A Cartoon made by legendary cartoonist Shankar Pillai in the 1940s and reproduced by the NCERT school books for the secondary classes about six years ago has become so popular that he were alive today, he would have been thrashed by the war mongering 'followers'. NCERT's current curriculum is a great contribution of former Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh's strong secular approach and commitment to the restructuring of these text books under a committee of some of these prestigious scholars which became a bone of contention for a number of others who felt Arjun Singh's secular agenda would hurt their political interest. Education has always been on the radar of the communal minds who want to penetrate in the young minds through promoting their superficial ideas and beliefs. We all know how these text books were changed under the aegis of former HRD Minister under NDA regime Dr Murli Manohar Joshi whose agenda was to push primitive religious ideals in these text books under the pretext of promoting Indian nationalism and Indian culture.
The cartoon under discussion does not send any clear signal. Rather it is confusing and free to interpretation by everyone and therefore much beyond the understanding capacity of the students in secondary classes. Arguments are given that Dr Ambedkar has not opposed it during his time. Now, it is too small for Ambedkar as a political leader to speak to a cartoonist asking him not to make a cartoon on him or comment on him. Bias against him existed in our system and government. Media and mainstream writers systematically tried to deny him space and carried false propaganda against him. One is not sure how much respect Shankar Pillai had for the struggle that Ambedkar had to go through in his life including the making of the constitution and its difficult processes.
It is also true that there is a big difference between a cartoon in the newspaper and cartoon which are meant to educate your children through text books. Can we find cartoons mocking Gandhi, Nehru or our different Gods in our text books? Why not mock at them in our text books? Why not mock at different festivals which are anti women and anti girl child, promote superstition and irrationality among our children? Rather than doing so, our text books convert all these into our 'great culture'. Many of the cartoonists really became voice of the common man and people would wait for the cartoon in the newspaper. But it is also not true that all the cartoonists are free from any bias. However, as people living in free world, we do understand their right to express themselves as much as we respect our right to respond to them and reject their falsifications of history. Cartoons cannot be holier than thou as if cartoonists do not suffer from any biases and have been impartial. We know cartoons are used politically to make fun of the opponents. Ambedkar that time might have been a political leader but today he is 'guide' of an entire generation who consider him as liberator. The Indian elite have attempted to deny everything to Ambedkar and Dalits but today they have become political force and can counter anything that appear in the so called mainstream press. Therefore, any effort to deny Ambedkar his rightful space in India's social life would be aggressively opposed by millions of people across the country. Therefore, the authors of the book really cannot take shelter in the argument that since Dr Ambedkar has not taken any note of the cartoon and therefore they were free to carry that in the school text book. A cartoon published in a newspaper has a big difference with that being published in a school textbook. We must make a difference in that.
The post independent India's historians, political commentators as well as cartoonists have never been free from their prejudices and undoubtedly denied the leaders like Dr Ambedkar a space in their platforms. In fact, they made every effort to denigrate him terming him a person 'collaborated' with British and the man who 'opposed' Gandhi and mocked his ' fasting'. Will our text books and those who claim to have free thought educate our children as why Ambedkar questioned Gandhi and that Gandhi was supporting the caste system while Ambedkar wanted to annihilate it. One agrees with Yogendra Yadav and his friends that they tried to give Dr Ambedkar a space in the school text books. How ironic and sad is this comment that a person who is one of the most iconic figures of our times is denied space in the text books. If our social scientists are true to their convictions why don't they put 'annihilation of castes' in our school curriculum as compulsory text so that people will understand who stood for what. Don't we know that it is one of the most outstanding essays of our time which is needed to be promoted in our entire text book to make India a nation who really want to eliminate caste system?
However, we do understand the pulls and pressures of educational system. It is a well known fact how our academia behave in the issues particularly that of the people who have challenged the hegemony of the caste Hindus. The outcome is denial of space to icons of the historically marginalized communities our text books as well as Universities. There is nothing if we claim that we have attempted to give Ambedkar space in the school text book as we must realize that Ambedkar deserve much more than that as it is not the loss of Ambedkar if his writings are not in our text books in schools and Universities. It is the loss of India and its children as they grow up and qualify in social sciences without understanding India's caste system and social inequality. It is in this context that each one of us who follow Ambedkar felt betrayed.
It is also important to understand that by and large reaction against the publication of the cartoons have been more than mature. Except for a few fringe who claim to represent political parties, most of the people felt that the cartoons really hurt and rightfully expressed their view points in various forms. It is democratic rights of the people to express their opinion about a piece of writing which offend and there is nothing wrong if Parliament takes up this matter and resolved it.
The attempt to assault Prof Suhas Parliskar in Pune is the most condemnable. It is important to acknowledge the work done by him as well as Yogendra Yadav remains extraordinary in many cases. There is no issue in differences of opinion but branding them as people who deliberately try to defame Ambedkar is absolutely wrong and must be countered. Historical figures will always be critically analyzed and there will be many things which we may not like and hence we must be prepared for that. Ambedkar will not become small with these critical writings and his followers will always believe in him as the work done by him is so fast and so important for the growth of a liberal democratic society that it would be difficult for people to ignore him. Ignoring Ambedkar was the brahmanical manipulations of controlling information as he exposed the entire system of injustice build up by them.
We do not support withdrawal of cartoons but we want a complete and impartial history in our textbooks. Therefore let HRD minister introduce 'annihilation of caste' and Gandhi- Ambedkar debate on caste system in our schools and University curriculum so that our student can develop 'spirit of inquiry' and question everything. Such essays would make our minds more rational so that we are not swept in the war cry of emotions and rhetoric. Let us taste the tolerance of the nation by introducing those who questioned the mainstream, its culture and values.
विद्या भूषण रावत, लेखक स्वतंत्र पत्रकार व मानवाधिकार कार्यकर्ता हैं।