The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks continue to be contentious. Just a couple of days back, there was a furore when it was announced that several communally sensitive issues like Ayodhya, 1984 Sikh carnage and Gujarat violence of 2002 would be included in the text books for Political Science in Class XII. Solemn assurances were given that these contentious issues would be presented with objectivity.
Barely had the issue even been discussed by informed scholars that yet another controversy rocked the Rajya Sabha today.when the BJP-led Opposition strongly protested against alleged distortions and objectionable language in the NCERT school textbooks.
Ravi Shankar Prasad of BJP objected that in the book Modern India History by Bipin Chandra, reintroduced by the NCERT, revised in 2005, the Jats have been called 'luteraa' or looters, Guru Gobind Singh took 'mastab' from Bahadur Shah Zafar and that above all, 'Lokmanya Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal have been called terrorists - that they created terror'.
Addressing the Vice Chairman, he said that unparliamentary language is not allowed in the house, but should the children from classes II to V be taught such language? He referred to a book in Hindi called Antara, published in May 2006, and quoted a poem called 'Mochi Ram' from it: '...to ramnaami bechkar yaa ranDiyoN kii dalaalii karke rozii kamaane meiN koi fark nahii hai ... [...So there is no difference between selling in the name of Ram or earning a living by acting as a pimp]'. 'Why are we teaching this?' he asked.
He also quoted from recently published books by NCERT which use words such as 'bhangi' and 'chamaar' At this point, Shri Murli Manohar Joshi also chimed in to say that minds of the young were being corrupted and filled with hatred, while Ravi Shankar Prasad went on to read more passages from profiles of 'Naxalites' such as Avtar Singh Sandhu and bemoaned that instead of teaching youngsters about personages such as Nand Lal Bose or Amrita Sher Gill, when it came to artists, the NCERT books were glorifying the lives of painter M.F. Hussain who specialises in 'insulting Hindu gods and goddesses and paints them in the nude'.
Prasad said the books also contained derogatory references to various communities and castes and obscene language besides suggestions to girl students to use cosmetics and that education and merit alone did not ensure progress in life. He quoted from books and passages published during 2005 and 2006 that claimed that by using 'powder and cream', girls would look more beautiful.
In the middle of interruptions from opposition members demanding a response from the PM, Sitaram Yehcury suggested that the Vice Chairman should get the books examined and seek a reply from the government.
The discussion, predictably assumed political overtones as, amidst interruptions, Shri V. Narayanasamy charged, "What about the books published during the NDA regime? Now, you are talking about the present books...When they were in power, they communalised everything ... All the textbooks were communalised by them...".
But thankfully, sanity prevailed and members realised that the situation demanded rising above pointing fingers at each others. Shri Satyavrata Chaturvedi of the Congress party also agreed that no member, regardless of the party affiliation would wish such things to be taught to school-kids and said that if these books are indeed prescribed and published by the NCERT then it is a very objectionable and serious matter.
Various members from across the parties condemned the quoted passages and asked for rectification, whereas the Congress members insisted that not only the books quoted, but all school-books, specially school books from Gujarat and Rajasthan should also be examined and scrutinised.