New Delhi: Changes made to textbooks in Karnataka have triggered a fresh controversy around the alleged ideological bent of school syllabi, with the state government being accused of making the curriculum “less progressive”.
The Karnataka government has been accused of removing a chapter on freedom fighter Bhagat Singh from the Class 10 Kannada language textbook, with questions also raised on the removal of works by progressive thinkers like Kannada poet P. Lankesh, the founder-editor of ‘Lankesh Patrike’, Sara Aboobacker, a prominent Muslim Kannada writer, and A.N. Murthy Rao.
While the head of the Karnataka Textbooks Review Committee, which has introduced the changes to the textbook, has defended the decision, he has denied the allegations regarding Bhagat Singh.
Review panel chairperson Rohith Chakrathirtha said teachers and students had been demanding these changes because the “current syllabus was favouring a certain ideology”.
“Whatever changes we have made to the syllabus have been made keeping in mind the quality of works, not the ideology of the work or the writers,” he added.
“Since it is literature, we need to teach the students everything from poetry to prose, to plays and different styles of writing. All the changes in the syllabus have been made keeping in mind exactly that,” he told ThePrint.
The critics of these changes include renowned Kannada writer K. Marulasiddappa, who said the alterations are “non-committal towards progressive ideology”. He said they were a “crude way of promoting ideology through youngsters”.
Chapters on Bhagat Singh, Hedgewar
The controversy first arose after the All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO) — the student outfit of Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) — alleged last week that a chapter on Bhagat Singh had been removed from the Class 10 Kannada textbook and a chapter on RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar added in its place.
The textbook review panel clarified Tuesday that the chapter on Bhagat Singh “has not been removed”, but the issue snowballed into a controversy, with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal citing these allegations to accuse the BJP of “insulting martyrs”.
Kerala Education Minister V. Sivankutty, too, took a dig at Karnataka Education Minister B.C. Nagesh by posting on Twitter: “Unlike some other states, Kerala will ensure the presence of the life of Bhagat Singh in our syllabus.”
Rohith Chakrathirtha said there is no truth to these allegations. “It is an unnecessary controversy. Earlier, the book only talked about Bhagat Singh’s childhood and how he spent the early days of his life. We have added information about his revolutionary days in the revised textbook. We have not removed portions on him, but added some more,” he added.
Asked about the chapter on Hedgewar, he claimed that the scope of that particular lesson is limited to one of his speeches and not based on his life as an RSS ideologue. “We have included a speech where he says that instead of worshiping human beings, you should follow values that will not change over time. This has nothing to do with his ideology,” he said.
It has also been pointed out that Kannada poet P. Lankesh’s version of Beauty and the Beast will now be missing from Kannada textbooks issued to Class 10 students. Lankesh was the father of the journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh, who is suspected to have been murdered by Hindu radicals in 2017.
Kannada author Sara Aboobacker’s story Yudha, which reflects on the futility of war by essaying the bond between an elderly woman and an enemy soldier, has also been removed from the textbooks, along with Shivakotyacharya’s Sukumara Swamy Kathe, and Vyaghra Kathe by A.N. Murthy Rao, who questioned the idea of God in his literary work Devaru.
“If the committee had to make changes in the syllabus, they should have made some good changes. The current changes are non-committal towards progressive ideology,” said Kannada author and former chairman of the Karnataka Nataka Academy, K. Marulasiddappa.
“If they wanted to introduce new writers from outside Karnataka, they should have introduced Vivekananda, Premchand, Rabindra Nath Thakur… How is Hedgewar a writer? He is just an ideologue,” he added.
Asked why these works by prominent Kannada authors were removed from textbooks, Chakrathirtha said the syllabus was dominated by authors of a “particular ideology”.
“Post-2014, a textbook committee headed by Baragur Ramchandrappa had included works of writers from only a particular ideology and the government received complaints regarding that. Which is why when the government changed in the state in 2019, a new textbook committee was formed to re-revise the syllabus,” he said, adding that changes have been made to all textbooks from classes 1 to 10.
“We have introduced a lot of good writers’ works, which had been removed earlier. For example, we have added the work of Kuvempu (first Kannada writer to receive the Jnanpith Award), who has worked extensively on children’s literature. We have added a poem that is his version of the Pied Piper.
“Apart from this, we have added the work of another ‘Rashtrakavi’ M. Govind Pai,” Chakrathirtha said.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)