Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Textbook Issue in Kerala: Exposing the Ulterior Motives

For the past few days, Kerala has been on the boil. The political oppostition, especially the students organizations of the UDF and RSS, along with socio-religious groups have been taking to the streets protesting against what they call attempts to 'inject atheism and communism' into school education, through textbooks. The KSU(I) and MSF, the student wings of the Congress(I) and the Muslim League have joined hands with the Christian-Muslim groups as well as the Hindu caste groups like the NSS to tackle such 'communization' of the textbooks. Before going into the entire debate, a mere glance through the Class VII Social Science Text Book, which has been picked up for such 'naked atheism', would make any average Malayali understand that such a ruckus is nothing but a mere attempt to take the people for a ride over a complete non-issue. This also unmasks the hidden face of the Opposition, to play upon the people's religious sentiments and galvanize them to spread instability and chaos in the state.

Titled 'Mathamillatha Jeevan', ,meaning a person with no faith, the chapter in the text book is in the form of an interview, wherein a school headmaster interviews a child named Jeevan and his parents, for admission to the school. Asked to fill the blanks in the application form for his religion and caste, the parents in turn ask the headmaster to leave those spaces blank. The headmaster then ponders over it thoughtfully and asks "what if the child grows up and feels like adopting any faith"? The parents calmly answer that in such a case, when he grew up, he could choose any faith he wanted to. Other than this conversation, the book also contain chapters detailing the religious tolerance and harmony prevailing since age old times in the Kerala. At a time, when communal frenzy and politics of hate has been viciously pursued by the right-wing forces, the need to maintain secular values gain paramount importance. In fact, the aim of our education system has to be to inculcate these values to build the future citizens of this country. Working unhindered against superstitions and blind beliefs, it is also important that the our school and university educational systems raise the rationality and scientific temper of the students, thus enabling them to analyze things much more deeply and question the decadent values and traditions. Going through these text books, yours truly never found one bit of 'communist injection' or attempts to question religious faith. In fact, the chapters in the said text book has only spoken for the need to respect all faiths, thus building common harmonious bonds. To illustrate this, there are verses quoted from Mahabharata, Bible, Prophet Mohammed and Guru Nanak. There are also various assignments and projects suggested to understand these matters further. If this is so, why is the opposition creating such mayhem?
To analyze that, it is important to also look at the political history of Kerala, where the Left has had a significant role. Education has proved to be glue for all forces to stick together and corner the Left. Such a situation that exists today, finds its ripples in the 1st Communist government to be elected anywhere in the world through ballot in 1957 under EMS Namboodiripad. The very same forces, who have taken up the cudgels to protect the sanctity of faith had then come together to unleash a vicious campaign against the communist government. Launching the 'Vimochana Samaram' or the Freedom Struggle, the Congress led opposition joining hands with the same socio-religious groups was able to establish a "make you believe" world, which sought to portray the Left as anathema to the state of Kerala, that had to be unseated at any cost. Aided by the designs of Indira Gandhi who was literally running the show behind Nehru, President's Rule was imposed in the state. Later, it was also been established that the CIA had worked in tandem with the centre in the move to dismiss the EMS government. A crucial fact that needs mention is that even then educational reforms had proved to be the galvanizing point for such rightist and anti-democratic mobilization against the Left rule. The then Education minister and litterateur, Prof. Joseph Mundassery had brought in measures to curb the overarching powers of managements and bring them under the government net. This was vehemently opposed by the managements, most of them being under these very socio-religious groups acting on vested interests. Strong attempts are being made today to make Kerala face a second Vomochana Samaram. Even the media has not spared any space to lash out against the ruling Left Front Government that has completed two successful years in office. The rabble-rousing media, which has always found the Left to be its beternoire, has come out forcefully in its diatribe,thereby displaying its class interests.
Yours truly has always believed that the Education Ministry in Kerala has to be handled by a national party and not be given to smaller, fractious parties, to be used as their fiefdoms. In the era of coalition politics in the state, both the UDF and LDF had earlier left such a crucial ministry in the hands of such smaller parties, which led to the pursuit of erroneous policies and immobilization of the entire sector. Ever since the present LDF government was given a massive mandate by the people of Kerala after having borne the brunt of the misrule of the UDF, the attempts have been to come out with a real alternative for the people. The CPI(M) took over the Education Ministry, with MA Baby having the charge. The Private Managements like NSS, SNDP, and other Christian as well as Muslim groups had virtually eaten up the self-financing sector of professional education. Charging exorbitant fees and making education a privilege for the common man, these managements sought to frame their own rules and thereby, establish their own authority by overriding the state's directives and holding it to ransom. Claiming more than 50% percent management seats, they also sought to trespass into the government seats too. Getting the help of an insensitive judiciary, they sought to call the shots. The LDF government, unlike the UDF refused to be cowed down and brought in the Self-Financing Colleges Act to fix fees and regulate the managements. However, this progressive step was overturned by the state High Court, and gave the managements the decision-making powers, thus handicapping the government. Not only in this issue, but also progressive steps of the government like to make the local bodies in charge of overseeing the school functioning, making sex education part of the curriculum, appointment of teachers in aided institutions under the state Public Service Commission and removing the hurdles to make the seating arrangements of boys and girls together have been opposed. Many of the steps have been remarked as "working to spread sexual anarchy" in the educational institutions by the religious groups. The managements felt threatened by these measures that could erode their sweeping powers have manufactured farce logic such as attempts to bring in atheism into the society. Pastoral letters and sermons, along with communal campaigns have been launched by the right-wing in all faiths. They have been goading people to join in large numbers against such a 'faithless and atheist government' that had to be unseated.
Therefore, the latest protests over the textbooks have to be seen in this light. The opposition UDF under the Congress bereft of any real issues have sought to stoke people's passions. Kerala has a remarkalable long-standing legacy of communal amity and tolerance. Several legends have been found, wherein the rituals and religious ceremonies have bound the communities in the state together. To quote an instance, the pilgrimage to Sabarimala to get the blessings of Ayyappa is considered incomplete without a visit to the shrine of Vavar, a Muslim saint. Also, the base camp of Sabarimala, at Nilackal has been built on the land donated by the Church. In another case, many Christians have practiced Hindu practices in celebrating their church festivals. The state is replete with instances of temple festivals starting with blessings from a church or mosques. Thus, the state's religious tolerance has been such that the communal RSS despite its presence in the state, has never been able to make even a foothold in the state legislature and has been unable to send representatives to the Parliament from the state. The education ministry in the state has courageously decided not to recall the said books. The minister M.A.Baby has repeatedly assured that the government was ready to initiate technical committees to study the books for any technical corrections, but any fundamental change in the curriculum was not possible. This decision is commendable, for the fact that this would help in unmasking of the communal forces that were behind the violence and riots against the Sikhs in Delhi and Muslims in Gujarat before the students. Despite this, many teachers' organizations of the Opposition have issued blatant threats to not teach these books. Such threats only reinforce the notion that any brave attempts to inculcate rational values has been opposed by such groups with vested political interests. Our young generation has been disallowed to 'grow up'. This trend is not only unhealthy for their future in terms of character building, but also seeks to negate the fundamental duties of the state to provide a rational and scientific education system devoid of decadent values and superstitions. This would only go on to bind them in the age-old practices and thus, defeat the very purpose of pursuing education.

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