The story so far: A textbook revision committee headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha was set up in Karnataka following a memorandum submitted by the Karnataka Brahmin Mahasabha to the Primary and Secondary Education Minister B.C. Nagesh. The memorandum demanded revision of Class 6 Social Science textbooks on the ground that they “hurt the sentiments of the Brahmin community.” The Karnataka textbook revision committee was initially set up to revise Social Science textbooks from Classes 6 to 8. However, it was eventually given the responsibility to revise all textbooks from Classes 1 to 10. The committee submitted its report in March 2022 and as per the report, Social Science textbooks of Classes 6 to 10 in all mediums, Classes 1 to 10 Kannada first language (except Class 3) textbooks, Kannada second language textbooks of Classes 6, 7, and 9, and third language textbooks of all mediums of Classes 7, 8, and 9 were revised. The revised textbooks have triggered opposition from various groups.
The Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board met with then Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa in December 2020 objecting to certain extracts in the Class 6 Social Science Part 1 textbook. One of the paragraphs it found objectionable was in chapter 5 titled “The Culture of The Vedic Period”. The paragraph stated: “Offering milk, ghee and cereals to the fire during these yagnas led to the shortage of food”. Furthermore, sections from paragraph 1 of chapter 7, ‘Rise of New Religions’, was found objectionable. The paragraph under the subheading “Why did the new religions emerge?” read: “During the Vedic period, rituals like Yaga and Yagna needed animal sacrifice. This affected the food production. Apart from this, food grains, milk and ghee were offered as ‘Havisu’ and burnt in the fire which resulted in a shortage of food. People had also believed that only through these Yagnas true liberation (Mukti) was possible. But these costly rituals were conducted by reciting Sanskrit shlokas. Sanskrit was the priests’ language and common people were unable to understand it. People were in expectation of a simple path to liberation that was explained in their own language.” The Karnataka Brahmin Mahasabha claimed that such statements in the textbooks hurt their religious sentiments and hence should be revised. In September 2021, a 16-member committee headed by Mr. Chakrathirtha was set up to revise textbooks from Classes I to Class 10. The committee submitted a report in March 2022 which sparked opposition from Dalit organisations, various writers and from two powerful communities of Karnataka, the Veerashaiva Lingayat and Vokkaliga Sabha.
The revised textbooks, which were released online on May 23, do not contain chapters on “The Culture of the Vedic Period”, “Rise of New Religions” and “Christianity and Islam.”
Outrage among Dalit organisations was triggered due to the omission of certain details about Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in chapter 5 of the Class 9 Social Science textbook titled “Our Constitution”. The chapter previously stated that “based on his (BR Ambedkar’s) contribution to the framing of the constitution, he is called the ‘Chief Architect of [the] Indian Constitution’.” However, the revised textbooks only mention that “Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was the Chairman of one of the most important committees, i.e., the Drafting Committee.” Information about Ambedkar’s contribution in getting rid of untouchability in another chapter has also been tweaked. The revised textbook only mentions that “Jyotiba Phule, Swami Vivekananda, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and others made immense efforts to wipe out the stigma of untouchability”. Dalit organisations have demanded that the lessons be reprinted and the omitted information about Ambedkar be reinstated.
Various Veerashaiva-Lingayat seers have raised objections against the revision of the content of chapter 3 of the Class 9 Social Science Part 1 textbook titled, “Religious Promoters and Social Reformers”. While the previous textbook stated that “Basaveshwara was a strong opponent of the caste system and he threw away the ‘Sacred thread’ after his Upanayana (the thread ceremony) and went to Kudalasangama”, the revised textbook has excluded this and only mentions that “after his thread ceremony, he went to Kudalasangama”. The previous textbook had also mentioned that “Basaveshwara and his disciples advocated Veerashaiva philosophy which was based on simple human values. They rejected the numerous rituals deeply rooted in Vedic religion.” However, the revised textbook simply states: “He reformed Veerashaivism.” This has upset the Lingayat community which wants the content revised to reflect the actual history of Basaveshwara.
Leaders of the Vokkaliga community are raising objections against the textbook revision committee’s head Mr. Chakrathirtha. They are accusing him of insulting the Nada Geethe (state anthem) and being disrespectful to a well-known Kannada poet, Kuvempu, who wrote it. The accusations stem from a Facebook post of 2017 that has resurfaced and has been doing rounds on social media. The screenshot is a parody of the state anthem that Mr. Chakrathirtha posted on March 16, 2017. According to the screenshot, Mr. Chakrathirtha gave a satirical meaning to the state anthem, allegedly disrespecting it by comparing Karnataka to the Congress party. The Vokkaliga Sangha and various student organisations such as the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and the All India Students’ Federation (AISF) staged a protest at Freedom Park in Bengaluru demanding the dissolution of the textbook committee headed by Mr. Chakrathirtha. Various eminent writers have resigned from State government bodies because of the lack of action against the committee head.
The removal of writings by various distinguished writers has sparked protests by scholars and student organisations from Karnataka. Class 10 Kannada textbooks have been revised and chapter 1 titled “Yuddha” by Sara Aboobacker, chapter 4 titled “Mruga Mattu Sundari” by P. Lankesh, and chapter 6, “Vyagra Geethe” by A. N. Murthy Rao has been dropped. The works of these writers have been replaced by a speech of the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, K.B Hedgewar, and essays by Chakravarthy Sulibele, a right-wing ideologist, and Sanskrit scholars Bannanje Govindacharya and Shathavadhani Ganesh. Student organisations and scholars point out that the inclusion of Hedgewar’s speech will lead to the “saffronisation” of textbooks. They accused the revision committee and the government of propagating Hindutva ideology.