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Karnataka Textbook Row: Savarkar and Bulbul -- Metaphor or Fact?

Textbook revision committee defends saying it is a metaphor; teachers and critics believe otherwise.
VD savarkar

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: A fresh controversy has erupted in Karnataka over charges of "rewriting history" by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government as the textbook revision committee has reportedly inserted a section on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the revised high school curriculum in the state by the Rohith Chakrathirtha-headed textbook revision committee.

According to a report in The Hindu, objections have been raised on the ground that the lesson “glorified” Savarkar in a section. While the passage is being described as a “metaphor” and embellished prose by the people responsible for the textbook, critics of the same have noted that it does not read like metaphor, instead, appears quite literal.

Though no objections were raised earlier, a few hours after the text went viral on social media on Friday, the Karnataka Textbook Society (KTBS) received many oral complaints, says the report.

The author, in one paragraph is quoted as saying: “There was not even a key hole in the cell where Savarkar was incarcerated. But, bulbul birds used to visit the room and Savarkar used to sit on their wings and fly out and visit the motherland every day.”

Meanwhile, Chakratirtha issued a statement justifying the passage’s inclusion. “I wonder if the intellect of few people has sunk so low that they can’t understand what a figure of speech is,” he was quoted by News Minute as saying.

Read Also: Icons and Ideology of Religious Nationalism

Many teachers have objected to this. They believe that it gets difficult for them as teachers to separate the metaphor from facts while teaching. “If the writer has praised Savarkar metaphorically, there is no objection. But the lines are written as if it is a fact. It is very difficult to explain this to students. In case the students ask questions and seek proof, how do we do it?” a teacher was quoted as saying.

Savarkar's role in the Indian freedom struggle has been a big ideological flashpoint between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -- the ideological mentor of the BJP—and several historians and Opposition parties, who have highlighted his mercy petitions to the British colonial masters.

The textbook controversy comes at a time when sections of the ruling BJP government and its affiliate organisations, such as the RSS, have sought to celebrate Savarkar despite his chequered legacy.

Read Also: Gandhi in a New Avatar: Advisor to Savarkar on Mercy Petitions

Most recently, BJP leader and former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, launched a ‘Savarkar Rath Yatra’ in the state with the aim of disseminating the Hindutva figure’s “message and legacy.”

As per The Hindu report, Karnataka’s Minister for school education and literacy, B.C. Nagesh, supported the inclusion of the passage calling the text ‘accurate’. “Savarkar is a great freedom fighter. No matter how glorified he is, it is not adequate for his sacrifice. What the writer has described in that lesson is accurate.”

KTBS Managing Director MP Madegowda believes it was “poetic imagination” while responding to the controversy.

According to a report in The Indian Express, Madegowda said, “the chapter in question is part of the author’s account of travel diaries of different personalities, out of which Savarkar is one among them. The author could have used it as a metaphor to interpret Savarkar’s devotion to his motherland. The statement is nothing but a poetic imagination,” 

Karnataka saw a considerable amount of controversy around textbooks this year in particular because of the revisions ushered in by the committee chaired by Chakratirtha, regarding the ‘saffronisation’ of education.

After much public backlash and protest, the committee was dissolved in June.

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