The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is an apex resource organisation set up by the Government of India, with headquarters at New Delhi, to assist and advise the central and state governments on academic matters related to school education.
NCERT publishes books that are used in government and private schools across India that follow the CBSE curriculum. Ever since its establishment, the organization has faced a great deal of controversy and continues to do so today. The controversy centers around the charges of an attempted "saffronized" rewriting of Indian history (i.e., making lessons consonant with the Hindutva). Allegations of historical revisionism with a Hindu nationalist agenda arose in two periods: under the Janata Party government 1977 to 1980 and again under the Bharatiya Janata Party government from 1998 to 2004. In 2012, the organization has been blamed for attempting to insult the government by publishing 'offensive' cartoons in its textbooks.
Communalism and "saffronised" content
Prime Minister Morarji Desai suggested that the criticized textbooks be withdrawn combined with a campaign against an alleged "communist" infiltration of academic positions, resulting in a storm of controversy in the press and in parliament. R.S. Sharma's 1977 Ancient India was withdrawn from the syllabus by the Central Board of Secondary Education in July 1978. The most hotly contested issue in the 1977 to 1979 controversy was the depiction of Mughal era (Muslim ruled) India and the role of Islam in India. Romila Thapar's Medieval India was criticised for being too sympathetic to Muslim viewpoints and for showing too little enthusiasm for Hindu heritage. In the course of the controversy, both sides became deeply suspicious of the other's motivations, contributing to the intensification of Indian "communalism" and leaving resentments that were to resurface in the renewed controversy under BJP rule twenty years later.
In 2002, under the NDA government spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the government made an attempt at changing the NCERT school textbooks through a new National Curriculum Framework. Marxist historians raised objections to the new curriculum, claiming "saffronization" of education by allegedly raising the profile of Hindu cultural norms, views and historical personalities in school textbooks. The BJP opined that their only goal was to overhaul the stagnant and saturated institutions like NCERT and free them from the alleged dynastic control and hegemony of the Indian National Congress and the Communists. Party members also opined that their goal was not to promote sectarianism, but present a more accurate picture of Indian history and Indian culture (such as Vedic science), which was being downplayed by the left wing ideologues.
The NDA was defeated in the elections of 2004 and the new UPA government pledged to "de-saffronize" textbooks and curricula nationwide and restore the secular character of education. In March, the UPA Government released new NCERT textbooks, based on the texts used before the controversial 2002 updates. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, which oversaw this project, stated that it had made only minor modifications to the books that predated the "saffronized" era. In Delhi, the Directorate of Education, in collaboration with the State Council of Educational Research and Training, prepared 47 new textbooks, and other state governments were expected to do likewise. In June 2004, a panel constituted by NCERT reviewed the new textbooks and determined that they had poor content, shoddy presentation, and significant amounts of irrelevant information. The panel recommended to the Human Resource Development (HRD) minister that the new books not be used until the defects could be resolved. resulting in Delhi students also using texts from the pre-"saffronized" period.
Press reports indicated that the rush to "de-saffronize" school texts resulted in Urdu versions not being ready for the academic year, which began in April. The reports asserted that this failure hurt Urdu-speaking students by depriving them of needed textbooks. The NCERT denied the claims. In turn, the UPA and previous Congress-led governments have been accused by the BJP, the dominant Hindutva party, of revising history to present a Marxist bias, and whitewashing the record of Muslim "atrocities" to acquire Muslim votes.
In April 2012, The Republican Party of India (RPI) Athavale group demanded a ban on an eleventh grade text book by the NCERT saying a cartoon in the book insulted Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. The book, which had been originally published in 2006, wasn't recognized until 2012. On April 2, Ramdas Athavale held a press conference and burnt copies of the page from the textbook prescribed in the political science syllabus. Athavale demanded the resignation of Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal who also was the president of the NCERT board. RPI workers burnt his effigy. The cartoon figures on page 18 of chapter one titled “Constitution, why and how” in the book called Indian Constitution at Work. It shows Ambedkar sitting on a snail which is labelled ‘Constitution' cracking a whip. Behind him is Pandit Nehru, also shown with a whip. The caption says: “Cartoonist's impression of the ‘snail's pace' with which the Constitution was made. Athavale said the cartoon insulted the architect of India's Constitution and the people responsible must be dealt with. The NCERT too had insulted him, he pointed out. The issue created uproar in both Houses of Parliament. NCERT chief advisors Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar resigned on Friday after the government issued an apology and promised to remove the cartoon. Speaking to reporters, Palshikar said it seemed like the government didn't have an option and therefore decided to agree with the protesting MPs. “The caricature was a symbol of the progressive outlook in education. This has now been undone. We are of the opinion that as advisors we can have a different opinion. Hence, we don't think it's appropriate for us to be in this position anymore.” Suhas Palshikar is a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Pune.
Soon after that controversy had been solved, the Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Mosque, Mohd Mukarram Ahmed wrote to Kapil Sibal asking for the removal of a medieval painting of Archangel Gabriel and another of pilgrims at the Kaaba from the chapter 'The Central Islamic Lands' on the ground that they were against the Sharia law. The letter, dated September 10, 2012 has also been sent to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, education minister Kiran Walia and NCERT chief Parvin Sinclair. "Jibril (Gabriel) is the chief angel who brought messages to the Prophet. The painting in the book is comical in its presentation of the Archangel. Secondly, the caption for the illustration on pilgrims at the Kaba states that they are 'touching' the stone even though it's customary to kiss it. But the Jibril painting is the most objectionable and will not be tolerated," Ahmed, who is planning to write to the prime minister and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, depicted in his letter. However, rejecting this, Najaf Haider, an associate professor at the Centre for Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University said "The Gabriel painting was sourced from a 13th century text called Ajaib-ul-Makhluqat, written by a renowned scholar, Qazwini. The second illustration was taken from a 15th century collection of fragmented pieces. The letter only states the paintings are against Sharia and doesn't exactly point out what's objectionable about them. Moreover, these texts (from where the paintings are sourced) were written in Muslim courts by people who were far more scholarly and pious than anyone can claim to be today."
Notes and references
- India: International Religious Freedom Report 2005
- Delhi Historian's Group, Section 1: An Overview
- R. Upadhyay (2000-02-26). "Opposition in India: In search of genuine issues". South Asia Analysis Group. Archived from the original on 2007-07-06. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
- Know your value about NCERT controversy by K R Malkani
- "BJP objects to "De-toxification" of NCERT text books". BJP. 2005-07-01. Retrieved 2007-10-09.[dead link]
- "BJP flays UPA's plan to fiddle with history books". The Tribune, Chandigarh. 2005-06-25. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
- Goel, Sita Ram (1994). "The Magnitude of Muslim Atrocities - II". The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India. Voice of India. ISBN 81-85990-23-9.
- "Cartoon issue was first raised by RPI". The Hindu. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
- "NCERT in trouble over painting of Jibril, Muslim pilgrims in history textbook". India Today. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
- "Delhi Historians Group's Publication "Communalization of Education: The History Textbooks Controversy", A report in 2002, New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor "India: International Religious Freedom Report 2005", US Department of State
- Lloyd I. Rudolph; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, Rethinking Secularism: Genesis and Implications of the Textbook Controversy, 1977-79, Pacific Affairs (1983), 15-37.