Maharashtra: Controversy Over 'Obscene' Texts in Primary School Books

The state's ministry of education and department of education are sparring over who appointed the committee and selected the experts who shortlisted the books with objectionable content.

Pune: “There are many examples in mythology to show that rishis and gods have had sexual intercourse and have a desire to have sex. But, Ramkrishna and Saradamata were in married relationship still they kept their desire to sex away. How will today’s generation understand this?”

Saradmata by Mohan Joshi, published by Bhartiya Vichar Sadhana

“The rishi starts to feel the body of Matsyagandha, the daughter of a fisherman and expresses his wish for intercourse. The girl asks, will anyone accept me after I lose my virginity?”

Bhagwan Ved Vyas by Prasad Dorle, published by Bhartiya Vichar Sadhana

These are examples of text from books on mythological and historical figures that are available in bookshops in Maharashtra. Selected for supplementary reading by a committee of experts, these may now find their way into government schools.

An expert committee of school teachers has identified these, and other books, to be distributed in school libraries free of cost. They will be available by the end of February.

The content of these books however has created a storm in education circles – and both the state’s ministry of education and the department of education are sparring over who appointed the committee and selected the experts who have shortlisted these books.

The education department, as per a government circular issued in June 2017, decided to make books available for supplementary reading to increase the knowledge of students of primary of zila parishad schools (class I to V). The task of implementing this decision was given to Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research and Training (MSCERT), one of the boards of the education department based in Pune.

Clippings from Marathi papers underlining the controversial passages. Credit: Varsha Torgalkar

Most of the books are in Marathi and a few in other languages in which the state runs schools, like Hindi, Telugu, Kannada. There are 3,082 books in total with about 20 pages each. Fifteen members of an expert committee selected Marathi books on the lives of historial and mythological figures including Shivaji, Jyotiba Phule, Mahatma Gandhi and Narendra Modi. The books on Bal Nachiketa, Saradamata and Bhagwan Ved Vyas are at the centre of the controversy.

Vikas Garad, deputy director, MSCERT, said that the books had been selected by an expert committee, the members of which were nominated by the government. The ‘experts’ were teachers from either private or Zila Parishad schools. He refused to reveal their names.

Garad said he was not sure whether the books that would be available in schools later this month would have these lines (mentioned above) and this content or not. When Garad why they were selected in the first place he replied, “I am sure the experts will have removed it.”

He added, “Besides, these books like Bal Nachiketa by these publications are already in the market and activists are criticising based on those books. But our experts committee has suggested changes in the content of those books and these reworked books will be made available to students.”

This reporter tried to reach Maharashtra education minister Vinod Tawde, who asked that his assistant be contacted. The assistant, who did not give his name said, “members of the expert committee decided the norms and based on those norms selected the books. And those members are selected by MSCERT and we have no role in this.”

Nand Kumar, secretary in the education department said, the “Education minister is handling the issue and you can contact him.”

Mukund Kirdat, an activist who works on education issues in Pune, said, “Even they are carrying any content related to sexuality they should consult with experts working on sexual education for kids. But this content is just obscene. And why (have) books on such regressive subjects in the first place? Kids from government schools are already falling behind, now the gap with students from private schools will grow even more.”

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