Sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind

The bid to revise school textbook curriculum shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It is part of a grand plan to sow seeds of ‘otherness’ in society.

Published: 17th June 2022 01:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th June 2022 07:15 AM   |  A+A-

Illustration: Soumyadip Sinha

What is happening in Karnataka over the revision of school textbooks is not only disturbing but foreboding. Several distinguished members have resigned from the committee tasked with revision. That the committee’s recommendations and outcome have only created new social tensions and resentment among several groups is not unexpected. Some groups resent exclusion, while other groups resent inadequate representation of the topics of their interest. 

Evidently, what the committee has attempted is not a simple act of correcting the distortions and biases or making the textbooks more comprehensive and relevant. It is a premeditated act of deleting certain patches of memory and obliterating certain personages in history. Of course, it is a well-settled idea that education is politics. As long as textbooks and lessons are in favour of something and against something, there is politics and to that extent, every curriculum is a negotiation. The ultimate political dimension of the classroom arises from what questions the students are being nudged to ask. Is there a critique against oppression, inequality, exploitation, exclusion and injustice? After all, true education is about questioning the answers rather than answering the questions. 

It is not the case that curricula or textbooks should not be revised. They should be, especially when social, technological and cultural changes take place with unprecedented rapidity. Harmonising with the times is a much-desired benchmark of a good curriculum. In a democracy where political parties of differing ideologies clamour for space and power, how does this harmonisation take place? The values, priorities, sense of history and ‘iconography’ of one party could be contradictory to the ideas of another party. 

Indian democracy gives power to a political dispensation only for five years. They may or may not come back after the election. The uncertainty of an electoral verdict after every five years admonishes against the temptation for long-term changes of a partisan nature. Naturally, that statement would provoke the critical reaction that any elected government with a vision will have to think beyond five years. And that is indeed what good governments with far-sight ought to do legitimately. The investment in infrastructure for instance might not even be completed within five years. Science and technology projects, defence investments, and such projects with long gestation periods are of course the prerogative of a government. It is well within the mandate and authority of an elected government to bring in any change, but the litmus test is whether they are legitimate.

The zealots of the new curriculum are in a hurry to correct the “skewed history” and the “wrong science” written and taught for seven decades by scholars allegedly subservient to western intellectual hegemony. The enthusiasm may not be entirely misplaced if it is driven by the wish to expand the horizons of school curricula. The political ideology of the ruling dispensation cannot be translated into curricula for the simple reason that it is not a legitimate use of power. Any act can claim the privilege of legitimacy only if it is in tune with the Constitution of the country. Restructuring curricula and writing textbooks is “mediation between power and pedagogy” as Paulo Freire would describe. Creating new social possibilities of history, confronting social amnesia of generations and releasing subjugated knowledge of the marginalised will no doubt reinvent the power of pedagogy. And it is only such interrogations that will make education a true act of empowerment and liberation. 

However, curricular changes (or any Executive or Legislative action) that would lead to an ideological and social outcome that violates the Constitutional principles of equality, secularism, religious freedom, freedom of occupation and social amity cannot claim legitimacy. It is the Constitution that makes democracy work amidst differing ideologies. It is pertinent that members of the Council of Ministers take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution before wielding state power. Whenever there is a contradiction between a politically justified decision and a Constitutional provision, the Minister shall abide by the Constitution if his action has to be legitimate. Any other decision, however politically expedient, is illegitimate. It is such decisions that the Courts are forced to nullify. All such violations may not reach the Courts for adjudication, but that doesn’t preclude citizens with free minds to assess the legitimacy of governments’ decisions on the basis of Constitutional morality. 

The Karnataka textbook revision is not the only anecdote that fails this legitimacy test. Laws against inter-caste marriages and Citizenship Amendment Act that isolate one community, ruthless laws that dent into the right to free and fair expression of dissent and criticism, the undertone of targeted exclusion of minority communities and above all the slow and determined dissolution of the wall that separates the state and religion are all Constitutionally untenable and are bound to create fissures in society. Do the curriculum changes introduced in Karnataka and elsewhere enable the children to be better adherents to secular ideas as envisioned in the Constitution? Will it make them compassionate to the poor and the marginalised? Will it empower them to ask the right questions and embolden them to talk truth to power? Will they be indignant towards exclusion, exploitation and injustice? 

Karnataka curriculum revision is not an isolated incident; it is a small part of a carefully crafted mega-narrative, enacted at several levels with different intensities. The seeds of ‘otherness’ sown in various ‘fields’ will naturally sprout as poison bushes of hatred. When such actions of the Executive are backed by toxic political rhetoric and blasphemous oratory (as in Kanpur), and supported by sleepless cyber-warriors, the Biblical metaphor of ‘sowing the wind to reap the whirlwind’ standsvalidated. And does that make us smile?

K Jayakumar,
Former Kerala chief secretary and ex-VC, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University


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