to feel an immediate relevance in the global invocation of Environmental Protection. This would allow her to become more responsive to areas of experiences outside her own. A student from Leh cannot easily conceive of the impact of a mining industry opened in Maharashtra on the lives of tribals. She can only begin to do so if the teaching of local history and geography has already equipped her to work out the interconnections between processed information and understanding accrued in other areas of life and between a problem as given and the possibilities of initiating change. In this way Social Studies might encourage “self-reliance”, the ability to confront new “demands and eventualities”14 in a way it has not attempted so far.
The report recommends that textual content should throughout be related to activities and that the scope of Social Studies should extend to Work, Art, Health and Physical Education. Bringing these areas under Social Studies would also lead to their being evaluated seriously.15 Work education has hitherto been marginal in the curriculum and even the chapters in Urdu books seldom recognise the value of manual work.16 Yet work education is crucial to the holistic development of the child’s potential, including her capacity for manual labour and her understanding of the world of work.17 The practical use of what is studied would also be increased if language teaching laid greater emphasis on expression, written or oral.18
There is an unnecessary overlap between the topics addressed in Social Studies and the themes encountered in Urdu books. If these were left only to the language books, it would simultaneously lighten the load of Social Studies and expand the scope of language teaching.19 With regard to the inclusion of a component on “value education”, the report recommends teaching core directives “common to all religions” as critical to the child’s emotional development and sense of involvement in her society.20
The report concludes by suggesting that if some of the changes it proposes are incorporated in a revised curriculum, a programme of teacher training should be conducted to share with schoolteachers the ideas behind the revisions of the
curriculum and to work out new teaching methods.21
In KARNATAKA, virtually all schools, both government and private, use only DSERT textbooks. Few opt for Delhi-based private publishers. As part of their survey, the resource persons mention that the government Urdu medium school “had Islamic symbols on display”, just as in one government school, children were encouraged to worship every day and in several government schools, Hindu religious images are displayed in the principal’s rooms, etc.
The report refers to the public furore over the ideological biases of the books revised in 2002 on the lines of the NCF 2000. The DSERT refused to respond to public queries concerning the books. Only after the arrival of BK Chandrashekhar as Education Minister were moves made to institute a Textbook Committee to rewrite the books, which were prepared by July 2004.22 On examination, these were found to have improved markedly in terms of quality, language, pictures and the presentation of ideas though the syllabus is almost unchanged. But, fortunately, there are no instances of the ideological bias evident earlier. As part of the Forum for Humanism in Education, Jane Sahi and Indira Vijaysimha presented a report on October 19, 2002 on the DSERT books, ‘Communal Biases in Karnataka’s School Textbooks’. In this, they drew attention to “significant changes which clearly indicate a reversal of the inclusive perspective of the earlier textbooks”.23
Their findings are outlined below with a view to identifying the areas in the imagining of History beyond the emergence of fault lines, not just between the right wing and others but also between intelligent and opaque understandings of empire, secularism and civilisation.
In the original books, the Rashtrakutas figure during discussion of the tripartite struggle for Kanauj: “These chieftains… fought with one another to show their power. The life of the peasant who worked on the lands of these chieftains was very difficult. They had to pay revenue and also do free labour for the chieftains” (italics added).24
This narrative of peasant exploitation by warring feudal chiefs is lost in the depiction of the grandeur of the Rashtrakuta empire: “It was indeed a glorious rule. Rashtrakutas emerged as the supreme power in the whole of India. Some of the Rashtrakuta emperors were great conquerors” (italics added).25 Omitted is a section that narrated the alliance between a (Hindu) ruler of the subcontinent and the Central Asian (Muslim) army which attacked the Delhi sultanate: “Together with the Afghan nobles, the Rajput prince, Rana Sangha of Mewar, also agreed to help Babar against the sultan of Delhi.”26
The blame for the existence of retrograde and disavowed traditions, like Sati and child marriage, is laid at the door of Islam (!).27 Its most likely explanation is subtextual – a slippage from the tendency for some years now to argue a similar genesis for other acts of violence towards women – Jauhar as the defence of honour against invaders (usually imagined as Muslim) and purdah originating from a fear of Muslims.28 Superstition is ascribed to the same fear – the same apology suffices for any aspect of the past that needs shrugging off. An aspect of modernity like secularism is given historical precedence but with muddled approval. The “terrible atrocities” of the Arab invaders of the eighth century (sic) are claimed to include “oppressing the citizens” (italics added). “Keeping this in view, the religious tolerance of the Rashtrakutas seems quite amazing and worthy of emulation.”29
The Civics section refers to India’s being a secular state “despite having such a large Hindu majority and this fact is unnecessarily contrasted with the theocracies of surrounding countries”.30 In reference to this kind of argument, the report notes that until books equip students to think through the meanings of secularism with rigour, its parallel lives in textbooks will be characterised/caricatured by a Janus face. In its historical manifestation, it appeared far ahead of other demonstrations of political power and religious identity. Its present manifestation marks us as superior to our neighbours but its very exceptionality suggests that such forbearance on the part of the majority must some time be left behind.
Warps enter the narration of the power of religion and the fruition of ‘civilisation’: “Islam united the several Arab tribes” becomes an occasion to describe how the Arab tribes before Islam had for centuries “remained disunited, uncivilised and culturally backward”.31 After describing the birth of the “great civilisation” of the Arabs, the original book mentions that it was “enriched” by knowledge of various sciences from Greece, China and India. The revised book describes how the Arabs were greatly influenced by Greek and other cultures and “freely borrowed from them. In course of time they evolved a civilisation of their own”.32
Vidya Bharati textbooks work to ‘supplement’ and ‘correct’ the history taught in official books, using selective emphasis and crude propaganda against Muslims and Christians
The report notes that the Hindi textbooks for Classes VI and VII (revised in the year 2000) contain “some interesting and sensitive pieces which are a small step towards equity and representation”. Two of those referring to religion are sketched here. ‘Lahore Mein Tiranga Phairaya’, a story for Class VI, describes an aam sabha after namaaz, where Muslims and Hindus together vowed to free the country. The fact that the maulvi endorses the vow but it is a nawab who leads the British forces indicates that divisions are not based on religious lines. However, the martyrdom of a Hindu, Khushiram, contains lines that unnecessarily focus on religious identity: “apne hindu sanskaron ko saakshi kar ke” and “us sankalp ko poora karunga jo ek hindu ne masjid mein baithkar liya tha” (italics added). Then there is Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s ‘Heengwala’, a strong intervention that questions stereotypical assumptions about communities and which shows a Muslim saving the lives of Hindu children during a riot.33
It is in relation to the way national identity is imagined, and in terms of the social groups represented, that the report finds things lacking or disquieting in the books. In the Class VII book, the chapter, ‘Missile’, implicitly condones violent retaliation as a means of resolving border disputes. It also idealises a living person, Dr Kalam (contrary to an earlier tacit policy not to refer to living persons). Figures held up for idealisation invariably belong to the ruling class, like Shivaji or Ashoka. A chapter like ‘Shishtachar’ promotes middle-class manners as ideal. Women and girls are represented but no Dalits, tribals or Christians appear. Overall, the selection is confined to “an upper caste and class Hindu male perspective” but contains nothing manifestly objectionable.34
The report comments that the General English books show improvement in both the selection of texts and the exercises designed but here too the texts remain limited to an urban, upper caste and class perspective. The chapter on conquering Everest would have been more valuable if Tenzing had been made prominent for a change, or Bachendri Pal’s ascent had been described.35 The Class VIII textbook for Special English presents excerpts from such western ‘classics’ as The Tempest, Gulliver’s Travels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the stories of HG Wells. Even assuming that urban children study Special English, these contexts would be alien to them. Also, no social issues have been raised – not even the issue of race which became an important concern of Gandhi in South Africa.36
The MADHYA PRADESH report points out that children from poor economic backgrounds, including Dalit or tribal groups, read state government publications. “There is very little that these children can relate to or understand… This alienation causes many of them to drop out.” Thus even if they do not contain discriminatory representations, the language textbooks remain “quite strongly discriminatory in their omission of… deprived social groups and major social issues. We know that the Constitution guarantees equality… while social reality is highly inequitable. Education can be a way of bringing this reality into discussion and reflection and through it move towards the constitutional goals of a just and equitable society. Unfortunately, government education has shied away from this reality and in so doing perpetuated inequity”.37
Finally, we summarise the Madhya Pradesh report’s comments on the social science books and their representations of national history as well as divisions of religion and caste. While there does not appear to be anything objectionable in government social science books, they are as a rule cast in an abstract, generalised language which would in itself alienate children. In the History books, Dalits or tribals are invisible as, by and large, are women. There is nothing of Madhya Pradesh’s history or on people from the region. The focus is on rulers and their policies and male upper caste freedom fighters and the representation of girls is rather stereotypical.
The report comments that there is “no clear stance on equity and democracy” or a vision of secularism. Though the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha are referred to as communal parties, there is no mention of the RSS. Civics does make reference to the fact that India and Pakistan are culturally very similar and to the need for greater people to people contact. When discussing caste and communalism as social evils in Class VIII, they acknowledge histories of riots and that the “weaker sections are still made victims of cruel and inhuman treatment”. But in other areas, “the fundamental right to equality is very weakly dealt with. ‘Samaj mein samaanta rakhne ke liye chhuachhoot ko bhi apraadh bataya gaya hai’” (italics added).38
MAHARASHTRA: In the Marathi language textbooks for Classes I to V, and also the Class IV History textbook,39 in each year there is a concern to foster nationalist sentiment through references to the national anthem, etc. However, in the first two years this is significantly outnumbered by examples of bias towards urban experience and also of gender bias. In the Marathi language textbook for Class III (also the class in which history teaching is introduced), there occur the first two instances of communal bias and there are three cases of communal bias in the History textbook for Class IV.40
It is quite understandable that textbooks make the nation a reference point but, significantly, more often communal politics appears to be a stronger reference point. We see this in the History textbooks of several states. Maharashtra’s protracted history of communal politics has left its mark on its textbooks. But urban and gender bias are just as dangerous, particularly if from an early age they influence ways of seeing the world. This is not just because these are more pervasive in the textbooks examined in this report but also because they are harder to recognise. By taking the form of absences or roles assumed as given, they make habitual a perception of society in which certain groups are denied or disempowered. Below is sketched how this denial happens (based on the report’s discussion of the visuals) and the form this disempowerment takes (citing contradictions in the text).
Even when the content of primary school language textbooks is meant to be “applicable to all sections of society”, their visuals “display urban middle-class living”, registered in terms of “appliances (lampshades, refrigerator, washbasins…) and clothes worn”.41 References to the “harmful” effects of urbanisation convey little when urban lifestyles appear glamorous by contrast to rural. Rural life enters language books only through descriptions of natural beauty but Civics textbooks project another version of rural life, suggesting that it is severely limited by its lack of amenities and by illiteracy. The state’s efforts with regard to rural development are stymied by the widespread presence of ignorance and superstition and there is no recognition of initiatives taken within villages or by voluntary groups in the areas of science and technology. Were it acknowledged that state resources have concentrated on developing cities rather than villages, one might have addressed these contradictions between text and visual and between subject areas by comparing, for example, the lives of the underprivileged in cities (often migrants from villages) with those in villages.42
In Dharmashiksha, Allah and God are made linguistically derivative from Om and are denied the status of being autonomous names of god
Hiving off Environmental Studies as a separate subject has also made for contradictions in the way in which different subjects treat the issue.43 Language books represent a range of aspects of “Nature” from stories about animals to precautions to be taken against natural disasters. Yet despite the insertion of chapters on sustainable development, there is “no conscious attempt” to develop a sustained vision of reciprocal relations with one’s environment through the selection of texts treating this theme.44
The first lesson of a language textbook for Class VIII “establishes linkages between patriotism and cleanliness and afforestation”.45 Ironically, had the relationship between lifestyle and state policy been elaborated, one would have had to confront how the amenities of middle-class living are not only limited to the middle classes but often made possible through environmental exploitation by industries that the state supports. Elementary-level Science textbooks in fact perpetuate this tendency towards an instrumentalist approach to nature, which divides into two the section on trees, “About Trees” and their “benefits”.
Benefits being limited to their immediate resource value, the relationship between trees and rain is not recognised. This artificially erases the connection between different aspects of the environment,46 just as subject compartmentalisation prevents the child from testing information from Science against the values of Environmental Studies. Covers of Geography textbooks display self-contained visuals – dams, industries, beaches and deserts – that convey no impression of natural and human environments interpenetrating each another. Again, no links are made between the issues raised in the chapters on environment with the content of the chapter on industry and there is no mention of non-conventional sources of energy.47
We return to the relationship between an understanding of local environment and skills of critical thinking (argued in the section above on Jammu and Kashmir). Science textbooks for Classes I and II limit themselves to inculcating habits of personal hygiene and register no awareness of illnesses actually faced by children (lice, worms, etc).48 Agricultural activity is discussed in the Class IV book which recommends chemical fertilisers and good quality grain – aspects unrelated to the village child’s participation in it and unlikely to enlarge the urban child’s conception of it.49 Matters are complicated when, in a higher class, “the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers” is identified as a cause of pollution with nothing enabling one to decide what becomes “indiscriminate”. This is typical of the way content in Science is factual rather than an expansion of inquiry, with inadequate critique of the implications of scientific development.50 Industrialisation is equated only with progress so “[several] times… pollution is solely attributed to population explosion”. There is also no reference to technology benefiting some sections of society while many others are displaced or unemployed.51
The report is critical of the fact that the curriculum never engages with the manifest economic disparities in society though differences of caste, religion and language find mention as “impediments in national unity”.52 Science textbooks, for instance, prescribe as healthy a diet that for a large section of their readers may be hard to procure or to afford. In Classes I and II, the visuals relating to energy focus on “vehicles and industries”.53
The report observes that in Hindi lessons, characters from socio-economically deprived backgrounds appear seldom and usually as helpless victims rather than as central figures on whom the narrative plot hinges. Stories of perseverance and success could have been included, the report argues.54 This calls for a qualification – ‘success stories’ imply that character is more crucial than socio-economic location. If one wishes to present systemic inequality as unacceptable, it is more enabling to use irony, within the text or in the discussion questions based on it.
Language books have the potential to hone sensitivity as much as skills of articulation. One can draw conclusions on the politics of language from the fact (noted in the report) that the oppressed are hardly encountered in English lessons and there is no representation of cross-class friendships.55 Compilers of anthologies should guard against a tendency for texts in the elite language to blank out from their field of vision those less likely to make use of the language. It is equally important that those writing in languages whose history in the subcontinent is longer, and whose prevalence across different classes is wider, should not feel obliged to start from assumptions about “the poor as victim” merely because the implicit power relations have remained uncontested too long and too widely.
Chapters in History seldom touch upon economic conditions and class and regional disparities. Inequalities are registered in the text only at the pivotal point when these are challenged (Shivaji’s revenue reforms, Buddha’s rejection of caste divisions).56 Yet one would have expected textbooks to provide a perspective on the actuality of economic relations which extends beyond that articulated by individual reformers isolated in time. When History is introduced as a separate subject in Class VI, the first chapter, an apology for the study of history, claims that knowing the past helps us to understand the present. Yet in no lesson is it demonstrated how one may make these “linkages” with the world around one.57 Information or statistics are not provided, for instance, on inequalities and income levels prior to and after our independence so that the student can measure for himself independent India’s success in equitable distribution and employment opportunities. In this context, information could have been given that compares India’s national income with that of other nations. The new economic policy has no mention, symptomatic of a tendency to adhere to the vision of the 1950s and 1960s (Class VI Civics refers to five-year plans, and backward areas are identified by their containing few factories/industries).58 Government textbooks obviously evade difficult questions. Descriptions of the city make no mention of Dharavi as the biggest slum in Asia. No information is provided on how citizens may call government institutions to account.59
In Classes I and II, one can identify different religions through the stereotyped markers employed by visuals (turbans and caps) yet the text contains no character or name that is not Hindu, something that the report also notices in the Marathi textbook for Class VIII and the Hindi textbook for Class IX.60 Civics textbooks contain “repeated references to religion” but these do not seem to be in the nature of analytical inquiry – given that the majority of references cited advocate religious tolerance as necessary to national unity.61 However, the report draws most of its material from History textbooks and its findings are outlined below.
In Class V, India’s religions are mentioned as one manifestation of its diversity but this fact could have been given a more tangible dimension by showing Islam’s contribution to Indian art. Buddhism is not clearly indicated as a separate religion and, similarly, the Class VI book is cursory in its details of the birth of Jainism. No picture is provided of the religious dissent and dialogue in the period of the Mauryas. And appropriations are not addressed – when referring to the beginning of idol worship among Hindus, the book does not mention that Jain temples were taken over.62 It is clear that social inequalities are not seen as essential to the structure of religion when, in Class IV, a History lesson on saints who challenge religious hierarchies concludes with the line, “The respect for religion increased due to the work of the saints.”63 The same book develops prejudices at an early age by referring to oppression and cheating by Mughal rulers. It also contains the illogical statement, “Shivaji had many Muslims working for him but they were all loyal to Swaraj”, which betrays an assumption that religious identities override political allegiances and also that Shivaji’s raj was synonymous with people’s independence.64 One can note here the observation that these assumptions make for a particularly twisted logic in RSS books: “Numberless Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam on the point of the sword. This struggle for freedom became a religious war.”65 To break this down, conflict already located around religion is elided into a “struggle for freedom” (italics added, as the indicators of non-freedom are not clarified) which becomes a religious war.
However egregious, these examples suggest that it is a challenge for a secular democracy that has consciously separated private and public spheres to understand how shifting feudal empires negotiated religious and cultural identity. To return to Maharashtra, the Class VI History book suggests (apparently in the context of the establishment of the sultanate) “there was no difference in the traditional lifestyle of the people”.66 We ignore for now the fact that the culture of Central Asia would have influenced some sections in terms of cuisine and clothes. It is more important to know whether the remark that tradition and lifestyle did not change has proved the resilience of these traditions or the generous non-interference of the new rulers. In any case, the statement surely loses some force when the subsequent lesson (summarised in the report) demonstrates Central Asian influence on architecture, music, etc. The idea is again undermined, by what seems however a baseless claim regarding “the influence of superstition on Indian society during the Mughal period”.67
The report mentions how the Class VII textbook claims in Lesson 11 that the “aggressive communal feelings created by the Muslim League led to Partition”, a statement encountered in textbooks elsewhere.68
The report assesses the treatment of caste in different subjects. History textbooks provide accounts of the origins of caste and Civics discusses the problems of scheduled castes and tribes and the concessions given to them. The history of caste as an institution fails to bring out the link between discrimination, unequal opportunities and economic disparities so that it seems a neutral marker of occupation. The tendency in modern India to use a joint word, “caste-tribe”, falsely subsumes Adivasis under Hinduism. Textbooks miss out on opening up a productive discussion of the differences in perspective between Gandhi and Ambedkar on the issue of caste.69
Caste is not addressed in language textbooks and even when some of the richness of Dalit literature is included, the introductions do not bring out the significance of the Dalit background of the authors.
The report raises a range of issues related to gender. One concern is the fair representation of women. Women authors contribute only 15 per cent of the material in Marathi textbooks for Classes I to II and hardly seven per cent for Hindi!70 Visuals misleadingly show pre-teen boys as taller and sturdier than girls of the same age. No women saints of the medieval period are discussed in History.71 Even the token inclusions of women in language books are unimaginative, there being repeated references to Kiran Bedi and Lata Mangeshkar.72 And too often History books present the “pitiful state” of women rather than “their courage, accomplishments and social participation”.73
The report also directs attention to questions not addressed by different subjects, which would have sharpened our understanding of power relations under patriarchy, such as how the institution of family changed with changing economic needs and the development of slavery.74 Instead of limiting themselves to noting differences in attire between men and women of different regional cultures, Geography books could surely discuss differences in occupation?75 When the Class X Science textbook discusses anaemia, it would be worth going into the fact that 80 per cent of Indian women experience this for reasons of which it is also important to be aware. Finally, one discerns no endeavour in the visuals, texts or exercises to introduce the possibility that in future it might be the norm for men and women to share responsibilities both inside and outside the home.
WEST BENGAL: The West Bengal survey has examined books of English, Bangla and History in 16 schools (four each of government, government-aided, private and those run by religious or social organisations), all affiliated to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE). The report notes that in the History textbooks, “there is a covert tendency to represent the history of India and the history of Hinduism as parallel developments. Chapters on caste are discussed without reference to the oppression of Dalits”. The Congress is shown as a Hindu organisation and the League as the sole representative of Muslims.76 In both the languages and the social sciences, “representations of minority communities… and women are neglected”.77
Textbooks in Use in Schools Run by Social and Religious Organisations
BIHAR: Most of the Bihar books analysed in this study perpetuate prejudices and biases. They portray ancient India as synonymous with Hindus. Achieving worthy “sanskar”, people began to be called Aryans – they travelled east and south to spread Vedic culture. Vedic vision, the Upanishads taught us to understand Buddhism, etc, all forming part of our great faith. [There are] no distinctions anywhere between the two religions.78 The Magadha ruler possessed Mahapadyam – if distributed, each person would possess 50 lakhs – he ruled over such a prosperous kingdom.79
The books emphasise the forced conversion of Hindus and assert that many of the converted have never been able to find religious freedom.80 It is hardly surprising that there is no mention of the reasons and motivations for such widespread conversion. Further, it is claimed that the rulers and their collaborators were prepared to sink to the lowest depths to convert people to Islam.81 The destruction of Somnath crushed the Hindu courage. But in just a few years a new temple erected at Somnath – saffron flag again unfurled82 Somnath as wealth and jewels – understood as his duty destroying the idols of other faiths – pride.83
The allusions to Muslims are invariably crude. Muslims destroyed libraries, books, raped our mothers and sisters – reduced to ashes their bodies of sandal, the blood of Rajputs in their bodies. Muhammad bin Qasim died the death of a dog. On one side an invading army, on the consolidated might (samuha) of devotees.84 When sacred texts are being burnt, women raped – what is the use of prayer? The task of the sadhu is to awaken the country.85
Guru Gobind Singh used the pen and the sword, bhakti and shakti.86 The growing Hindu strength of Guru Tegh Bahadur crushed by a vast army.87 Shivaji eulogised as a great man in times of crisis (declining Mughal empire, British encroaching).88 Prithviraj was too trusting of Ghori.89 Shivaji protected the cow, dharma, sanskriti (culture), he is known as the protector of the cow and Brahmins.90
The defaced image of India, snatched from us the Sindhu – where the Vedas were composed, Nanak was born, Seleucus defeated – an injury that still rankles.91 Sindhu waves still rehearse the story of Seleucus’ defeat.92 The outline of India like an arrow on the string.93
The violent pressure of the Muslim League forced our leaders to accept Partition.95 But there is no attempt to explain the role of the Muslim League or the fact that it had only limited support among Muslims.
The report observes that there is a deliberate non-recognition of human values while narrow religious identities receive greater prominence and approbation. Thus all social reform in India is supposed to have been directed by a religious vision.96
CHHATTISGARH: Most Vidya Bharati schools are affiliated to the CBSE or their local State Boards. By and large, they follow state textbooks.97 In addition, they emphasise five subjects that are supposed to contribute to the development of sanskar or character formation. These are Moral Education (Naitik Shiksha/Sadachar) which includes stories about great men, songs, instruction on honesty, personal hygiene, etc; Physical Education (Sharirik Shiksha) which includes learning to wield a stick and martial arts; Yoga; Singing (Sangeet) and Sanskrit (from as early as kindergarten). “Vedic Mathematics” is introduced in Class III.
Ideology is reinforced through such aspects as the schools being predominantly Hindu, daily prayers (especially in schools with hostels attached) and the general atmosphere sustained by the presence or absence of pictures on the wall.
The writer fears that government regulation of textbooks might well be used against progressive textbooks created by institutions like Eklavya and concludes, “there seems to be no alternative to the hard process of improving the teaching and resources in government schools since most children still come out of the government school system”.98
Earlier, contradictions with official texts would emerge when the RSS denigrated Gandhi as a “Dushtatma” (bad soul) for “appeasing” Muslims. Individual teachers may have perfected sophisticated pedagogical techniques for getting around this but perhaps what enabled the two belief systems to coexist is the emphasis on… exams. While the report notes that the revised NCERT textbooks do “broadly reflect RSS ideology”, it adds that “they are still inadequate in that they cannot openly talk about the Sangh”. Therefore the need for Vidya Bharati to bring out textbooks that “‘supplement’ and ‘correct’ the history that is taught in the official books, working as much by selective emphasis… as by crude propaganda against Muslims and Christians”.
Itihas Ga Raha Hai for Class V blames “internal disunity” for the invasions by the Turks, Mongols and Mughals but notes that even in the medieval period the “freedom struggle” was kept alive.99 While professional historians point to the presence of Hindu generals in Mughal armies, and the fact that Shivaji, the archetypal Hindu king, had a Muslim general, as evidence of the fact that medieval power struggles cannot be understood in religious terms, the RSS sees this as a betrayal of Hindus and reserves its greatest criticism for such “collaborators”.100
“One of the central planks of the RSS is the equation of “holyland” with “motherland”– and the claim that because Muslims and Christians have their Meccas elsewhere, they are not fully loyal to the country. The text exhorts children to remember who they are so as not to become slaves again and asks rhetorically, “Whose is this country? Whose motherland, fatherland and holyland is it? Whose customs and festivals are celebrated according to the agricultural rhythms and climate of this land? Which people is it who call Shivaji, Rana Pratap, Chandragupta, Bhagwan Ram, Krishna, Dayananda their great leaders?” (The implication clearly is that festivals like Id and Christmas are not locally rooted.) It then goes on to a fervent description of the greatness of the RSS founders, Hedgewar and Golwalkar, and the need for an organisation like the RSS to build Hindu unity.101 The book also refers constantly to “Mother India” from whose womb many brave sons were born, who worshipped her and died for her, with the Gita in their hands and Vande Mataram on their lips.102
“A similar process of elision and abuse is evident in the Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha, a cultural general knowledge test that all students from the third grade upwards take annually and for which they get certificates… The primer is in question-answer format… and the version of Indian culture that is produced is thus an exclusively Hindu – upper caste (mostly northern) – culture… Homer’s Iliad was an adaptation of the Ramayana and… Christ roamed the Himalayas and drew his ideas from Hinduism.103 One of the most egregious examples however is the list of questions on Ram Janmabhoomi, the birthplace of Ram.104 To quote an extract:
“‘Q: From 1582 till 1992, how many Rambhakts sacrificed their lives to liberate the temple?
Q: When did the programme of collecting bricks for the Ram Mandir begin?
A: 30 September 1989.’”
While Gandhi and Nehru are perforce mentioned as leaders of the freedom movement, equal pride of place is given to the Hindu nationalist stream consisting of communal ideologues and religious men (sadhus and sanyasis).
DELHI: Dharmashiksha, Parts 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12. These are DAV College Prabandhakartri Samiti publications, each part meant for a corresponding class. Since the DAV publishes them, no doubt they are used for teaching regular courses on religious instruction at DAV schools. According to the report, it is not clear whether these texts are meant for compulsory courses or for Arya Samaj students alone. The courses however refer to Hindu values in general and the Arya Samajist component is not overly marked. So this may well be a compulsory additional course, as with the RSS schools which have compulsory courses on Bharatiya Sanskriti (Indian Culture).
In these books, on the one hand, history and mythology are made to coexist on the same plane and on the other, religious instruction is expanded to encompass history and politics as the lives of Gandhi or Bhagat Singh are subsumed within religious teaching.105 At the same time, the Arya-Hindu complex claims to represent eternal and universal religious principles thus negating truth claims of other religions. Caste injustice does come in, exceptionally, in the essay on blind faith (Andha Vishwas) which mentions the sufferings of lower castes and Dalits – as benefiting Christian and Muslim conversion efforts and leading to “din-pratidin hinduo ki sankhya kam hoti gai”: the hoary theme of the “dying Hindu” as against the prolific Muslims and Christians.
But what is of deep concern is the extent of consensus and acceptance, of flawed intellectual premises and highly questionable, politically loaded assumptions, that appears across schools of different denominations and categories, amounting to a shared endorsement of a narrative and a discourse that is sharply at odds with the social and economic realities in India today. This disquieting endorsement of a flawed and non-factual discourse is more than just a matter of putting forward blatantly communal texts. This becomes even more clear from our next example, a book of Hindi Grammar written by two teachers of Modern School, New Delhi, quite possibly in use in that prestigious institution and in many other places: Sachitra Hindi Vyakarana Tatha Rachana – evidently very popular.106 This is for middle school, particularly Class VIII. It is remarkable how far the process of Sanskritisation of Hindi has gone, with its earlier close affinity with Hindustani/Urdu totally suppressed. A reference to Nizamuddin Auliya spells the first name as ‘Nijamuddin’, in obvious transliteration of the Hindi, as the old system of dot-indication seems to have disappeared.
What is really cause for alarm is that not only does a particular kind of religious teaching take upon itself the mantle of representing nationalism, it excludes, by doing so, the other variants of nationalism that even personalities and leading figures mentioned by such books stood for. A strong objection can be raised on the basis of these contradictory claims: what are political ideas about nationalism doing within a book on religious instruction? If the book claims to teach about universal religious principles, why are other religions excluded? If the idea is to offer teachings on nationalism, why are certain categories of nationalist ideas and figures excluded? In Dharmashiksha, Part 3, Allah and God are made linguistically derivative from Om and are denied the status of being autonomous names of god (Paramatma Ke Naam). While trying to show that the terms are secondary to Om, the essay does not anywhere clarify that Islam and Christianity may have different notions about divinity.
For more senior students, the tone becomes very explicitly communal. In a politically loaded lesson on Mahashay Rajpal in Part 10, an occasion of communal rioting and the murder of an Arya Samajist publisher, Rajpal, in the 1920s because of his publication of a derogatory tract about the Prophet’s life (the Rangila Rasul case) is deliberately projected as exemplifying Muslim fanaticism. Gandhi’s criticism of the book is explained as appeasement of Muslims. What is conveniently omitted is the fact that the book portrayed [Muhammad] as a lascivious person. In another lesson, Muslims loot, plunder while all Hindu characters are heroic patriots and pious people. There is no mention of Hindu-Muslim unity or of Muslim patriotism or of Muslim devotional figures.
The Foreword to Part 10, ‘Dharmashiksha Ki Abashyakata’ (Necessity of Religious Teaching), is nearly exclusively dedicated to a diatribe against secularism, revealing a deep hostility towards the idea as represented in the Constitution. It wrongly translates ‘dharmanirapekshata’ as anti-religion. It says that secularism encourages groupism and prevents equality of citizenship by upholding minority rights. It also criticises secularism for maintaining a distinction between individual and private lives on the one hand and social public lives on the other. The essay distorts the idea of secularism by saying that it raises a wall between religion and politics. It also tries to make it monolithic whereas there are many varied definitions. To allow such unwarranted and disconnected political ideology generated by communal organisations to infiltrate school textbooks amounts to an assault on the Constitution and its principles, let alone the fact that it is a serious violation of education policy guidelines.
Religion teaches familiarity with the traditions and civilisation of the country and since all the parts deal with Hindu traditions as interpreted by the Arya Samaj, this is highly tendentious. It also says that familiarity is not enough, we must be proud of the traditions – an aspiration that promotes an uncritical acceptance of tradition. But pride involves a commitment: “We must make our enemies weep.” To place such antisocial and criminal tendencies in young minds is a breach of national trust. Religion and nationalism are made synonymous, with both being based on the primary principle of vengeance. It has been made abundantly clear in these texts that the enemies are Christians and western people and the Muslims. In a lesson in the book, Prithviraj is warned in the name of faith never to forgive his Muslim enemies nor trust them. There are other examples of “jewels from the low castes” that fought against Muslim dynasties like Malik Kafur. It is evident that such lowbrow and divisive propaganda being allowed into what are meant to be education primers in an avowedly secular country will destroy the national effort to build harmony and unity among citizens having different social and religious identities.
Even though the Samaj is supposed to have opposed the caste system, the first lesson in this volume (called ‘Vaidic Rashtriya Prarthana’) talks of conventional caste-based occupations. The land of ours, it says, is filled with milch cows, chaste women, learned Brahmins who know the Vedas, valorous Kshatriya warriors, Vaishyas who produce wealth. There is no mention of Sudra producers or of outcastes. In effect, what is being legitimised is a hegemonic version of a hierarchy that has no place in independent India. There is a lot of emphasis on the ritualistic parts of the Vedas.
In fact, hierarchies and lack of civil rights are naturalised through pictures of a policeman beating up an ordinary person with the caption saying “Sipahi dande se pitte hai”, with absolutely no word on how this is a terribly illegitimate act. The books do not give the students any notion of rights, liberties and equal citizenship capabilities of Indians nor do they even try to highlight what the threats are to these values.
The verbal examples given in exercises have a recurrent tendency to refer only to activities being conducted in Shishu Mandir or related institutions. For example, a chapter on business arithmetic begins with the shopkeeper putting prints of Ganesh and Lakshmi on his account book. Drawing exclusively from imagery belonging to the Hindu cultural pantheon, remaining inexplicably silent on other cultural frames of reference, the impression conveyed to the impressionable young mind, not even very subtly, is that the Hindu cultural universe is the only legitimate frame of reference worth relating to when growing up in India. There is also an inescapable suggestion that the Hindu cultural context is a self-sufficient and total world comprising everything worth mentioning or valuable.
In KARNATAKA, RSS-leaning organisations distribute books in slum literacy centres but the source of these books is yet to be traced (they are not easily available, being distributed directly). For example, the Infosys library programme distributes supplementary material among government and non-government schools, predominantly biographies of “great Indians”, mainly published by the Rashtrothana publications which is linked to the RSS. Exclusively upper caste Hindu, these icons include religious and mythical figures, rulers and a handful of reformers mostly from the Karnataka region. The RSS ideologues are prominent among nationalist leaders and, significantly, Gandhi and Nehru are absent. It includes one Muslim and no Dalits or contemporary women. The report refers to how the government does not appear to have in place official procedures for endorsing the private initiatives which it has permitted access to its schools (the Infosys library programme and the Ramakrishna Ashrama programme).107
MADHYA PRADESH missionary schools, particularly those affiliated to the CBSE, use material from private publishers like Macmillan, in common with secular private schools. There are over 3,000 Saraswati Shishu Mandirs in the state and their books, as in Uttar Pradesh, are not available in the open market. The ‘Akhil Bharatiya Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha’ run by the Vidya Bharati Sansthan, the coordinating institution of the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, produces them.
In these books, descriptions of Hinduism concentrate on brahmanical ritual while place descriptions concentrate on the “tirth” (pilgrimage site) in the area. A shrine like Sanchi is not mentioned among the tourist sites of Madhya Pradesh. The history of “Ram Janmabhoomi” is internalised through a species of catechism – “Who made the Mandir?/ Ram’s son Kush”, “Who was the Muslim lutera who first attacked it?” – up to the kar sevaks raising the saffron flag on October 30, 1990. The report comments: “Obviously there is no mention of the Babri Masjid and therefore neither of its destruction.”108 Even before narratives reach its physical destruction, locating the actions of the kar sevaks in Ram Janmabhoomi, the legend, not the material referent that anchored the conception of it, erases the mosque. If on such a politically contentious issue such as the controversy over the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi issue the textbooks are to be allowed to blatantly promote Hindu sectarian arguments, how would it be possible not to alienate pupils of the minority communities and prevent the building of a shared national identity? It is very critical that school curricula scrupulously stay away from political controversies and ensure that no bias of any kind, political or cultural, be allowed to vitiate their education processes in order for Indian schools to retain credibility as effective transmitters of a wholesome national education. We need to reiterate categorically the urgency of putting in place a rigorous scheme of scrutiny and evaluation of textual material, giving primacy to verifiable and empirically proven facts alone.
The Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan publishes manuals for teachers, some of which are also meant for parents. Titles include Shiksha Bharatiya Drishti, Ekatma Parivar: Ekatma Rashtra and Hindu Jeevan Shaili. Manishi Kehte Hain is a collection of quotations on education. Unexceptionable statements by Gijubhai and Ravindranath Thakur sit alongside Kaka Kalelkar speaking for “shiksha”, “main satta ki dasi nahin hoon… main arth shastra ki baandi nahin hoon – main to dharm ka punaragman hoon.”109
The RAJASTHAN report discussed the textbooks produced for DAV schools and those used in a school governed and operated by the Bharatiya Vidya Samiti, Rajasthan. As in other Vidya Bharati schools, students up to Class VIII have to appear for a public examination, Akhil Bharatiya Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha, conducted by the Vidya Bharati Sanskriti Shiksha Sansthan. Classes X and XII also sit for the Sansthan’s examinations.
Value education is taught from textbooks titled Sanskara Saurabh. The report states that “both the Sanskara Saurabh and the Bodh Mala (required reading for an examination conducted at an all-India level) contribute significantly to the internalisation… of the norms and values of Hindutva”.110 The deaths of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Moti Das, Bhai Dayal Das and Sati Das are narrated as sacrifices in the battle against religious conversion, through language vituperative against Aurangzeb in particular and Islam in general.111
The report discusses the material in the Dharmashiksha textbooks published by the DAV College Management Committee, Delhi, and used in their schools across the country. A book’s preface questions secularism as a value, stating that religion alone can provide vision and direction to science. The books seek to persuade their readers of this principle through propaganda pretending to be fiction and fiction pretending to be history, examples of which are quoted in the report.
One lesson presents a debate on the existence of god through the exchange between two friends – one studying in a government school influenced by communist beliefs and the other the product of a DAV school – by the close of which the friend leaning towards communism concedes the defeat of atheism.112
Repeated chanting of the Gayatri Mantra is said to lead to intellectual growth.113 Yet the education purveyed by these books functions not on any principle of great concepts gradually internalised through repetition. It relies on the evidentiary character of examples and figures but assumes in the face of these that further questions are silenced.
Chapter IV of the Class IX textbook brings together stories about the power of yagnas to summon rain and cure disease.114 Dharmashiksha for Class X states that the Vedas originate one trillion, 94 billion, 29 million, 49 thousand and 94 years ago.115
The extended reaches of the genealogies of Hinduism contrasts, as always, to the density of detail for which the last 200 years are mined in order to stockpile charges against false ‘secularists’ and proselytising faiths. The accusation of Savarkar in Gandhi’s murder is seen as part of an endeavour to appease Muslims.116
Inwardness on the part of the Samaj as sect moves in step with hostility to those defined against Hindus as part of a performance on the national and global stage. Endogamy between Arya Samajis is advocated.117 A discussion of religious conversion is in another lesson used to stimulate hate for Muslims and Christians.118 “Militarisation of the nation”, “Hinduisation of politics” and “religious conversion as national change” are the counters with which the argument of another lesson moves.119
The chapter on Sanskrit betrays a sense of threatened identity (Sanskrit is necessary to our own survival),120 global ambition (it is the language of mankind) and an internal ‘Othering’ within Hindu self-perception (the use of Sanskrit by “Aryans” establishes it a Hindu language).121 Would this disable the RSS project to claim Vanvasis within the Hindu fold? Though the school is English medium, Chapter 7, on the theme of Hindi, opposes the use of English as a betrayal of ‘Indianness’.
The UTTAR PRADESH report mentions that schools run by Vidya Bharati were very reluctant to divulge details of their syllabi, textbooks or even methods of selecting textbooks and claimed to be using the books approved by the government (which is true only after Class VI). The elementary-level textbooks (entirely different from government publications) mention two different publishers – Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan and Shiksha Mandir Prakashan – which have the same address and the logos bear different names – Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Uttar Pradesh and Vidya Bharati.
Books studied are Rashtriya Naitik Shiksha Evam Samanya Gyan for Classes II to V. Caste identities and caste hierarchies are strengthened by approvingly mentioning caste-based identities and ethics. Power-based hierarchies are also justified e.g. kingly violence. There is an obsession with authoritarian and ritualistic moral consciousness, like touching feet and blindly obeying parents and teachers. Superstitions are strengthened, with reference to otherworldly benefits or god curing someone without treatment. Moral behaviour is often mixed up with many a-moral (morally neutral) acts, like cleanliness, consequently confusing the child about norms of morality. Moral teachings are often by way of commandments, which is bad pedagogy. Most of the lessons are full of prejudices and unscientific beliefs e.g. left-handers are called uncultured. The books are also extremely gender biased and most of the moral discourse is around males only.
The books that have been examined are taught in Saraswati Shishu Mandirs: Vandana (Prayer book), Sanskrit language books (four volumes), English primers (four volumes), stories of Ramayana, stories of Mahabharata, Geography books (two volumes for Classes IV and V), History books (two volumes for Classes IV and V). All these books are for primary classes. All the books are uniformly Hindu-centric and do not show any regard for the plurality of the country even as they claim to talk about the entire nation.
These books communalise the psyche of children and sharpen their Hindu identity by a twofold process: (a) through repeated glorification of Hindu icons, practices, kings and other persons in history and (b) by presenting non-Hindus mostly in a highly negative manner and belittling their characters and contributions. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are mentioned as within Hinduism. RSS figures like Hedgewar and Savarkar get prominence and are repeatedly glorified. The exercises moreover have many questions on the role and personalities of the RSS.
The exercises in even Science and Maths are constructed with frequent mention of temples, offerings, rituals and Hindu-centric notions. In the exercises, all the Hindu names are prefixed with ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ but the Muslim names (very few) are not so prefixed. Hindu-centric and militant nationalism is projected throughout. Both the language and style and content are oriented to this. Ritualism and superstitions are glorified repeatedly. What is disturbing is that the books are full of unscientific contents. Moreover, the contents actually stifle the critical capacity of children. The existence of Bharat as one nation in the modern sense of ‘nation’ is projected into the ancient past repeatedly to fill the child’s consciousness with racial national pride.
The report observes that it is very important that this distorted and false presentation of national consciousness is weeded out of school curricula. Schoolchildren should not be fed with factually incorrect and distorted political imaginations that have no correlation with the actual ground realities. It is important to emphasise repeatedly in the curricula and to remind young citizens constantly that the Indian nation which emerged from the freedom struggle in 1947 is the equal inheritance of several religious, social, ethnic and linguistic groups that are represented in the Indian nation. No one group can claim a superior right over the Indian national identity by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the context of the circumstances leading to India’s emergence as an independent nation state with an expressed commitment to pursue culturally pluralist, secular, democratic and republican values. To hark back to an imagined past, the interpretation of which depends wholly on the subjective preferences and cultural biases of the interpreter, is to deprive the school-going pupil of a sound and factually based, scientifically driven education and, more dangerous, deprive the pupil of his or her constitutional rights. Mythology is constantly mixed up with history and Hindu mythology (alone) is presented as historical fact. Some progressive and secular personalities of history are appropriated but their forward-looking and critical thoughts are suppressed. For example, Kabir is mentioned but his critique of ritualistic religious practices is not well emphasised; Vivekananda is presented mainly as Hindu preacher.
War and violence are glorified in the name of bravery and ‘nationalism’. Ritual sacrifices are also justified. Non-violence is maligned as cause of cowardice (for example, in the section on Ashoka). Even comparatively good non-Hindu rulers are presented as only aggressors and cruel. Incongruously, the saffron flag of the RSS is celebrated in the textbook. These are indeed odd examples to hold up and subtly glorify in a republic that affirms its commitment to universal and secular values. Prayers eulogise kings, artists and scientists besides religious figures. Myth mixed with history.122 No opportunity is lost to mention heroic wars of kings against Muslims. Buddha, Nanak and Kabir are incorporated within the Hindu fold without a word about departures from tradition (one verse mentions that even their scriptures are sources of knowledge for Hindus).123
MADRASSAS: There are a large number of madrassas in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Particularly since 9/11, 2001, madrassas have found themselves the focus of hostile attention. They are accused of obscurantism, criticised for teaching mainly religious texts and of failing to equip Muslim children with the credentials and skills necessary in today’s labour market. Apart from imparting religious knowledge, a large number of madrassas teach Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
There are three main divisions of madrassa education in the state of Bihar: (a) Bihar State Madrassa Education Board: Tahtania – primary level, Wastania – middle level, Foukania – secondary level; (b) Imarat-e-Shariah Madrassa Education: Imarat-e-Shariah approved by the Bihar State Madrassa Education Board, Imarat-e-Shariah (not recognised); and (c) Regional Madrassa Education: Madrassas run by volunteer organisations and regional leather business guilds.
The Bihar State Madrassa Education Board recognises both government and private publications. Socioreligious organisations and private organisations also publish textbooks on their own initiative. Even after the establishment of the Bihar State Madrassa Education Board, textbooks have not been printed for many years. Only private publishers publish some guess papers and additional materials for the purpose of getting through the exams.
The report from Bihar gives a brief history of madrassas in India, from their establishment in mosques set up in the eighth century. It refers to the egalitarian principles of the Sufis, similar to those from which our Constitution takes inspiration, according to which people from different cultural contexts and of different religions would sit and dine together.124 Coming to the contemporary context, after alluding to the fact that free and compulsory primary education was the price we paid for investment in higher education in the years after independence, it argues that the free education provided by madrassas gives them a significant role in India today. Madrassas have structures in place for the transmission of knowledge and they have institutional credibility in the community. Teaching is carried out with commitment. Although the vision behind this commitment is religious, it should not preclude the possibility of madrassas rising to the challenge of meeting the new expectations of them from society. All that is necessary is that this vision be renewed, which would provide them fresh impetus to carry on their work.125
For example, Delhi has around 40 madrassas.126 Some of these madrassas follow the NCERT syllabus (Urdu medium) while others teach only manqulat (religious education). But the madrassas following the NCERT syllabus are handicapped by having to deal with poor translations of English textbooks.127 Those teaching religious education follow a curriculum dating back to the 18th century. It includes the Koran, Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Sarf and Nahw (Arabic Literature and Grammar) and Tarikh (History from the Prophet to Khilafat-e-Rashida, 610-661 CE). The Delhi and Uttar Pradesh reports note that while some madrassas use NCERT texts, most of them are still using medieval texts which make no contribution to the education of children; in fact, these can only help in the self-perpetuation of madrassas, as they can only produce madrassa teachers. As the qualifications provided by these madrassas are not recognised elsewhere, they prepare students only to become teachers themselves in these schools or to become imams, muezzins, khatibs, kazis and muftis.128
Like Vidya Bharati, the Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwatul Ulama produce their own textbooks. The Deeni Taleemi Council publishes for certain subjects (mainly religious education) but follows the recommendations of the State Board regarding others.
For Uttar Pradesh, the following madrassa books were examined: Kissalaumbia for Children, Islam Ki Taleem, Khilafat-e-Rashida, Misaali Hukmaran, Ashraful Noori, Husn-e-Muasharat and Uski Takmeel Me Khwateen Ka Hissa, Ummat-e-Musallima Ki Maen, Akhlaaqi Kahaaniya, Urdu language books (from Class I to V), Hindi language books (from Class I to IV), Aaina-e-Tarikh.
The books do not say anything negative against any other religion and do not slander non-Islamic religions or people. But the books related to Islam glorify everything Islamic to a point of sharpening the religious identity of students. Blind faith, rather than critical and scientific thinking, dominates these books. The most troubling aspect is that children are deprived of alternative viewpoints. In some books, while talking of ideal persons mostly Muslim characters are included and there are very few references to non-Muslims. Thus the discourse in these books is heavily Muslim-centric and worse still, it becomes isolationist.129
But in some books (like Hindi language books and Urdu language books), a large number of non-Muslim personalities are presented in an affirmative manner, making these books impartial and open-minded.130 Some of the books emphasise the positive values of communal harmony, objectivity, simplicity, honesty and mercy for animals, equality, sacrifice and integrity. The Hindi language books, for example, focus on the importance of patriotism.
On gender issues the books are totally uncritical and status quoist. While the domestic roles of women are highlighted, their social roles are by and large given no space in these texts. Men’s domestic responsibilities are almost absent. Promoting such retrograde impulses does not bode well for efforts to enhance consciousness of gender equality. The books, Husn-e-Muasharat and Ummat-e-Musallima Ki Maen, are only for girls’ madrassas. The madrassas do not feel the need to tell girls about other good women or about good men or fathers or to tell boys about good women. These books mention only Muslim women, which narrows the students’ ethos and horizon and would undoubtedly hinder a sense of being part of the mainstream.131
These books are confessedly written from an Islamic viewpoint and not from a scientific viewpoint. Even historical events are treated as god-created thus making an understanding of history totally theistic and irrational. Some of these positions are shared with the RSS viewpoint. For example, the reference to pre-Aryan cultures as extremely degenerate and describing the Aryans as great and gentle. Thus Aryans are praised in the highest terms.
On Buddhism also there is some similarity between the Jamaat’s and Vidya Bharati’s (RSS) perspectives. Both are uncomfortable with the Buddhist principle of non-violence and regard it as an impediment in putting curbs on wrongdoers. On the whole, the books are replete with religious and theistic prejudices and superstitions.
Occasionally Hindu kings are maligned and Muslim kings are praised. The Bhakti period is presented within a very narrow and communal framework. The report noted that the communal bias of these books is obvious but the tone is not aggressive and the number of such references is small compared to the Saraswati Shishu Mandir books.
But the Islamic viewpoint is so dominant that even the coercion of Muslims to follow Islamic rituals is mentioned with praise. But the coercion of non-Muslims is not praised. Overall, the framework of these books is communal and extremely narrow and this can be seen in the criticism of Akbar’s Deen-e-Ilahi.
Certainly, madrassas provide very limited education and they are not an alternative to formal schooling. However, recent studies have pointed out that the choice of madrassas is a matter of inadequate alternative educational provision and it is a feasible recourse for those whose lack of resources leaves them little room for manoeuvre.132 In rural areas and poor urban areas, madrassas are much more significant in Muslim formal education. They are meeting the unmet demand for schooling in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Nevertheless, madrassa education does have problematic implications. The special curriculum for girls exemplifies the problems of madrassa education. For example, madrassa students in Bijnor town in Uttar Pradesh are initially taught to read Urdu primers and simple extracts from the Koran.133 The most commonly used Urdu textbooks include Deeni Taleem (Religious Education), Taleem-ul-Islam (Islamic Education) and Fazail-e-Amal (Virtuous Actions). Larkiyon Ka Islami course books “contain 20-25 [lessons] on topics ranging from recipes to dowry and from embroidery to poems, questions and riddles with a theological bent”.134 Most of them detail religious practices or stories criticising harmful un-Islamic practices or deal with a woman’s domestic competence. It is often in the form of advice literature for women and girls: Muslim women are to follow adab (etiquette) and akhlaq (moral virtues).
Contrary to stereotypes, one recent study found that of the 576 madrassas, 553 i.e. 96.01 per cent favour introduction of modern subjects to make madrassa education more purposeful in ensuring a better future for the students.135 The ability of madrassas to modernise by introducing subjects such as Science, Hindi and English is constrained by finances. Arabic, Persian and Urdu and Islamic subjects occupy prominent positions in most madrassa curricula.
Several kinds of state intervention have been proposed: to regulate and inspect madrassas, to oversee their curricula and insist that they are registered with the government. Establishing Madrassa Boards is one form of regulation that some states have followed. This has also helped the process of modernisation of curriculum. While modernisation and regulation of madrassa curriculum is needed, it is ultimately a defensive strategy that poses no challenge to the structures that perpetuate Muslims’ educational backwardness. The danger of educating significant numbers of Muslim children separately from those of other communities provides few opportunities for interaction and dialogue and minimises social contact between them and others. It creates the space for the escalation of prejudices and stereotypes and the reinforcement of particularistic and distinctive identities on both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide.
Textbooks Prepared by Private Publishers in the States
JAMMU AND KASHMIR: In Jammu and Kashmir, as explained in the previous section, both private and public schools are made to follow the curriculum prepared by the State Board. Non-government schools do use support material published outside the state, as the state “has no reputed publisher for publishing the textbooks or reference books”.136 However, these private publications do not figure in the teaching of senior classes, as Classes VIII to XII have to appear for public examinations.137
KARNATAKA: Although Karnataka state publications are what are used predominantly in both government and private schools, the state report brings out the issues of representation in the books published by private agencies within Karnataka. Subhash Book Agency publishes material for Classes I to IV. Its textbooks for Moral Science, Bala Neethi, are criticised for simplistic formulations (good vs bad) and the fact that most diagrams depict men as the protectors of morality.138 Some of the statements quoted: “We must respect poor and rich people”139, amount to a very thin protest against the social manifestation of economic inequalities and in fact appear to reinforce them.
The ethics purveyed are essentially Hindu (good practices include devotion towards god and Hindu myths offer examples) and authoritarian (bad practices include being demanding of one’s parents and, more outrageously, Eklavya’s story demonstrates that “Devotion towards Guru is equal to devotion towards god”).140 There is nothing on protecting the environment.
The Kannada and Social Studies guides published by Gadag in Mangalore (Mohan Guides and Ananda Guide) carry considerable gender bias141, an excess of Hindu references and also denigrate Muslims (supposed to have kept Hindus in conditions of slavery).142 These guides have a much larger circulation through the open market, as they are directly linked to examinations.
The Kannada Parimala (published from Bangalore) offers lessons on Moral Science/Culture for Classes II to V. Hindu mythology and religion comprise the source of values, India is collapsed into Hindu (and all festivals and gods mentioned are Hindu) and the construction of sentences divides Indians into Hindus (the norm) and Others.143
The first chapter of the textbook for Class IV concludes, “It is good if friendship and relationship are made between two people of equal standing (equal people).”144
KERALA: The content analysis from Kerala is based on a survey of eight social science books (only one of which is published in Kerala) and three Malayalam textbooks. All of these are produced by private publishers and are used in private schools in Kerala.146 There are no state mechanisms for regulating the content of textbooks used by private schools not recognised by the state.147
The Kerala group chose to extend the implications of its brief to see if the core curricular components of the NPE and the values implied were adequately addressed and whether the values presented, suggested or implied were in consonance with the prescriptions in the NPE and the spirit of the Constitution. It also opened up the question as to whether textual content, learning activities and evaluation activities allowed scope for transacting the values by linking different situations/topics/activities with real life possibilities. It concluded that what is lacking is a coherent theory of values as the foundation of one’s understanding of ideas and issues encountered in literature and the social sciences.148
Hitherto “value education” has been reduced to information about religions in History, inserted as topics on citizenship in Civics and as moral tales and hagiographies in the languages. Unimaginative evaluation exercises do little to sharpen the student’s ability to make values her own through reflection and testing. The report points out that the prevailing tendency is to make one’s starting point a list of topics to be covered and to try tacking on values and cultural perspectives at the end. Instead, the selection of topics should be based on a vision of the ideas and principles it is thought important that the student reflect on. Just as one’s interpretation of a topic indicates a cultural perspective, the exploration of a value opens up new areas within a subject. For instance, though the NPE identifies “international understanding” as a value, this is something rarely touched on by textbooks. Yet it has the potential to open up new dimensions of Indian history, like our relations with Myanmar, with South Africa.
Both religion and especially the idea of a composite culture are usually imagined very mechanistically. Descriptions of religions are limited to narratives of their individual origins and do not trace the histories of their mutual interaction or long-term influence, like that of the tenets of Jainism upon Gandhi’s code of ethics. And textbooks do not think beyond referring in token fashion to different religions and regions, sometimes offering summary accounts of all in a single unit. As the report puts it, the “actual impact of this representational approach is to de-emphasise the idea of a common cultural heritage… [as] sociological aspects that focus on interactions between the different streams in culture are ignored” and the more immediate impression is of the “boundaries of individual religions”.149
Similarly, social reform needs to be understood more imaginatively. The report argues that when social reform movements aimed at obtaining justice for oppressed castes are dealt with in one book150, the presentation leaves an impression of narrow identity politics, as the concerns of each caste are not shown as having a bearing upon one another.151 Mention of social reformers is limited to the 19th century – Ram Mohan Roy, Syed Ahmed Khan – as those of the 20th century tend to be subsumed under the narrative of the nationalist movement. This means that Ambedkar figures only as a “constitutional expert”, the architect of the Constitution, and, as the report puts it, his “life’s work for social justice and development of oppressed people remains untouched”.152 It is difficult to accommodate Ambedkar’s conflicts with Gandhi over the mobilisation of the Dalits within the account of a unified nationalist movement.
The “exclusion of regional history” is seen as a “grave drawback… All the textbooks are prepared from an exclusively national perspective”. Even in lower primary classes in Kerala, “what is presented under topics in Civics, Social Environment and Culture is far away from the experience domain of the student”.153 In Geography, it is the virtual exclusion of “the human angle… values, culture and [the child’s] real life experiences and needs” that appears to underlie the failure to integrate “themes like protection of the environment… with the main concepts in Geography”.154 The same cluster of criticisms is called forth by the government publications of Jammu and Kashmir. In this case it may be explained by the fact that seven out of eight of the social science books surveyed are produced by private publishers outside Kerala and are marketed in many other states. But then the exercises, if not the content, should take into account the local experience.
A more serious implication of such a perspective is the issue of non-recognition. The report observes that “groups such as tribes and scheduled castes are marginalised into virtual non-existence by most of the textbooks” and the understanding of diversity remains confined to “geographical and linguistic diversity… write-ups on different religions and regions”.155 This distorts the understanding of contemporary India, as shown below.
Commenting on how Vedic culture is presented as spreading uniformly all over India, the report notes that when referring to the epics the “references to other peoples and cultures are not touched upon”.156 Such omissions do the kind of harm one anticipates from the distortions of books propagating the ideology of the Hindu Right. Elsewhere, the only allusion to tribals is in a single sentence: “A number of tribal people still inhabit the Bastar region”157, where the word “still” betrays the assumption that they are an anachronism in contemporary India.
The report observes that it is facile to use religious and regional diversity to project the country’s dense history and extensive territories. It is still simpler to reduce the meaning of diversity to the insertion of lists. It is a challenge of another order for lessons to engage critically with the power equations implicit in the historical relations between (or very definition of) marginalised and mainstream groups. It is also a challenge to extend the urban upper-middle-class reader’s imagination to natural and cultural landscapes so unlike her own.
Visuals as well as the text help to sediment images of gender roles and rural and urban life that are marked by both exclusion and misrepresentation.158 The report notes that writers appear oblivious of the importance of “non-sexist language”. The generic ‘Man’ is always the agent of historical change, in unsophisticated narratives that explain scientific process backwards from the ends at which it arrives (“He has developed for himself the telephone, the radio… to get information from any part of the world”).159 Nor are stereotypes challenged, women being shown in traditional or subordinate roles, like teachers and road cleaners.160 The ratio of male to female figures in visuals is supplied for three publications and ranges from nearly 2:1 to nearly 6:1.161 Most importantly, there is no engagement with the social issues that underlie women’s inequality.162
Experience limited to a very small percentage of society (urban middle class) is often presented as generic. If there is acknowledgement of rural society and economy, this is in the shape of a formulaic binary: “A school in a town” and “A village school”. Ironically, fixed in these images, town and village present educational opportunities and environments so unlike as to undermine the assumption implicit in prescriptive passages of urban middle-class experience being the norm.163 We examine some examples of such privileging of urban experience.
The report picks out visuals from primary school Social Studies, where the child is the focus in what appears to be a discussion of a balanced diet (as the captions of the visuals are breakfast, snacks, etc). He (never she in the examples given) is identifiable as urban upper middle class by details of dress and cutlery. At once, all that the accompanying text prescribes as a healthy breakfast/lunch excludes a large segment of its readers (not counting the still larger section of children outside the formal school system).
An illustration of “private property” offers an assortment, including a television set, large trunks, a tea service and an armchair. This ignores both economic disparity and cultural practice. While a TV is arguably desired by a large proportion of those who can see themselves acquiring the means to buy it, armchairs or cups with saucers remain irrelevant to many domestic arrangements and dining rituals, however significant they may be to a certain class of consumers.
The report comments on the way in which illustrations of villagers present them as poorly dressed and in submissive stances, “with hands folded in respect while the Gram Sevak is holding up his hand in an aggressive gesture of authority”.164 “National Issues”, like dowry and caste, are located in rural India rather than examined in their different dimensions across class and location.165 And the problems of rural life are implied as being self-inflicted (poor hygiene, large families) rather than as structured by unequal relations with urban areas. It is worth quoting one such paragraph in full:
“Because of ignorance, villagers do not understand the importance of having a small family and continue to have many children. As a result, they find it difficult to properly feed, clothe and educate their children. Ignorance prevents them from getting their children vaccinated and these children fall prey to diseases. Many villages are still ignorant of the fact that using good quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides can increase agricultural production.”166
All three references to the ignorance of villagers mark the disjuncture between the perspective of the individual rural family and the inevitable “national perspective”. A child may have to be fed and clothed but she is also made to assist agricultural activity (possibly at the cost of her education). If vaccinations are not easily affordable or accessible, parents may anticipate the loss of some children through disease and it therefore does not make sense to restrict the number of their children. Increased agricultural production is desirable from the national point of view, where there are economies of scale not experienced by a poor family. For the latter, the cost of “good quality seeds” may not be compensated for by the returns in terms of crop yields that they cannot usually sell directly in the market.
We have already noted how textbooks relegate environmental consciousness to the private sphere and to the public sector and the state. They do not enter sites of social interaction and conflict, like the ecological footprint of an urban village or unregulated use of air conditioning. In related fashion, books mention the problems of population in the situation of a rural family but the materiality of this situation is misread. This is because their primary concern is less the rural family than population as a problem for the state which is responsible and accountable for employment schemes and the public distribution system.
The report concludes by suggesting that the core components, values and cultural perspectives in the NPE remain “very general, broad and often fuzzy concepts” in need of clearer elaboration. It proposes the publication of a document on core values, “for the benefit of teachers, curriculum developers and textbook writers”, which would contain “practicable, precise and elaborate suggestions with examples” on “how the core components, values and cultural perspectives are to be translated into text content and activities”.167
It proposes further pedagogic interventions. Students should be enabled to understand “how data are interpreted” in a subject like History “where multiple interpretations are possible” depending upon the framework one brings. This would allow the student “to link data and knowledge to a number of situations in real life”.168 It also argues that even after the formulation of “an effective pedagogic approach” to the social sciences, in such complex areas as the “struggle for freedom, religion, cultural heritage and social reform… there is a need for formulating policies/approaches to transact these”.169 Regarding content, it suggests that the “guidelines for textbook preparation… include topics suggested for inclusion in the social science textbooks of different states” so that there is “adequate representation of regional history, society and culture”.170
In RAJASTHAN, value education books are written by authors identified by the parent organisations of schools, like the DAV College Management Committee, Delhi, or the Bharatiya Vidya Samiti, Rajasthan. They recommend private publications on the basis of a consensus of faculty members who are approached informally by private publishers. “Interestingly, each school identified a bookshop from which students buy the books.”171
The president of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan states in the preface to a series of books on Culture that “grandmother tales contribute to the internalisation of ‘fundamental values of life’. Since technology and materialism give rise to erosion, the task of these books is to prepare students for gradual learning of tradition, history and culture. These eight books comprise nearly 153 chapters. Out of 153 chapters, only three and two chapters provide information about Christianity and Islam respectively. These books are imbalanced. Secondly, no stress is laid on Indian constitutional norms and rules of civility”.172
According to these authors, Muslims (who were aggressors) started marriages with Hindu girls. As a result, for protecting culture and religion, Hindus started following rules of endogamy. Authors opine that endogamy leads to purity of blood of a caste.173
The UTTAR PRADESH report, in defining its perspective on education, imagines it as something that enables the child to “preserve and enhance [her]… courage to challenge an unjust social order”. It should also “widen the child’s sense of identity by transcending the narrow identities of caste, religion and class and by… enhancing his/her sensitivity for plurality of viewpoints and of forms of life… [and] empathy for people different from him/her”. Caste and class should be simultaneously recognised as implicated in an “unjust social order” and transcended through questioning and empathetic awareness.
This perspective is able to unpack many things that are disquieting in an elementary-level Moral Science textbook, Rashtriya Naitik Shiksha Evam Samanya Gyan174 (used by most schools though neither on the government-approved lists nor on the lists of non-government councils), and the observations of the report are outlined below.
The terms of reference of epic literature are adopted uncritically in adaptations for children. In describing the accidental killing of Shravan Kumar, the reader’s sense of human suffering becomes secondary to caste identity when Shravan, described as a Vaishya, reassures Dashratha that he will not incur the sin of killing a Brahmin.175 The story of King Shivi maiming himself to feed a hawk (so that its prey is spared) belongs to a past whose experience of violence and norms of justice are alien to those of the modern world.176 They ought not be imported into the world of a child of Class III without more sensitive mediation than is provided. The problem arises not only when having to work with the reference points and events of classical literature. In a set of ethical injunctions, the reference to domestic help as “servants” carries the feudal relations of the past into a society that makes claims to greater egalitarianism.
The moral principles the textbooks seek to instil are insufficiently developed and the report cites several lessons in Classes II and V where a good act sets up the expectation of a reward and ill deeds call forth the wrath of god.177
They are confined to a Hindu ethos, and only one species of Hinduism, which is never brought into dialogue with its spiritual, rationalist or actively ethical traditions. In Lesson 27 of Class II, idol worship is made a command. In Class III, Lesson 14, a woman lost in her devotions forgets to give her son his medicine. When admonished, her defence is that god’s intervention is more effective than human efforts and this is borne out by the son recovering without the help of medicine.
The moral teaching frequently takes the form of commandments, which is the least effective of pedagogic methods. The texts contain heavily loaded terms whose complex meanings a child cannot understand or correlate to his or her own life experience or imagined life situations. At the other extreme they deal with relatively trivial concerns, such as tidiness, whose breach could scarcely be called immoral. The instructions to the teacher seem to betray the writer’s own lack of confidence in the material resonating with the reader. “The child must have inspiration from this story.”
Seven-year-olds are encouraged to pray so that they may have the self-control to remain celibate. The uncritical worship of parents and elders is encouraged, of which the most egregious example is the moral affixed to the story of Eklavya (reverence alone makes possible learning). There are rituals with umpteen instructions, narrow identities, such as not eating with the left hand. The visuals/verbs are all masculine; a woman has no place in the world of morality while in the real world the most stringent norms are applied to women alone and emphasis given to stereotypes of dependent identity – such as the widow.
Indira Gandhi’s famous last words “every drop of my blood will strengthen Bharat” has been highlighted while there is nothing on her pluralistic and secular ideology.
Studies Commissioned by the Committee Highlight the Following Issues
Content analysis of textbooks of State Boards and private publishers highlight two very different kinds of problems that need to be distinguished and addressed. One is the rank communal propaganda of textbooks used in schools run by religious and social organisations, especially schools affiliated to the RSS, and the other is the more subtle set of issues, for example, the homogenisation of middle-class life as the norm, which reports such as those from Kerala and Karnataka highlight.
Communal bias is imprinted on school textbooks by weaving in absurd and unsubstantiated narratives and facts in a way that undermines not only the scientific quality and academic standard of the education meted out in schools but could have seriously damaging consequences for the quality and integrity of educational standards in the country. Such textbooks can contribute to the growth of a communal consciousness and must not be used in schools of any type.
This report provides numerous examples to substantiate how textbooks produced by social and religious organisations are written to ‘supplement’ and ‘correct’ the history that is taught in the government textbooks. These textbooks exaggerate and valorise the role of certain figures and personalities as against others. When Gandhi and Nehru are perforce mentioned as national leaders, Hindutva leaders are given equal importance. The danger in allowing such distortions of the Indian historical record is that it does not convey the actual context of the events as they unfolded and led up to the birth of independent India. It is a well-known fact that as equally isolated were the Muslim communal leaders from the mainstream of public opinion, so too were the Hindutva leaders of pre-independence India and therefore to suggest that these leaders had the same stature as Gandhi or Nehru would be a gross travesty of historical truth. Besides, their objectives use different methods, to divide, not unify, the people. They should not figure in the textbooks of a secular republic as heroes.
There is no distinction between fact, fiction and mythology. The entire aim of the history written in these textbooks appears to be the projection of the Hindu communal imagination that the Indian nation has always been primarily and essentially a Hindu one, with its most glorious moments and highest achievements unfolding under Hindu kings.
The textual materials greatly exaggerate ancient India’s achievements without any of the factual and empirical substantiation required to make that case. They also echo the Hindutva chauvinist narratives that present the country as a victim of repeated foreign aggressions and invasions, especially by Muslim rulers.
All past achievements are referred back to the ancient pre-Islamic era. The landscape is bereft of all Muslim or Christian cultural or religious presence. History is shown to develop around a single axis which bifurcates Indian people into true Indians and aliens, as Hindus and others, as victims and tyrants, as invaders and vanquished. The fact that India has since ancient times been a multicultural, multi-religious, syncretic society has not been emphasised sufficiently thus manipulating the future generation into a pattern of narrow-minded and intolerant thinking.
Textbooks produced by the private publishers show a blithe disregard of the constitutional framework. In the absence of any regulatory mechanism, textbooks in an extremely unrestrained fashion take it upon themselves to usurp the interpretation of content of important disciplines like History and Geography and freely inject myth and fiction into them. Adding to this mythologisation of facts is the free categorisation of the significance of issues and factors not at all in consonance with the prevailing realities requiring depiction. For instance, there is undue attention paid to the role of the Brahmin community, revealing an elite perspective rather than an accurate depiction of the prevailing social reality of different communities equally claiming public space. There is also a subtle and even exaggerated focus on a Hindu-Muslim division, drawing more from cultural imagination than on any actual historical record.
Most books mention that the Muslim League is a communal organisation and rightly so but, strangely enough, the communal and chauvinist orientation of the RSS as an organisation openly committed to the launching of a Hindu Rashtra does not find mention in these books. In the narratives of history, mythology and Hindi literature, Muslims are portrayed in a negative light thus providing space and legitimacy for the promotion of crude propaganda against Muslims and Christians.
This is a direct reflection of the communal bias of the syllabus. This is a real cause for concern because the goal of education policy is to promote the values enshrined in the Constitution and to allow school curricula to deviate from the constitutionally mandated adherence to the ideal of building a secular nation would be to violate the Constitution.
This is a dangerous trend which has to be urgently arrested if textbooks are to reflect the goals of our national education policy and the values emphasised in our secular Constitution which seeks to build a united India, fully conscious of the cultural, social, religious, linguistic diversities that are at work within the country but are sought to be welded together to produce citizens owing allegiance to the republic of India committed to pluralism, democracy and development.
The second sets of issues highlighted in the content analysis are concerned with the improper and inappropriate and at times offensive handling of caste-based discrimination, community and gender issues in all textbooks, including state government books. Most textbooks are marked by little or no regional history/geography/culture, indicating a lack of sense of the immediate environment of the child.
There is little account of the reality of rural India. What is presented highlights the extremely limited scope of elite imagination of rural India. Equally significantly, women, labouring classes, Dalits and tribals are inadequately represented in the textbooks.
This comes as no surprise, given that the books have no qualms about presenting the upper caste, upper class urban North Indian/regionally dominant male as the paradigmatic representative of Indian experience.
The fact that there have been many dissenting voices and opposition through the years to the homogenising and centralising tendencies in trying to build a national identity is curiously not reflected in either books sponsored by the right wing or government books.
Even state textbooks indulge in a great deal of homogenisation; there is almost no mention of class or social differences; the stereotyping of girls and women is all too common.
State government textbooks appear to implant these religious, regional and gender biases in a subtle manner through the over-representation of and overemphasis on certain religious and cultural symbols and values in the textbooks, which by implication would devalue symbols and values of a different religious or cultural persuasion.
Such textual materials will submerge all secular interpretations in school-level teaching and cause a serious deterioration in the quality of education, especially because of the failure to demand the minimum criteria of ensuring that textual content is strictly based on empirical data and scientific scrutiny. Our children will be little suited to face the real world or the rigorous standards of the world of scholarship.
It is imperative that textbooks strongly emphasise the plurality and syncretic nature of Indian society, the rich interactions within it of different cultures and traditions, its multi-ethnic, multi-religious character, its non-religious as well as religious fault lines and its scientific-rational as well as spiritual and religious traditions. We must be conscious of our historic responsibility in producing textbooks for our children.
We must ensure that these young minds recognise that as citizens of the Indian republic their future is best preserved in a commitment to a national identity based on respect for cultural diversity and that all the diverse social, economic and linguistic groups that live in this country are equal inheritors of the national legacy. Our textbooks must emphatically reaffirm this important point or else our attempt to have a nationally relevant education policy would have little impact.
1 A select list is given below. Tanika Sarkar, ‘Educating the Children of the Hindu Rashtra: Notes on RSS Schools’ in Christophe Jaffrelot, ed. The Sangh Parivar: A Reader, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005; Teesta Setalvad, ‘How textbooks teach prejudice’, Communalism Combat, October 1999; Teesta Setalvad, ‘Gujarat: Situating the Saffronisation of Education’ in The Saffron Agenda In Education, Sahmat, New Delhi, 2001; Nalini Taneja, ‘Communalisation of Education: Taking Stock Again’, People’s Democracy, No. 43, October 2003; ‘Review of Social Studies Textbooks’, Asha-Research, Gujarat Textbook Review,
2 Vidya Bharati, Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, etc and madrassas have been covered in this analysis but Ekal Vidyalayas have not been adequately covered. However, a recent report has brought out the communalisation that is going on in these schools and of their curriculum and textual materials. See Avdhash Kaushal, ‘Final Report on the field visit and observations for Singhbhum district in Jharkhand and Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts in Assam’. This report was prepared by a committee set up by the MHRD headed by Avdhash Kaushal. It submitted its report to the MHRD in 2005.
4 Kerala Report, p. 29.
5 Jammu and Kashmir Report, p. 1. 6 Ibid, p. 2.
7 See the chapter in India and the World, Class VIII, 2002,
8 Ibid, p. 4. 9 Ibid, p. 3. 10 Ibid, p. 3 and p. 4.
11 Ibid, p. 2 and p. 6. 12 Ibid, p. 5. 13 Ibid, pp. 7-8.
14 Ibid, p. 5. 15 Ibid, p. 8 and p. 7. 16 Ibid, p. 3.
17 Ibid, p. 10. 18 Ibid, p. 9. 19 Ibid, p. 8. 20 Ibid, p. 8.
21 With regard to the question of regulatory mechanisms, this report declares that states framing their own curriculum should strictly follow the National Curriculum Framework and that the CABE should appoint an agency “to monitor and evaluate the curriculum of respective states”. Ibid, p. 10.
22 Ibid, pp. 4-5. 23 Ibid, p. 6.
24 Social Studies, Class VI (2001), p. 5. Cited on
p. 7 of the report.
25 Social Studies, Class VI (2003), p. 31. Cited ibid.
26 Social Studies, Class VI (2000), p. 29.
27 Social Studies, Class VI (2001), p. 54.
28 High School Itihas Bhag 1, p. 284.
29 Ibid, p. 33. 30 Ibid, p. 101.
31 Social Studies, Class VI (2000) and Social Studies, Class VI (2001), p. 18.
32 Social Studies, Class VI (2000) and Social Studies, Class VI (2001), p. 20.
33 Ibid, pp. 2-3. 34 Ibid, p. 3. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid.
37 Madhya Pradesh Report, p. 3.
38 Ibid, p. 4, quoting Class VII, Civics: “In order to establish equality in society even untouchability is said to be a crime”!
39 See the analysis in the Maharashtra Report on pp. 2-4.
40 Class III, Marathi, p. 42 and p. 76.
41 Maharashtra Report, p. 11.
42 Ibid, p. 7. 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid, p. 8. 45 Ibid.
46 Ibid, p. 9. 47 Ibid, p. 11. 48 Ibid.
49 Science, Class IV, cited on p. 9 of the report.
50 Ibid, pp. 9-10. 51 Ibid, p. 10.
52 Civics, Class IX, ‘National Unity’, quoted on p. 14.
53 Ibid, p. 16. 54 Ibid, p. 12. 55 Ibid.
56 Textbooks for Classes IV and V, discussed on p. 12.
57 Ibid, p. 13. 58 Ibid, p. 14.
59 Ibid, p. 15. 60 Ibid, pp. 17-18.
61 Ibid, p. 20. The pages cited are Class VIII, p. 27 and p. 48, Class IX, p. 25 and pp. 30-31 and Class X, p. 59.
62 Ibid, p. 18 and p. 19.
63 Ibid, p. 18. 64 Ibid, p. 19.
65 From the section on medieval history in Itihas Ga Raha Hai, quoted on p. 14 of Nalini Taneja, ‘BJP’s Assault on Education and Educational Institutions’.
66 Ibid, p. 19.
67 Ibid, citing p. 66 of the Class VI History book.
68 Ibid, p. 20. See also Teesta Setalvad, ‘How textbooks teach prejudice’, Communalism Combat, October 1999.
69 Ibid, p. 21. 70 Ibid, p. 23 71 Ibid, p. 25.
72 Ibid, p. 24. 73 Ibid, p. 26. 74 Ibid, p. 25. 75 Ibid, p. 26.
76 Ibid. 77 Ibid, p. 2. 78 Ibid, p. 7. 79 Ibid, p. 28.
80 Bihar Report.
81 Ibid, p. 8. 82 Ibid, p. 14. 83 Ibid, p. 24.
84 Ibid, p. 8. 85 Ibid, p. 9. 86 Ibid, p. 15.
87 Ibid, p. 14. 88 Ibid, p. 20.
89 Ibid, p. 24. 90 Ibid, p. 15. 91 Ibid, p. 22.
92 Ibid, p. 23. 93 Ibid, p. 25. 95 Ibid, p. 17.
96 Bihar Report, pp. 2-3, p. 14, pp. 28-29.
97 Nandini Sundar, ‘Teaching to hate: RSS’s Pedagogical Programme’, Economic and Political Weekly, 39 (16), 2004. The two major private networks in Chhattisgarh appear to be schools run by the RSS and those run by Catholic orders. In Bastar, the Mata Rukmini Devi Sansthan has been given some 32 hostels and schools to run. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram also runs hostels.
98 ‘Teaching to hate: RSS’s Pedagogical Programme’, Economic and Political Weekly, 39 (16), 2004, pp. 1605-1612.
99 Rana Pratap Singh, Itihas Ga Raha Hai, Part II, Textbook for Class V, Patna: Shishu Mandir Prakashan, 1997, p. 9.
100 Sundar, 2002, p. 117.
101 Ibid, pp. 77-81. 102 Ibid, pp. 27-28.
103 See Sahmat, 2001, pp. 14-18.
104 Ibid, pp. 13-14.
105 Delhi Report, p. 1.
106 Pitambar Publishing House, New Delhi, 1996, ’97, ’98, revised ed. 1999, 2000, 2001.
107 The report notes that there is “a definite need for a regulatory board that can review and approve government textbooks. The board must include people known to have a fair and balanced ideological position and with a good understanding of quality writing for children/learners”. Ibid, p. 5.
108 Ibid, pp. 4-5. 109 Ibid.
110 Rajasthan Report.
111 Sanskara Saurabh, Class II, pp. 49-50.
112 Chapter 7, Textbook for Class IV, p. 26.
113 Ibid, pp. 17-18.
114 Ibid, pp. 23-24.
115 Dharmashiksha, Class X, p. 21.
116 Ibid, p. 60. 117 Ibid, p. 19. 118 Ibid, p. 15.
119 Ibid, pp. 61-62. 120 Ibid, p. 19. 121 Ibid, p. 21.
122 Ekatmata Stotram, pp. 11-20.
123 Uttar Pradesh Report, pp. 7-8.
124 Bihar Report, p. 45.
125 Ibid, pp. 46-47. 126 Ibid, p. 2. 127 Ibid, p. 6. 128 Ibid, p. 3.
129 Uttar Pradesh Report. 130 Ibid. 131 Ibid.
132 Patricia Jeffery, Roger Jeffery and Craig Jeffrey, ‘Islamisation, Gentrification and Domestication: ‘A Girls’ Islamic Course’ and Rural Muslims in Uttar Pradesh’, Modern Asian Studies, 38, 1 (2004), pp. 1-53.
133 Ibid. 134 Ibid, p. 4.
135 Qamar Uddin, ‘Hindutan Ki Deeni Darsgahen Kul Hind Survey’, Hamdard Society, New Delhi, 1992.
136 Jammu and Kashmir Report, p. 3. 137 Ibid, p. 6.
138 Karnataka Report, p. 3.
139 Bala Neethi, Class I, cited on p. 15 of the report.
140 Bala Neethi, Class III, ibid.
141 Stree Neethi Sudhakara, Letter No. 4, a woman should put up with a husband’s violence in the hope of happiness “during her son’s time”. Discussed on p. 13 of the report.
142 Mohan Guide, Class V, p. 26. Cited on p. 14 of the report.
143 The Class III textbook says on p. 27: “Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and people from all caste-religions, who too are Indians, celebrate Republic Day” (Karnataka Report, p. 18).
144 The report argues that it is difficult to visualise “how publications in the private sector are to be… regulated. Certainly, if private publications are to be given in government schools (as in the case of the Infosys library programme), they could also be reviewed and approved by “the regulatory board they propose setting up for state publications. Such boards could function in a more decentralised manner, at the district level”. The report suggests that it might be better to have an ombudsman-type of office at the state or district level. At this office “people can bring to notice material that may be particularly offensive from the constitutional point of view (not necessarily promoting one religion or deriving values from one religion, etc but more when there is denigration of other creeds) or materials that are of an offensive character. This could be an office that is linked directly to the Lokayuta office or the legislature or to the office of the Commissioner of Public Instruction who is then empowered to investigate and act in the matter”. Ibid.
146 Kerala Report, pp. 2-3.
147 Ibid, p. 27. 148 Ibid, p. 4. 149 Ibid, pp. 6-7 and p. 25.
150 Social Studies (H. & C. Publishing House), Thrissur.
151 Ibid, p. 25. 152 Ibid, p. 22. 153 Ibid, p. 8. 154 Ibid.
155 Ibid, pp. 21-22. 156 Ibid, p. 24.
157 Ibid, pp. 21-22. The book referred to is NK Chowdhury, Discovering our Country (S. Chand and Co).
158 Ibid, pp. 18-20, Maharashtra Report, p. 11.
159 Ibid, p. 9. 160 Ibid, p. 7, p. 9 and p. 12.
161 Ibid, p. 10. The books are Time, Space and People, Class VI (Oxford India), Gems History and Civics, Class VI (Ratna Sagar) and ABC of Social Studies, Class V (Holy Faith International).
162 Ibid, p. 7.
163 Ibid, p. 19, Figs. 15 and 16.
164 Ibid, p. 18, Figs. 11 and 12.
165 Gems School History and Civics, Class VI, pp. 93-94, cited on p. 17 of the report.
166 History and Civics, Class VI, Bharati Bhawan Publishers,
p. 98, cited on p. 16 of the report.
167 Ibid, p. 28. 168 Ibid, p. 25 and p. 28.
169 Ibid, p. 28. 170 Ibid, p. 29.
171 Rajasthan Report, p. 4.
172 Rajasthan Report, p. 2.
173 Textbook on Sociology for Class XII, written by ML Gupta and DD Sharma.
174 Rashtriya Naitik Shiksha Evam Samanya Gyan, eds. KN Joshi, G. Ram and BV Chaturvedi (Ashok Prakashan, Deputy Ganj, Bulandshahar), Classes II to V. Cited on p. 3 of the Uttar Pradesh Report.
175 Rashtriya Naitik Shiksha, Class II, Lesson 2, quoted on p. 3 of the report.
176 Ibid. Class III, Lesson 4, cited on p. 4 of the report.
177 For instance, Class V, p. 29 (Lesson 13), cited on p. 4 of the report; see also p. 5.