NCPCR Questions NCERT on Inclusion of Harsh Mander's Story in English Textbook

Priyank Kanoongo, head of the apex child rights body, has claimed that Mander's story violates sections of the JJ Act.

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New Delhi: The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has sought an explanation from the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) over the inclusion of a story by social activist Harsh Mander in a school textbook. Mander, a vocal critic of the rise of Hindutva forces and the Narendra Modi regime, is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate.

The probe against him has been criticised by rights activists, academics and others as an attempt to harass and intimidate those who question the government in power.

In a letter to the NCERT, the NCPCR chief, Priyank Kanoongo, said the content of the story titled ‘Weathering the Storm in Ersama’ included in the English book ‘Moments’ for Class IX was examined following a complaint, and it was found that it negated different provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

“Also, the narrative of the story is built in a way to suggest that the rescue and welfare work are only carried out by the non-government organisations and undermines the country’s mechanism, including disaster management agencies and other authorities,” the letter said.

“The said chapter (story) included in the supplementary reading book is authored by Shri Harsh Mandar among other stories by renowned literary figures. The complaint raises questions over inclusion of the story by a person who is accused of money laundering while running children’s homes in the country,” Kanoongo said.

The NCPCR chief said it seemed that the other two stories titled ‘A Home on the Street’ and ‘Paying for his Tea’, given as suggested readings at the end of the chapter, also presented a similar picture and had been included without cross-checking the present scenario of care and protection of children in the country.

“It is important to note that the JJ Act was enacted in 2015 and subsequently the JJ Model Rules were also constituted in 2016. The said book has been reprinted five times between 2016-2021, and as per the reports revisions of books/syllabus have also been carried out regularly without referring to the relevant laws and without being sensitive to the issue of care and protection of children,” the NCPCR said.

“Therefore, the matter is being forwarded to you for your comments and to take appropriate action in this regard. It is also requested that the NCERT may also ensure that no such misguiding account is reflected in other stories/chapters in the books. You may apprise the Commission about the action taken within seven (07) days of issuance of this letter,” Kanoongo said in a letter.

No NCERT official was immediately available for comments, according to PTI.

Mander’s story is about teenager in Odisha whose village is devastated by a cyclone. Instead of getting cowed down by grief, the 19 year old becomes a community organiser, bringing people together to create rehabilitation opportunities and negotiate with traders and the government for the best way forward.

At the end of the story, the community decides that for children orphaned in the cyclone, local resettlement in foster families would be a better option than government-run institutions.

The author told The Wire that his story is based on true events. “I am proud that my true story about a teenager who bravely gave leadership and hope to his village elders when they were broken and devastated by thousands of deaths in the Odisha super cyclone, has been part of the NCERT textbook for many years. It is sad to draw the story into controversy only presumably because of my opposition to the communal majoritarian policies of the government,” Mander said.

This is not the first time the NCPCR has had a problem with Mander. In October 2020, the child protection body had raided Ummeed Aman Ghar and Khushi Rainbow Home – with which the former IAS officer is associated – as a part of what he said was a “witch-hunt” against those who participated in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In July 2021, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights had slammed the NCPCR’s actions in the case, telling the Delhi high court it was an “attack on democracy” rather than based on actual concerns about children in the two homes.

(With PTI inputs)