Thursday, June 26, 2008

Of sensitive student material

If you're from Kerala then you should know what's been going on this past week. If you're not, here's the gist :

Kerala is now governed by a democratically elected communist government. That's the backbone of this story. This year the government releases a social studies textbook for seventh grade students that is allegedly in tune with the central government textbook frameworks. There's a catch though, the textbook has a chapter that supposedly is trying to instill communist and atheist beliefs in its readers. In this disputed chapter a teacher pats the head of a boy because he wants to join a school without mentioning his religion or caste.

I don't see how this is atheist or communist but I must warn you: I have not read this chapter or the textbook and hence I cant make a sound opinion. That said, I don't see any mistake in teaching secularism.

This textbook has struck a nerve with a lot of people. The religious and conservative have denounced the book, calling it an attack on faith. The Congress party (ironically, this party is founded on the ideals of secularism) calls it communist propaganda. And since this is a student issue, student parties have taken to the streets in protest. If you've been following me on twitter you might remember me twittering about water cannon's and lathi's being used on students in the state capital last week. It happened again in my hometown a couple of days ago which resulted in a violent general strike that brought life to a standstill.

Two days ago, a Muslim student group called the MSF tore the pages and burnt scores of textbooks in a district called Mallapuram. Yesterday, the communist student wing, called the SFI, protesting against violence turned violent themselves and in the process beat up a news reporter!

What the hell ... ?

Again I'm watching ideology take a violent turn. People's lives are being affected for the belief's of others. I'm no sucker for communism and I have been vehemently anti-communist but I sure as hell wont fall for ideology. The Congress party is using this controversy as means to bring down the government and that is all. Believe me, they have no real purpose to satisfy the fundamentalists.

But the religious parties are a different matter. They want this textbook gone and they want it gone real bad. Why ? Because it tries to tell the future that they must judge each other as human beings and not by what they believe in ? What faith are they trying to defend ? The faith that makes them strap bombs onto themselves ? The faith that makes them grab a trishul and brandish it as a weapon ? The faith that has more blood on its hands than any mass murderer ever ?

The child in the textbook has a Hindu father and a Muslim mother. What religion must he jot down ? I think the fundamentalists are more incensed over this question than anything else.

As for the strikes, I cant help but chuckle. This state is in the midst of a financial disaster. We have starving people here. Corruption is rampant. Infrastructure is breaking down. There are animals in a zoo (the Thrissur Zoo) neglected and forgotten.

And what do the "political" parties - government or opposition - do ? The politics that is supposed to take care of its people fights over ideology. They fight over a seventh grade social studies textbook.

This state needs a cultural revolution. This state needs to watch Happy Feet.

4 comments:

Which Main? What Cross? said...

Hartal. Holidays! Sit at home and trouble the others in the family.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

I went through the text book and here are my comments:
Having an excerpt from AK Gopalan's (auto)biography is not expected. He is a well known communist leader of yester years. This is like bombarding commie thoughts in class 7.
The style in which "Kudiyozhippikkal" and Karivellur Samaram are introduced indeed has a commie angle.
Too much stress on Land Reforms, unwanted.
Would a 7th standard kid understand Smt KR Gouriamma's response to a bill, as told in the assembly?? Why are they doing this?

Pages on Human Devlopment Indices of Kerala, good, acceptable.
I don't understand-what is being taught? Time line of the social changes?
Why is there an excerpt on how lower caste women used to have food left over by Antarjanams(Namboodiri Brahmin women)??? What are the commies trying to convey?

Channar Revolt-unwanted , again selling commie ideology.
Vaikom and Guruvayoor Satyagrahams-These should have been the ONLY one to be included in the text book, rather worth including.

Pratyaksha Rakshasabha-why get into every single point of social equality.
Wouldn't the mention of Vaikom or Guruvayur be enough?
Same with the mention of Muslim Ikyasangham.

After going through all these portions, a 7th standard kid reaches a chapter that says, say no not only to caste, but religion. Should these things be taught in school, that too at this level?

Having the lines from all holy books-accepted.

But, I still haven't understood the relevance of a question that asks which religion would be affected the max by inflation, water scarcity, contagious diseases and earthquake..!!!
May be they wanted the answer, people of all religions would be affected. sigh!

Chapter 3
Iniyum Muttott-the mention of Palm Oil rates was unwanted, rest accepted.
The next page that mentions a "rich guy" who says he will do whatever with his land while a passerby comments why are people protesting? These two kinds of people are painted a shade of ENEMY;yes, the commies what more jobless people for DYFI , SFI whatever.

The text says, "As discussed in a class, these were the meanings of Freedom"; instead this should have been an open discussion in every class. Shouldn't that been a better way to do it rather than already having 4 meanings for freedom.

Parts of the British coming in-well, good! But comparing it with today's situation? Do they expect an answer of the lines of communism?? Please, gimme a break!!!

Parts on Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries-acceptable.
Throwing light on the revolt of 1857, Jalianwalla Bagh massacare-yes, much needed at this level. If not in class 7, when?

Other parts on Indian History like pages on Khilafat,Dandi Satyagraha,Quit India-acceptable.

This chapter ends with a note to start a discussion on Land grabbing, caste/gender based discrimination, accumulation of wealth--is this an NDTV debate?

News clippings on Forest Guards/Excise attacked,or Sand/Liqour mafia attacking people-UNWANTED.
Then why not include DYFI/SFI vandalising,killing people in Kannur??? HUH!

Asking the students to compare the British discipline to India's prgress(ie Mukesh Ambani's wealth)-Weird, useless

Portion on length of day/night-acceptable.
Other geography portions, parts on civilizations and the rest of the book seem fine to me.

Alex Mcone said...

@ which main - hartals bore the hell out of me. It's one thing sitting at home and relaxing but its another when you're forced to do so.

@ Nikhil - thanks for the info. This should give my readers a lot more exposure on the topic.

However I do have my views on some of your points:

Printing the political views of prominent Communist leaders is debatable. Printing and teaching today's controversial issues is wrong and stupid. I'm surprised they even did it.

Teaching kids about the sufferings of yester-year low caste people - YES! They must know what it was like before social equality was introduced.

"But, I still haven't understood the relevance of a question that asks which religion would be affected the max by inflation, water scarcity, contagious diseases and earthquake..!!!
May be they wanted the answer, people of all religions would be affected. sigh" - I think thats a relevant point to be taught to students.

"The next page that mentions a "rich guy" who says he will do whatever with his land while a passerby comments why are people protesting? These two kinds of people are painted a shade of ENEMY;yes, the commies what more jobless people for DYFI , SFI whatever" - Pure communist ideology. Should not have been printed.

"This chapter ends with a note to start a discussion on Land grabbing, caste/gender based discrimination, accumulation of wealth--is this an NDTV debate?" - I think that encourages children to think and discuss among themselves. Like you said earlier - if not now then when ?

Of the rest I agree with you. Again, thank you for giving my readers a bit more light on the matter.

~Static~ said...

I've got happy feet.

They're never happier than when they're kicking some ass.