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Karnataka: Academics and Civil Society Members Produce Charge Sheet Against State Education Minister

BC Nagesh is accused of weaponising education for political gains while failing to address the needs of students.
Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, BC Nagesh

Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, BC Nagesh

In May 2022, academics in Karnataka held several public meetings to resist attempts by the BJP government to ‘saffronise’ education. The meetings were meant to generate public pressure against the Rohith Chakrathirtha committee, which reviewed and edited public school textbooks from classes 1-10.

The changes include a speech by RSS founder, KB Hedgewar, references to India as Bharatavarsha, and omissions of stories by progressive Kannada writers like L Basavaraju, AN Murthy Rao, P Lankesh and Sara Aboobacker. The order to review the textbooks was passed by the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, BC Nagesh, in September 2021.

On June 14, 2022, several academics and civil society members stepped up pressure on the minister to resign from his position.

The ‘charge sheet’ produced against him by the group of activists includes several allegations, such as his failure to address the learning gap caused by COVID-19 as students were forced to drop out of school due to financial hardships.

Activists present charge sheet against the minister

Activists present charge sheet against the minister

Moreover, they allege that Nagesh's ministry failed to provide eggs under the mid-day meal scheme and couldn't give textbooks to public school students even a month into the new academic year.

While all this negligence towards their essential functions was going on, Nagesh spent most of his time barring Muslim girls from exam halls for wearing a hijab and promoting saffronisation in education.

The Chakrathirtha committee had also allegedly made an incorrect portrayal of 12th-century anti-caste reformer, Basavanna. He was referred to as a reformer of Veerashaivism and that he wore a janivara (sacred thread). Lingayat seers strongly objected to this portrayal because it goes against the core beliefs of Basavanna. It also has social and political implications.

In 2017, a conflict between Lingayats and Veerashaivas resulted in a grassroots movement which fought to establish Lingayat as a separate religion. This could only be achieved if Veerashaivas were declared non-lingayats and removed from the fold. While Veerashaiva seers view Veerashaiva as a sub-group within a larger Lingayat caste, Lingayat seers argue that Lingayat cannot be merely a caste but a separate religion.

Basavanna was the founder of a movement to establish a casteless, classless society. While he was a Brahmin by birth, he later discarded the sacred thread and urged his followers to give up castes, varnas, yagnas, Vedas and Puranas. The people who followed his teachings were called Lingayats. However, it is alleged that over the years, the teachings of Basavanna were diluted, altered or deliberately destroyed to sow confusion. The movement to establish Lingayat as a separate religion also remains in limbo. Lingayats (along with Veerashaivas) form the largest community in Karnataka, and their votes can swing the election. The Present CM of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai is a Lingayat, as was CM Yediyurappa.

Prajval Shastri, an astrophysicist and a member of the textbook revision committee in 2015, made a few observations.

Astrophysicist, Prajval Shastri

Astrophysicist, Prajval Shastri 

“They hastily formed a committee without giving any reasons. This resulted in a delay in the printing of textbooks. Even though the new academic year has started, the students have not yet received their textbooks. We should prioritise student interests, but that is not being done. India was one of the few countries that closed schools before other sectors and reopened schools only after every other sector was allowed to open. These policies have negatively affected students. Further, the previous committee was completely transparent. The names of all the members were disclosed in a press release. The present committee has worked in complete secrecy, and the reasons are unknown.”

Education activist BN Yogananda says, “In North Karnataka, many students have forgotten how to write their names. Should students be deprived of another year of learning? There are already symptoms of a fourth wave. When will you correct the mistakes? When will you print the new textbooks? When will you teach the students? Like the Manusmriti, it seems the government only wants 3% of the population to be educated.”

Sharath, a member of the All India Students Association (AISA), says, “They (BJP) should remember that they are people’s representatives, not just of the 1% creamy layer. Nagesh is trying to push his agenda on students. His priorities are clear in how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hijab issue, and the saffronisation of textbooks. He must resign.”

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