The Kafkaesque world of the NCERT

The Council has not just mangled textbooks, it also insists on retaining the names of Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav as advisors when they have repeatedly said 'not in our name'

Yogendra Yadav (left) (photo: Getty Images); Suhas Palshikar (right) (photo: @PalshikarSuhas/Twitter)
Yogendra Yadav (left) (photo: Getty Images); Suhas Palshikar (right) (photo: @PalshikarSuhas/Twitter)


Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav, two of India’s leading political scientists, have threatened to sue the NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training). These two gentlemen are known to speak in measured tones and the provocation must have been great.

They are upset with the NCERT because it insists on printing their names as chief advisors on its political science textbooks for classes 9 to 12 even after they have distanced themselves from the revised versions of these books and explicitly asked that their names be dropped.

It might sound strange to us, because it’s far more common for people to fight for credit.

This is not a new controversy. More than a year ago, Prof. Palshikar and Prof. Yadav had publicly dissociated themselves from these textbooks after the Indian Express carried an exposé on the deletions and additions made in these books without consulting the advisors. The NCERT, however, kept using their names even as it made further changes without even informing them.

One expects this basic courtesy, at least from those who work in the field of knowledge.

If I have written or edited a book and the publisher wants to make some changes in it, it is expected that I’ll be consulted. This is basic. But the NCERT says it is not bound by these norms, advancing the claim that since the copyright of the textbooks rests with NCERT, it has all the rights to do whatever it wants with the textbooks.

Prof. Palshikar and Prof. Yadav disagree and state in a letter addressed to NCERT chief D.P. Saklani: ‘Besides the earlier practice of selective deletions, the NCERT has resorted to significant additions and rewriting that are out of sync with the spirit of the original textbooks... The NCERT has no moral or legal right to distort these textbooks without consulting any of us and yet publish these under our names despite our explicit refusal.

'There can be arguments and debates about someone’s claims to authorship of any given work. But it is bizarre that authors and editors are forced to associate their names with a work they no longer identify as their own.

‘Both of us do not want the NCERT to hide behind our names to pass on to students such textbooks of political science that we find politically biased, academically indefensible and pedagogically dysfunctional...

'The new editions of these books that have been published with our names should be withdrawn from the market forthwith...

'If the NCERT fails to take immediate corrective action, we may be forced to take legal recourse,’ the letter further says.

One can hardly disagree with them.

Palshikar and Yadav have further requested the NCERT to make public the names of the academics and experts under whose guidance these changes have been made. It’s nothing short of bizarre that those names are being withheld, while credit is being thrust upon people who disagree with the changes and have repeatedly said ‘not in our name’.

How does one make sense of the NCERT’s Kafkaesque world, of its insistence that it owns even the names of scholars since it owns the copyright of the books?

This logic seems to rhyme with the logic of the regime the Council serves, which had argued before the Supreme Court that the people of India cannot claim ownership over themselves, that the state has all the right to do whatever it thinks necessary with their bodies and privacy.


It came to our knowledge recently that the NCERT had decided to refer to the Babri Masjid as simply a ‘three-domed structure’.

When all of us including Prof. D.P. Saklani, the all-powerful NCERT chief, are dead and gone, will it serve future generations well to remember that these changes were made under the leadership of a ‘two-legged creature’? What’s in a name, after all?

Is the NCERT director even thinking about the absurdity of his position?

As per media reports (ed: see link above, for instance), the textbook tells students that on 22 January, a temple for Lord Rama was consecrated at the Babri Masjid site, enabled by a Supreme Court ruling, which the tweaked Class 12 political science textbook describes as a ‘classic example of consensus’.

But without even knowing what controversy was settled through this marvellous act of consensus in the Supreme Court, how are readers to appreciate the import of this grand reconciliation?

Why are the revised textbooks fighting shy of mentioning the BJP’s 'rath yatra' from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya; of the role of the kar sevaks; of the communal violence in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid; of the imposition of President’s rule in BJP-ruled states; of the BJP’s expression of ‘regret over the happenings in Ayodhya’?

After all, the Ram Mandir did not spring out of the blue — it was the denouement of a bloody conflict the current regime wants Hindus to feel proud of.

The NCERT’s stated rationale for this expurgated account is that children must be shielded from violent and negative thoughts. Is the NCERT, then, admitting that the campaign to demolish Babri Masjid — which for the current regime is a glorious chapter in India’s history, an act of bravery marked as Shaurya Diwas — represents ‘violent and negative thoughts’ young Indians should be shielded from?

References to the communal violence of 2002 in Gujarat have also been similarly excised. Presumably because they may stir similar negative thoughts in young minds. The 1984 violence against Sikhs has somehow escaped the Council’s violence filter. We can only conclude that for the sage minds at NCERT, the memory of 1984 is somehow positive but the memory of 2002 injurious to the health of impressionable young minds.

On a more serious note, one must use this opportunity to restart the process of deliberation on what school textbooks mean, what role they play in the educational process, and why it is important to keep them away from the political likes and dislikes of the regime in power.

We need to understand that a textbook is not a compendium of officially authorised facts. It is essentially a pedagogic tool for students and teachers, which helps them make sense of the discipline being studied and the world around them. A textbook of political science should be able to help students understand how politics works, not determine which politics is convenient or correct.

Textbooks, one feels like telling the NCERT chief, are not meant to be an umbrella to protect children from evil influence; facts rain on them from myriad sources. Imagine a child reading a chapter on the ‘three-domed structure’ while the DJ is playing a song venerating the bravery of the demolition of the Babri Masjid!

All two-legged creatures, Mr Saklani, have a thing on top. That thing, called mind, will take in more than you can ever force-feed it.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is a writer

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