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NCERT book blanks out Ambedkar's role as the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee

Chandra Bhan Prasad

Are Dalits turning intolerant? Are they emotional and scornful to reason? These are some of the questions the mainstream media asked, following the controversy over publication of an Ambedkar cartoon in an NCERT book. In the process, a new stereotype on Dalits may have been created.

The authors of the NCERT book, 'Indian Constitution at Work,' are amazed at the response of 'emotional-devotional' Dalits. "They have not read the book," and "they have not understood the context of the cartoon," were refrains of the authors. In other words, Dalits are not applying their minds. "Dalit intellectuals have stopped being argumentative. After all, it is for the first time that Dr Ambedkar is being introduced to India's young minds," they said.

Let me give the reasons why Dalits are upset. Let's begin with the cartoon. Legendary cartoonist Shankar published the cartoon in 1949, in his Shankar's Weekly, which was meant for a discerning audience; the weekly did not have a mass circulation.

Shankar's readers lived in the times of Dr Ambedkar and Pt Nehru, and knew them well. However, the same cartoon is now presented before Class XI students in an entirely new context. Why do the authors try to show the 'snail pace' taken to draft the Indian Constitution to young minds? Is it to promote Ambedkar or is to paint him as a lazy professional?

Secondly, Shankar drew the cartoon without comment. However, authors of the NCERT book added a caption: "Cartoonist's impression of the snail's pace with which the Constitution was made. Making of the Constitution took almost three years. Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact? Why do you think, did the Constituent Assembly take so long to make the Constitution?"

Are not "...took almost three years", "...cartoonist commenting on this fact" and "why do you think..." meant to unduly influence impressionable minds?

Contemporary India associates Dr Ambedkar with the making of the Constitution. The Union government inserts full-page advertisements in newspapers, nation-wide, on every April 14 and December 6 - the birth and death anniversary, respectively, of Dr Ambedkar - acknowledging him as the architect of the Indian Constitution.

In addition, Dalits organise rallies and seminars all over India on these days to highlight Dr Ambedkar's contribution to the nation. Seeking self-esteem, Dalits highlight the fact Dr Ambedkar is the father of India's Constitution. This has seen contemporary India grudgingly acknowledging him as the creator of the Indian Constitution.

Now, let's look into the book: The chapter, 'How the Indian Constitution was made,' says: "Formally, the Constitution was made by the Constituent Assembly" [Page 14] Further more, "...the Constituent Assembly that Drafted the Constitution..." [Page 16]. Was the Constitution drafted by the Constituent Assembly? If the Constituent Assembly drafted the Constitution, what did the Drafting Committee do?

Well, in the NCERT book, the Drafting Committee doesn't even exist! Since the authors didn't know that there indeed existed a Drafting Committee to produce a Draft Constitution, the question of introducing Ambedkar as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee didn't arise.

If one visits the Constituent Assembly debates - parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/debates.htm - one can find how member after member referred to the Dr BR Ambedkar, so often and so eloquently. The NCERT book blanks out the Drafting Committee and Dr Ambedkar as its chairman completely. Why?

And how does the book introduce Ambedkar to young minds? "The Constituent Assembly had eight major Committees on different subjects. Usually, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad or Ambedkar chaired these Committees." That's all the book has to say about Ambedkar. The story-telling on how the Indian Constitution was made ends here.

Now, if the Constituent Assembly didn't draft the Constitution, who produced the Draft Constitution? TT Krishnamachari, known as TTK, has the answer. On November 5, 1948, TTK told the Constituent Assembly: "Mr. President, Sir... The House is perhaps aware that of the seven members nominated by you, one had resigned from the House and was replaced. One died and was not replaced.

One was away in America, and his place was not filled up, and another person was engaged in State affairs... One or two people were far away from Delhi and perhaps reasons of health did not permit them to attend. Ultimately, that the burden of drafting this Constitution fell on Dr Ambedkar and I have no doubt that we are grateful to him for having achieved this task in a manner which is undoubtedly commendable."

The mystery of the NCERT book deepens when we find that the authors have cited TTK eloquently on some other subject [Page 160] and has produced his sketch as well in the book. A member of the Constituent Assembly and Drafting Committee, TTK was intensely involved in the Draft Constitution. Twice Finance Minister, TTK was one of the greatest minds of his time. It is amazing how the authors overlooked the speech TTK delivered on the making of the Constitution but quoted him in the book on some other subject.

"They (authors) did research for this book, spent sleepless nights in preparing this draft," says the preface of the NCERT book in question. I too did some research, but without losing sleep. It was too easy to find that there existed a Drafting Committee, the Drafting Committee had seven members, the Drafting Committing was chaired by Dr Ambedkar, and that Dr Ambedkar produced the Draft Constitution and piloted the Draft in the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly debated the draft, clause by clause, and members moved amendments; some amendments were accepted and others rejected. Finally, the Constitution was approved.

Harassed and humiliated for long, Dalits are often accused of being unworthy and non-meritorious. By invoking Ambedkar and the services he rendered to the nation so ably, Dalits seek to reclaim some self-esteem through the fact that there was man born like them, who was no less a genius than the great minds of his time. Unfortunately, some sections of society, like the NCERT authors, deny Dalits even this right, by turning facts into fiction and vice-versa.

I hope this column is not called 'emotion-devotion driven.' I have only placed facts before my esteemed readers. Will mainstream intellectuals be kind to at least historical facts if not to Dalits?

The author is a Dalit writer & activist.

[Courtesy: Economic Times, June 4, 2012]

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