Just as the Ambedkar cartoon row was fading, a toon on the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in the 60s in a NCERT class XII text book has kicked up another controversy in the state with key UPA ally DMK demanding its removal and other parties joining the chorus.
The piece by renowned cartoonist RK Laxman printed in the class XII political science book is seen by the Dravidian parties as showing the student agitators against Hindi in 1965 in a poor light. The question is whether Tamil Nadu is still over-sensitive about the anti-Hindi movement.
CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose raised the question on her show Face the Nation on Tuesday with a distinguished panel. Following is the transcript of the discussion on Face the Nation.
Sagarika Ghose: Yes it is cartoon vs politicians; Again another cartoon row is brewing in Tamil Nadu. Tamil politicians Vaiko and DMK chief Karunandihi have protested strongly against this particular cartoon. Also in the Class 12 NCERT political science textbook, it shows Tamil student protestors, protesting against imposition of Hindi language, with the caption, 'The boy can't read English either'. This is a Laxman cartoon made in the 1960s. Now, in response to the outcry, Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has said a committee has already been constituted to review the syllabus. First Ambedkar, now anti-Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu, politicians are just not laughing at cartoons, are they?
Is this yet another case of politicians being far too oversensitive, in this case Tamil politicians being oversensitive about the anti-Hindi language protests in Tamil Nadu. Joining us tonight is Khushbu Sundar, member of the DMK as well as an actor. Theodore Baskaran, author and historian, someone deeply involved in Tamil culture. Yogendra Yadav, former Chief Advisor of NCERT, senior fellow of the CSDS. Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar resigned last month after the cartoon row from the advisory body of the NCERT. And Sudhir Tailang, political cartoonist. Thanks everyone indeed for joining us.
Yogendra, I will just read out Vaiko's statement, "The cartoon hurt Tamils' sentiments and insulted student agitators by giving the impression that they didn't know English or Hindi but were demanding English. It was insulting and humiliating to Tamil movements.” How do you respond to that?
Yogendra Yadav: Sagarika, it seems that this summer vacation, is a vacation where the nation has decided to entertain itself with text books. The only problem is that no one wants to read the text. Because that would some how spoil the entertainment. This particular cartoon as Mr Vaiko knows very well, he is a very intelligent politician… this particular cartoon figures in a two-page box, which is on the Dravidian movement. For the first time, I think, in the history of the country, a national textbook gives importance to Dravidian movement, introduces it properly. Anti-Hindi agitations' significance has been duly recorded. Having given that, that particular text is accompanied by four elements. There is a biography of Periyar, to my mind one of the few times that students all over the country have been introduced to Periyar. There is a photograph which shows how massive was the strength of anti-Hindi agitation. There is a newspaper clipping which shows that there was opposition to that in north India. And then there is this cartoon which brings out the irony that some of the poor and students coming from disadvantaged sector may not have known English. There is nothing very surprising about it. These elements put together give a message of what that very important movement was. The real irony is that for the first time, Dravid movement in its reality, in its flesh and blood, in its strength has been introduced to the students of this country, and the protest comes from the Dravid movement itself. That's ironic.
Sagarika Ghose: It's very ironic indeed. Khushbu of the DMK, the fact is as Yogendra is saying that this cartoon is placed in the context of a lot of detailed information about the Dravid movement, about the anti-Hindi movement which students may not have had. Isn't this just politics? Vaiko is in the political wilderness. He won just two seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. The LTTE has collapsed. He no longer has a Tamil nationalist cause. He has just latched on to anti-Hindi protest as a political ploy. DMK too, humiliatingly defeated, knee deep in scams... Hasn't the DMK just latched on to this issue as an identity political issue? Isn't it all just politics because if you actually bother to read the text book, it is actually very detailed?
Khushbu Sundar: Sagarika, I will not be able to speak on behalf of Mr Vaiko because I do not belong to his party. But as far as DMK is concerned, in one of your headlines you have already spoken how important ally DMK is in the Centre. We are a force to reckon with. But we are not going to discuss that. What we are protesting against now at this moment is about the cartoon, not about the context or what is there in the textbook. Yes, the textbook bring about the issue related to anti-Hindi agitation which happened way back in 1960s. Yes it introduces Periyar to the entire nation, all that is agreed. But it is more with that cartoon included in the last page. I think Mr Yogendra has to understand that it is like, ok I'm going to cut your wrist and I'm going to put a bandaid for you and then say its ok, I cut your wrist but I have put a bandaid, so it's fine. I think you can't try to sail on both sides of the boat. You say that you are talking about the Hindi agitation, the movement against Hindi, way back in 1960. This cartoon of RK Lakshman was way back in 1960... and today's generation just has to know as to what the agitation was about. You can't depict a picture of Tamilians or the Dravidian movement, saying that they were not educated, they didn't know how to speak English and for the entire nation, not to Tamil Nadu alone. You can't put south India; you can't put Tamil Nadu in a bad light and say we were uneducated way back in 1960s. We were not, we are not. We are an educated state in our country. One of the most forward thinking states in our country. And I think we just need to understand that this cartoon alone which we are protesting against can definitely bring wrong light to the entire movement which happened in 1960s.
Sagarika Ghose: The cartoon is humiliating.
Yogendra Yadav: Allow me to say just one thing Sagarika. To say that those who do not know English are uneducated… these are words of Khushbu, Khushbu this is not due to Tamil nationalism. Tamils nationalist say those who do not understand English are uneducated… please honour your Tamil. It is a great language.
Khushbu Sundar: Yes, we are proud of that Mr Yogendra. You are the one who has been saying that in the book. You have been giving an explanation that we are bringing Mr Periyar, we are showing agitation, we are showing what Dravidian movement is all about. But at the same time you are depicting a picture which was way back in 1960.
Sagarika Ghose: The tone is disparaging. Let me bring in Sudhir Tailang. Then we will get a response from Yogendra as well. Now the point is as Khushbu is saying the anti-Hindi agitation is fundamental to the Dravidian identity. In 1930 several youth lost their lives protesting against the imposition of Hindi. It is the touchstone of the Dravida identity. It is beloved of the Dravida parties. Now to expose school children to a cartoon on the anti-Hindi agitation which lampoons the agitation is some eyes, is a disservice to future generations. You should revere that fear...
Sudhir Tailang: Sagarika, number one, I think we are wasting your time in discussing this subject. One of the reasons is that this controversy was put to rest last month in Budget session itself when all the political parties demanded that the Ambedkar cartoon should be banned or removed from the books. At that time Mr Kapil Sibal and Mr Pranab Mukherjee both on the floor of the House had said that not just the Ambedkar cartoon from one particular book, but all cartoons from all the books will be removed. And if need be, all books will be removed as well. So what is the controversy, what are they demanding? These cartoons have already been removed, why are you discussing this subject.
Sagarika Ghose: They haven't yet been removed.
Sudhir Tailang: It will be removed. I mean what do you want. Pranab Mukherjee has said it on the floor of the House and Mr Kapil Sibal has said it, what more do you want? They just needed an issue. I can draw a parallel between Mayawati's party and the DMK. You know Mayawati recently lost an election and she was looking for an issue, so they thought Ambedkar issue can be used to flare up passions, so that they can use this issue to unite their cadres. The same thing happened to DMK also.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me put that to Khushbu and then we can hear from Mr Theodore Baskaran. Khushbu does the anti-Hindi agitation have any resonance with the young people nowadays? Perhaps it did 40 years ago but know with the kind of interaction between north and south India. Surely the hostility to Hindi is not as prevalent as it used to be.
Khushbu Sundar: Sagarika, that's why I'm saying, if it doesn't make a difference then why print the picture in this century for the students. Why print the cartoon in the current situation?
Sagarika Ghose: Because, it is history.
Sudhir Tailang: What's wrong with it?
Khushbu Sundar: Excuse me, it is history but there is so much to talk about history. There is so much to speak about history. We are not in the Mughal era. We are not going to tell how Aurangzeb's fingers were cut by Chhattrapati Shivaji. We have been through the history textbooks ourself. But this is something which is still in the current trend. We are not talking about that happened 200, 300 or 400 years back. This is something which happened probably 60 years back. And today's children definitely need to understand that we are living in harmony. And please let me tell you Dravidian movement is something which we are very passionate about. And just because DMK has lost the elections, we do not need an issue to be seen or heard about or spoken about. We didn't start, Mr Vaiko very rightly said about the movement. Very rightly said that you are hurting the sentiments of the Tamilians here. We have no objection to the context. Mr Kapil Sibal and Mr Pranab Mukherjee have said that textbooks and these cartoons will be taken off from next year. So for the next one academic year, students are going to learn about Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu with that cartoon. We have no objection to the subject. We have no objection to the text.
Sagarika Ghose: It is the cartoon you are objecting to.
Khushbu Sundar: We definitely believe in freedom of speech. I'm a great fan of RK Lakshman. We have a great political cartoonist Mr Madan in Tamil Nadu himself. I think, we have nothing against these political cartoonists but not in school textbooks.
Sudhir Tailang: Sagarika, at one point of time, you know what used to happen was that we used to looked up to politicians to inspire us to draw cartoons. And now they are being inspired by our cartoons. The tables have turned...
Sagarika Ghose: What you are saying is that politicians are appearing to be imitating cartoons. But let me get in Mr Baskaran. Let me get in Mr Theodore Baskaran. You know the anti-Hindi agitation is obviously as Khushbu is saying passionate. It is something that is fundamental to the Dravida movement. Someone like you who is steeped in Tamil culture in the language... do you feel that this is still a living issue? Or are politicians just making capital out of it.
Theodore Baskaran: First of all it is misleading to call it anti-Hindi agitation. The agitation was not against Hindi. The agitation was against the way it was imposed in 1965, and then at the end of the agitation, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri said that there will be two official languages in India. And then talking about identity, we are not talking about Dravidian identity, we are talking about Tamil identity which is primordial and long before the Dravidian parties came, that one got this Tamil identity. That's what was touched and affected in 1965.
Sagarika Ghose: So you don't believe that this cartoon should be there in textbooks. Should this cartoon be withdrawn therefore?
Theodore Baskaran: I certainly think that the cartoon is judgmental and doesn't reflect the nature of the agitation. In 1965, I was in Tamil Nadu and I was travelling… I saw the agitation. To simplify it as shown in the cartoon is not correct. It is misleading.
Sagarika Ghose: Right it is misleading cartoon. Let Yogendra respond to Mr Theodore Baskaran, that this cartoon shouldn't have been included because it does not reflect the agitation.
Yogendra Yadav: Well, first of all Sagarika, we have people from cinema and literature... I think we must understand something basic. This cartoon is not meant to be displayed as a poster. This is not a banner to be put on a streetlight. This is within a text. A text which says that this particular agitation was so crucial, let me just read one particular sentence (from the text). This is what this text concludes by saying, “Initially seen as a threat to Indian nationalism, regional politics in Tamil Nadu is a good example of the compatibility of regionalism and nationalism.” Now what it does in reaching to this conclusion, it gives four elements. It gives a photograph to show the depth of support for this agitation and it shows this cartoon which brings out an element of irony. It gives the picture and biography of Periyar and it gives a clipping of the opponents of this movement. The trouble is that my friends want this movement to be depicted without any real light, flesh or colour. They want it to be discussed in a plasticky manner. I'm afraid, initially the irony of it was too deep for me. Later on I understood that the friends who object to Ambedkar's cartoon, all my friends who opposed cartoons about politicians and now these friends from Dravidian movement who opposed this cartoon, they all love the text, they all love the book. They say, however, these books should not have any element which can possibly be seen by any of us to be negative. Now this is demanding a depiction of politics minus any real life texture to it. This would be detrimental to understanding of a child. These textbooks are not meant to give official history of Indian nation. These are meant to encourage the child to probe and think and to reflect critically.
Sagarika Ghose: That's a very good point. It is about textbooks and the way textbooks are evolving now. Textbooks are designed to teach children to think not to lean by rote.
Khushbu respond to what Yogendra Yadav is saying about the school textbook. The fact is students today have to be exposed to modern textbook that teaches them to think, not memorise by rote. The modern textbook is not about the divine infallibility of politicians and an official history. It is about stimulating the young minds to think. Don't you think cartoons like this actually do that?
Khushbu Sundar: I would like to remind Mr Yogendra that we are not discussing about somebody from cinema and somebody from politics. I have school going kids and I am really concerned as to what they read and I definitely believe that rather than just mugging up your lines, kids need to understand what they are reading. But at the same time when you are saying that it is going to leave a lasting impact for the life long… these are the school days in which you learn and which leave a lasting impression on one's mind. When you talk about that, a cartoon of this content will let the child think a bit off the track and wonder and think, you know how it is with the kids…
Sagarika Ghose: Is it teaching you to disrespect. Are you worried about the disrespect? That kids will learn to disrespect a very important movement.
Khushbu Sundar: It is not about the disrespect. I think we need to understand, let's not go in details and give a little clue to the kids or the parents who are watching this programme. Few children who have been reading about this… and they are going to go back to the textbook and try to see what is the cartoon about and try to find their own reasons as to why that cartoon is like that. I'm a very responsible mother, for two school going kids myself. And I think what we show in a text book is going to leave a lasting impression and the visual, what you see with your eyes when you are talking about not mugging up… it's when they read it's mugging up but what they see is also what they grasp. And the picture staying in their mind for a very long time.
We have no issues with the text. I think it is brilliant. But the cartoon will make a lasting impact on a child's mind when you talk about Dravidian movement or the Tamil movement.
Sagarika Ghose: The cartoon is teaching disrespect. At a time when children are losing respect for the political class for the big movement what shaped Indian politics. Should Indian students be given this lesson in disrespect?
Sudhir Tailang: Sagarika, let me say one thing. That ever since this controversy of Ambedkar cartoon came... and before that Mamata Banerjee controversy also... I don't know there is some kind of systematic attacks on cartoons from last three months.
Khushbu Sundar: Sorry to interfere, can I just say a word? What happened with Mamata Banerjee is today's politics but what about Dr Ambedkar and this cartoon is related back in 1960s which I don't think we need to…
Sudhir Tailang: It is identity politics. You interpret a cartoon to your vested interest. And let me tell you that these children who read these textbooks in schools are not going to be influenced by just these cartoons. You remove these cartoons from textbooks but they will read it from newspapers. These children are not from 1960s. They are the children of 2012. And India has changed since 1960. If you want to live in 1960 you are most welcome.
Khushbu Sundar: That's what I'm saying the cartoon was way back in 1960…
Sudhir Tailang: Let me give you one more controversy. You know this cartoon, in Ambedkar cartoon they had said that Nehru was whipping Dr Ambedkar. In this cartoon, it shows the student has two stone in his hand and he is going to throw this stone at Rajaji. So all the supporters of Rajaji, please standup. IT is an insult to Rajaji memory.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me get in Yogendra. You wanted to come in.
Yogendra Yadav: I just wanted to thank Khushbu for saying that she approves the text. Her real fear is that this cartoon might make kids wonder. Number one, these kids are in class 12, they are 17-18, about to vote. Number two, what happens to be seen in the classroom not in television studios... not between politicians, not in Parliament.. and finally Sagarika, let me say if this cartoon makes the child's mind wonder nothing can be better than that. I acknowledge and agree on this show that the purpose of these textbooks is to allow the minds of the students to wonder. To me this is true education, nothing is better than that.
Khushbu Sundar: I myself agree you have to allow the child to understand.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me just get a word from Mr Baskaran. The fact is as Yogendra said these are 17-18 years old, they are going to be voting in a year's time, why should they not have access to political cartoons....?
Sudhir Tailang: I agree with what Mr Yadav said about the text but not about the cartoon. The point about the cartoon we have already made, that it is judgmental and it doesn't reflect the nature of the agitation. That agitation was not just by Dravidians. In fact, Periyar opposed that agitation. So it was by the people of Tamil Nadu. And the issue at stake was Tamil identity.
Sagarika Ghose: It's Tamil identity, therefore it should not be disparaged or humiliated. We are completely out of time. Thanks very much Khushbu, Mr Baskaran, Yogendra Yadav, Sudhir Tailang. Thanks very much indeed for joining us.