Savarkar to Hedgewar : NEP’s Saffron Coat on Kannada Textbooks
by Aratrika Dey

"In the room where Savarkar was jailed, there was not even a small keyhole. However, bulbul birds would visit the room from somewhere, on whose wings Savarkar would sit and fly out to visit the motherland every day.”

The above is a translated excerpt from a chapter in the Class 8 textbook of Kannada language on the Hindutva ideologue and British collaborator “Veer” Savarkar. Although the excerpt is being projected as a ‘metaphor’ by Sangh affiliates in-charge of textbooks, the efforts to project Savarkar as a nationalist icon, despite his many mercy petitions, remains obvious. This excerpt is no stray piece of text, many more such regressive changes lurk in every nook and corner of the state-syllabus school textbooks recently revised under the aegis of a committee setup by the Karnataka Government.

The State of Karnataka has long been serving the Sangh Parivaar as a saffron laboratory. Expectedly, Karnataka became the first state to implement the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 last year. The implementation started at the college-level with extensive syllabus changes, introduction of multiple entry-exit systems, credit-based choice systems, and four-year undergraduate programme, leaving lakhs of students and teachers clueless. This year, the implementation has been extended to school education. Many steps have already been taken by the State Government to implement these changes. The one that caused the most public outcry was the slew of changes incorporated into the textbooks of the state-syllabus for the academic year 2022-23. The changes were made by a textbook revision committee constituted in September last year, headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha – a known right-wing writer and orator. Chakrathirtha has been accused of posting defamatory remarks against Rashtrakavi Kuvempu, revered as a Kannada poet and playwright, and distorting the state anthem written by him. Instead of ensuring school education to get back to pre-COVID pandemic normalcy, the State Government has been spending its efforts on revising textbooks to propagate right-wing ideology.

Before delving into the specific changes brought about by this committee, it is important to understand its connection with the NEP 2020. NEP 2020 is a marriage of neoliberalism and Hindutva ideology, in the sense that on one hand, it attempts to completely privatise and commercialise education by promoting a ‘public-philanthropic-partnership’ model; and on the other hand, it paves the way for saffronisation of school curriculum. At the very introduction, the NEP document states, “The rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought has been a guiding light for this Policy.” At another place, it talks about promoting the ideals of ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’ that form the ideological basis of the caste system. Evidently, the recent textbook revision drive is staying true to these diktats.

However, the root of NEP can be traced back to around the period of implementation of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG) in India. In 1994, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was formed out of the last round of the GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs), and India became its member in 1995. In 1996, it was proposed by the body, that education be brought under the ambit of GATT. Thus, binding the member countries to turn education, along with 12 other services, like health, as a tradeable commodity, thereby allowing unrestricted access to the education market by foreign and domestic capital. Since then, there has been increasing privatisation of education causing education to get costlier day-by-day. NEP 2020 should be seen as an accelerated and consolidated form of this policy with saffronization as an added component.

Coming to the list of changes, some of the glaring ones are given here. A poem on Dr. BR Ambedkar has been removed from the Class 6 textbook. A lesson in which details of Ambedkar’s early days, his native village, his parents, the Mahad Satyagraha, Dalit entry into Kalaram temple that was led by him, etc., which were elaborated, has been deleted from the textbooks. In the chapter 'Namma Samvidhaana' (Our Constitution), the line calling Ambedkar as the architect of the Indian Constitution has been removed and instead, BN Rau has been credited with playing a key part in drafting the Constitution. Examples of Tipu Sultan, Sangolli Rayanna, etc., have been replaced by examples from Vedas and Mahabharata in the Class 10 social science textbook. The Akhand Bharat map has been introduced in the Class 6 social science textbook, by replacing a map of India's political divisions. From Class 10 Social Science textbook, lessons on Narayana Guru’s Dharma Paripalana Yogam, Theosophical Society, Young Bengal Movement and Periyar, have been completely removed. An article by left-leaning author Dr. GD Ramakrishna on Bhagat Singh was removed by this committee though later re-introduced after massive public outcry. From Class 10 Social Science textbook, lessons on movements to eradicate untouchability, gender discrimination, child marriage, child trafficking have been completely removed. False information on the 12th Century anti-caste reformer Basavanna was also included. In total, around works of 27 Dalit writers were dropped and mostly replaced with texts by Brahmin writers, including writers with open RSS affiliations. The most noteworthy change is the introduction of a speech by RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar titled “Nijavada Adarsha Purusha Yaaragabeku?” (Who Should be The Real Role Model?) translated into Kannada. The textbook revision committee has very slyly replaced the mentions of RSS’s ‘bhagwa dhwaja’ with only ‘dhwaja’ in this speech by Hedgewar.

These changes induced much hue and cry. Many authors like Devanuru Mahadeva, Roopa Hassan, etc., withdrew permissions to include their texts in the school curriculum. From left student groups, civil society organisations, Dalit and minority groups to Lingayat practitioners, Kannada regionalists etc., -  most diverse people came together to protest the textbook revisions. The All India Students’ Association in Karnataka along with other left student groups, was at the forefront of all these protests. Devanuru’s book ‘Depth and Breadth of RSS’ became a bestseller under the impact of the anti-revision agitation. Under pressure from all sides, Chief Minister Bommai was forced to disband the textbook revision committee under the pretext that their ‘work was done’ and modify the parts about Basavanna. Most other changes were kept. Although by that time, more than 90% of the textbooks were printed and the majority of them were distributed across schools in Karnataka.

Fascists have different weapons to unleash assault on different sections of the society. The farm laws, labour codes, and NEP constitute a three-pronged attack on the farmers, workers, and student-youth of our country. It aims to sell the youth of our country to corporates as cheap labour or turn into RSS foot-soldiers with saffronised minds. The farmers unitedly resisted the neoliberal assault on them by standing strong against it for more than a year with 700 martyrs. This should act as an inspiration for the students of our country, whose majority also comes from farmer families, to boldly stand against NEP. The movement against NEP must be an integral part of the broader anti-fascist struggle that the progressive student-youth organisations should build today as a primary task.

NEP’s Saffron Coat on Kannada Textbooks