The textbook controversy in Karnataka

Why has the revision of textbooks in the state aroused opposition from several communities, writers and students?

Why has the revision of textbooks in the state aroused opposition from several communities, writers and students?

The story so far: A Textbook Review Committee headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha has been set up in Karnataka following a memorandum submitted by the Karnataka Brahmin Mahasabha to the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education BC Nagesh. The memorandum demanded the revision of class 6 social studies textbooks on the grounds that they “hurt the feelings of the Brahmin community”. The Karnataka Textbook Review Committee was initially established to revise the social science textbooks for grades 6 to 8. However, it was eventually tasked to revise all textbooks for grades 1 to 10. The committee submitted its report in March 2022 and in accordance with the report, social studies textbooks of classes 6 to 10 in all media, textbooks of classes 1 to 10 in first language in Kannada (except class 3), second language textbooks in Kannada of classes 6, 7 and 9 and third-language textbooks for all grades 7, 8, and 9 media have been revised. The revised textbooks met with opposition from various groups.

Why did the Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board object to certain sections of the textbooks?

The Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board met with the then Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa in December 2020 to object to some excerpts from the Class 6 Social Science Textbook Part 1. One of the paragraphs he deemed reprehensible was found in Chapter 5 titled “The Culture of the Vedic Period”. The paragraph read, “Offering milk, ghee and cereals to the fire during these yagnas has led to the scarcity of food.” In addition, sections of paragraph 1 of Chapter 7, “Rise of New Religions,” were found to be objectionable. The paragraph under the subtitle “Why have new religions emerged?” read: “During the Vedic period, rituals like Yaga and Yagna required animal sacrifices. This affected food production. Apart from this, food grains, milk and ghee were offered as ‘Havisu’ and burnt in the fire, resulting in food shortage. People had also believed that it is only through these Yagnas that true liberation (Mukti) was possible. But these costly rituals were conducted by reciting Sanskrit shlokas. Sanskrit was the language of priests and ordinary people were unable to understand it. People were waiting for a simple path to liberation, explained in their own language. The Karnataka Brahmin Mahasabha claimed that such statements in textbooks hurt their religious feelings and therefore needed to be revised. In September 2021, a 16-member committee headed by Mr. Chakrathirtha was established to revise textbooks for Grades I to Grade 10. The committee submitted a report in March 2022 which drew opposition from Dalit organizations, of various writers and two powerful communities of Karnataka, Veerashaiva Lingayat and Vokkaliga Sabha.

The revised textbooks, which were posted online on May 23, do not contain chapters on “The Culture of the Vedic Period”, “The Rise of New Religions” and “Christianity and Islam”.

Why are Dalit organizations protesting the revision?

Outrage among Dalit organizations has been sparked due to the omission of some details about Dr BR Ambedkar from Chapter 5 of the Class 9 Social Science textbook titled ‘Our Constitution’. The chapter previously stated that “on the basis of his (B.R. Ambedkar’s) contribution to the making of the constitution, he is called ‘the chief architect of [the] Indian Constitution”. However, the revised textbooks only mention that “Dr. BR Ambedkar was the chairman of one of the most important committees, namely the Editorial Board. The information about Ambedkar’s contribution to eliminating untouchability in another chapter have also been changed. The revised manual only mentions that “Jyotiba Phule, Swami Vivekananda, Dr. BR Ambedkar and others have made immense efforts to erase the stigma of untouchability”. that the lessons be reprinted and that the omitted information about Ambedkar be reinstated.

Why are the seers in the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community upset?

Various Veerashaiva-Lingayat seers have raised objections to the content revision of Chapter 3 of Class 9 Social Studies Part 1 titled “Religious Promoters and Social Reformers”. While the previous manual stated that “Basaveshwara was a staunch opponent of the caste system and he threw the ‘sacred thread’ after his Upanayana (the thread ceremony) and went to Kudalasangama”, the revised manual excluded this and only mentions that “after his thread ceremony, he went to Kudalasangama”. The previous manual had also mentioned that “Basaveshwara and his followers advocated the Veerashaiva philosophy which was based on simple human values. They rejected the many rituals deeply rooted in the Vedic religion.However, the revised manual simply states, “He reformed Veerashaivism.”This has upset the Lingayat community who want the content to be revised to reflect the actual history of Basaveshwara.

And the Vokkaliga?

Vokkaliga community leaders raise objections against the head of the textbook review committee, Mr. Chakrathirtha. They accuse him of insulting the Nada Geethe (national anthem) and of disrespecting a well-known Kannada poet, Kuvempu, who wrote it. The charges stem from a 2017 Facebook post that resurfaced and made the rounds on social media. The screenshot is a parody of the state anthem that Mr. Chakrathirtha posted on March 16, 2017. According to the screenshot, Mr. Chakrathirtha gave the state anthem a satirical meaning, him allegedly disrespectful in comparing Karnataka to the Congress party. The Vokkaliga Sangha and various student organizations such as the National Union of Indian Students (NSUI) and the Indian Federation of Students (AISF) staged a protest at Freedom Park in Bengaluru to demand the dissolution of the textbook committee headed by Mr. Chakrathirtha . Various prominent writers have resigned from state government bodies due to inaction against the head of the committee.

Why are writers, academics and student organizations angry?

The suppression of writings by various distinguished writers has drawn protests from academics and student organizations in Karnataka. Kannada Class 10 Textbooks have been revised and Chapter 1 titled “Yuddha” by Sara Aboobacker, Chapter 4 titled “Mruga Mattu Sundari” by P. Lankesh and Chapter 6, “Vyagra Geethe” by AN Murthy Rao have been abandoned. The works of these writers were replaced by a speech by the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, KB Hedgewar, and essays by Chakravarthy Sulibele, a right-wing ideologue, and Sanskrit scholars Bannanje Govindacharya and Shathavadhani Ganesh. Student organizations and scholars point out that the inclusion of Hedgewar’s speech will lead to the “saffranization” of textbooks. They accused the review committee and the government of propagating Hindutva ideology.

THE ESSENTIAL

The revisions made to the Kannada textbooks from class 1 to 10 by the Textbook Revision Committee headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha sparked opposition from various groups.

The suppression of writings by various distinguished writers has drawn protests from academics and student organizations in Karnataka. They accused the review committee and the government of propagating Hindutva ideology.

Dalit organizations, Veerashaiva-Lingayat community seers and Vokkaliga community leaders have all opposed the revised manuals.