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Clean chit on book cartoons

- Panel finds no ‘ill-intention’ behind NCERT move

New Delhi, Sept. 25: A one-member committee formed to fix responsibility on individuals for “derogatory” political cartoons in some NCERT school textbooks has refused to blame anyone, highly placed sources have told The Telegraph.

The committee, set up by the human resource development ministry under its former secretary B.S. Baswan, has found that officials and experts had followed set guidelines and procedure in preparing these books and had no “ill intentions”.

“It said the books went through several rounds of consultations and academic screening. No individual could be held responsible,” a source said.

“The ministry is treating the issue as closed. The NCERT has already taken action with respect to required changes in the textbooks.”

At the centre of the controversy were four political science textbooks, meant for classes IX to XII, especially Indian Constitution At Work (Class XI) and Democratic Politics-I (Class IX). These books, published in 2006, contained 173 cartoons in all, prompted by a decision to make studying enjoyable.

However, some of the cartoons, including one showing B.R. Ambedkar, led to an uproar in May this year with political leaders protesting in Parliament against their inclusion. The Baswan committee was set up after Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati demanded action against those responsible for the cartoons. Baswan handed in his report last week.

Earlier, the NCERT had set up a committee under Indian Council of Social Science Research chairman Sukhadeo Thorat to examine the cartoons and suggest changes to the books, if necessary.

The Thorat committee handed in its report in June, recommending the deletion of 21 cartoons and changes to the captions for a few other cartoons and illustrations.

But the national monitoring committee co-chaired by academics Mrinal Miri and G.P. Deshpande, which had approved these textbooks in 2006, criticised the Thorat panel’s suggestions for deletions.

Eventually, the NCERT deleted just six cartoons, including the one on Ambedkar, and made changes to a few captions. The updated books are already in the market.

In 2005, the NCERT had decided to change its textbooks’ format to make studying joyful and effective. A committee under former University Grants Committee chairman Yashpal then prepared a National Curriculum Framework, laying down guidelines on how to make the textbooks interesting and connect their contents to real life.

The NCERT then published these books, prepared by expert committees in keeping with the guidelines.

When the controversy broke, human resource development minister Kapil Sibal had apologised “to the people of the country” for the cartoons.

The same evening, the NCERT’s chief advisers on one of the books, academics Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav, stepped down saying they were doing so to allow an independent review of the book.

They denied the cartoons were in any way derogatory to anyone. The next day, a mob attacked Palshikar’s office.