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Hindus accused of distorting school texts

Panel points out pro-nationalist alterations

  • Shawn Sebastian, Bangalore
  • India
  • February 18, 2013
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Once upon a time a tiger wanted to eat a cow, but he obliged her last request to nurse her calf and let her go. Surprisingly the cow returned to be eaten. The tiger was so overwhelmed by his victim’s honesty that he committed suicide.

At least, that’s how children used to learn the popular fable.

Now, elementary school textbooks in Karnataka have a new version of the fable, with some additional lines on the evils of eating beef. Activists say the change is part of a ploy by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, which rules the southern state, to spread its beliefs in schools. 

“This is indoctrination of children,” said social activist Suresh Bhat Bhakrabail, part of a panel that conducted a study of the textbooks last month. “It’s dangerous for the nation and for its secular credentials.”

The panel of teachers, researchers and academics found several instances of “the infiltration of the ideology of the right-wing nationalists,” it said in its report.

Social sciences textbooks claim that Aryan and Vedic civilizations have their roots in the Indus Valley and that Buddhism and Jainism are offshoots of Hinduism, although historians have suggested otherwise.

The textbooks also glorify medieval kings as patrons of Hinduism.

“Only their wars against Muslim rulers and European rulers have been emphasized and explained, without mentioning the wars and revolts against neighboring Hindu rulers,” said Francis D’souza, a researcher at Kuvempu University who drafted the report.

Karnataka education minister Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri insisted that history should be shown in a new light.

“We can look at the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great in two ways,” he said.

“What we have taught for years gives children an inferiority complex. King Porus’ heroic resistance at the country’s northwestern border makes children proud,” Kageri said in a meeting of the state legislature last week.

Some claims are less open to interpretation. An earlier version of a social sciences textbook showed a map of India that included parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Southeast Asia, corresponding to ultranationalist claims. Social Science Textbook Committee chairman Vijay Ponachha Tabanda said the map was removed last year.

BJP, a party that opposes religious conversion, minority rights and beef slaughter, was accused of distorting history when it led a national coalition government in the late 1990s.

The National Council for Educational Research and Training, the body responsible for devising the national curriculum, has asked the state education department to explain the alleged distortions. 

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