Ambedkar cartoon issue generates heat in LS

Sanjay Nirupam demanded that an apology should be rendered to those who have been insulted in the cartoons and appropriate action should be taken against the guilty.

New Delhi: The issue of controversial cartoons in textbooks generated heat in the Lok Sabha on Monday with members demanding immediate action in the matter saying the sketch has hurt sentiments of a section of the society.

Raising the issue during Question Hour, Harsimrat Kaur (SAD) and Shailendra Kumar (SP) demanded that the CBSE textbooks carrying the cartoons should be removed immediately.

They were joined by Congress members, including Sanjay Nirupam and Lal Singh, who demanded a clarification from the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal. Sibal was not present in the House.

Shailendra Kumar walked to the Chair and submitted some papers depicting objectionable cartoons. As he raised the issue from the Well, the Chair asked him to return to his seat.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal clarified the government position saying, "Even before the matter came up before the House, the minister had noticed it and directed that the cartoons be removed from the books."

When this did not pacify the members, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, "All objectionable material in textbooks and, if necessary, the books will be removed."

Mukherjee assured the House that such books will not be prescribed and the entire publication will be withdrawn. He said the HRD Minister or he himself will apprise the House once steps have been taken.

Nirupam demanded that an apology should be rendered to those who have been insulted in the cartoons and appropriate action should be taken against the guilty.

Speaker Meira Kumar said the matter is important but asked them to raise it during Zero Hour.

Sibal said that in early May he had called for the textbooks relating to political science for class IX and class XI 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 textbooks 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 out of 100-odd children she interacted with, none wanted to join politics.

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

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

Yashwant Sinha (BJP) lamented it was not that only MPs and MLAs are 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 we are trying to tell our kids?"

Holding the Minister fully responsible, he demanded resignation of Sibal, who was apparently explaining the situation to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

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 the youngsters who are being taught are not."

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