Critical Reading of NCERT text ‘Indian Constitution at Work’

Lalit Khandare

The National Curriculum Framework 2005 for social sciences states:

"In the social sciences, the approach proposed in the NCF recognises disciplinary markers while emphasising integration on significant themes, such as water. A paradigm shift is recommended, proposing the study of the social sciences from the perspective of marginalised groups. Gender justice and a sensitivity towards issues related to SC and ST communities and minority sensibilities must inform all sectors of the social sciences. Civics should be recast as political science, and the significance of history as a shaping influence on the child's conception of the past and civic identity should be recognized " (pg. ix)[1]

Indeed, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 attempts to disembark from the uncritical, undemocratic, pedagogic practices to advance towards a critical, democratic and an egalitarian outlook.


"It's really cruel burdening kids like this. I had to hire that boy to help my son!"

Source: Page 77 of National Curriculum Framework, 2005


The Cartoon Controversy: Inside the Mind of one ‘fanatic’ Dalit -II



Continued from here.

Anoop Kumar

When I saw the cartoon - and at the time I googled, there were only 3 images available - I spontaneously recoiled at the violence in the cartoon. I had to check again and again to confirm if it was indeed the controversial one because the cartoon was so plainly disgusting that I could not see why there should be two sides about it. It did not merit discussion before condemning it. The violence of the whip, the violence against Dr Ambedkar and the obvious symbolisms conveyed themselves so starkly that I did not have to think twice about what was wrong with it. I needed no discussions, or read any posts to convince me that the cartoon was an act of upper caste violence. And I am surprised that instead of unequivocally condemning it, apologizing for the violence, and rushing to make amends, many are still discussing it, hoping to justify the cartoon, and forcing those who lack the funny bone to get one. I think the controversy is about the gaze. Is yours an upper caste gaze? You may not feel so violated after all.

- Sruthi Herbert, a friend, writes in Facebook on NCERT textbook cartoon controversy


I think the controversy is about the gaze. Is yours an upper-caste gaze?

On 13th May, a couple of days after the controversy on Dr Ambedkar's cartoon in NCERT Text Book had erupted in the Indian parliament, a PhD student from JNU, New Delhi, himself a brilliant cartoonist, Unnamati Syama Sundar posted a cartoon made by K. Shankar Pillai which was published originally in 1933, in 'Hindustan Times', an English daily. This cartoon was later reproduced in Telugu newspaper 'Krishna Patrika' with accompanying text that says:

M.K. Acharya is trying to increase the taint of untouchability in Hinduism and M.K. Gandhi is trying to clean it, whereas B.R. Ambedkar is trying to break the foundations of Hinduism called Varnashram, while the Western society is laughing at the whole situation.


Unnamati posted the scanned copy of this cartoon, taken from the Telugu newspaper, on his Facebook profile without leaving any interpretation of his own. Instantly, this cartoon became an internet rage, getting hundreds of "likes" and massive "sharing" on the social networking site and a little later it got picked up by various websites, blogs too.


Ambedkar’s Cartoon and the Caste question


Raj Kumar

A harrowing monologue is in vogue in the popular media and academic forums apropos a cartoon of Dr. Ambedkar in a Political Science textbook prepared by NCERT for its Class XI students. Apparently, in the cartoon, Ambedkar is depicted being whipped by Jawaharlal Nehru for delaying the framing of the constitution. The cartoon was first published in 1949 and was drawn by cartoonist Shankar Pillai. Though in interior Dalit circles, the cartoon was being despised for denigrating 'Baba Saheb' as they lovingly call him, no heed was paid to their sentiments till the issue was raised in the Parliament and taken up by Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. Government had to concede and the cartoon was removed from the textbook and HRD minister made a public apology for the goof-up followed by resignation of two academicians involved with the curriculum committee.

This generated a tormented reaction from the academicians as an attack on freedom of speech and the Dalits becoming intolerant and some zealots of freedoms of speech even castigating Dalits as new fascists. Very few reactions have come from the Dalits in this ongoing intimidating academic exercise. The whole controversy and the consequent fallout must be seen in the context of higher education and its poverty in terms of social diversity. One must not forget the fact that Dalits are still suffering from the academic untouchability, more so in higher education. With more than half million teachers at university and college level across the country, Dalits do not account for more than two percent, and most of them are at the assistant professor level only. In academic institutions the real power rests with the professors and the Dalit professors in the country can be counted on finger tips, at less than hundred in both state and central universities. Most of the committees, commissions and institutions responsible for preparing, executing and monitoring academic affairs enjoy pristine brahamanical purity, devoid of representative diversity and therefore fail to project the collective sensibilities. NCERT is no exception to this.


Ambedkar Cartoon, Dalit Objections and Indian Left Liberals - II



Continued from here.

This is the second, concluding part of the transcript of the interview Ravi Chandran, of the video news journal 'Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes', conducted with Dr K. Satyanarayana, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U) on the recent Ambedkar cartoon controversy.

Dr K. Satyanarayana: If you take the syllabus of political science at post graduate level or at various levels, are we reading Ambedkar as a political thinker? You might have one or two articles from scholars, maybe from Gail Omvedt or Eleanor (Zelliot) or recently from Valerian Rodriques on Ambedkar's thought, or Ambedkar as an untouchable thinker, but not Ambedkar as a political theorist. Ambedkar is not centrally seen as a political thinker, not only Ambedkar, the entire generation of anti-caste intellectuals and leaders and dalit movement is not at the centre of political science today. Political science looks at dalits only in the context of elections as vote banks and this is a serious failure on the part of political science.




So when dalits are talking about representation of Ambedkar, they are talking about substantial representation of Ambedkar engaging with his intellectual and political thoughts. You may say that this is not possible in the textbook but you have to discuss about it and acknowledge that it is a complex and challenging task and it involves a lot of difficulties.


Ambedkar Cartoon, Dalit Objections and Indian Left Liberals - I



Ravi Chandran, of the video news journal 'Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes', interviewed Dr K. Satyanarayana, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U) on the recent Ambedkar cartoon controversy. Here's the first part of the transcript of the interview:

Ravi Chandran: Sir, how do you see the division between left-liberal intellectuals and Dalit intellectuals on the Dr. Ambedkar cartoon controversy in the NCERT test book?

Dr K. Satyanarayana: I have been following the discussion on this controversy. I was really surprised that there is this very sharp divide between the left-liberal intellectuals and Dalits. These two groups have taken entirely different positions on it. And if there is anything to be said about this controversy, the most striking feature is the position taken by the liberal and left intellectuals and especially those who are part of making these textbooks. It is shocking to me.




Let us outline what is the position of left-liberal intellectuals on this controversy and what are one or two Dalit intellectuals and other dalit activists are saying, what are the two different kinds of views and why there is division between the two.


Thol.Thirumaavalavan writes to Kapil Sibal and Sukhadeo Thorat


Memoranda submitted by Thol. Thirumaavalavan of the Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK) to Prof S.K.Thorat, Chairman, NCERT Review Committee and Mr Kapil Sibal, Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Govt.of India, on 29.05.2012 and 30.05.2012 respectively, in New Delhi.





Mr Kapil Sibal

Honourable Minister of Human Resources Development

Government of India

New Delhi

Sub: NCERT Class XI Text book-Dr. Ambedkar Cartoon – reg.

Respected Sir

On behalf of Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK) – the only Dalit party in UPA- I want to submit the following for your kind consideration:

First of all I appreciate the UPA government for its quick action in appointing a committee to consider the apprehensions raised by me and other members in Parliament over the Ambedkar cartoon published in the NCERT class XI text book.

I also want to appreciate the efforts taken by UPA government to reform our educational system and the academics who were involved in drafting the NCF 2005 under the chairmanship of Mr Yashpal. The text books produced by NCERT are comparatively good. No doubt they are very helpful for the students in opening up their creativity. The text books were designed to change the 'banking approach 'in education and try to use classrooms to 'conscientize' not only students and also teachers.

But, these are not reasons for obstructing us from fair criticism of the text books. It is also a fact that we have no public forum to discuss about our text books. That's why the delay in finding out the 'objectionable cartoon' in the class XI text book.


The caste-neutral whip and other jokes


It is a clear visual representation of 'secular violence', which has its roots in the presentation of the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist movement as an unproblematic social organization and process, through which India gained freedom for the betterment and advance of all its 'citizens.'

- Savari, in 'Whipping up 'critical pedagogy': Uncritical defense of NCERT's violence'.


He draws a mob as big as India, adds a panch-enforcer with a whip, points to the accused, and renders mob justice.

Indian children understand mob justice quite well. They see it on the street, on television, in newspapers; its appearance now in text books, thanks to this cartoon, will take the process of normalizing it a little further. Think of thieves being beaten up. Thieves being tied and beaten up. Many of them minors. 'Bad' women being beaten up. Women practising 'witchcraft' being beaten up. Dalit women being beaten up. The children also see, hear and read about khaps.

Dalit_woman_beaten_patna_copy_copy_copy[Interspersed through this article are pictures of actual public scenes involving mobs inflicting violence on individuals. Hope they arouse some critical thinking]

Why did a substantial section of the brahminzed classes not see it that way? They didn't/don't see even Hazare, another whip wielder, that way. The Indian public sphere is still very unproblematic.

Some say Nehru was whipping the snail, not Dr Ambedkar. So what was Dr Ambedkar doing in the picture? Like the Indian mob usually does, Shankar wanted an identifiable two legged villain.


Two Lessons from Ashoka and Ambedkar

Shiva Shankar

(Talk presented at the conference on 'Dr.Ambedkar and the Modern Buddhist World', Nagaloka, Nagpur, October, 2006)

Dear Friends,

We all learn early that in 250 BC the Mauryan king Ashoka waged and won a cruel war with the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga, yet when he went to inspect his spoils, it was not triumphant glory that was his chief emotion, but a great sorrow for the misery that he had wrought on all living things. So profound, we then learn, was his compassion for people he had just earlier considered his enemies that he converted to Buddhism, promoted Buddhism as the state religion, and ushered in a graceful period of our history to go down as Ashoka, the Great King.


I wish to point out two lessons that must be learnt from this historic event on the fiftieth anniversary of the equally historic event of Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar's Fourth Turning of the Wheel.

One, why did Ashoka consider it necessary for himself, and for his subjects, to convert to Buddhism? Could he not have accomplished as much remaining 'Hindu'?

Clearly Ashoka himself felt that he could no longer remain in the folds of the faith he had earlier followed, given that he with missionary zeal promoted Buddhism as his State religion. This glaringly obvious message seems not to have been grasped by most Hindus however, which leads me to the second lesson:


The Cartoon, the Classroom and the Idea of India


Dr. N. Sukumar

The cartoon controversy has exposed the deeply divided faultlines in the sarkari academia which has gone into a damage control mode. A brief glance through all the news (both electronic and print), blogs, facebook chatter etc reveal the deep anguish at the frittering away of "academic freedom". One appreciates the immense labour to make social sciences textbooks more child-friendly, to inculcate critical and creative thinking rather than promote learning by rote. In this context, images play a crucial role.


However, reading against the grain, certain questions need to be pondered over. Is the dialogic space within the classroom value-free? An Emphatic No. Despite the provisions of the RTE Act, many leading public schools in Delhi refuse to admit Muslim children. How many SC/ST children are into CBSE, ISCE, International Baccalaureate, and other elite schooling systems? The documentary, 'India Untouched', reflected the state of education in Bharat. Hailing from a small village wherein caste was a lived reality, the constitutional provisions enabled me to access higher education in an 'eminent' academic institution. All sorts of 'progressive' theories were discussed from Plato, Marx to Gandhi but Ambedkar was the missing ideology. This is the academic freedom which nurtured and continues to operate in the classroom for many decades.


The cartoon controversy: Inside the mind of one 'fanatic' Dalit - I

Anoop Kumar


'I have an open mind, though not an empty mind. A person with an open mind is always the subject of congratulations. While this may be so, it must, at the same time, be realized that an open mind may also be an empty mind and that such an open mind, if it is a happy condition, is also a very dangerous condition for a man to be in. A disaster may easily overtake a man with an empty mind. Such a person is like a ship without ballast and without a rudder. It can have no direction. It may float but may also suffer a shipwreck against a rock for want of direction.' - Dr B. R. Ambedkar, while concluding the preface of his book 'Pakistan or the Partition of India'

It was more than a month ago that some of my Dalit friends brought this NCERT cartoon to my notice. One even sent the entire NCERT text book in PDF format through email calling the cartoon derogatory to Babasaheb Ambedkar and the need for Dalits to protest against it.

The whole issue didn't interest me at first. I had faith that people at NCERT would not do something like including a cartoon in their text books to denigrate Dr Ambedkar now, at a time when Dalit assertion is so strong and visible. So I just had a very cursory glance at the cartoon.

To be honest I didn't notice the whips. I didn't notice even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. So there was no question of reading the cartoon as 'Kashmiri Brahman whipping Dr. Ambedkar'. [There are many commentators who are mockingly suggesting that this is how Dalits who are opposing this cartoon 'misread' it. At least I didn't read it that way.]


Response to 'Notion Of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde

Vaibhav Wasnik

[The article 'Notion of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde can be found here. Vaibhav's response expresses a belief in electoral democracy and the transformative potential of the Indian constitution. Round Table India shall continue to welcome all shades of Dalit and Bahujan opinion]


The article by Mr Teltumbde starts off with genuine grievances, talking about the democratic values of ' Justice-social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation' as the advertised driving forces behind the constitution and compares that to the state of affairs in India as a nation by highlighting 'neo-liberal reforms' as the ultimate blunder.


Dalits must embrace a Metanarrative

Comments on Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (Part II)

Continued from here.

P. Dayanandan

(Paper presented on 10th April, 2012 on the occasion of the release of the Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing)


• In this Anthology M. C. Rajah makes reference to the claim that 'disabilities of 'untouchables' spring from deep-rooted social prejudices...' (p.225). But then he is writing in English, and it is not any translation of a Tamil word. (By the way, in this 175th year of Madras Christian College we may want to recall that M.C. Rajah, and another great leader recalled by Anbu Ponnoviam in this Anthology – P. M. Maduraipillai – were old students of MCC. But you may not find their names in the list that is used to boast of great alumni of the College, call it prejudice or elitism!).