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India: Textbook pits religious groups against rationalists

by T K Devasia

Monday 30 June 2008

(Published in: Khaleej Times, June 30, 2008)

THE row over the seventh standard social science studies textbook has snowballed into yet another battle in the state with religious groups and rationalists rallying for and against the controversial textbook.

While various caste, community and religious forces have joined hands demanding the withdrawal of the textbook, the latter has rallied behind the government, which has rejected the demand.

The former are opposing the textbook saying that it was intended to propagate the communist ideology by injecting atheistic thoughts into the minds of children. They are offended by a chapter called ’Life without religion,’ in which a school principal pats a student for leaving the religion column blank in his admission form.

The religious groups are also furious over the glorification of inter-caste and inter-religion marriages. They feel that the chapter would encourage children to grow up without religion. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) believes that these references are inappropriate for a seventh grader.

The Nair Service Society, a Hindu body, feels that the textbook will have many adverse impacts on Kerala society. The NSS has joined hands with the Church in spearheading a struggle for withdrawal of the text book.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is exploring the possibility of cooperating with the Church and the NSS body. Party president P.K. Krishnadas has been in touch with Church heads and top NSS leaders in this regard.

The education minister defends the textbook saying that it is a reflection of the modern secular ethos of Kerala. He said that the references to the religions in the textbooks were made to stress the need for a peaceful and tolerant society.

He said that the government was willing to change the references in the textbook if anybody could prove that they were aimed at promoting atheism. “We are willing to hold talks with them”, he added.

However, he says that the religious groups have been spearheading a campaign against the textbook to help the Congress-led United Democratic Front in the light of the coming Lok Sabha elections. A group of Left-leaning intellectuals and associations of rationalists and inter-caste and inter-religious couples have backed the government. They view the protests against the text book as a rallying of fundamental forces and urged the government not to withdraw the text book under their pressure.

The Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham, a rationalists’ body, points out that the lessons related to religion tried to promote a humanism that was beyond religions. The lesson was secular in content — it neither opposed religion nor promoted atheism.

Sangham president U. Kalanathan said that the lesson projected the view that human being was more important than religion. In a country like India which is a secular Republic and in which people of different faiths live together, the focus should be on secular humanism, he added.
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