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Please Sir, may I take a newspaper into my class?

May 16, 2012

At last, the real anxieties lurking behind what has come to be called the “Ambedkar cartoon” controversy are out in the open. It is hideously clear by now that MPs “uniting across parties” are acting as one only to protect themselves from public scrutiny, debate and criticism. It turns out, as some of us suspected all along, that the “sentiments” that have been “hurt” this time are the easily bruised egos of our elected representatives.

(By the way, you may have noticed that “MPs unite across party lines” is not a headline you will ever see after a massacre, a natural calamity, brazen public acts of sexual violence  against women and so on.  Oh no. Such unity is reserved only for utterly self-serving and anti-democratic interpretations of  “Parliamentary privilege”).*

Artist: Abu Abraham

Declared HRD minister Kapil Sibal – “Much before the issue came to parliament, I had already taken action. I called for the NCERT text books and I looked at other cartoons. I realised that there were many other cartoons that were not in good taste and disparaging in nature. They were not sending the right message to our children in classrooms”.

With these words, he finally turned our suspicion to certainty that it was  not in fact, the honour of Babasaheb Ambedkar that was at stake in this anomalously named controversy.

What has become completely invisible in public debate over this controversy is the background of these text-books, the fact that it was not only Expert Committees and Chairpersons and Advisors to state bodies that were involved, but hundreds of teachers, educationists and academicians who were part of the collective process of drafting these books across disciplines. This process was begun after the debacle of the Hindu Right’s illiterate and politically motivated revision of NCERT text-books. After the NDA lost the elections, the NCERT under Dr Krishna Kumar, began a widely based process of drafting first, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 which evolved out of an uncommonly democratic process, involving about three hundred people all over the country – teachers, academics and educational activists – over a period of seven months. Then came the new text-books.

The NCF 2005, while stating its commitment to secularism baldly and uncompromisingly, took a more complicated position on education and on pedagogy than the older guard of left-secular pedagogists, who at the time, were only focused on “de-saffronization”. The debate at that time was whether to simply go back to the old text-books, or to use the opportunity to redesign school text-books altogether, creatively encouraging analytical thought, debate and engagement with the world in which learners actually live.  New text-books were then designed for History (co-ordinated by Neeladri Bhattacharya), for Social and Political Life (co-ordinated by Sarada Balagopalan ) and Political Science (co-ordinated by Yogendra Yadav), among other disciplines.  Scholars like Hari Vasudevan, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar, Gopal Guru, Suhas Palshikar,  individuals from innovative educationist groups such as Ekalavya and Nirantar, and a long list of other socially progressive, committed people were involved in the collective process of writing and putting together these books. (I too was involved, as one of the hundreds of others, in this process).

In Political Science books in particular, the idea of introducing political cartoons as an aid to class discussion emerged in just such a collective forum, and as you will see by now from the united voice of MPs across party lines, the real anger in parliament is about the use of political satire as such. The decision has already been taken to withdraw all the Political Science text-books and to reissue them sans cartoons within a month.

What politicians would ideally like to do is ban cartoons in newspapers of course, but the next best solution is to ban them in classrooms of 16 to 18 year-olds. Some of them are already old enough to vote and to legally have consensual sex; women among them, consensually or not, are old enough to be legally married off by their parents. Most of them, if they are not from the small privileged sections of India, are already taking on family responsibilities.

These are the “children” who must be protected from political debate?

What about cartoons in newspapers? What if a particularly anti-national and seditious teacher  brings newspapers (with cartoons!) into a political science class ? Off with her head?

(Shekhar Kapur quoted today in Times of India: “Facebook, Twitter, blogs and now cartoons. What else will politicos ban? Voting against them?”)

Cartoons can be inoffensively funny, they can viciously attack marginalized groups or they can courageously “speak truth to power”. Each cartoon needs to be addressed in its specific context to determine its effect. So first let me offer my own reading of the “Ambedkar cartoon”, over-read though it has already been, just for the record, before I proceed.

Bear in mind that there are four books that cover the Political Science option in Classes 11 and 12 – Class 11 has Political Theory and Indian Constitution, Class 12 has Contemporary World Politics and Politics in India since Independence. The issue of historical and contemporary discrimination on the basis of caste comes up at different points through the relevant books, as also do other forms of discrimination (class, gender, race). There is also in these books a very strong theoretical (and also India-specific) defence of affirmative action in general and of reservations in particular.

Bear in mind also, that the people involved in designing these new text-books were concerned precisely with bringing politics into the Political Science classroom, a space  that has hitherto been severely depoliticized through a stultifyingly mind-numbing subject called Civics, and a bare study of institutions. All students ever learnt about social divisions in those classes was the bland assertion that the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, gender and religion.

The specific cartoon then: Nehru’s whip is held over the snail, at a distance from Dr Ambedkar, who himself holds a whip too, a fact little remarked upon. The real target of both whips is the snail of the Constitutent Assembly, which both Nehru and Ambedkar are seen as trying to hasten.

The cartoon is reproduced in Aditya’s earlier post on this, here on kafila, and also the comment that the text-book makes about it, basically addressing the issue of what constitution-making implies in a divided society. Dr Ambedkar was not a “Dalit” in that cartoon, he was the Chairperson of the Drafting Committee.

Moreover, as Rohini Hensman put it in the FeministsIndia elist: “There was an attempt to encourage students to develop an opinion instead of getting readymade answers.’ ‘Developing an opinion’ is impossible unless contradictory points of view are presented, and cartoons are one way of doing this. Students could well conclude that Shankar was wrong to suggest that it was taking too long to draft the constitution, but they would have come to this conclusion through their own reasoning process.”

I have been mystified by some critics of the cartoon who insist it is not funny, or that Shankar was a mediocre cartoonist. First of all, “cartoon” is a generic term – not all cartoons have to be “funny”, it is simply a way of commenting on current events through pictorial representations. There is even a term for it – “editorial cartoon”. Cartoons may be satirical, or may merely produce a certain insight by focusing on one aspect of a debate or controversy; they may be good, bad or mediocre – and not everyone would agree into which of these  categories to put a particular cartoon. The cartoons used in the text-books were selected for their ability to illustrate some particular point that was being made, and because they introduce students to political satire.

Of course, all these text-books, any text-book or anything that we produce, for that matter, can come up for criticism; and text-books in particular, for regular revision. Rethinking and revision should be an essential part of all text-book writing. What many of us fear however, is the return of a thoroughly sanitized and depolitcized “Civics” and “Indian Government” as a replacement for text-books that have opened up politics for young people in schools.

Bringing politics into the classroom is an exercise fraught with danger as any teacher will tell you who has spent his or her life doing it. Rocking the boat with counter perspectives to power is one of the ways in which many of us may even define teaching as an activity. When my students read in a standard postgraduate course on Political Thought, Ambedkar and Kancha Ilaiah alongside Kant and Rawls, I hope to set up there a dynamic that radically subverts mainstream political theory and thought. When Aditya Nigam and I write on politics in India since 1989, and as anti-capitalists ourselves insert the voice of Chandrabhan Prasad advocating Dalit capitalism, we hope to complicate the orthodoxies of the Left, of which we consider ourselves a part.

When that very CBP (whom I consider a friend and from whom I have learnt more than I can say here) or Kancha Ilaiah, whose work I admire and respect – when these intellectuals so crucial to the shaping of the contemporary public sphere in India  – dismiss the possibility of any informed reading of these text-books, I feel utterly immobilized. I had the honour recently of speaking with Kancha Ilaiah at a JNU mess meeting on serving beef and pork on campus, organized by the New Materialists, and I applauded with the packed hall when he said – “Why don’t Indian academics  study Dr Ambedkar as an economist? Why do they only see him as a Dalit leader?”

In that text-book on the Constitution, of which the cartoon was a very small part, Dr Ambedkar is acknowledged, not (only) as a Dalit leader, but as one of the key architects of modern India. Isn’t this something to be applauded, not derided?

Dalit intellectuals have unwittingly, I believe, played into the strategy initiated by MPs and politicians, both Dalit and non-Dalit – that of stifling democratic critique of the political classes. It is now clear that any real or perceived attack on Dr Ambedkar’s honour is being used a smokescreen to protect politicians as such from criticism.

As teachers, social theorists and as people with a stake in protecting democratic freedoms, we must resist the move to overturn the revolution in school text-books inaugurated by NCF 2005.

But of course, whatever the outcome of this present mess, eventually I know that any teacher and student worth their salt will teach and learn what they have to by any means possible – by subversion, counter-questioning and working their way around and outside “prescribed texts”.

So prescribe away, Sibal saab!

*The sole exception to this is the Women’s Reservations Bill,  and I don’t want to go into the question here, of why the WRB has not been passed for close to two decades despite such apparent unity, but it’s worth pondering upon.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Dhrubo permalink
    May 16, 2012 1:54 PM

    Do you think there is sufficient merit in instituting a review of the textbooks, which itself might suggest that there is something wrong/offensive about this mode of pedagogy? Also,do you think this is being reactionary?

  2. voyeur permalink
    May 16, 2012 4:09 PM

    “The real target of both whips is the snail of the Constitutent Assembly, which both Nehru and Ambedkar are seen as trying to hasten.”
    My younger sister is in the 12th standard now. She studied the textbook which has the cartoon in question last year. Helping my sister with her studies last year, I had asked her what the cartoon meant just like I had done with all the other cartoons, boxes and exercises. The text accompanying the image asks “…Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact?” If I remember right, she had identified this point that you mention. Then, she had taken points from the chapter to give reasons as to why it took so long.

    16 year old’s are not impressionable. Especially if they have been reading the NCERT textbooks (I finished high school in the NDA textbooks era, I for one understand the quality of the textbooks that have come 2006 onwards). I request our political leaders (across party lines, of course) to read the text books. They are very educative.

  3. Sajan permalink
    May 16, 2012 8:28 PM

    When intellectuals like Chandrabhan Prasad and Kancha Ilaiah, “so crucial to the shaping of the contemporary public sphere in India”, are critical of the cartoon within the context of a school text-book, maybe we ought to listen more carefully. I had the same sense of unease at the public outcry when Ramanujan’s essay on the Ramayana – which I consumed with considerably greater pleasure than Shankar’s journeyman efforts at cartooning – was removed from the DU history syllabus.

    My point is whether cultural artifacts that are, and should be, in the public domain are appropriate as mandatory texts for teenagers. In the case of the Ramanujan essay, I have noted that in his comparison between Valmiki’s and Kamban’s epics, “Ramanujan picks the one episode – Ahalya’s story – which should convince anyone that he really wasn’t a historian writing for DU undergraduates but a scholar of Indian literature, one with a rather impish sense of humour, presenting a paper before a Conference on Comparison of Civilizations. I am not challenging the appropriateness of informing teenage students that, thanks to a complaisant Ahalya, Indra loses his testicles (Valmiki) or is covered by a thousand vaginas (Kampan), but it occurs to me that if I were to introduce undergraduate students to various translations of, say, the Bible, I might think twice before picking some of the more eye-popping passages in Genesis, Ezekiel or the Book of Judges for study.”

    That, mutatis mutandis, would be my sole objection to the Ambedkar cartoon. Did they have to pick *that* one, susceptible as it is of many interpretations?

    But then, of course, we have MPs uniting across party lines to condemn all the cartoons, and it all becomes clear. After decades of basking in public adulation and ass-kissing, the MP finds himself tarred and feathered and spending extended periods in Tihar. Like the misfortunate Nikolai Rostov, after weeks of being wined and dined, he suddenly finds himself on the lonely frontier with the enemy chivvying him with bayonets. “Who are they?” he wonders, “Why are they running? Can it be they’re running to me? To kill me? Me, whom everybody loves so?”

    “He remembers his mother’s love for him, his family’s, his friends’, and the enemy’s intention to kill him seems impossible.”

    As Nivedita rightly says, “It is now clear that any real or perceived attack on Dr Ambedkar’s honour is being used a smokescreen to protect politicians as such from criticism.” For this reason alone, if for nothing else, we must resist any move to redact the cartoons or withdraw the text books.

  4. Ankita permalink
    May 16, 2012 10:26 PM

    I wish all the political cartoons Sibal saw in newspapers as a child had ‘poisoned’ his ‘impressionable’ mind against politicians and filled in him an aversion from politics, like he suspects cartoons do. We would all have been spared his ‘reforms’, ‘reviews’ and restructuring of education in India.
    Brilliant piece. I could not agree more.

  5. Shivani Parashar permalink
    May 17, 2012 6:04 PM

    Democracy is also a kind of authoritarianism to channelize opinion and body of knowledge… & recent revision of textbooks which for the first time happened at such a fast pace is perfect example. Still education is a medium to inculcate give ‘certain’ kind of ‘right’ knowledge to upcoming generation their preferences their views their dispositions are missing. I wonder during whole controversy no media forum talked to students about same 15-16 year adolescences are not so small that they could not express their understanding of situation and also SCHOOLTEACHERS REMAIN A IGNORED COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE, whose opinion does not matter in front of BIG POLITICIANS; even if school teachers and students deal with these books ‘everyday’ and politicians (expert in which field I doubt) faced this situation just now.

  6. May 20, 2012 12:41 PM

    Signs that India is transforming. Am charmed that Dalits are producing dissenters- not all Dalits are hurt by the Shankar funniness. Appalled that the other is undivided and certain- CBP

  7. G.Chandraiah permalink
    May 20, 2012 4:59 PM

    Few questions to defenders of “Nehru-Ambedkar Cartoon” and self-proclaimed protectors of “Critical pedagogy” in NCERT text

    First of all I condemn the attack on Suhas Palshekar’s office by some Dalit individuals in Maharasta. This kind of acts not only leads to intolerance and undemocratic attitude but also create more scope for the defenders of “Nehru-Ambedkar Cartoon” to accuse Dalits on various grounds.

    Let me clarify some points.

    1. Dalits are not against to Cartoon as a pedagogical tool in the class room moreover critical pedagogy. In the present controversy they are opposing the particular cartoon (Nehru-Ambedkar) which is miss representing Ambedkar. But unfortunately it is projected as if Dalits are anti cartoonists and pedagogy both by upper caste intellectuals and media, it is totally unethical.
    2. Dalits are the true defenders of critical pedagogy; in fact they have great history, for which they sacrificed their life in democratizing educational institutions and cultivating egalitarian principles and brining new questions and objective realities into class rooms by undergoing everyday exclusion, humiliation and brahmanical surveillance which is inbuilt in very functioning of educational institutions and classrooms.
    3. Dalits see critical pedagogy beyond cartoons, Search for the process, tools, values, recognizing diversity, people oriented knowledge production and critical self reflective abilities in visualizing the education for transformation and humane society.
    4. Some of the upper caste intellectuals are equalizing Dalit assertions in present cartoon controversy with right-wing forces, it shows their inbuilt castiest prejudice, which they have yet to overcome, if they really want to overcome.
    Nivedita Menon, Aditya Nigam Suhas Palshekar’s articles are able to present the details of the background and process, efforts in which the text made. Further they raised the right to protect the freedom of expression and critical pedagogy. And also they questioned the politics of banning the cartoon and some of the Dalit intellectuals stand on this controversy. But one can’t find the more details in explain the “cartoon” that why have choosen the particular carton in explaining the delay of writing of constitution and the multiple visible and invisible meanings or messages that cartoon is carrying and inform to learners. I think this should be the core area of debate in locating the dalit assertion. After reading some of the on-line and print postings on the cartoon controversy I would like to pose some questions and quarries to so called defenders of critical pedagogy and above mentioned authors.

    1. One can critic (one has to critic) the Dalit representatorors, when they don’t raise voice on issues like farmers suicides, state violence on tribal’s and domestic violence on women etc. But this alone doesn’t justify that they don’t have right to rise about “Nehru-Ambedkar” cartoon in NCERT book. If we argue that they are playing vote bank politics and attacking in the name of Ambedkar. It also applies to some of the academicians those who are silent on many people issues.
    2. There is a qualitative difference reading cartoon in news paper (by choice) and reading cartoon in the formal text (it is compulsory). It is true that children see all kinds of cartons on online and in print media, but for formal education we take selectively with much more socio, political vision and reasoning.
    3. There is a “fear of misrepresentation of history and symbols” among Dalits because of hegemonic pedagogical practices in the educational institutions. Often in the education Dalit culture, symbols, identities etc are undermined and miss interpreted. So, it is quite natural that they are alert and assert in protecting and make every text more meaningful, so that the learners will get proper understanding. That’s why the present uproar in parliament and outside the parliament. Since Dalits are engaging in debrahamanising history, education and textbooks, it is good sing that some dalits are alert.
    4. Most of the political scientists when they teach political philosophy they don’t teach “Buddha’s political philosophy” “Ambedkar political ideas”, they don’t include “what congress and Gandhi have done to the untouchable “in Indian government and politics courses. So, one could see the “normalization process” in the class room in undermining the Dalitbahujan perspectives. There is always “brahmanical surveillance” in the class room. So, one has to democratise class rooms and create conditions for critical learning by challenging the foundations of the invisible, exclusionary practices but not merely through cartoons. The present so called protectors of cartoon pedagogy are projecting as if “cartoon only” democratize class rooms. It does not serve the purpose.
    5. Some of the online writings and news papers reporters are projecting as if Dalits and their intellectuals are anti cartoons and cartoonist community. But is not the case. They are suggesting that when you select a particular cartoon for text book, it has to be deeply understood and make sense of the politics of visible and invisible meanings of cartoon.
    6. The advisors argument is that in order to make political science very friendly subject, they took this particular cartoon, so that students able to reflect themselves. If they consider this is the only reason, it does not provide any substantial logic to defend the “Nehru-Ambedkar Cartoon” the defender of right to academic speech and artist expression should list out the multiple meanings which cartoon is carrying. Then evaluate and reason out them in cultivating egalitarian values. Not merely the facts and fingers and how many teachers, academicians and political scientists involved in making the text. Just because more people involved and it took one year to prepare the text. So it is not preferable to review, itself is an undemocratic thinking, even if thousand of academicians are involved, the text will be subject to questionable by any person in India either politicians or common man. I quote here from one of the posting which neatly explained about cartoon…

    “The cartoon shows Ambedkar on a snail called the Constitution, driving it with a whip, and Nehru behind him, whip in hand, while the entire nation watches. The problem arises from the perception: is Nehru driving the snail with a whip? Or is he driving Ambedkar with a whip? If the latter, then the image of an upper-caste PM driving a dalit – that too a leading dalit figure who is an icon to the dalit community – with a whip, makes for uneasy viewing. That it did not rouse such a response in its own day, and that Ambedkar himself did not object, is beside the point. Today, the aroused political consciousness of the dalits has made us all more sensitive to such problems of representation, and rightly so. Similarly, many images of women which in 1949 might not have aroused comment, would certainly invite objections today.”

    Further, I quote from the same text

    “The cartoon should be reviewed, not only because dalits say it hurts them, but because there is a possibility that it goes against egalitarian values and is not sufficiently sensitive to the dominant discriminatory culture that prevails in society”.

  8. ravisrinivas permalink
    May 22, 2012 11:03 PM

    1)While there can be a NCF is this method of having text books produced by experts and the books being used by many school boards is the best way to produce text books and educate children.Do these books give enough scope for alternative viewpoints that question some of the points stressed in the texts or do they at least give a list of resources/list for further reading that represent diverse views.I think in the name of critical pedagogy or whatever it is too much emphasis is given to political correctness and promotion of some view points as axioms. Does this book enable the student to think as to why there is no equivalent of First Amendment of Constitution of USA in the Indian Constitution. While an Indian can be proud of Constitution of India does it mean that (s)he should worship it or ask no critical questions about it.
    2)’When my students read in a standard postgraduate course on Political Thought, Ambedkar and Kancha Ilaiah alongside Kant and Rawls, I hope to set up there a dynamic that radically subverts mainstream political theory and thought. ‘
    Which text by Kancha Ilaiah is in that course and does the course has any text that challenges his views.

  9. May 26, 2012 9:47 PM

    “Appalled that the other is undivided and certain,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad. If by “the other” he means non-Dalits, I wonder whether that is indeed so. Over the past several weeks, there have been plenty of non-Dalits voices UNcertain about the situation arising from the controversy. And quite a few fully back the revision of the textbooks, deleting that particular cartoon and agreeing with the view that it could be seen as anti-Dalit. And, of course, lots of shades in between.

  10. May 27, 2012 3:38 PM

    Hi Respected Dr Nivedita Ji,

    I studied Political Science as one of the subjects for my BA. Did my MA in International Politics- and that’s only part associated with Political Science. Post University days, I lost interest in Political Science.

    Was traveling a lot for a couple of weeks, and hence, was not commenting on written words. Now, I am reading NCERT’s INDIAN CONSTITUTION AT WORK meant for 11th Grade students, and find it difficult to understand the Chapter “How was the Indian Constitution Made”- pp14-25.

    Let me add a caveat- {1} am schooled in deshi language, and language could be a barrier in capturing the NCERT narratives, {2} am also a commoner when it came to higher elements of Political Science.

    Since you teach Political Science- and also a friend, I thought you the best in decoding the NCERT thoughts on Constitution making.

    [1] Who Made the Indian Constitution?

    [A] Was there a Committee set up by the Constitution Assembly to draft a Constitution for India?
    [B] Did that Committee Produce a Draft Constitution to be debated, amendments introduced and carried out/rejected,
    [C] Formally, the Constituent Assembly approved/accepted the Constitution.

    The NCERT book tells the young minds that- “Formally, the Constitution was made by the Constituent Assembly”!

    [2] Was there some thing called Drafting Committee to produce a Draft Constitution?

    “…the Constituent Assembly that Drafted the Constitution…” says the NCERT Book [p16].

    [3] What was Dr BR Ambedkar’s position in the Constituent Assembly?

    [A] Was Dr Ambedkar just a Member in the Constituent Assembly?
    [B] Was Dr Ambedkar also chairing any Committee?
    [C] What was the exact role Dr Ambedkar was assigned?

    The NCERT book tells nothing about the role Dr Ambedkar played in the Constituent Assembly. What all the NCERT Book tells about Dr Ambedkar is the following [p18]-

    “The Constituent Assembly had eight major Committees on different subjects. Usually, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad or Ambedkar chaired these Committees.”

    [4] Caption for the Snail Cartoon-

    “Cartoonist’s impression of the ‘snail’s pace’ with which the constitution was made. Making of the Constitution took almost three years. Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact? Why do you think, did the Constituent Assembly take so long to make the Constitution.”

    My queries-
    [A] Is the Caption creating doubts [in positive fashion aimed at triggering thinking] in minds of young readers or driving them into endorsing the Cartoonist’s impression!- …took almost three years….fact….why do you think…

    [5] Did some one in the Constituent Assembly made this stunning statement during debates-
    “Mr. President, Sir… The House is perhaps aware that of the seven members nominated by you, one had resigned from the House and was replaced. One died and was not replaced. One was away in America and his place was not filled up and another person was engaged in State affairs, and there was a void to that extent. One or two people were far away from Delhi and perhaps reasons of health did not permit them to attend. So it happened ultimately that the burden of drafting this constitution fell on Dr. Ambedkar and I have no doubt that we are grateful to him for having achieved this task in a manner which is undoubtedly commendable.”


    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      June 5, 2012 11:55 AM

      Dear (extremely respected!) Chandrabhan, (why the “ji” added to my name?)
      I have realized that the debate has now reached a point that it is practically anti-Dalit to say that the NCERT text-book on the Constitution does acknowledge Dr Ambedkar’s significant contributions, and that the cartoon is not offensive but represents the popular perception at the time (and now) that Ambedkar was in fact largely responsible for the constitution (that’s why it is he who is seated on the constitutional snail, not Rajendra Prasad or BN Rau or Nehru.) One Class 12 student for instance, says he understood the cartoon as
      “…the snail’s hump as the Constitution and B.R. Ambedkar being the driver of the snail with Nehru to assist him in his quest…”

      And conversely, I realize that it is pro-Dalit and radical only when one says that the text-book denigrates Dr Ambedkar and that the cartoon vilifies him (one passionate non-Dalit radical even read him as “rotund” in the cartoon – in other words, the more insulting meanings you read into the cartoon, the more radical you are).

      Nevertheless, in the interests of keeping the conversation going, let me address the main point you make in your comment, regarding the “missing” fact that Dr Ambedkar was the Chairperson of the Drafting Committee. You have yourself cited the passage in the text-book that states that there were 8 important committees, that were chaired by 5 persons, one of whom was Ambedkar. Is this not sufficient for a school text-book on the drafting of the constitution? All the Committees are not named, nor are the absentee (official) chairpersons of the 8 committees. The point of the book was obviously to introduce the process of constitution making to students, and I don’t think that detailed description of all 8 committees and the names of the 8 chairpersons etc should have been there, for students to mug up. (Just for information, I had nothing to do with this particular text-book, so this is not a personal defence, but the view of a teacher.)

      The final quote you give is an important recognition of Dr Ambedkar’s role, but even without it, I maintain the text-book recognizes his significant contributions. There are always more and more quotes and information that can be dug out, but do ask yourself how much can go into one text-book. Does that book convey that Dr Ambedkar was crucial to and central to the process of constitution making in India? I believe it does.

      You suggest that the query to the students “Why do you think the Constituent Assembly took so long to make the Constitution” triggers doubts in their mind.
      I assume you did read the response the text-book itself gives to this query, that it took long because there were so many divergent viewpoints and all these had to be debated and discussed. What doubt can there be after that?

      The point I have tried to make in my writing on this issue here as well as on email lists, and others have made this point as well, is that the recognition given in this text-book and in the other three Political Science books from Class 11 to 12, to Dr Ambedkar’s role in the constitution, to caste oppression and discrimination, to Dalit politics and the importance of affirmative action and reservations in a democracy – all of this is precisely in response to the lessons we have all learnt from the radical transformation wrought – by Dalit intellectuals and the militant politics of Dalit groups and organizations – of public spaces and mainstream modes of thought and argumentation. It is a shame that no attention was paid to earlier text-books that taught nothing but the bare facts of the Constitution, and it is these text-books which actually introduce caste frontally that are being attacked by the very political movements that are responsible for their transformation!

      In other words, odd that the target of attack of Dalit intellectuals has become those “left-Liberals” who have always recognized that the term “identity politics” is a misnomer, because all politics is identity politics, except that the powerful disguise their identity (male, upper caste, white) as universal and recognize only the “other” as having an identity (woman, Dalit, Black). This gives those who have always run down the “identity politics” of Dalits an opportunity to say to those now labelled “Left-liberals” – I told you so.

      Oh well. Thick skins are the first prerequisite of participating in any kind of transformative politics, as you know only too well, Chandrabhan!

      Anyway, I remain hopeful that channels of communication will remain open between us thick-skinned people whose goals are the same, ultimately.

      Always in solidarity and friendship!

      • Parth Shil permalink
        June 5, 2012 12:42 PM

        Let me take Nivedita’s point about why it took so long to make the Indian Constitution a bit forward. I think it is also important to highlight that “Delay” is not necessarily a bad thing in the world of constitution-making. In fact, if I were allowed to write the text-book, I would make my constitutional hero be credited for all the “Delay” in the process. And that is because this “Delay” is precisely the democratic and deliberative process through which the diverse view points of various sections of society, dominant and marginal, have the time and space to make themselves heard and get included as provisions and safeguards in the Constitution. In this jet-set age of globalisation, I realise, corporate ethic looks down upon “Delay”. But in the world of democratic theory and constitutionalism, “Delay” could be a profound virtue. This “Delay” is the only way in which a DEMOCRACTIC process can function. Only in authoritarian regimes could constitutions be produced with corporate style efficient rapidity. I am glad it took the few years that it took to make the Indian Constitution. Without the disruptive critical and questioning “Delay” engendered by social movements, democracies would have long ago collapsed back into authoritarian regimes. “Delay” is after all a jocular expression for the kind of temporality that democracies are destined to work with. It is worth celebrating, not disowning.

  11. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    May 31, 2012 9:59 AM

    A pernicious campaign over email and on Facebook is accusing us of censorship. This is my personal response to it as one of the seven admins of kafila.

    First of all, please take alook at our comments policy, which has been up for years on our About page.

    Moderation of comments is our prerogative. Our comments policy clearly says this. The last word on comments is that of the author of the post or of the kafila member who posts a guest post. Sometimes this may be done in consultation with the small group of admins. Comments may be not published for a variety of reasons – because they are ad hominem attacks or nasty in tone or off-topic. But one important reason is also content. If kafila has served any role at all as a place where rich debates take place within a broadly Left spectrum, it is because we act as editors of the debate. No publisher will publish every manuscript submitted to her/him, even if it is of the highest quality. Just as with a publisher or a journal, every kafila author has an idea of how a debate should go, and that is unavoidably a subjective decision.

    Our comments policy says: “We want Kafila to be a forum in which we can explore complex ideas together. Polarised for/against debates or Big Fight-type slanging matches do not help us develop our ideas, but freeze us into unalterable positions.”

    To term this kind of curating and editing of a debate, “censorship” would hold some merit if Kafila did not give space to different and opposing points of view, which in fact, it does. Not only in comments but also through solicited and unsolicited guest posts.

    We are thus committed to giving space to a variety of views and subjects, even those we do not agree with. This “we” here refers to individual authors on kafila because there is no “kafila line”, which would be evident to anybody who has read kafila regularly, because kafila authors themselves debate and disagree with one another through comments and separate posts.

    On this particular debate, it would be evident that all the posts have comments that express a variety of views, including links to important contributions to the debate in other forums, that completely disagree with the opinion expressed in the kafila posts to which they were comments – for example, Anoop Kumar’s post and the Savari post are both linked in comments to the Critical Pedagogies post.

    As a policy we do not generally re-post pieces that have already appeared elsewhere in print or on-line, but only link to them. Only a kafila author her/himself may re-post on kafila pieces they have published elsewhere, but we do not generally do this with guest posts.

    One particularly egregious allegation is that we sat on one (unsolicited) guest post submission (a statement by two political organisations) for two days and then we posted it as a comment. In this particular case, while we were taking a call on the submission, the writer of the statement herself decided to post it as a comment on a subsequent post by a kafila member, and we approved it. One would again like to emphasise the prerogative of Kafila members to decide if and when they want to publish (unsolicited) guest post submissions. We try our best to find the time to respond to all unsolicited submissions, but we also expect people to be aware that nobody on kafila does this as a full time job and we will take time to reply to submissions.

    The suggestion that if we do not publish every comment and unsolicited guest post received, we are censoring views, is ridiculous. Kafila is a team blog with 22 members and it is their right to publish what they like on their blog, just as it is your right to decide the content of your blog or Facebook, or the books you publish.

  12. June 8, 2012 9:15 PM

    A Warning:

    …I remain hopeful that channels of communication will remain open between us…

    Hi Dearest N,

    All communications will stop from January 01/2013- if I figured out that you were not regular in eating fish for Omega 3 Fatty Acid reasons.

    Kind of fish to eat: preferably Sea Fish, but to match taste and Omega 3 Fatty Acid volume, try out lower part- stomach, of a large Katla [at least five kg in weight].

    Cut in L shape, the Katla stomach is available in only one shop in Delhi- near Samachar Apts Shopping Complex. The stomack part of any fish is full of fat- Omega 3 Fatty Acid in other words.

    The new recipe: Eat Steamed. Boil water and for tongue’s ego massage sake, add few things in the boiling water: a couple of crushed tomatoes, Lemon juice, Ginger/Garlic paste and salt.

    Put a Colander on the boiling pot, and arrange fish pieces on it. Cover it, and allow the fish to cook for 15 minutes.

    With crushed Black Pepper, Fish is ready to eat.

    Am telling all my friends who eat non-veg and who can afford- that, “will delete your ID/Cell number if caught not eating fish regularly- if not every day, at least every alternate day”.


    Not to be held accountable if discovered that the ‘Eat Fish Petition’ is a new ploy the American Imperialism is experimenting with on the exploited- for “The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week”-

    NB: to ward off the evil [American] eye- deploy Baba Ramdev Breath Control Yoga mandate for few seconds before placing fish pieces on the Colander and recite eleven times- Kim Jong-il, and end with “Kim, You never died…we had momentarily betrayed our argumentative abilities”.


    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      June 9, 2012 1:16 PM

      Having fun, Chandrabhan? Is this you at all?

      • June 10, 2012 10:30 AM

        Thanks N- wish togetherness to bloom. Also, Fab India-Organic Food movements are consciousnesses fastened to certain cultural milieus. Warmly. CBP


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