The cartoons and the uproar of politicians
It turns out that the cartoon of Dr BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru is just the starting point. Nearly 200 other cartoons currently used in school textbooks are to be reviewed and most likely deleted. Here are some of the controversial cartoon used in NCERT textbooks.
Source : NDTV
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Ambedkar cartoon and the uproar
When a Cartoon Gets in the Way of Real Work
By Megha Bahree, May 17, 2012,
What’s causing a ruckus in that hallowed house this time around is a cartoon that dates back to 1949.
The offending cartoon – which was sketched by a legendary political cartoonist of the era, K. Shankar Pillai—depicts Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was the head of the panel drafting the Constitution, sitting on a snail, holding a whip.
The word “Constitution” is written on the snail. Behind the snail stands then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, holding another whip. For most, the cartoon hinted that Mr. Nehru was trying to goad the snail on.
But instead of reading it as a comment on the slow pace of framing of the Constitution, several politicians saw it as an insult to Mr. Ambedkar – even if there are no records from the time that either of the gentlemen depicted in it had a problem with it.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the lower house of Parliament said all objectionable materials, and even the books if need be, will be removed.
Kapil Sibal, India’s human resource development minister, agreed and said the textbooks will not be distributed in the current school year. He vowed to remove existing books from circulation and called on the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the government agency that decides on curriculum and content, to ensure that there are no other such offending materials in other books.
Objections to the cartoon were first raised by Ramdas Athawale, president of the Republican Party of India, who said the cartoon that ridiculed Ambedkar was an insult to the Constitution and to Parliament. (No matter that the content had been thoroughly vetted by a variety of experts.
The fall out, apart from holding Parliament hostage from real work, has been that the chief advisors of all political science textbooks at NCERT have quit. Members of Mr. Athawale’s party ransacked the office of one of the advisors. That, he said, was an expression of “indignation on the part of the Dalit community.” Ambedkar was a Dalit, a group that historically falls at the bottom of India’s caste system, and is a popular icon in that community.
It’s not that parliamentarians didn’t have more important things to worry about – they did.
A total of 96 bills were pending in Parliament at the start of the ongoing Budget session, according to PRS Legislative Research, a nonprofit research firm based in New Delhi.
Of these, the government listed 39 for consideration, in addition to the finance bill. So far only four have been passed by both houses of Parliament.
The government had also planned to introduce 30 new bills in this session, but only introduced 13.
With the Budget session due to end May 22, there isn’t much time left to introduce or debate new bills, especially when lawmakers are busy discussing a cartoon from 63 years ago.
Besides, not much time was spent on the handful of bills that were introduced. According to PRS Legislative Research, 18% of bills passed since 2009 in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament, were discussed for less than five minutes. Another 10% were passed with less than 30 minutes of discussion. Some of them – around 17% – did get their attention for a period of at least three hours.
It’s common for lawmakers to kick up a fuss in Parliament over a wide range of issues, trivial and not. So much so that last week, in a speech celebrating the 60th anniversary of Parliament, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged both houses to pull themselves together.
“The daily routine of disruptions, adjournments and shouting in Parliament are leading many outside to question the efficacy of the institution and faith in public affairs,” Mr. Singh said.
While the debate over the cartoon took center stage, here are a few bills that have been pushed to the sidelines:
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill. This has been passed in Rajya Sabha but is still pending in the Lok Sabha. (Even Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan talked about the need for this in his show Satyamev Jayte last Sunday.)
The Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill. This was initially introduced in December 2010 in the Lok Sabha. It was reintroduced in this current session but various uproars in Parliament, including over the cartoon, got in the way.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill. This was introduced in August 2010 and was passed by the Lok Sabha last August. It is currently pending in the Rajya Sabha. So what if some poor sod is risking his life to expose corruption. He can take care of himself a bit longer, surely.
The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organizations Bill. This was introduced in the Lok Sabha in March last year. It’s still there. But what’s a little money sloshing around amongst friends. In any case, it’s always the fault of the foreign hand.
Source : WSJ
Ambedkar cartoon row: An act of cowardly populism, says Shiv Visvanathan
Babasaheb Ambedkar is one of the most fascinating figures in Indian politics. In hagiographic terms, if Gandhi is the father of the nation, Ambedkar is father of the Indian Constitution. Both have a legendary status which inspires hagiolatry. Any critique of them is seen as iconoclastic.
The Lellyweld controversy over Gandhi's relationship to Herman Kallenbach aroused the ire of Gandhians. Similarly, a 1949 cartoon of Ambedkar and the Constitution in a NCERT textbook has prompted a protest in Parliament and an immediate withdrawal of the cartoon.
Two advisers to the NCERT resigned arguing that the cartoon as a text was not read within the entirety of the context. Two immaculate professionals were abandoned by the education minister in another knee-jerk display of populist politics. The event needs to be analysed in detail.
First, as records go, neither Ambedkar nor Nehru had any objection to the cartoon. Shankar's cartoon is an affectionate one, cheeky at the most. For a cartoonist to show irreverence is natural, but there is never anything insulting about a Shankar cartoon. It is usually presented in the form of a gentle chiding. Even the outlines are gentle, a cartoon without being a caricature. Shankar had a softness, which later political cartoonists like Ranga or Unny avoided.
The first objection to the cartoon is based on the assumption that what was good for 1949 may not be appropriate for 2012. The argument is as follows. The Constitutional assembly as a ritual process is over. It is now a contract, even a sacrament. Second, Ambedkar is now an iconic figure and to treat an icon to the irreverence of a cartoon is to insult him.
Third, Dalits are a greater power now and will not allow their icons to be insulted. The argument suggests that the memory of Ambedkar is as sacred to the Dalits as Mrs Gandhi to the Congress or MGR to AIADMK. Icons are items of faith, not to be subject to critical scrutiny.
It's sad the way our politicians responded to the cartoon. Pranab Mukherjee used all his wily scholarship to praise Ambedkar's role and decries the cartoon as inappropriate. Sibal jumped on the bandwagon by assuring Parliament that a review of NCERT books has been ordered.
Others agreed with it, arguing that the cartoon was out of fashion in the age of political assertion. The sadness is that such a reading leaves two things unexamined. First, the cartoon itself and second, the imagination of the scholars who used the cartoon to enliven history and make it more understandable.
A look at the cartoon, not a great one, shows it to be an innocuous piece. No ego is threatened, no status questioned. In fact, the Constitutional process as a dialogue between Nehru and Ambedkar comes out clearly. As a pedagogic device, the cartoon works. As a piece of history, it is sufficiently memorable.
Instead of treating it as an act of pride, our politicians, in an act of cowardly populism, read it as something shameful. It is a misreading of politics, an act of bad faith, made doubly ridiculous by the fact an education minister lets down a responsible group of academics.
It is not Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar who should have resigned as advisers to the NCERT. Kapil Sibal should have stood ground. He should have claimed Ambedkar as the nation's legacy and not just a Dalit icon.
As a responsible education minister, he should have stuck to reason and not played to the political gallery. The messages to the world of education whether through the AK Ramanujan controversy on the many Ramayans, or the Ambedkar cartoon is clear. Scholarship is something to be devalued before populism and democracy is to be respected as a text, but not in real life. There is a warning here that academics will not fail to read.
Finally, there is question of democracy as a way of life. Our Parliament of late seems to be redefining it in an Orwellian way. On Anna Hazare, our Parliament acts as if civil society should be disciplined and punished for contempt of Parliament. On Ambedkar, it ignores years of scholarship and the culture of cartooning as an intrinsic part of constitutional democracy.
By behaving the way it did, it was Parliament that insulted the spirit of the Constitution. The sadness was that even Pranab Mukherjee, dreaming of being President of the nation, did not see the irony. Why should a search for justice or fairness get eroded by token acts of respect? Populism that we witness actually devalues the work of Ambedkar.
I think the great Indian disease is political correctness as a new strain of hypocrisy. It goes well with sycophancy. Between the two, power corrupts itself, the memory of a great politician and the world of the academic. To think Ambedkar belongs only to the Dalits is a travesty of history. To embalm him in political hypocrisy insults the courage of man. To deny him laughter, self reflexivity is the bigger crime. This much our academics understood, but our politicians did not.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad
|Govt panics as cartoon from 1949 halts House|
| Express news service |
Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal today announced removal of a cartoon made back in 1949 by Shankar from an NCERT political science textbook for Class XI after an uproar in Parliament terming it “insulting” to Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. “For the next year, we will remove all these cartoons. But even this year, till we review the situation, the present textbooks will not be distributed,” Sibal said as members cutting across political lines protested against the cartoon in the NCERT book, Indian Constitution at Work.
The minister also offered to “apologise” outside Parliament and said that he had decided to set up a committee to look into all textbooks after he “found there were many other such cartoons about other leaders which are objectionable”.
The sketch by legendary political cartoonist K Shankar Pillai, who passed away in 1989, dates back to the time when the Constituent Assembly was at work, and shows Ambedkar sitting on a snail with the word ‘Constitution’ written on it, holding a whip. Behind the snail stands Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru holding another whip, apparently trying to goad the snail on. While the cartoon was meant to be a comment on the slow pace of the framing of the Constitution, members today claimed it could be inferenced that Nehru was trying to push Ambedkar, the head of the panel writing the statute, to hasten the process.
Trying to placate MPs, Sibal said the HRD Ministry had written to the Director, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), late last month “to withdraw the cartoon”.
Among the first to raise the matter was Chidambaram MP Thirumaa Valavan Thol. “...Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru whipping Dr Ambedkar to expedite the constitutional work... it is really a great insult to both the leaders. It is a very great insult to the nation, insult to Parliament, and insult to both the leaders... So, please withdraw the book and take necessary action against the publishers,” the Lok Sabha MP of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi demanded.
Thol received support from the Samajwadi Party and BSP members, followed by the Congress and BJP, forcing adjournment of the House. Assuring that Sibal would respond, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “I don’t know who has brought out this cartoon and with this impression. It is totally wrong. Dr Ambedkar is considered the Ved Vyas of Indian Constitution and without his tireless efforts, the biggest Magna Carta of socio-economic transformation, as it was described by Sir Anthony Eden, would not have been possible.”
In the Rajya Sabha, the BSP took up the issue, forcing three adjournments, despite Sibal repeatedly offering to clarify the issue. BSP chief Mayawati threatened to stall proceedings if the Centre did not take action against the persons behind the cartoon. She demanded that the government move court and register FIRs.
After the Lok Sabha was adjourned twice over the matter, Sibal announced that the cartoon would be withdrawn and the circulation of the said textbook stopped immediately.
Aftermath of Ambedkar cartoon: NCERT advisor Suhas Palshikar under attack
“I don’t want the people who ransacked my office to be punished because they have been provoked and I don’t think punishment will help them. Their leaders should be told that this is not how debates are done. We may not hold the same view point but that doesn’t allow anyone to ransack my office. We live in a democracy and difference of views must be respected,” said Mr Palshikar.
Mr Palshikar along with fellow NCERT advisor Yogendra Yadav resigned on Friday after an uproar in Parliament over the controversial cartoon of Dr BR Ambedkar in the text books. Today, Mr Yadav said that he does not believe the cartoon is an insult to Dr Ambedkar, and that its symbolism has to be understood correctly.
“I personally do not think that that cartoon denigrates Dr Ambedkar. He himself did not think it did so. Any cartoon or any piece of art must be understood by keeping in mind that you can’t take a xerox copy of one particular thing and say, is it good or is it bad. First you have to understand the symbolism of it, if you start to take all piece of art literally, then you would have to ban, then you would have to ban all poetry in this country, all the art forms, and cartoons in this country,” said Mr Yadav.
In fact, speaking to NDTV today, Dr Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar also said that the cartoon was misinterpreted and that the NCERT advisors should not have quit. ”Dr Ambedkar’s supporters have been hurt by the cartoon… Don’t withdraw the book, delete the cartoon… the NCERT advisors should not have quit,” he said.
The row has also angered the academic community which has condemned the hasty censorship which the government had resorted to. ”It is an unnecessary controversy… It is a classic case of constructed hurt and invented controversy… The government must allow for more public debate on this issue,” said Zoya Hasan, a Political Science professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The cartoon in question depicts Dr Ambedkar, the author of the Indian Constitution, sitting on a snail and the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru standing behind him, brandishing a whip. The text alongside criticises Dr Ambedkar and suggests he went slow on framing the Constitution. Sketched by renowned cartoonist Shankar in 1949, the cartoon has been part of the NCERT book since 2006. The MPs waved copies of the cartoon in Parliament yesterday and said it insulted both leaders. Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal later apologised, and said he had already directed NCERT to remove the cartoon on April 26 this year.ndtv.com
Take look at its video:
Outraged Cong MPs should read Indira too
Chandigarh: Cartoonists have become an integral part of the intellectual life of a modern society. Some draw without intent to draw blood; some remove masks and hold a mirror to the face of society. There cannot be a cartoon without a certain amount of irreverence. But it depends on the cartoonist whether the irreverence aims at malice or irony... Shankar was not afraid to wound if there was a reason to do so.
That was then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in July 1983 in a foreword to a collection of cartoons by K Shankar Pillai. Someone should have told this to the MPs, especially the ones from the Congress, who forced a ban on cartoons “offensive” to politicians in NCERT school textbooks. Many of the “offensive” cartoons feature Indira Gandhi while it was Shankar’s sketch that set off the furore.
The foreword by the late PM was to a children’s book whose title Don’t Spare Me Shankar (published in 1983 and reprinted in 2009) was itself borrowed from Jawaharlal Nehru’s affectionate remark to Shankar, by then famous for lampooning virtually every political figure of the time.
“...Turning over (the book’s) pages, we relive the controversies of yesterday — the vanities of some, and the intrinsic strength of the man who stood above them in large-heartedness, ability and vision,” Indira Gandhi added.
The book was published by the Children’s Book Trust which Shankar founded in 1957. The CBT also runs the famous Shankar’s International Dolls Museum in Delhi. Among other sketches, the cartoons in the book depict MPs as hounds baying for the Opposition, shown as rats. One has Nehru punching Ram Manohar Lohia, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and JP, among others. Another has Nehru delivering a well-aimed kick upstairs to some ministers reluctant to accept gubernatorial positions. One cartoon dated May 23, 1954, interestingly, has Nehru egging on his ministers, all of whom are on snails holding whips. It is dubbed “Indian Derby.” It was a Shankar cartoon showing B R Ambedkar on a snail with a whip, with Nehru standing behind him holding another whip, that was seen to be offensive by MPs.
“My father could have easily interchanged who was sitting on the snail. What mattered was the subject, which was the delay in framing the Constitution,” Shanta Srinivasan, Shankar’s elder daughter, who heads the Shankar’s International Dolls Museum, told The Indian Express. “All this has really hurt us. In the last two days, we have been very hurt. We are all very sad.”
The grandson of B R Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar, himself dismisses the entire controversy. “The Congress and BJP are both dumb and paralytic so they need to be spoonfed. These vultures (opposed to the use of cartoons in textbooks) are spoonfeeding them,” says Prakash, a former MP himself. “We don’t have a leader who can stand up and say that we are not going to tolerate such nonsense. Today’s politicians lack humour and knowledge,” he added.
According to Prakash, the contentious cartoon of Ambedkar at the centre of the controversy could have been removed, but the rest of the NCERT book should have remained as it was.
Yogendra Yadav, who resigned as chief advisor to the NCERT after the cartoon row, said the media should perhaps also speak to the students who have so far been kept out of this discourse.
This is not the first time Shankar’s cartoons have riled politicians. In her much-acclaimed biography titled Shankar, which was published by CBT, Alaka Shankar, the cartoonist’s daughter-in-law, narrates how a cartoon by Shankar, which depicted women students of Lady Irwin College as ‘Thinking of opening a Lipstick Service Station at Connaught Place’ raised the hackles of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the then Chairperson of the All India Women’s Conference.
Kaur wrote to then Hindustan Times editor Devdas Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s son, demanding that he fire Shankar as the newspaper’s cartoonist. She took her lament to Sarojini Naidu, who did ring up Shankar, but only to ask for an idli-sambar treat. As a last resort, Kaur went to Gandhiji who summoned Shankar. Describing the meeting, Alaka Shankar writes: “Shankar calmly narrated the incident (he attended the college convocation where, he said, the students had ‘blindly applied lipstick across their mouths’) that had incited him to draw the particular cartoon...Gandhiji heard him silently and in the end, he took one more look at the cartoon and burst out laughing. ‘You are acquitted, Shankar!’ he said.”
----------------------------------- May 19, 2012,
What They Said: Cartoon Row Stalls Parliament
By Diksha Sahni
The cartoon in question featured Dalit icon and the author of the Indian constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, being chased with a whip by first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The cartoon, which features in school textbooks for class XI, drawn by cartoonist Shankar, depicted Mr. Nehru asking Mr. Ambedkar to speed up work on the constitution.
India’s education minister Kapil Sibal had to apologize amid protest from party’s that represent Dalits. There also were reports the government was also mulling removing the cartoon from textbooks.
The cartoon row not only got in the way of real work, the controversy also generated debate over censorship and whether politics should play a role in the classroom.
Here’s a roundup of what some newspapers editorials and opinion columns had to say on the matter:
Satvik Verma, a lawyer, wrote in The Financial Express that the controversy erupted the day after the Indian Parliament turned 60 and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a speech, talked about upholding the dignity of the house. Mr. Satvik said it was “alarming” how easily the government is willing to curb freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution on fears that protests could spill over into violence.
“Let it be remembered that freedom of expression is a liberty guaranteed against the state and hence it is the duty of the state to protect it and the state cannot plead its inability to handle hostile audience problems to give up the freedom granted to the citizens,” he wrote.
Mr. Verma said politicians risk setting a bad precedent by dictating contents of school curricula and textbooks. “It is dangerous if this is being done to curtail political dissent. It can be catastrophic if the intent is only to appease certain factions of our diverse society, especially the ones who assert themselves aggressively.”
“Let’s hope we lose neither our sense of humour nor our sense of mutual respect and tolerance and embark upon the journey of the next 60 years of Parliament with the same bonhomie that was displayed recently.”
For Ronojoy Sen, who wrote an opinion piece in Wednesday’s The Times of India, the issue at stake wasn’t freedom of speech, but the kind of education system India wants. The threat to pull the cartoon shows the “outdated ideas that our MPs have on pedagogy and school education.”
“If Indian politicians think that this approach is poisoning the minds of students, we must reach the sad conclusion that the latest pedagogical methods have bypassed our MPs and that they are firm believers in rote learning,” Mr. Sen wrote.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of Center for Policy Research, wondered in an editorial in The Indian Express if the controversy is a sign of “deeper intellectual and cultural malaise?”
Mr. Mehta said the controversy that played out in the Parliament followed a familiar script where all politicians joined in the protest without much debate and thought.
“So we have a public culture in which the definition of what counts as offensive rapidly expands, more pretexts are found to increase the chasm between different groups, more fetters are put on thought, more intimidation is used to send a warning to intellectuals and more excuses found to exercise control. And all this is done under false pretexts and a contrived political consensus.”
Mr. Mehta noted that there are several reasons why there is little resistance to such actions. One of is that “most community identities in our politics are constituted by a narrative of victimhood.” As a result, “we have a moral psychology oriented to feeling under assault; and the need to give expression to it, as a group becomes powerful.”
Another reason, he said, is that India has a public culture that produces two kinds of insecurities – political insecurity and intellectual insecurity.
“The only politicians we have who know the ground they stand on, and who are politically self-confident, are those who have strong community identifications….The rest simply do not have the political self-confidence to take a stand on anything,” he writes.