THE Government of India had appointed a six-member panel to review the cartoons used in Social Science textbooks of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The 40-page report of the panel headed by S.K. Thorat was submitted to the government on June 27. Substantial excerpts from this were published by The Hindu (July 3). The next day (July 4) The Hindu further published the text of a dissenting note submitted by M.S.S. Pandian, a panel member, to the NCERT Committee on Text Books.
The note, as published, was fully illustrated by the cartoons which the majority members of the panel had taken objection to. This should be considered a substantial contribution to the cause of education and real service to journalism, deserving approbation. Dr. Pandian, incidentally, is Professor of History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He has also been a member of the NCERT Committee for Reviewing the text books on Social and Political Science.
Among the cartoons – some twenty of them – that the Thorat Panel wishes to discard are two by R.K. Laxman, one by Shankar, another by Huffakar and yet another by Kutty. Justifying the proposed deletions, the panel majority said that while the cartoonists “may have reasons to believe that the cartoons used were not offensive but only reflected commonly perceived notions, in a society as vast and as diverse as India is, there can always been room for different understanding of the text and interpretations of visuals, and especially cartoons could be viewed differently by different segments of society (and) it is more so when multiple sensitivities get involved.” Therefore, said the panel, “the sensitivities, genuine or perceived, have to be taken note of and addressed carefully.”
In his 3-page Note of Dissent Prof. Pandian said he did not find anything inappropriate in the cartoons. “After all” he said, “what is often being perceived as ‘politically incorrect; need not be ‘educationally inappropriate.” He said that “the visual material in the text books does not merely illustrate the text, but engages with is in a critical dialogue, opening up spaces for the learners to enquire, question, interpret.” The Hindu (July 4) also took the trouble to interview Yashpal who rejected the Thorat Panel report, calling it “insensitive” and an example of “the growing politics of intolerance,” claiming that cartoons actually portrayed the “weaknesses and inconsistencies” of politicians “in a nice way.”
But what is more interesting are the editorial comments of some of our leading newspapers. The Hindu (July 4) said, “the number of cartoons erased and the flimsy and even bizarre reasons given, mark the whole exercise as politically coloured from beginning to end.” The paper said that “many of the changes seem to have been recommended with the interest of the political and bureaucratic classes in mind and not on pedagogic grounds.” It also noted that “going by the suggested deletions, the ‘politically sensitive’ argument look tailor-made to ensure the removal of cartoons seen as causing offence to the Nehru-Gandhi family.”
The paper concluded by saying that, “it will be a matter of national shame if (the panel’s) recommended deletions are accepted by the NCERT.” Deccan Herald (July 5) said the recommendation of the Thorat Panel “is highly retrograde and shows an unhealthy attitude to education.” “School Text Books” said the paper “are meant not only to convey information to students, but also, more importantly, to develop a questioning and critical attitude among them.” It added: “Cartoons are a good medium to inculcate this attitude through humour. The reasons given by the committee for removal of cartoons are ridiculous.”
The paper continuing said that “the thrust of the objections is that they portray politicians in a negative way and are politically sensitive.” “In fact” said the paper, “these are the very reasons for which cartoons should be retained in the text books.” The paper regretted that the panel’s objections showed “this illiberal and intolerant trend” that is growing in society, especially among the political class.
The Times of India (July 4) said the Thorat Panel’s report is “disappointing.” Insisting that “the entire point of political cartoons is to be irreverent, witty and even acerbic” the paper said that “couched in humour, they serve as a sharp comment on the events of the day” and “in the process, shatter the monopoly of any single interpretations of political history.”
The issue, said the paper, “goes far beyond school pedagogy and also reflects the attitude of the government towards education in general.” Sadly, added the paper, “instead of focusing on raising education standards, the government finds it worthwhile to target trivial issues such as cartoons in school textbooks or tamper with the IIT admission process despite the latter’s proven track record.” And speaking of cartoons and their place in life, it is pleasant to learn that Amar Chitra Katha, which was originally set up by one of my closest friends, Anant Pai (Uncle Pai), is out to recreate Ruskin Bond’s short stories through cartoons.
Business Line (June 23) quotes ACK’s editor Reena Puri as saying that, “what happens when the richly illustrated Amar Chitra Katha and Ruskin Bond, the beloved old man from the hills of Mussourie come together there is magic!” According to Reena Puri, stories of Ruskin Bond are simply told and have a beauty in them and it will be a visual treat for the readers.”
Apparently, it took the team of artists seven months to finish the comics and we are told that script writer Nimmy Chacko spent days with Bond for understanding the nuances of the book The Blue Umbrella. Reena told Business Line: “The challenge is to retain the language of the writer as much as possible, which we have tried to do and used the description of scenes to create the illustrations.”
Reportedly, there is more in store for fans of ACK because it is expected to come out soon with its first title on a sports personality. The personality is not named, but one can guess! Anand (Uncle Pai) should be happy wherever he is, to see the tradition he built will be continued. He often used to tease me saying that I may write a hundred books but won’t be able to write one, just for children! I had to surrender.