Critical Reading of NCERT text : Indian Constitution at Work

07Jun12

The National Curriculum Frameworks 2005 for social sciences states, “In the social sciences, the approach proposed in the NCF recognises disciplinary markers while emphasising integration on significant themes, such as water. A paradigm shift is recommended, proposing the study of the social sciences from the perspective of marginalised groups. Gender justice and a sensitivity towards issues related to SC and ST communities and minority sensibilities must inform all sectors of the social sciences. Civics should be recast as political science, and the significance of history as a shaping influence on the child’s conception of the past and civic identity should be recognized ” (pg. ix)[1]

Indeed, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 attempts to disembark from the uncritical, undemocratic, pedagogic practices to advance towards a critical, democratic and an egalitarian outlook.

The National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT) in this context becomes a responsible agency to operationalise this framework and thereby playing a significant role in shaping and influencing country’s future and generating ‘official knowledge’.

“It’sreallycruelburdeningkidslikethis.Ihadtohirethat boytohelpmyson!”

Source- Page 77 of National Curriculum Framework, 2005

The recent controversy of cartoon of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar in Political Science text of class XI, has brought the NCERT into limelight. Although autonomous in its functioning, this educational body and its texts appear to have been used byelected governments in several ways.BhartiyaJanata Party (BJP) was accused of saffronising education whereas now the Congress led government is now accused for its denigration of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar. Clearly, governments may have a role to play and even those who shape and create such texts. Undoubtedly, this medium is known to be used in order toinfluence young minds through favorable images create of the dominants, influencing political ideologies or leveraging image of certain political leaders and thereby maintaining dominants interests.

Contrary to this widely known critique of curriculum, Prof YogendraYadavinsists on underpinning the role of National Curriculum Framework, 2005 as an effective insulation protecting from governmental influences and making it a critical text, sans of any politics. This also implies authors of text therefore are not political and free of any politics.

One may even believethat authors writing NCERT texts are autonomous and they are apolitical, without any agendas, however if one considers critical theorist such as Ivan Illich (1973) who criticizedinstitution ofschooling itself for its innate working through ‘passive consumption’ that is marked by uncritical approval of the social order and further allowing regimentation and disciplining, one may speculate the role of schooling, NCERT texts, and its authors.

It is not to dismiss Prof YogendraYadav’s argument or to subvert and denounce schooling in the current context but to broaden our understanding that schooling essentially is a regimenting process and therefore claims of critical curriculum need to be carefully analysed.

Curriculum is never a sacrosanct, infertile tool, but a political text, laden with scripted and encrypted messages, assortment of deliberate, selective inclusion/omission of information therebya weapon in the hands of dominants to advance politics of oppression. And this is achieved through extensive deeply rooted politics of wording. It is at this backdrop, this articleexaminesthe controversial text of NCERT, Class XI; subject Political Science, titled as ‘Indian Constitution at Work.’

This controversial text was brought into limelight only after few activist claiming to be working in interest of Scheduled Caste attacked office of Prof SuhasPalshikar, an advisor to NCERT. Ironically, the text has been in circulation since 2006 but only recently generated attention. The attack was motivated by inept clarification offered by Prof SuhasPalshikar over the inclusion of cartoon in the text, which they perceived as denigration of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar implying deep casteistconnotation.

The debate in the parliament was not limited to Dr.B.R.Ambedkarcartoon, but the similar caricature of Parliamentarians other aspects of Constitution. The text clearly sparked uproar amongst the Parliamentarians, who unanimously have criticised and are against use of mortifying political satire of any formin school texts. The HRD Minister KapilSibbal thereafter announced review of all NCERT textbooks and removal of all such cartoons that are offensive including that ofDr.B.R.Ambedkar.

Ironically, the popular media is already criticizing the Parliamentarians of exhibiting intolerance, lacking in humor and controlling curriculum. Besides, this controversy is projected as sentimental issue for the Dalits (ex-untouchables) and their derailment from democratic, nonviolent politics.

Amidst this chaos, aone of the key advisor of the text, Prof YogendraYadavin his IBN-CNN interview has urged the Parliamentarians to read the text and move beyond the cartoon imagery. It is at the backdrop of this deliberation, this paper urges to draw readers’ attention to the context of the cartoon and take a critical inquiry. Further,Iinsist that it is important to draw our attention towards the‘content’ and its problématiquefrom critical perspective, besides foregrounding epic dismissal of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar’s contribution for decades in texts dealing with Constitution of India. Thereof,this articletouches upon examination of content in its context, consistent politics of nomenclature and its serious implications, distortedfacts,ideas of the text, meanings of subtext and its implications to the nation’s curriculum.

Beyond Cartoon

Though the trajectory of this debate has moved beyond Dr.B.Ambedkar, it initially began as a cartoon item of the text implying humiliation, derogation of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, thereby hurting sentiments of Dalits(ex-untouchables). Pacifiers have been pointing out this cartoon has been old and it first appeared in 1949, in a leading newspaper. Then Dr.B.R.Ambedkarwho was alive, supposedly unheeded it. Indeed, in its spirits, then, the cartoon may have beeninnocuous; however, it will benaïve torestrict our understanding ofits reappearance in an educational text book particularly under governments which have been in question on doing justice Ambedkar’s legacy.

To the defense of the text,YogendraYadavin IBN-CNN interview states that, “these textbooks for the first time established the foundational role of Ambedkar… It’s indeed ironic that these textbooks are seen as anti-Ambedkar”.[2] Also, the uniqueness of the text is the use of cartoon aimed at engaging students. One may agree and even applaud this inclusion of cartoons to rescue students from monotonous texts that formerly lacked both humor and cartoon. It is also remarkableof incorporating archive material and extensive use of cartoon to make this text interactive, lively and factual. Nevertheless, it is here one need to caution and question if the cartoon of 1949, published in a newspaper carries the same innocence and innocuousness when imported into a school textbook? Besides, should consumption of cartoons running throughout the text be simply understood as a ‘creative and humorous break or shouldthey be examined at the back ground of some context?’ It is here, I suggest that it is critical to examine the wordings/script of the text, move beyond cartoon in order to advance towards the content. Only this approach will help us to some extent to truly understand the politics and unpacking of a political text book.

Impressions

In spite of usingleniency and openness, this textunusuallycomes across as offensive, largely due to its tone. The entire text in its overly interactive genre appears to underpin worthless and inefficiency of the constitution than its accomplishments. One may appreciatethis critical element; however it may be questioned ifit was the failure of the people to implement constitution in its true spiritsor the constitution itself responsible for the disappointments?

The text also suggests the entire constitution isembedded with problems, thus ineffectual. It also restricts to bring stakeholders of the democracy as possible factorsin failing the constitutiondue to their narrow interests, unwillingness, incompetency or incapacity to implement constitution in its true spirits. Oddly, the entire book which is full of quotes (some wanted, some unwarranted and some irrelevant); however ignore a very important quote by Dr. Ambedkar and Rajendra Prasad. Dr. Ambedkarforewarned, “I feel that the Constitution is workable; it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.” Similar views were echoed by Dr. RajendraPrasad, “If the people who are elected are capable men of character and integrity, they should be able to make the best of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country”(Narayan, 2000, pg. 13).

There are several other serious errors that one encounters throughout the text.  Besides, the paper points some of them and underscores the necessity of being politically and constitutionally correct at least in a text that is addressing issues and matters related to constitution of our country. 

 

Wrong Reference to Constitutional Terms

At least 11 pages in this book use the term, “Dalits”. At the foremost, the word ‘Dalit’ does not appear in Constitution of India, yet thebook uses the termDalits instead of Scheduled Castes, similarlyfor Scheduled Tribes it uses the word Adivasis.It may be noted although these term/concepts are widely used in academia and activism. They are not constitutional terms but yet widely used in new texts. On the contrary, the use of constitutional reference is more suited in such a text; however the authors choose to ignore this and root for the term, Dalit and Adivasi.

 

Further, on page 185 and 191, textbook also uses Backward Castes for Other Backward Castes (OBC). Technically backward castes or backward classes also refer to Scheduled Caste, however, usage of “backward caste” for OBC raise the question of sensitivity of such wrong usage of nomenclature, such attempt will bring much harm to the oppressed castes than one can imagine. To cite afailed attempt of 2005, an amendment was proposed by Sharad Joshi (2005) to Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA), 1989 to include agriculture laborer in the category of Scheduled Caste.[3]Such attempts to include lower castes of Hindu social order in the list of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Category will not onlyjeopardize the basic purpose of POA act but alsoprotect the perpetrators of crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes making the act the most ineffective, deviating from its objective. Heedfully, this implies the oppressor and perpetrators of ex-untouchables and tribals will share only the conceptual umbrella and equal protections but demand similar constitutional protections that are meant for SCs and STs.

 

Moreover, the term Scheduled Caste and Dalits should not be used interchangeably as both have different meanings, history and contexts.  It would be precarious to use these interchangeably in a text relating to subject such as constitution of India or even in parliamentary proceedings. This will not only lead to confusion and debilitating the clarity of identifying specific historicity of ex-untouchables and tribes but also burying the history of ex-communication, a uniqueness of Indian society.

 

 

Making of Constitution and time

 

The whole process of Constitution making according to Prof. Granville Austin was “perhaps the greatest political venture since that originated in Philadelphia in 1787.” He further described the Indian Constitution drafted by Dr. Ambedkar as ‘first and foremost a social document.’… ‘The majority of India’s constitutional provisions are either directly arrived at furthering the aim of social revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing conditions necessary for its achievement’ (Narayan, 2000, pg. 13).

Review of text on process of Constitution making textbook on pages 18-19, it gives a sense of incongruousness as they are laden with false information on procedure of constitution formation. This part uses the cartoon and offersexplanation onthe lengthy timeline to draft Constitution? The cartoon suggests that the blame is to be put on Dr. Ambedkar, riding at snail’s pace, because “he was not happy with Congress and Gandhi on the upliftment provision for Scheduled Caste.” 

It would have been reasonable for these political scientist and advisors to have analysed historicity of Indian Constitution and its making, at least in two areas to have enriched student’s critical thinking.  ‘Duration’ in constitution making is an extensive and relative process. Therefore, comparing it with countries and their Constituent Assemblies it becomes mandatory and the process of deliberations contextual. Moreover, some countries took more time than others; however, one also understands that duration of framing Constitution has no relevance to quality and strength.  For instance, to examine some of the other Constituent Assemblies in world in terms of duration, it took four months for US to draft Constitution, Russian Constituent Assembly decided their Constitution in 13 hours, and Italian Constituent Assembly drafted Constitution in 19 months (25 June 1946 until 31 January 1948). And French National Constituent Assembly lasted from 9 July 1789 till 30 September 179.  Indian Constituent Assembly completed the task of drafting Constitution in 2 years, 11 months and 17 days. Is it possible to judge these constitutions solely on the basis of duration but deliberations, context and its distinctions? But it appears that authors are suggesting students to think that ‘duration’ is the marker of judging a fine, meritorious constitution. One cannot help but critique such a constricted perspective.

Further, one cannot stop from thinking why distinction and relative strengths of India’s constitution are not highlighted in this context. For instance, Constitution of India embedded ‘Universal Adult Suffrage.’ Other countries such as US, took almost 175 years (from 1789 till1964) to give equal voting right to African Americans. This right came in force after 24th amendment (1964) to Constitution of USA, and later enactment of Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Factually, all major democracies of the world witnessed challenge of incorporating this basic fundamental right in their Constitution. Universal adult franchise was also a big challenge for India. One must recall Government of India Act of 1935, getting on electoral roll was not easily accessible to all. This act set several disqualifications for voting rights, some these disqualifications were, if one is not British subject, not below 21 years of age, does not possess a sound mind, not found eligible by a competent a court, anddoes not have adequate property ownership and education.

If we compare history of struggle for universal adult franchise in India, Dr. Ambedkar strongly advocated for voting rights for all citizens since his presentation at Indian Statutory Commission on 23 October, 1928. Dr. Ambedkar pleaded for universal adult franchise even before independence and formal beginning of constitution making. Isn’t this crucial to the history of India and the world of democracy that even when most of western nations were grappling with voting rights, India had Dr.B.R.Ambedkar’s fighting for these rights even before independence?

This distinction achieved through universal adult franchise was incorporated in spite of the feeble opposition, and equal rights were given to rich/ poor, men/women, and high caste/ low caste, untouchables and every citizen irrespective of their background. With the above illustration of distinction, it indicates that authors of text can distort and overlook historical facts implying deep seated politics of exclusion.

 

Other several occasions

Besides such flaws and warped interpretationsthe text does not mention the Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act, 1971, a preventive and punitive act against insult to Indian National Flag and Constitution of India. The book has other flaws on dealing with issues of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Minorities.  Examples on page 63 and 64, the text attempts to open discussion on separate electorates, however, ends with two anti-separate electorate statements one from Scheduled Tribe member and another from Muslim member. In the critical assessment from a perspective of untouchables and their political situation, this does not reflect whole meaning and purpose of separate electorates. Ironically, this text does not discuss why Gandhi put his life at stake against “separate electorate” for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes by going on fast unto death.  

            Another serious distortion of fact in the book is on Page 22, where it states Constitution of India borrowed the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity from the French Constitution. However, this is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution of India or any reference to by Dr. Ambedkar, the chief Architect of Constitution.

 

On page 236, the text in its satire tone, questions, “Is it a coincidence that the central square of every other small town has a statue of Dr. Ambedkar with a copy of the Indian Constitution?  Far from being a mere symbolic tribute to him, this expresses the feeling among Dalits that the Constitution reflects many of their aspirations.”

Refreshingly, the authors of text understand this phenomenon of instituting statues of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar across India, not as a result of a cult or hero worship of ex-untouchables but as their “aspirations.” However, the authors ‘conservativeness’ of limitingDr.B.R.Ambedkar as inspiration only to ex-untouchables is extremely disappointing and shallow, as it fails liberate students andDr.B.R.Ambedkar from caste-role model admiration.

 

Conclusion

 

Indeed it is not an easy task for any author to draft a sincere, honest text with an objective to liberate, emancipate and instill democratic values in the minds of the readers within their politics.  Analogously, it must have not been an easy task to constitution makers to frame a country’s constitution.Amidst this, how justified is the politics of parody, content appropriation and dismissal Dr.B.R.Ambedkar’s contribution to this country?  Why have authors fail to deal with this subject with factual clarity? These are some of the questions that need to be answered.

 

Undoubtedly, this text has been innovative in many ways for facilitating students with lively animated pictures, data, information, humor, questioning and critical thinking however, the text fall short of being consistent, impartial and committed to provide necessary information for students to judge and evaluate the constitution of our country from a holistic point of view. It may also be true that Dr.B.R.Ambedkar is duly recognized in texts for the first time. However this ‘compromised inclusion’ is equally condemnable as much as hitherto the persistent exclusion.

 

 Also by providing inadequate information, false explanations and inconsistent reasoning, the text does more harm to students of polity, than any justice by not giving them an opportunity to be well-informed, critical and responsible future citizens. The cartoon row may have caused great distress to academicians, parliamentarians and followers of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, however, it once again opened our eyes to politicization of the content and curriculum as a continuous process, an ongoing struggle and vulnerable to regime appropriation. Most importantly this ban should not be revokedalone on cartoon deletion but on lines of stringent revision and examination of the content. The ban may be justified for crude political satire but it would be pity if we limit our reading towards the text mainly as a parody paralyses.  By not falling into this trap of superficial consumption, we may save ourselves and our country from becoming irresponsible democracy.

 

References

Ambedkar, B.R. (1954). Dr. Ambedkar’ interview. All India Radio Broadcast, October 3, 1954

Ambedkar, B.R. (1979). Dr. Ambedkar Writing & Speeches.Vol. III.

Elster, Jon (1997). Ways of constitution-making. In Axel Hadenius (ed.). Democracy’s Victory and Crisis.Cambridge University Press.

Giddens, A. (2006). Sociology.New Delhi: Polity.

Government of India Act, 1935. Retrieved from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1935/2/pdfs/ukpga_19350002_en.pdf

Joshi, S.A. (2005). The Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) (Amendment) Bill, 2005 A Bill further to amend the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Retrieved from http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/APCITY/UNPAN023480.pdf

Narayan, K.R. (2000). Address by the President of India. Journal of Parliamentary Information.Volume 46 (1). New Delhi: LokSabhaSecretariate. Retrieved from  http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/jpi/MARCH2000/CHAP1.htm

NCERT.(2006).Indian Constitution at Work. New Delhi: NCERT.

Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act, 1971

Vundru, R. S. (2012, May 13). Voting rights for all, no mean achievement.The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/article3415438.ece

 

 


[1]National Curriculum Frameworks 2005, page ix

[2]IBN-CNN discussion- Ironic these text books are termed anti-Ambedkar: YogendraYadav. Retrieved from  http://www.firstpost.com/india/ironic-these-text-books-are-termed-anti-ambedkar-yogendra-yadav-307085.html

[3]“AS INTRODUCED IN THE RAJYA SABHA-BILL NO. LXXIV OF  2005 ON THE 29TH JULY, 2005

THE SCHEDULED CASTES AND SCHEDULED TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2005 A BILL further to amend the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It proposed to  for the words ‘‘ScheduledCastes and Scheduled Tribes’’ the words ‘‘Vulnerable Communities’’ shall be substituted‘(ee) “vulnerable communities” includes the Scheduled Castes, ScheduledTribes, farmers and agricultural workers.’

 

About Author: Lalit Khandare is persuing PhD in Indiana University, USA. He is quite active in a social sphere.He can be reached at  lalitkhandare@gmail.com



2 Responses to “Critical Reading of NCERT text : Indian Constitution at Work”

  1. 1 ajit vadakayil

    hi,

    punch into google search CNN IBN GREATEST INDIAN SHAM AWARD – VADAKAYIL.

    capt ajit vadakayil
    ..

  2. good thought read more at one fo the legendary person in india B R Ambedkar Quotes


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: