The first test tube baby was born in India, 7,600 years ago, and he was called Dronacharya. Ancient sages divined a long time back the leaps in technology we see today, such as stem cell research. Perplexed? This is part of school curricula in India; the first a gem from a Class IX science textbook; the second from Dinanath Batra’s Tejomay Bharat, now supplementary reading in Gujarat. A Hindi textbook for Class VIII students in Karnataka twists a Kannada folktale to have a tiger sermonise beatifically on how eating beef is sinful (see box).
Last year, primary schoolchildren in Punjab were told shehar diyaan kudiyaan (city girls) were husn phuljharian (sparklers). Elsewhere, another girl’s arrival in college was hailed as ‘college wich aaya patola’ (a gorgeous girl has come to college). The books, which were meant for primary class students, were withdrawn after educationists directed that the highly sexist and inappropriate content be deleted. But not before causing a major embarrassment to the state government which had set up a panel of five government officials to frame the primary textbook curriculum. The Punjab education department had then supplied these books to several government-run primary schools. Some books even had a chapter on jeeja-saali (brother-in-law and sister-in-law), defying explanation why primary schoolchildren needed acquaintance with that relationship.
“Education is not on any government’s agenda,” says Anoop Singh Virk, an educationist from Punjab. “In my state, 75 per cent teaching posts are lying vacant, showing the importance attached to education. As for teaching Ramayana and Mahabharata, these are mythologies and should be introduced to children as such, not as scientific tools of education.”
The battle is not Punjab’s alone. When Vasundhararaje was CM last time, Viswakarma was introduced in Rajasthan school textbooks as town planner, engineer, and the country’s first trade union leader! The books were withdrawn following pressure from academics.
The Committee for Resisting the Saffronisation of Textbooks in Karnataka is waging a similar war, trying to dispel notions that Dronacharya, the iconic guru of the Mahabharata, was the world’s first test-tube baby, and other such immaculate (mis)conceptions that find place in science textbooks prescribed for high school.
“Today’s curriculum does not teach a child about respecting human values or character-building. This is what our books wish to address.”
Narendrajit Singh Rawal, Former school principal, Haryana
“The efforts are both comic—in the substance being proposed to be taught—and disconcerting since that seeks to undo much of the modern spirit of inquiry and misleads young minds,” says Suhas Palshikar, professor in the department of politics and public administration at Pune University. “Issues about India’s past and heritage and the meaning of many received memories and myths can surely be a subject of discussion and systematic study, but to introduce these as ‘our real story’ to young children goes against the national curriculum framework and the idea of developing a scientific temperament.”
The project gets more insidious when it comes to the social sciences, where attempts are being made to rewrite history entirely. Says Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, who is part of the committee, “These social science books were introduced by the BJP government in Karnataka but the Congress, which is now in power, has done nothing to set the facts right.” Bhat and others sent letters to the UPA government at the Centre, but got no response. “I agree with former NCERT director Krishna Kumar when he says that a cultural revivalism is taking place in the country because the states have not given school education adequate importance. I hold all states guilty of neglecting school education,” says Bhat. For all their efforts, however, the books were reprinted and introduced all over again this year!
Gujarat now joins the list of states where attempts are being made to indoctrinate young schoolchildren with a ‘factual’ approach to Indian mythology—without subjecting them to scientific scrutiny and research. The message cannot be clearer: “It is time to cleanse our education of all western influences,” says Dinanath Batra, a leading crusader in this project (see profile). Education, specially at the school level, has lost a long consensus and become a stage for competing views of pedagogy. A coloured approach, say many academics, does disservice to the kind of education we wish to provide our schoolchildren.
The BJP-led NDA government first made the attempt to rewrite school curricula during their 1999-2004 stint in power—rightly citing a long ‘Nehruvian’ monopoly, but smuggling in its stead its own contentious take that blurs history, myth, epic and science. The UPA brought in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), 2005, to initiate a new approach to writing textbooks, responding to the criticism about outdated modes but itself running into a controversy over an Ambedkar cartoon in a social science textbook. The NCF was to be a template for schools in states (education being a state subject), state education boards made a mockery of it by introducing their own variants.
The prevalence of numerous state boards itself is the problem, says Apoorvanand, an academic at the Delhi University. They outsource the writing of crucial textbooks to private publishers with no filters to check content. “Our vision is so narrow that we don’t see beyond the national boards like the CBSE and the icse,” he says.
That distorted ideas are being disseminated as ‘education’ for children in government schools also highlights the increasing quality gap between those who can afford private education and those who cannot. Can such curriculum pass muster in, say the Sanskriti School in Delhi or the Doon School? Do we not need to move towards a universal model based on consensus?
State Of Education
Science textbook for class IX
Discussion on assisted reproductive systems names Dronacharya as the first test tube baby:“One day Bharadwaja went to the Ganges for a bath and saw a beautiful apsara named Gritachi. He was overcome with desire, causing him ejaculate. Bhardwaj captured the fluid in an earthen pot (Drone) from which Drona was born and took his name.”
Hindi textbook for class VIII
In a twist to the original Kannada folktale about the pious cow Punyakoti, a remorseful tiger takes an oath that “consumption of cow’s meat is a bad thought. Henceforth, I will not eat cow’s meat.” This is an ending entirely different from the original Kannada version. There, the tiger jumps off a cliff.
Social Science for class X
“Indian system views time in a cyclic manner. This is also called Kalachakra. There is no end in sight for kalachakra. After one rotation of this chakra is completed, the second one starts. The completion of one cycle is called yuga. In this way, history is narrated as tretayuga, dwaparayuga etc.”
From ‘Tejomay Bharat’
“What we know today as the motorcar existed during the Vedic period. It was called anashva rath. Usually a rath (chariot) is pulled by horses but an anashva rath means one that runs without horses or yantra-rath, what is today a motorcar. The Rig Veda refers to this…”
“We know that television was invented by a priest from Scotland called John Logie Baird in 1926. But we want to take you to an even older Doordarshan… Indian rishis using their yog vidya would attain divya drishti. There is no doubt that the invention of television goes back to this… In Mahabharata, Sanjaya sitting inside a palace in Hastinapur and using his divya shakti would give a live telecast of the battle of Mahabharata… to the blind Dhritarashtra.”