October 21, 2020
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Textbooks and warped mindsets

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Textbooks and warped mindsets

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Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat
Editors Guild of India Fact-Finding Mission Report

Textbooks and warped mindsets  

Over and beyond the dreadful killings and bestiality in Gujarat and a lowering threshold of tolerance and restraint, what is deeply worrying is the purveying of hatred and divisive prejudice by narrowly sectarian groups. If wars begin in the minds of men, so do riots. Children, in particular, need to be taught to be good citizens and imbued with values conforming to the high ideals of the Constitution. Textbooks and history must therefore be written and prescribed with due care. 

One of the basic values of the Constitution is Fraternity. Yet one finds some of the books published and prescribed by the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks of poor quality in terms of content, context and style. (It would be good to look at other states’ textbooks too). Take for example the Social Studies textbook for Class 9.

Chapter 9 is on Problems of the Country and their Solution. The very first section (problem?) is “minority community” (P 93). Children are told that “apart from the Muslims, even the Christians, Parsees and other foreigners are also recognised as the minority communities. In most of the states the Hindus are in a minority and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are a majority in these respective states”. So the Class 9 child is told that Muslims and Christians are foreigners and that Hindus are in a minority in most states”.

Reform measures are suggested for the minority community alongside their economic progress. But things can go wrong and lead to communal violence. “Therefore a special riot police force should be raised to tackle such explosive situations” and “victims of communal violence also should be properly compensated…”. Here, children are being suggestively told of the perils of communal violence almost as part of everyday life. Barkha Dutt, quoted above, saw a boy of 10 clutching a bottle of petrol at one of the barricades she encountered on a Gujarat highway when she was asked her religion. What was he going to do with it, she asked. “It’s for self-defence against them”, he said. 

Then we come to “Problems of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” (P 94). What ails them ? “They have not been suitably placed in our social order, therefore, even after independence they are still backward and poor. Of course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in life”. The message: the Scheduled Castes and Tribes have only themselves to blame for their sorry plight. (See Annexure 23). The sections on Women and Anti-Social Activities are not more inspiring. 

Class 12 students sitting for their Board examinations in Gujarat on April 22, 2002 were put to a grammar test. The English paper asked them to remove the word “if” and rewrite the sentence, “If you don’t like people, kill them”. This was followed by another question asking students to rewrite a short passage as a single sentence. The passage read:“There are two solutions. One of them is the Nazi solution. If you don’t like people, kill them, segregate them. Then strut up and down. Proclaim that you are the salt of the earth”. The consternation this singularly insensitive question understandably aroused was sought to be assuaged by an official explanation that the passage was culled from E.M.Forster’s “Tolerance”, a prescribed text and that the question paper was set last September by a “minority teacher”. 

A horrified father was reported as saying his son had come home agitated and asked whether he should disown all his Muslim friends. “We are at a loss for words to explain things to him”, the distraught parent said. (Asian Age, April 23, 2002).  The framing of school curricula has become a subject of controversy of late. Gujarat is planning to revamp its curriculum, which is by no means objectionable in itself. But again the spirit that animates it is important. On January 26, 2002, the first anniversary of the great earthquake that devastated parts of Gujarat last year, the State Education Department issued a circular to schools to observe “Dharti Puja”, enclosing a list of shlokas by which to propitiate the Mother Goddess. This as India enters the 21st millenium and needs to move fast forward rather than backwards. (See Annexure 12, P 32-35).  

There have even been reports of betting over the riots. Bookies have been placing bets on who would start riots and where and whether the Gujarat riots would spread to Rajasthan. There has been betting on the death toll. (Times of India, April 10).

So now we have rioting as a blood sport.


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