(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 27 , 2008
The Text Book And
The Politics Of Violence
M A Baby
JAMES AUGUSTINE, 40, headmaster of ALP school, Valillapuzha in Malappuram district, who was criminally assaulted by activists of Muslim Youth League on 19 July, 2008 succumbed to the injuries on the way to the hospital. The unfortunate victim of the ire of the Youth League workers had come to attend the monthly cluster meeting of teachers, being organised as part of the statewide training programme for capacity building of school teachers. Attempts were made in different parts of the state on the same day to disrupt similar cluster meetings by force. Youth Congress and Muslim Youth League activists harassed teachers reporting for the cluster meetings. In Adimali, Idukki district, the irate agitators beat up teachers and students in their class rooms. Seven children who sustained injuries were admitted to the local hospital.
The organised attacks against cluster meetings were a part of the strategy of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) to rejuvenate the failing struggle against the VII standard text book. The struggle which began a month ago was losing its momentum for several reasons. The effective manner in which the government and the Left Democratic Front countered the disinformation campaign against the text book had led to the alienation of the agitators from the people. The readiness of the government to make necessary modifications in the controversial portions of the text book in accordance with the recommendations of the expert committee appointed for the purpose had taken away all justification for the continuance of the struggle. The indefinite fast organised by the Youth Congress before the secretariat had to be called off, as it could not muster any public support. But the Muslim League wanted the agitation to continue, mainly to distract the attention of its rank and file from its opportunistic, anti-national decision to stand by the Congress in the nuclear issue. More over the Muslim League has been particularly peeved by the successful academic reforms being introduced by the government in the education sector, which was the fiefdom of the party during its stint in the UDF coalition government. Maligning the reforms in the education sector has therefore become an obsession with the Muslim League.
Meanwhile the UDF has also been losing the battle of wits in the controversy over the text book. Two partners in the UDF coalition --- M V Raghavan's CMP and KR Gowri Amma's JSS --- have distanced themselves from the UDF campaign. Both parties have taken the position that there is nothing objectionable in the text. When the government appointed an expert committee under the chairmanship of Professor K N Panikkar to look into the alleged lapses in the text book, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) also appointed its own alternate expert committee under the chairmanship of Professor M G S Narayanan . The position taken by M G S that a withdrawal of the text book at this stage would do more harm than good has taken the wind out of the UDF demand for the withdrawal of the text book. The alternate text book brought out by Kerala Students Union (KSU) in place of the prescribed text has surprisingly very little difference with the approved text book. The critical pedagogy which informs the approved text has been retained in the alternate text. The much maligned reference in the approved text regarding the need of the students to intervene in social problems rather than merely becoming aware of them has also found an echo in the preface to the alternate text which states that it is the duty of every citizen to take part in the building of society. The alternate text has also retained the curriculum design of the approved text. The title and subject content of the three controversial chapters have also been kept in tact. The peripheral changes introduced only add explanatory material or merely substitute one text for a similar text. However there are a few substantial changes which expose the hidden agenda and hypocrisy of the Congress.
One such change occurs early in the text. It occurs in Lesson 1 which discusses the question of unscientific land use in the state. While most of the dialogue and illustrative pictures have been retained , the query “Is it necessary to insist on building concrete blocks and estates on paddy fields?” has been changed as follows: “ It is a matter of great relief that the central government has waived agricultural debts”. The explanation is strangely out of place, both in relation to the overall lesson and the specific context of the pictorial illustration which depicts a block of concrete structure built across a paddy field. The politics of the new text is too obvious to need any exposition. The out-of-context projection of the UPA scheme for farm loan waiver brings into sharp contrast the conspicuous silence about the pioneering farm loan waiver scheme introduced in the state by the LDF government. The addition of the portion on hartals in Lesson 3 is illustrative of the Congress strategy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound. The dichotomy between the message which condemns hartals and the practice of organising them when it suits the Congress would not be missed by the people of the state.
The most notable change in KSU’s alternate text is that pertaining to the portion “Jeevan Who Has No Religion”. The story which conveys the secular message that every one has the right to adopt the religion of his/her choice is replaced by the story of a Hindu Good Samaritan helping a Muslim girl in distress. What is the rationale for the change? Does it mean that the Congress does not approve of the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution? That the utmost it could tolerate is good neighbourly relationship between people practicing different faiths and not any thing beyond that? Does it not approve of inter-caste or inter-religious marriages? Obviously the secular credentials of the Congress have been questioned by its own student wing. By contrast, the expert committee appointed by the government has suggested changes in the text which would help remove any ambiguity which could pave the way for misguided interpretations. The government has decided to incorporate all the changes suggested by the expert committee. What is more, the government has also expressed its willingness to consider any constructive proposals that would emanate from the committee appointed by KPCC. The accommodative approach of the government has had its positive fallout. The Muslim religious organisations which had decided to hold a secretariat march on 21 July have now suspended their agitation for one month, giving time to the government to implement its promises on the modification of the text. But the Congress and the Muslim League do not appear to be interested in settling academic disputes academically. Their academic exercises are only intended to camouflage their two fold agenda: to detract the people’s attention from the current nuclear imbroglio and to topple qualitative changes in the curriculum of state funded schools for the benefit of organised traders in education.