Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks: Karnataka’s Success Story

Today I am here to narrate a story to you. It is a longish story but has been pruned to fit the time available. Friends, it is a story of success. It is a story about a two-year long battle against saffronisation of school textbooks in the state of Karnataka. But before delving into the subject I would like to say a few words about textbooks in general in the pan-India context.

Saffronisation of Education

‘The Child is the Father of the Man’, goes the famous saying. It follows therefore that one of the foremost duties of a responsible society is to ensure a wholesome development of the child’s personality. And since textbooks play a major role in shaping the thoughts and critical thinking personality of the child, it goes without saying that utmost care should be exercised in the preparation of textbooks. Obviously textbooks with contents that run counter to and are not in conformity with the Directive Principles of the Constitution should have no place in India. But the actual situation is somewhat different. I will come to that presently.

Now, an authoritarian regime seeks to perpetuate itself and tries to impose its ideology on the people through coercive methods. The permeation of ideology also goes on through education, dance, drama, music, arts, folk theatre, cinema, TV Serials, etc. In addition story books, comics etc too are sprinkled with varying doses of the ruling ideology.

According to the famous sociologist Anthony Giddens, ideology as “shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify the interests of dominant groups” succeeds in its permeation depending upon the means the dominant groups choose and the age group they target.

Once the consensus is achieved, the mass which received the dominant ideology believes that it is the only possible way of seeing the world. Since ‘knowledge’ plays a pivotal role in reinforcing an ideology, the educational field becomes the first choice for any dominant group seeking to perpetuate its ideology. Well aware of the fact that the young are quite impressionable the state directs a considerable part of its energy towards giving an ideological orientation to their education.

In India, we made a clear choice to be a socialist secular democratic republic. Coming to the education sector we have the Central Advisory Board on Education or CABE, National Policy on Education or the NPE, National Curriculum Framework or the NCF which are meant to ensure wholesome education for our young. NPE 1986 and NCF 2005 lay down certain norms and guidelines for textbooks and the latter must necessarily conform to these both substance-wise and content-wise.

The NPE 1986 stipulates that all textbooks must contain certain common core values along with other components that are flexible. And these common core values have been defined as “history of India’s freedom movement; constitutional obligations; promotion of values such as India’s common cultural heritage; egalitarianism; democracy and secularism; gender equality; protection of the environment; removal of social barriers; observance of the small family norm; inculcation of the scientific temper.” 

NCF 2005 guidelines clearly state: “India will be discussed from the perspectives of the adivasi, dalit and other disenfranchised populations and effort should be to relate the content much as possible to the children’s everyday lives”.

All this is fine, but in practice something entirely different is happening. Some political parties, from the moment they come to power, do their best to tamper with the textbook contents. The NCERT apparently does not have any control over the state institutions and the textbooks produced by them. This is probably why many are found to flout the NPE and NCF guidelines. Without doubt it is mainly due to infiltration of persons inimical to secular and democratic principles into the textbook preparatory bodies – such as persons owing allegiance to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS which is the fountainhead of the far-right Hindutva ideology in India.

The RSS itself runs the single largest education enterprise in the country through its Vidya Bharati and Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan. Its Vijnana Bharti wing deals with ancient Indian achievements in science. RSS runs thousands of Saraswati Mandirs and Shishu Mandirs spread across the country with lakhs and lakhs of students. Besides it controls many institutions of higher learning. Since many decades the children studying in RSS schools have been brain-washed by textbooks with a completely biased, motivated and vicious syllabus. Here are a few samples

  • Arabs were barbarians who advanced to convert other people to their religion.
  • Islam spread in India solely by way of the sword.
  • With the finds of bones of horses, yajna altars etc, scholars are beginning to believe that the people of the Harappa and Vedic civilisation were the same.

Between 1998 to 2004,  when the BJP was heading the NDA 1 government at the Center, it did all it could to change the content of education. But the present NDA 2 government has gone much, much further. Textbooks in all the BJP ruled states are now totally communalized. As recently as January this year the Modi government has revised the B Tech curriculum to include knowledge of ‘Indian values and ethics and ancient wisdom in science and technology’.

Apparently the inspiration for all this is coming from RSS and the ‘Honorable’ Dinanath Batra. Batraji’s rabid Hindutvawadi textbooks get messages from our PM Narendra Modi in which he praises the textbook board and Batra’s organization Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. Incidentally Batra also runs a sister organization called the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas. According to Modi, Batra’s movement aims to cleanse the distortions in Indian education! The PM himself, members of his cabinet and several RSS and BJP functionaries seem to be the torch-bearers of this cleansing exercise with their fantastic claims about India’s glorious scientific achievements!

Friends, these tall claims about the ‘Airplanes of Vedic Times’, ‘Plastic surgery of Ganesha’s Head’ etc, etc have made our country a laughing stock in the eyes of the global community.  The latest one in the series is the Union minister of state for education attacking the theory of evolution. All these fake claims of Hindutvawadis arise from what can be classified as an extreme ‘anxiety of Indianness’ where an inferiority complex manifests itself in jingoism. Friends, it is my firm belief that it is lack of critical education that is at the root of this anxiety and this is exactly what makes such people vulnerable to such half-truths and untruths.

RSS idea is to revive ‘the culture of India’ which it believes was damaged by the various colonisers. It  says “The content of education from the primary level to the higher education stage should be “Indianised, nationalised and spiritualised”; “Courses  at all levels, including vocational training courses, should  incorporate the essentials of Indian culture”;  “Sanskrit should be made obligatory for students between classes 3 and 10”. It has tried to achieve this by systematic infiltration of either its own members or persons sympathetic to its ideology into textbook committees.

Hence we have this situation in India where textbooks prescribed by even ‘secular’ education boards promote religious, caste and gender prejudices. Textbooks produced under the ambit of the state textbook boards, as well as those of prominent national boards, echo the same historical misconceptions and formulations. Most of them continue to perpetuate the colonial legacy of portraying ancient India as synonymous with the Hindu and the medieval Indian past with the Muslim. I don’t think any textbook so far has ever written about the many ‘Hindu’ kings who looted temples of rival kingdoms and took away images from temples as trophies of war. King Harshadev of Kashmir had a separate ministry to raid and loot temples. Professor Richard Eaton in his essay “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States” provides many such examples. 

Though one can find ample material regarding the Indian upper caste oppression of dalits and adivasis, our textbooks are found to highlight oppression by Europeans alone. While there are lessons which speak about the “immoral behaviour of Catholic priests in the middle ages” no textbook discusses the Indian caste system and the practice of ‘untouchability’. Our so-called secular textbooks are also completely silent on the ideology that led to the assassination of the Mahatma and the organizational background of the assassin.

Such factual misrepresentations and deliberate exclusions of certain historical events and modern day social realities of India are clearly designed to orient the child towards one particular ideology. In the process the concept of ideological neutrality of education is given a quiet burial. Infiltration of the ‘Hindutva’ ideology into the textbooks constructs a homogenized culture of India. Such textbooks are preventing school-going children from becoming progressive and secular in their thinking and outlook. Moreover they demonise thoughts that run counter to the norm. Saffronization of textbooks is subtle and insidious. Its effects are long-term. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is what ultimately leads to polarisation of society and horrors like communal riots including the 2002 Gujarat massacre.

Coming to the state of Karnataka, the pattern is quite similar. Textbooks containing lessons with a pronounced tilt towards the Hindutva ideology were prescribed for years together. The process of saffronisation began pretty early with RSS sympathisers occupying key positions in textbook committees. The late Prof. Mudambadithaya was one such person. He remained the chief convener for the textbook committees for many years. He was the mastermind behind the saffronisation of school textbooks in Karnataka from the year 2001 onwards. It was Mudambadithaya who prescribed the colonial violence and the contents of Hindu mythology in secondary school English textbooks in 2001. Blatant changes were made during the time of a JD (S) – BJP coalition government in 2006-07 and later during the rule of the BJP government between 2008 and 2013. With guidance apparently from Vidya Bharati and persons like Dinanath Batra, the government went ahead with large scale insertion of the ‘hindutva ideology’ especially in social science and languages textbooks.

Such developments naturally alarmed the educationists and progressive members of society. Voices began to be raised. But they were few and far between. On the whole the campaign was pretty low key. Actually till the year 2012 there was not much of an organized resistance to saffronisation of textbooks. A resistance movement of a serious nature started from the beginning of 2012. And it was spearheaded by the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum (Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike; KKSV).

The Shimoga unit of the Forum initiated a state-wide movement against saffronisation in the education field. A state level seminar was organized in Shimoga on April 4, 2012. More than 280 delegates from educational institutions, students and research scholars of Kuvempu university, writers, columnists, priests, nuns and lay people from all sections of the society attended. After extensive discussions with leaders of progressive groups it was planned to hold protests, rallies, seminars, discussions etc all over the state and submit memoranda to the concerned authorities. To pursue the matter a twelve-member committee called ‘Committee for Resisting Saffronisation of Education’ was set-up by the KKSV. The Committee based in Mangalore arranged several meetings and seminars and held protests with active assistance from over forty concerned organizations.

Meanwhile the government and its spokespersons vehemently denied any communal tilt to textbooks. Prof.Mudambadithaya staunchly defended the textbook contents through an article in newspaper with the heading ‘Saffronisation of Education- A Clarification”. Mr.Mudambadithaya was of the opinion that since our students going abroad forget their country and culture we need to instill in them patriotism and culture through adhyatma (Spirituality) using our textbooks. He lamented that such attempts were referred to as saffronisation. But Mr. Ishwarappa the then Deputy Chief Minister let the cat out of the bag when he said “Saffronisation is inevitable because in the textbooks of the past there is a lack of reference to great leaders of India and the culture of India.”

The Committee asked a lawyer to study the possibilities of either taking legal action against the government’s move or to bring a stay against distribution of the affected textbooks. Meanwhile a one-man Commission headed by Francis D’Souza, a research scholar (his subject: Ideologies in English Textbooks for High School and Pre-University classes) was appointed by the Committee to make a detailed study of the textbooks prescribed since 2012 and prepare a report. The Commission submitted a detailed report in August 2012. The Report was officially released during a seminar held in Mangalore in September 2012. The seminar drew overwhelming response from the public and the teaching community.

The Commission in its Report stated that adherence to NCF 2005 is observed in its breach and that the major portions of the analyzed textbooks did not come anywhere near it. Though NCF 2005 has recommended that stress should be given to social justice and justice for the downtrodden, these books in fact contained lessons that would result in the creation of an opposite viewpoint in children. The Commission noted that these books contained lessons that treated dalits, women, adivasis and minorities as inferior beings. The Commission also found extensive distortion of history and observed that it was most frightening. There was hardly any attempt to build a foundation of scientific understanding of history, the Commission said. It was felt that these textbooks were not only anti-democratic but also went against the very spirit of the Indian Constitution. It said the dominant Hindutva ideology found in the analyzed textbooks fails to project pluralistic nature of Indian nationalism.

The following were some of the important findings of the Commission:

  • Textbooks had for the most part, gone against the spirit of NCF 2005.
  • NCF 2005 guidelines distorted.
  • Public opinion not sought prior to release.
  • The books were not subjected to scrutiny by well-known and independent educationists.
  • There was no ‘constructive approach’. No scope for children to construct anything in the class.
  • Textbooks prepared on communally divisive lines.
  • Mythology getting dressed as history.
  • Claiming pre-Mughal era as the greatest period in Indian History.
  • Glorification of wars between Hindu and non-Hindu rulers.
  • Cautioning minorities through certain lessons.
  • A casual or no mention of caste system, untouchability, hegemony of the upper castes and blind beliefs.
  • Gender insensitivity, stereotyping of women, Dalits, minorities and other marginalized.
  • Due importance not given to contributions of marginalized sections in the field of history, culture, literature, art and science.
  • Trying to turn students into ‘national citizen’ instead of a ‘critical citizen’.

Here are a few specific examples of saffronisation:

  • Some Roman Catholic churches of Bengaluru described as built by the British
  • It is stated that the roots of Aryan civilization can be found in the Harappan civilization
  • In the lesson entitled “Punyakoti”, original poem called “Govinahaadu” or the “Song of the Cow” has been changed to give an openly communal colour. In the original poem the tiger says “…Consumption of cow’s meat is a wicked thought. So I will take a pledge not to eat any cows hereafter…”. Whereas in the original poem the tiger simply walks away without killing the cow. 
  • Suggestive titles such as “Vijayanagara-The unforgettable empire”, “The rise and fall of the Mughal Empire”.
  • Explanation of Crusades given in unnecessary great detail.
  • There is just a casual mention about Indian caste system and blind beliefs.
  • The chapter on Delhi Sultans strengthens stereotypes on Muslims and Muslim rulers in India. Delhi Sultans are addressed as parakiyaru or outsiders.
  • In the group discussion part there was this question: “Why did the Directive principles enjoin the state to prevent the slaughter of cattle?” with a note to discuss the issue in the class.
  • In the lesson on protection of places of historical interest, there is no mention of historical places of Muslims, Christians and other minorities.
  • In science section there is a model conversation between teacher and the students regarding their food habits. Answering a question put by the teacher, students recall only the vegetarian food items they had for their breakfast before they came to school. Significantly, they do not mention any non-vegetarian item such as meat and fish.
  • In history section an elaborate explanation is given about how missionaries used to convert Indians.
  • While explaining the phenomenon of ‘terrorism’, six major terrorist attacks from 1993 to 2013 have been mentioned. But missing from that list are the blasts Samjhauta Express blasts (February 18, 2007), Meccca Masjid blasts (May 18, 2007) and Malegaon blasts (September 29, 2008).
  • Under the side heading ‘Test tube babies in ancient India’ (Chikitsa 1979) the lesson says Drona of Mahabharatha is the first test tube baby 7.500 years ago. It is stated that, “…one day Baradwaja went to the Ganges for a bath, he saw a beautiful apsara named Ghritachi. He was over came by desire, causing him to ejaculate. Bharatdwaja captured the fluid in an earthen pot (drone), from which Drona was born and got his name.”
  • In the section ‘the role of micro-organisms’ it is written “…the urine and dung of the cow increases fertility of the manure …” (This sounds as if buffalo’s urine and dung does not perform the same function). The same column starts with the statement “In India cow has been considered holy”.
  • Three pages devoted to explain the immoral behaviour of the Catholic Church and the fight between Catholics and Protestant in the 16 century.  
  • Lessons on Religious reformation in India and Bhakti movement conceal the hypocrisy of the Indian priestly class and the reasons behind the rise of Religious reformers and the Bhakti saints. 

In November 2012 the ‘Committee for Resisting Saffronization of Education’ wrote to the DSERT (Department of State Educational Research and Training) and the NCERT detailing how the textbooks had flouted the NCF 2005 and asking for recall and review of the affected lessons.  It said, ‘……..these findings ……….are most alarming. The deviations from NCF 2005 are of an extremely serious nature and the consequences can be far-reaching. The Committee has no hesitation in declaring that sizable portions of these textbooks have undergone saffronization and it is quite obvious that a lot of deliberate and shrewd thinking has gone into this exercise. One can clearly discern a hidden agenda here to instill and build-up non-secular values, religious fundamentalism and the idea of a Hindu Nation (Hindu Rashtra) in crores of young and impressionable minds. The committee feels that this process must be stopped at the earliest. We most definitely do not want our future generations to become intolerant and fundamentalist.

The committee would like to point out that saffronization is but one aspect of a far more serious problem. Eminent educationists and practicing teachers ……..have observed that these textbooks, besides being saffronised, are academically impoverished. According to them some of the books (e.g., 8th Standard Mathematics and 5th Standard English) are far above the mental capabilities of the learners. Though according to NCF 2005 textbooks must include theory of constructivism, critical pedagogy, auto-learning etc., actually all these concepts are conspicuous by their absence. Neither can one find in these textbooks any word about the new concept of evaluation’.

The NCERT and the Union Minister for Education were asked to take note of the Committee’s findings and immediately order a thorough and comprehensive probe into the non-compliance with NCF 2005 by their counterparts in Karnataka.
The Committee demanded that

  • The present saffronised and poor quality textbooks should be withdrawn and work on the proposed textbooks for the next year should be suspended.
  • The existing textbook committees should be scrapped and they should be reconstituted with such educationists as are committed to NCF 2005.
  • The Karnataka Textbook Society must publicise the drafts and invite suggestions and recommendations from the public as well as independent educationists.
  • All such textbooks shall be compulsorily offered for scrutiny by an NCERT-approved committee consisting of independent experts. The entire process of scrutiny shall be transparent.

In February 2013, when more new textbooks were released the Committee did some investigations on its own. It found out that though drafts had been dispatched to various districts for tryout, this was nothing but a mechanical exercise conducted purely for record’s sake. Actually the drafts were distributed in the evening of the first day during a four-day-workshop conducted for the purpose. And the participants were told to come prepared the following morning with all their comments and suggestions!  Whereas a crucial exercise of this type would actually require at least a fortnight’s hard work, if not more! The Committee pointed all this out in another letter to the various authorities. It also listed the several objectionable contents that had been found in the new textbooks and concluded that scant attention had been paid to the substance and content of the textbooks.

The Committee put forth the following demands:

  • Copies of the new textbooks should immediately be made available to us, to well-known academics, experts in the field and to civil society groups for a thorough and proper tryout.
  • Henceforth drafts of all new texts should be placed in public domain.
  • The views and suggestions of the general public as well as the parents of learners should be given due consideration.
  • The curriculum vitae of all members and other functionaries of textbook drafting committees should be widely publicized. 
  • A State Textbook Council should be set up at the earliest. It shall work as a permanent vigilance body to monitor not only the textbooks taught in public schools but also the parallel textbooks taught in schools outside the government system. It shall function as an independent body, free from all state interference. The STC shall also function as a complaints authority.

In the ensuing months elections were held to state assembly and a new Congress government came to power in May 2013. But when the Committee observed that the RSS ideology still continued to hold sway in the textbooks, it sent another letter in June 2013 this time to the Primary & Higher Secondary Education Minister asking him

  • To stop the teaching of the saffronised lessons in the new textbooks.
  • To withdraw the books from the next academic year.
  • To change all textbook committees and prepare new textbooks as per NCF 2005.

Besides these the other demands we had put forth in the previous letter were repeated.

When there was no response, another report on the new textbooks for the standards 7 and 10 was prepared and sent to the government in July 2014. The introduction to the Report ran somewhat like this:  Any person with even a modicum of concern for the future of our children would be greatly dismayed at the ineffable goings-on in the vital field of education in our state of Karnataka. Coming to the subject of textbooks for the primary and secondary classes the situation is extremely distressing, to say the least. ……..there is continuation of influence exercised by Hindu fundamentalist groups over the contents, especially the social science and language textbooks. …… RTI application has bared the truth that most of the textbook committee members are either unqualified or under-qualified. All these discrepancies, distortions and objectionable contents have already been brought to the notice of the various authorities including the honorable minister for primary and secondary education. Our three letters apart from several articles on the subject in the media have only met with a deafening silence. There is absolutely no response. Neither is there any corrective action except some vague promises made by the concerned minister. ………The complete apathy and extreme lack of interest shown by the government is not only most shocking it is totally unpardonable. ……….The government would do well to heed the eminent educationist Krishna Kumar’s words (He is ex-Director of NCERT. NCF 2005 was prepared under his leadership). In the year 2005 Krishna Kumar observed that the reason for the rise of cultural revivalism in India was the failure of education to support a secular national identity. These are his exact words: “The secular national identity that the state made an attempt to project, received little substantive support from education. This was one of the many reasons why the endeavour did not get far, and why within less than half a century of acquiring independence, cultural revivalism has again surfaced as a major force in political life”. The Committee rests its case. The ball is in government’s court’.

Subsequently three meetings were held with the education minister. Sadly they did not yield any result. But the Committee did not give up. It kept up the pressure through press conferences, public meetings, protests etc. In the end it was decided to meet the Chief Minister and apprise him of the entire case. The Chief Minister gave a patient hearing and assured the Committee of immediate action. We were glad when he kept his word.

On December 2, 2014 the government announced the appointment of a textbook revision committee headed by Dr Baragur Ramachandrappa, a renowned scholar and progressive writer. The revision committee with around 164 members was mandated to review and revise all textbooks from classes 1 to 10. It took nearly two years to complete its task and the revised textbooks were finally printed and distributed from the academic year 2016-2017 onwards.

In general the revised textbooks are found to be satisfactory. But still there are a few shortcomings. The Committee Against Saffronisation of Education has recently written to the revision committee   pointing out the discrepancies and asking for corrections. It is hoped that the revision committee   takes note of this and initiate necessary actions to further improve the textbook contents. However one nagging worry remains. How to ensure that successive governments do not tamper with textbook contents as per their will and wish? This is the challenge before all right-thinking persons concerned about the future of India. Till a lasting solution is worked out all one can say is:  Eternal vigilance is the price of knowledge.

Friends, before concluding I would like to thank the organizers of this event for having provided this opportunity to share our experiences with you all.

(This is the full text of a paper presented by the author at a conference held by Vicharved in Pune on February 17,2018; the Conference was on the Communalisation of Education)



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