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Where Are The ‘Dalit’ Struggles In Textbooks?

This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

When I asked “How many leaders, icons, public personalities from ‘Dalit’ communities have you got to learn about in your school history classes and books?,” Shramana Karmakar, a student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, currently majoring in Animation and Multimedia said, There is not much given about the ‘Dalits’ in the textbooks nor are any specific leaders of the community mentioned.” 

Having completed class 12th from a private CBSE School, she also added, “Only who are the untouchables and what treatment they got from people was mainly discussed in classes; nothing more was given focus actually”.

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have removed certain sections about certain struggles of the ‘Dalit’ communities from history books of junior high school. They have straight away led to the path of invisibilizing, let alone the act of explaining the problems people from the community have to face to this day. ‘Caste’ is mostly taught as a matter of past henceforth leading students to ‘believe that it doesn’t have any continuity in the present and think how it is an irrelevant idea to have a reservation system now’!

From the class IX history textbook, three chapters have been taken out by NCERT: one on clothing, one on sports and one on workers and peasants. The chapters have written about many things. Among them, they also made known the crushing power of caste and class that even seeps into who can play what games, rules about who can wear what and why, and how immiserated peasants and workers have managed to imprint their protests on the political horizon. They make the past immediate to students.

In a way, what the textbooks do is gaslight the whole situation- not acknowledging the problems with the dominant castes’ role has only aggrandized the violence that the people belonging to ‘lower castes’ have to face.

“Dalit is a term that people belonging to so-called lower castes use to address themselves. They prefer this word to ‘untouchable’. Dalit means those who have been ‘broken’. This word, according to Dalits, shows how social prejudices and discrimination have ‘broken’ the Dalit people. The government refers to this group of people as Scheduled Castes (SC).”

Based on this paragraph from Chapter 2 – Diversity and Discrimination of class 6 Social Science book, a certain question went viral in 2019. Claimed to be from the question paper of a central government-run school, the question read –

“What do you mean by Dalit?” and choices for answers were: (A) Foreigners (B) Untouchables (C) Middle Class (D) Upper class.”

It is high time it is that the school officials be more sensitive while framing the question papers, and it is definitely necessary for the teachers to ask themselves once how such questions can actually propagate caste-based discrimination among the young minds instead of actually explaining how wrong it is.

When the question sparked controversy mainly in Tamil Nadu, AMMK leader TTV Dinakaran issued a statement lashing out at CBSE saying, “I strongly condemn the CBSE for having a lesson on a sensitive topic without basic understanding on how it would impact the minds of the students.” Though the question paper was being circulated on the Internet as linked to one of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan schools, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan said it was actually a fake question paper circulated on social media claiming it to be of some Kendriya Vidyalaya in Tamil Nadu or Puducherry. “However, no evidence has so far been brought to the notice of KVS which may establish that the question paper belongs to a Kendriya Vidyalaya,” it had said in a statement.

Ranging from the books of class 6 to class 12, Dr B. R. Ambedkar is probably the one ‘Dalit’ icon who is mainly discussed. To quote from the 8th-grade civics book (NCERT), we have-

“Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar is known as the Father of the Indian Constitution. Dr Ambedkar believed that his participation in the Constituent Assembly helped the Scheduled Castes get some safeguards in the draft constitution. But he also stated that although the laws might exist, Scheduled Castes still had reason to fear because the administration of these laws was in the hands of caste Hindu officers. He, therefore, urged Scheduled Castes to join the government as well as the civil services.”

Representational image.

However, on the other hand, NCERT has reduced or deleted struggles of Dalit communities from textbooks. For instance, on 18 March 2019, the NCERT reportedly announced the removal of certain sections of the Class 9 history textbooks. 70 pages were deleted which included a significant section that explained the struggles of the Nadar women of Travancore. These were women of the Nadar sub-caste (earlier called Shanar), who were not allowed to wear an upper cloth to cover the tops of their bodies.

This rule was enforced by the Travancore royalty to accentuate the Nadar community’s so-called “low-caste” status in society. Between 1813 and 1859, the Channar Revolt took place during which many Nadar women were assaulted by Nairs for wearing the upper cloth. In 1859 they were finally permitted to wear an upper cloth; however, it was to be unlike what was worn by their “upper-caste” contemporaries.

While the medal ceremony of the 200 metres race in the 1968 Olympics held at Mexico City with respect to the Civil Rights movement in the United States is discussed well in the political science textbook, there is no insight into the 2006 ‘Dalit’ protests of Maharashtra, or rather any ‘Dalit’ movement of the country. An effect of this can be linked to voices of several teenagers on social media; while several Indian teens do share posts and voices regarding George Floyd and Black Lives Matter ( many do assume it adds to being ‘cool’), they never do raise their voices when it comes to the discrimination against ‘scheduled castes’ and other suppressed classes existing even in the very present day!

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!

This post is part of theJaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writers' Training Program, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more and apply.

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