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In Defense of Critical Pedagogy: A Petition

May 19, 2012

The following is a petition initiated by a group of scholars who have been centrally involved in the debate on pedagogy and the writing of textbooks that followed National Currriculum Framework 2005

We have been watching with deep dismay the events as they have unfolded on the floor of the Indian Parliament and outside. Uproar against an individual cartoon has now snowballed into a wide-ranging attack against the new NCERT textbooks. The office of one of the Advisors of the Political Science textbooks has been ransacked, the Political Science textbooks have been withdrawn from circulation, and the Government has resolved to conduct an inquiry into the role of those who sanctioned the inclusion of the offending material in the textbooks. Clearly what is at stake here is not just the life of cartoons on the pages of school textbooks.

But the fear of cartoons is not unimportant. It tells us a lot about the democracies we now inhabit. Jawaharlal Nehru told Shankar Pillai ‘Don’t spare me Shankar’. B.R. Ambedkar saw the cartoon that is now being seen as ‘offensive’. He had no problem with it. Nehru and Ambedkar, and great democrats like them, were aware of what cartoons mean. They were aware that creative cartoonists like Shankar or Laxman can encourage us to question what is taken for granted, reveal the ambiguities and contradictions of individuals, persuade us to see things in a new light. India has a long creative tradition of satire and irony. The productive power of laughter has been used not only in movements for social justice, but in children’s literature as well. If we celebrate this tradition, we celebrate democracy. Only in non-democratic countries is there a fear of cartoons.The cartoons used in the new NCERT textbooks, have a pedagogic function. They are being used along with a range of other material – paintings, posters, sketches, maps, storyboards, and extracts from original sources – to engage student minds, help them think critically, make them recognize that visuals too can help us understand the past and the present. Questions that accompany the visuals and sources help that process of critical engagement with the text. These are pedagogic strategies used in the finest school texts all over the world to nurture children’s minds, and sharpen their interpretive skills

When we suspect the capacity of children to think critically and make judgements, we demean them. If we think 16-year olds are naïve, impressionable minds who have to be insulated from the world, protected from the conflicts and tensions within society, we patronize them. We cannot deny them access to information that circulates through newspapers, internet, radio, television and cinema. What the present textbooks seek to do is to deepen their capacity to engage with this information that children are exposed to in everyday life. If we fear critical thought, instead of nurturing it, we only reveal the fragility of our democratic thinking.

What has been profoundly disturbing is the way the Ministry of Human Resource Development has chosen to act. The new NCERT textbooks were produced through a prolonged process of democratic discussion. A whole range of committees and sub-committees were set up to oversee different stages of the process. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 was drafted after an intense collective discussion that involved over 300 people – academics, educationists, teachers – from all over the country. The textbooks that were subsequently written were again the products of collective efforts. Each textbook was written by a team; each chapter was discussed, debated and revised. A special Monitoring Committee of reputed academics then reviewed the textbooks. Suddenly the legitimacy of all earlier action has been called under question; all decisions of duly constituted bodies have been nullified. The abrupt decision to withdraw all the Political Science textbooks, and institute an inquiry to decide who was responsible for the inclusion of material that is now being judged ‘offensive’ ought to alarm all those who believe in the right to critical thinking, and respect the sanctity of democratic processes.

Each generation has to produce textbooks that mark a major shift from those that have existed earlier, and each generation has to think of new and creative ways of writing these texts. Textbooks therefore have to be debated and revised – a process that ought to consider the feedback from students and teachers. But this has to be through an academic, collective, democratic and inclusive process. Any direct government intervention will inevitably corrode the processes of democratic functioning.

We hope that reason will ultimately prevail, that the gains of the new National Curriculum Framework 2005 will not be destroyed in this rush to sooth ruffled feelings, that the new textbooks will not be censored and mutilated, that interventionist policing of educational enterprises will be avoided. It is sad that students this year are being denied the right to read these textbooks even before the newly constituted review committee has met.


Dr Sarada Balagopalan, CSDS

Professor Neeladri Bhattacharya, CHS, JNU

Professor Janaki Nair, CHS, JNU

Professor Kumkum Roy, CHS, JNU

Professor Hari Vasudevan, Calcutta University


Click here to sign on to the above petition

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2012 4:09 PM

    In school I did use to think about life and everything in its fold. Yes, my friends and me, we do enjoy childish things all the way till now, just as we did in school. But we were not ignorant of the issues involving the whole gamut of our social existence. So I appreciate that this capacity to ponder and question in a teenager is recognized atleast. The government is not fully to blame here i guess, they too have to reel under the pressures of coalitions and oppositions; I think the issue snow-balled more coz of what Ambedkar has become to his people – a Deity; and unfortunately quite a few Indians don’t take it kindly when even the most innocent jokes are made at the expense of their deity. But again, that doesn’t justify this disgraceful treatment of such a democratic product arising out of a discussions (though politicised in their own way), like a text book.

  2. rakshi permalink
    May 20, 2012 4:49 AM

    There’s a delightful phrase by Thomas Pynchon, ‘if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don;t have to bother with the answers’

    I think we’re missing the point when we ask ‘would Ambedkar have taken offence?’

    Here’s a take from someone who has been and would be directly and indirectly affected by the ridicule, Anoop Kumar: “The cartoon controversy: Inside the mind of one ‘fanatic’ Dalit”.

  3. May 20, 2012 10:44 AM

    Outstandingly Luminous Sculpture of Group Thinking- CBP

  4. sharmishta permalink
    May 21, 2012 5:10 AM

    where was the critical pedagogy when they were teaching me nationalism, i wouldnt have taken offense to see any form of Ambedkar…

  5. yet another indian permalink
    May 21, 2012 6:34 AM

    NCF2005 will be now subjected to more attacks from different quarters. But that wont stop with NCF 2005.In removal of A.K.Ramanujan’s essay and the cartoon the outcome was the same, the processes were different. Those who campaigned against the cartoon and succeeded had opened new possibilities to interfere with academic freedom and curricula development. Tomorrow the target could be a critical text that ‘hurt’ the sentiments of some section of society. Only when such a text is dear to them, the dalit activists and intellectuals would realize that they had set a bad precedent.

  6. Avinash permalink
    May 21, 2012 9:23 AM

    Critical pedagogy and Indian education system? The twain shall never meet!!!!

  7. deepika kumaravel permalink
    May 21, 2012 12:39 PM

    This kidnapping of expression by the most corrupt will not be accepted. At all.

  8. Jeebesh permalink
    May 21, 2012 4:06 PM

    This could be a opurtune time to make public some of the discussions that has gone into making of these textbooks. These books maybe lost in the current melee but the discussions could help write inventive textbooks in the coming decade.

  9. Romesh permalink
    May 22, 2012 12:31 AM

    There is yet another notable addition to the list of past leaders who were not offended by Shankar’s cartoons, namely the name of the Lord Linlithgow, Viceroy of British India, as this article recounts:

  10. sarah permalink
    May 22, 2012 2:48 AM

    Oh yes Romesh, and if you pay attention to the mighty mistake of this careless upper caste journalist who writes in The Sunday Standard and irreparably contributed to lowering down the standards of this newspaper, is dreadfully appalling. He has a gall to write this shit piece with mistakes and pass it off through desks of his ignorant editorial board? worth noting the upper castes and their merits…. and of course critical practices

  11. May 22, 2012 1:04 PM

    This is a must read!

    Whipping up ‘critical pedagogy’: Uncritical defense of NCERT’s violence

  12. neelam man singh permalink
    May 22, 2012 8:27 PM

    retrograde measures taken by political parties against illustration that had a pedagogic purpose is frightening. The politicians have broadened the definition of what constitutes as ‘offensive’ and taken it to ludicrous heights. The intellectual community cannot afford to be pulverized by this onslaught.

  13. May 25, 2012 1:42 AM

    Now this obviously begs the question as to how critical the pedagogy is in this particular instance and what is the quality of expression of this cartoon. My understanding is that the Constitution as it was finally enacted was a highly anti-people one. Roughly 63% of the sections were lifted verbatim or with minor changes from the Government of India Act of 1935 that the British colonialists had enacted to give limited self rule to the Indians. The constitution retained two very anti-people provisions. The first was that the first past the post electoral system would be followed instead of proportional representation and the second was that colonial laws like the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Land Acquisition Act and the Indian Forest Act would continue to be valid. The first provision meant that the Congress party despite getting around 40 to 45 % of the popular vote was able to secure huge majorities in number of seats won in both the parliament and the state legislatures for close to twenty years at a stretch. The second provision meant that the tremendous groundswell of popular protest that surfaced very soon after independence, as the promise of emancipation and development was not fulfilled for the vast majority, was summarily crushed using the draconian provisions of the colonial laws which had been enacted precisely for this purpose by the British. Thus, the immense plurality and diversity that is India was sought to be streamlined in the same way as the British had done by the new Brown Sahibs consisting of the upper caste elite that held sway over the Congress and bureaucracy and also in the fields of industry and agriculture.
    The critical discussion in the textbook therefore should have been on this betrayal of the aspirations of the people by the Constitution and not about the delay in its formulation. The delay in the formulation took place because of the filibustering resorted to by the upper caste members of the Constituent Assembly to prevent the adoption of the few progressive aspects like the chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. Nehru, who was an extremely duplicitous person who used to mouth socialist doctrine while actually following a reactionary path of suppression of mass movements for rights, fully supported this delay in the drafting of the Constitution so as to get a colonial one through. Ambedkar in fact did his level best to expedite matters. Thus the cartoon is a travesty of the facts and of extremely poor quality. There is no case at all for inserting it into the textbook and misguiding the minds of young students with a non sequitur. This is the point that the Dalit politicians are making. They are not asking to curtail the freedom of expression of the academics who misguidedly inserted this cartoon into the text book but objecting to such poor quality expression being featured in a textbook.
    Dalits even today continually face oppression on a daily basis and very little of this is ever discussed in the parliament or legislature. On this occasion, however, they have taken up the matter and forged a bipartisan unity among all other politicians for the removal of this cartoon. Ambedkar cannot be made fun of in a text book for sins that he did not commit. Liberal democratic constitutions even at the best of times are woefully inadequate in addressing the illegality and violation of the rule of law by the upper classes. There should be a discussion in the text book regarding the serious problems that liberal democracy faces in ensuring justice for the oppressed and yet this has been given the go by and a trivial issue like the delay in the formulation of the Constitution has been highlighted. This is especially surprising as both the advisors in this case are political scientists with strong socialist leanings and so should have been critical of the Constitution and the machinations of Nehru and the Congress party in its adoption. Even when their mistake was brought to their notice in a bona fide manner through a complaint to the NCERT they arrogantly refused to acknowledge it. Now that the power of identity politics has forced them to backtrack they are raising the bogey of their freedom of expression being curtailed and critical pedagogy being in peril.

  14. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    May 31, 2012 9:58 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.

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

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