Hyderabad: Some privately published supplementary study materials for schoolchildren have sparked a controversy in Telangana for featuring in an image of a masked man, holding the Muslim holy book Quran, labelled as a “terrorist”.
The issue was flagged by a Twitter user Shaik Aslam Saturday, who posted an image of a part of a book called ‘Real Life Beyond Text Book’, a social studies help book for students of Class 8.
This humiliates Muslim students, teachers and the community, and also lead to destroy the unity and integrity of the country, I demand immediate action should be taken against those responsible for writing and approving the book. 2/2 @asadowaisi @thenameis_Mr__J
— Shaik Aslam (@_Shaik_Aslam) September 24, 2021
“This humiliates Muslim students, teachers and the community, and also lead (sic) to destroy the unity and integrity of the country,” he tweeted.
In response to Aslam’s tweet, another user Gani Kateeb shared the same photograph from another supplementary book for Class 8 students, published by VGS Publishers.
“Not only one but many publishers published this. One example is VGS Publisher’s from hyd. I have taken this from my sister’s material,” he tweeted.
Not only one but many publisher's published this. One example VGS Publisher's from hyd. I have taken this from my sister's material. Publisher's should apologise and delete the offensive content and reprint the new edition.@SQMasood @Aamer_Javeed @ashapriya09 @syedKashaf95 pic.twitter.com/GN3VSOK1lq
— Gani khateeb | غني خطيب (@gani_khateeb) September 24, 2021
The publisher of the ‘Real Life’ series of books, meanwhile, is yet to be identified.
However, VGS Publishers responded to ThePrint’s emailed query after the publication of the story, saying in a statement that it has decided to delete the picture and reprint the books.
“It has been learnt that a few people got hurt by the picture published in our 8th class book. We express our sincere regrets. It was not at all intentional. We do not intend to hurt anybody’s sentiments. However, we have decided to delete the picture and reprint the books. We are also in process of collecting back the unsold copies from the market to avoid any further inconvenience to anyone,” the statement read.
Question banks or guides
These books are separate from the official textbooks published by the government for the Telangana state board, and are known as ‘study materials’, ‘question banks’ or ‘guides’. They are published by private companies based on the state board syllabus and are widely used by students in Telangana as supplementary material.
While government schools in the state have to use textbooks published by the state board, private schools in Telangana are free to use any books.
“There is officially no authorisation for such study materials and they’re very widely used by students in both states (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). They cannot be called illegal because first of all there is no regulation for them. These publishers have their own experts and they publish the material,” said Venkat Reddy, convener of M.V. Foundation, an independent organisation working for children’s right to education.
These books are also easily available in stationary stores across the state and can be found online.
“Lakhs of such copies from different publishers are in the market and lakhs of students use them. Even government school teachers unofficially use such materials,” a senior official from the Telangana Education Department told ThePrint.
‘Discriminatory, full of hatred’
Several people called out these publishers after the pictures surfaced on social media, including prominent city-based activist Khalida Parveen who demanded action from the government.
“Why Social Studies book misguiding the students in #Telangana? How come some one can design a man who was named as #Terrorist holding #Quran on hand and gun on shoulder? Stop this immediately (sic),” Parveen tweeted Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Telangana unit of the Students Islamic Organisation of India, the students’ wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, called the photograph of the so-called terrorist “discriminatory, full of hatred and Islamophobic”, and demanded immediate action from the government.
Amjed Ullah Khan, a leader from the political party Majlis Bachao Tehreek, also urged the government to seize all the material and file a criminal case.
“TelanganaDGP Sir, take note of a class VIIIth social studies work book published by Real Life Publisher showing a person as a terrorist carrying a holy book has hurted the sentiments of muslim’s, book a criminal case against him and seize all material (sic),” Khan tweeted Sunday.
In 2018, the Telangana government had also banned schools from providing guides and study materials to students, stating that ready-made answers damage children’s thinking capacity.
Of the 41,000 schools in the state, 26,800 are run by the government, in which about 23 lakh students study. In the 11,000-odd private schools, over 32 lakh students are admitted. About 600 schools are aided.
(Edited by Rachel John)
(This report has been updated after publication to include VGS Publishers’ response that the firm will delete the picture and reprint the books.)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.