New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) Eminent journalists, writers and cartoonists gathered at the capital’s Press Club of India (PCI) Friday for a discussion on the controversy stirred by famed cartoonist Shankar’s cartoon finding its way into National Council of Education, Research and Training (NCERT) school textbooks.
Speaking at the discussion titled ‘Draw to Demonstrate’, organised by the Foundation For Media Professionals, Press Club of India president T.R. Ramachandran said: “If we can’t laugh at ourselves, it shows we are vulnerable to outside forces.”
“There is political cowardice in what the government has done. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Kapil Sibal are riding a chariot drawn by the horses of intolerance, stupidity, narrow mindedness and absurdity,” Supreme Court lawyer Rajeev Dhawan said.
He added that following a string of electoral defeats, the government is aiming to placate a votebank.
Yogendra Yadav, the co-author of the book in question, agreed that textbooks are not for unbridled freedom of expression, but added that he wished that the members of parliament “had read the text before slamming it.”
He added that virtually no member of parliament had read it and an MP who joined him on a TV debate claimed to have read “all 32 pages” of it.
Former vice chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia Mushirul Hassan said that “the earlier generation of political leaders had a greater sense of humour and wit.”
He added that a pattern was emerging in the banning of books, the disapproval of paintings, the denial of visas to authors and the restrictions on student and teacher unions, all aimed at curbing free thought.
The controversial cartoon, first published in 1949 by Shankar in his weekly magazine and reproduced in NCERT Class 11 political science textbook, depicts then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with a whip in his hand chasing then law minister B.R. Ambedkar, who is seated on a snail, representing the Indian Constitution.
The cartoon depicts Nehru as asking Ambedkar to speed up the work on the constitution.
However, on April 11, parliamentarians from all sections of the house condemned the depiction of Ambedkar, with leader of House Pranab Mukherjee claiming that the printing of the cartoon in the textbook was “totally wrong” and that he “entirely” agreed with the sentiments of all sections of the house.
CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai said, “In this age of noise, silence is seen as acquiescence.”
He saw the controversy as a sign of an “insecure government with low esteem, so it tries to control the media, censor internet, expand parliamentary privileges and ban textbooks.”
The event also included a cartooning competition where more than 20 journalists drew cartoons, mostly focused on the controversy.