MPs slam cartoons making 'fun' of leaders, Sibal orders probe

Parliament
How can cartoons 'making fun' of leaders like B R Ambedkar find their way into text books, MPs asked noisily in the Lok Sabha today, prompting the government to order an inquiry into the role of NCERT officials and also promising there won't be any recurrences.

Members cutting across party lines expressed 'concern' over such material in school text books with BJP and TDP utilising the occasion to demand HRD Minister Kapil Sibal's resignation. Most of the members held him "fully responsible" for allowing such things to happen.

The House saw almost an hour-long impromptu discussion with members contending that impressionable minds of young children were being "poisoned" by such cartoons.

Their contention was that an all-out conspiracy was on to show politicians in poor light, be it by the media or Bollywood.

"The government has also resolved to conduct an inquiry into the role of NCERT officials who approved the inclusion of the offending material in political science text book in of classes IX to XII and fix responsibility. The government will put in place a suitable process to ensure that such instances do not recur," Sibal said.

He said in early April, the ministry had received information about an "offending" cartoon on page 18 of a Political Science text book of class XI, relating to B R Ambedkar.

The minister said he had sought an explanation from the NCERT, which in turn sought a response from the chief advisors of the Textbook Development Committee Suhas Plashikar and Yogendra Yadav.

They responded by giving an elaborate explanation. "In light of the content and the explanation on record by Palashikar and Yadav, I directed that the offending cartoon be withdrawn from the NCERT textbook of Political Science of class XI," he said.

Sibal said in early May he had called for the political science books and perused the contents, including the cartoons.

"I found that a number of cartoons were inappropriate. I came to the opinion that a review of all textbooks of political science as well as a general review of all books of NCERT should be undertaken... I am of the view that large number of depictions in these cartoons are offensive and are inappropriate for textbooks," he said.

On May 11, Sibal had requested NCERT Director to withhold further distribution of the textbooks who in turn informed the ministry that all wholesalers who have received copies of the books would be asked not to distribute them.

He said the textbooks were developed between 2005 and 2007 by Textbook Development Committees constituted by the NCERT and chaired by experts in the concerned areas.

"This government fully appreciates the sensitivities involved and the concerns expressed by members of this House to the nature of these cartoons and their inappropriateness finding place in textbooks.

"The government fully appreciates these concerns and will take effective steps to ensure that henceforth text books take into account the concerns and sensibilities of individuals and communities to ensure that only educationally appropriate material are included," Sibal said.

Raising the issue, Harsimrat Kaur Badal (SAD) said she was shocked to hear during a visit to a school that none of the 100-odd children she interacted with wanted to join politics.

While seeking the reasons, she said she came to know of the text book in which cartoons lampooning politicians had been incorporated. One of the students said he did not want to join politics as politicians were "looters, criminals and thieves".

Sanjay Nirupam (Congress) regretted that politician-bashing has become "fashionable" and said it was more regrettable that text books have been brought out by the NCERT, under the HRD Ministry.

Yashwant Sinha (BJP) said it was not that only MPs and MLAs were being made fun of, but the entire parliamentary and democratic structure was being denigrated by some people.

"This is happening at a time when democracies have collapsed in the Third World and India is the only shining example. ...If you are spreading this kind of canard in a systematic manner, what are we trying to tell our kids?"

Holding Sibal fully responsible, he demanded his resignation. Sibal was was explaining the situation to Congress President Sonia Gandhi at that time.

Pointing out that cartoons played a role in presenting the problems of the society in a different manner, Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said, "Such cartoons needed mature minds to understand. The minds of youngsters are not."

Bhratruhari Mahtab (BJD) pointed out that impressionable minds of young students were being polluted, not by the cartoons, but by tasks they were asked to perform on the basis of the cartoons.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, TKS Elangovan (DMK), Dara Singh Chauhan (BSP), M Thambidurai (AIADMK), Shatabdi Roy (Trinamool Congress), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Anant Geete (Shiv Sena), Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) and Lalu Prasad (RJD) expressed concern over the wrong depiction of politicians in a sustained manner.

However, striking a discordant note, Sharifuddin Shariq (NC) said there was no need for lawmakers to get irritated as the cartoons reflected the reality.

"Instead we should do some introspection," he said, asking, "Is it not a fact that an MP or an MLA, when he goes to contest election for the second time, his assets show a considerably higher graph?" His remarks were opposed by some members.

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