Indian textbooks have been making news for all the wrong reasons lately. The unearthing of some appalling mistakes in social science textbooks taught to English-medium government schools in the state of Gujarat have drawn attention to exactly what it is that impressionable minds are being exposed to in the country. 50, 000 students in Gujarat belonging to Classes 6-8 are being bombarded with some genuinely bizarre information, the curriculum having been decided by a panel of experts from the Gujarat State Board for School Textbooks (GSBST) and Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training (GCERT). As India Today reports, the state government has taken measures to review these textbooks, the revised versions of which will be out in markets by the next academic season.
Interestingly though, in June, more than 42, 000 state government schools received free copies of textbooks written by Dina Nath Batra taught as reference literature, with titles like ‘Indianisation of Education (Shikhan nu Bhartiyakaran)’ and ‘Brilliant India’. In case you missed it, Batra, founder of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, was in the news earlier this year for his agitation against Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ resulting in Penguin Books India actually withdrawing from sale and pulping all existing copies, much to the dismay of people who actually care about forced censorhip.
A biased interpretation of events being relayed through education goes much further back than you’d think. The Partition of India, for instance, has been depicted in textbooks in India and Pakistan respectively; two conflicting versions of a shared history. The book History Project, a Lahore-based project by Ayyaz Ahmad, Qasim Aslam and Zoya Siddiqui, explores these discrepancies in a fascinating read.
The truth is, however, that the education system has been flawed long since; influenced by a system that it should keep a healthy distance from.
This got us wondering about what other absurd information was really out there, being circulated. Here’s a list of quotes from Indian textbooks over the past 10 years that will leave you quite speechless:
I. “They (non-vegetarians) easily cheat, tell lies, they forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes.”
The Class 6 Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) textbook titled ‘New Healthway: Health, Hygiene, Physiology, Safety, Sex Education, Games and Exercises’ explain in a matter-of-fact tone to 11-year-olds how people who eat meat are more prone to criminal behaviour. They will have you believe that meat-eaters are susceptible to urges to resort to violence and enjoy cheating, swearing and forgetting promises.
In response to NDTV’s story on the quote, at the time of publication, in 2012, CBSE chief Vineet Joshi explained, “We only recommend books for Class IX onwards. Books are chosen by individual schools. There is no monitoring of content of school books.”
The textbook also encourage girls getting married between the ages of 18 to 25 to ‘get married without a bad name is a dream of every young girl.’ An official of S Chand Publication said, after the controversy, that they would discontinue the textbook and replace them with revised ones.
II. ‘Instead (of celebrating birthday with cakes and candles), we should follow a purely Indian culture by wearing swadeshi clothes, doing a havan and praying to ishtadev (preferred deity), reciting mantras such as Gayatri mantra, distributing new clothes to the needy, feeding cows, distributing ‘prasad’ and winding up the day by playing songs produced by Vidya Bharati.’
Shikhan nu Bhartiyakaran (Indianisation of Education) by Dina Nath Batra, a name you should get familiar with quickly, is against the celebration of birthdays with cakes and candles deeming it a ‘western practice’. They would like us to forego the cake (why would you want to forego the cake?) and candles and instead indulge only in celebrating in ways that pertain to a ‘purely Indian culture’. They would also recommend charity work, finding and feeding cows and go as far as to suggest birthday night tunes.
This is a part of the Gujarat primary school syllabus as reference literature now, as of the announcement in June, 2014.
III. (The Indian map should include) ‘countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma’ (as it’s all a) ‘part of Akhand Bharat… Undivided India is the truth, divided India is a lie. Division of India is unnatural and it can be united again…’
Current macro-geopolitical norms don’t sit particularly well with Batra, he believes that the demarcated borders are, in fact, ‘a lie’.
In a book titled ‘Tejomay Bharat’ (Shining India) he talks about how India’s neighbours shouldn’t be recognised as different countries at all, and how it is all, actually a larger country that requires unification. This is also a part of the current Gujarat primary school syllabus as reference literature now, as announced in June, 2014.
IV. In a Social Science English-medium textbook for Standard 8 published by the Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training (GCERT), it is published that after Partition in 1947, a new nation was born called, ‘Islamic Islamabad’ with its capital, ‘Khyber Ghat’ in the Hindukush Mountains.
This textbook officially crosses the line between a biased version of events being circulated to straight-up misinformation. Pakistan was evidently called ‘Islamic Islamabad’ after the Partition and the capital has been shifted into a mountain range. Dadabhai Navroji, Surendranath Bannerjee and Gopal Krishna Gokhale were also cited as being ‘extremists’ within the Congress Party pre-independence when they were actually regarded as moderates at the time.
V. ‘Once Dr Radhakrishnan went for a dinner. There was a Briton at the event who said, “We are very dear to God.” Radhakrishnan laughed and told the gathering, “Friends, one day God felt like making rotis. When he was cooking the rotis, the first one was cooked less and the English were born. The second one stayed longer on the fire and the Negroes were born. Alert after His first two mistakes, when God went on to cook the third roti, it came out just right and as a result Indians were born.”’
This quote is ridiculously racist and makes Dr Radhakrishnan, our first vice-president, sound like a man with a strange sense of humour who likes to ruminate on God’s culinary skills and mix them with some golden, old passive-aggressive analogies regarding humans. This quote made me look at my own roti in a wholly different light. I find that as long as they are hot and liberally slathered with butter, I am quite content.
This quote is also from one of Dina Nath Batra’s books, Prernadeep -3, provided as reference literature to students in English-medium primary schools in Gujarat. Go figure.
VI. “The pilot and the Indian together thrashed the negro and tied him up with rope. Like a tied buffalo, he frantically tried to escape but could not. The plane landed safely in Chicago. The negro was a serious criminal…and this brave Indian was an employee of Air India.”
“We reject racism of any form. Such views on a particular community cannot be accepted in today’s India. Any racialism propagated on an institutional level will be detrimental to the Indian society and can create havoc in future,” Mnaya Davis, an African student leader in Delhi, told Telegraph, deeming the portrayal in the textbook “medieval” and “racist”.
This deeply offensive quote is from Prernadeep -2, provided as reference literature to students in English-medium primary schools in Gujarat. The wait for ‘achche din’ continues.
VII. “A donkey is like a housewife… It has to toil all day, and, like her, may even have to give up food and water. In fact, the donkey is a shade better… for while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off to her parents’ home, you’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master.”
I had to read this one twice in quick succession out of horror, to believe my eyes. Published in Rajasthani textbooks, 14-year-olds were being taught to compare a housewife to a donkey, suggesting that not only does she ‘toil all day,’ she might need to sacrifice food and water like the donkey. The donkey has been venerated for being loyal to a man, unlike the housewife who likes to whine and visit her parents’ home.
The Bharatiya Janata Party took umbrage to the excerpt leading to state education official A.R. Khan’s statement that ‘protests have been taken note of, and the board is in the process of removing ‘the reference,’’ but not before explaining amiably to NBC News that ‘the comparison was made in good humour.’
VIII. “Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time, establishing a strong administrative set-up.”
Move over, Leni Riefenstahl. In a chapter titled ‘Internal Achievements of Nazism,’ this Gujarat school textbook rubbishes the Holocaust and projects Hitler as the true leader. It’s quite disturbing to think of the 13 to 15-year-olds that studied this textbook, walking around thinking that one of the most horrifying attempted genocides of the 20th century was, in fact, only a story about an authoritarian’s dignified rise to power.
A senior official from the state education department told the BBC that the discrepancies were due to poor translations from Gujarati into English, claiming that the textbook was being quoted out of context.
IX. ‘The condition is one of arrested development or a natural deviation, and beyond that, homosexuality is a disease. It exists among all callings and at all levels of society. A prison sentence may do more harm than good. Psychotherapy is useful in some cases.Tribadism can be quite compatible with normal heterosexual behaviour. On the other hand, some lesbian women can be so morbidly jealous of such women with whom they are in inverted love, that they are sometimes incited to commit even murder.”
The 22nd edition of Modi’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology talks about drama, lesbianism and, eventually, a suspected murder, in this gem that dubs homosexuality a ‘disease.’ It also suggests psychotherapy as a ‘useful’ remedy in a tone that reminds you of someone shaking their head dejectedly, talking about a lost cause.
X. ‘Female homosexuality is known as tribadism or lesbianism. According to Greek mythology, women of Isle of Lesbos practised this perversion… The practice is usually indulged in by women who are mental degenerates or nymphomaniacs (excessive sexual desire).’
The Essentials of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology – Dr K. S. Narayan, Reddy and Dr O. P. Murthy, 32nd edition, 2013, accuses women who wear their sexuality however they want to, of being depraved and being guilty of ‘excessive sexual desire’ and, hence, nymphomaniacs.
The word ‘lesbian’ did originate from the Greek Island of Lesbos, but not because all the women there ‘practised this perversion’. The word can be traced back to the 19th century but really came into use in the 1970’s with the lesbian feminist era. The poet and intellectual Sappho used to live in Lesbos in 600 BC, her material targeted by religious fundamentalists for her love poems to other women.‘The book differentiates natural and unnatural sexual offences. Sodomy, anal coitus, lesbianism and bestiality have been named under unnatural sexual offences. Natural offences have been called as rape, adultery, and incest.
The 2012 edition of ‘Principles of forensic medicine including toxicology, Apurba Nandy Reprinted, 2012’ claims that incest is still not an offence in India, while classifying sex offences under the highly questionable headings of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’. I would really like to understand what a ‘natural’ sex offence is – is it more ‘natural’ to want to rape someone, commit adultery or indulge in incest as opposed to being inclined towards bestiality?
This textbook is being taught in AIIMS, Delhi, BMC College, Bangalore, Kerala University of Health Sciences, BLDE University, Bijapur, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay College, Rajkot, JSS University, Mysore and Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine, Goa.
It may not seem of pressing consequence to shed light on, or even reform, some of these excerpts but let’s be very clear about just how debilitating such teachings really are for the future of our country. The students at whom a lot of this bigoted, uninformed, discriminatory information is being spewed at, have no reason not to believe what they’re being taught. And they, esteemed readers, are going to be the ruling class for you and your children when they come of age. Now that’s a bright future to look forward to.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari