A cartoon on Dalit icon BR Ambedkar in an NCERT textbook rocked parliament yesterday, prompting the government to apologise and order the removal of the “objectionable” sketch. After Opposition leaders created an uproar over the cartoon which they said was insulting, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said he was not personally responsible for the row but had “no hesitation in apologising to the nation”.He said a committee of the HRD Ministry was already reviewing all such “objectionable matters in textbooks”. Reacting to BSP chief and Dalit leader Mayawati’s demand for a time frame for action, Sibal said that Ambedkar was “not the property of any one segment”.
“Ambedkar was a great man. I was not the minister at that time and not in the department. I took action the moment I got to know about it. The cartoon was objectionable and I apologise to the people that the cartoon featured in the book. We had no intention of condemning any section of the society,” Sibal told reporters outside parliament.
“I have taken a decision that the textbooks which contain this particular cartoon shall not be further distributed,” he added. According to Sibal, the issue came to his notice last month and he decided on April 26 that the cartoon be withdrawn from the NCERT books on Political Science and the Indian constitution. “Much before the issue came to parliament, I had already taken action. I called for the NCERT text books and I looked at other cartoons. I realised that there were many other cartoons that were not in good taste and disparaging in nature. They were not sending the right message to our children in classrooms,” he added.
“All such content will be removed from NCERT text books next year. The cartoon was of course objectionable. This should be withdrawn,” Sibal said. While the Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day at 2 pm, the Rajya Sabha was repeatedly disrupted over the row. After being adjourned thrice over the cartoon row, when the Upper House met at 2.30 pm, BSP chief Mayawati insisted that Sibal should clarify on the issue.
“Not only the parliament, but the whole country is unhappy,” she said, demanding it be treated as a criminal offence. Mayawati was joined by members from all parties including Lok Janshakti Party’s Ramvilas Paswan, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Ramkripal Yadav, CPI’s D Raja, BJP’s Thaawar Chand Gehlot and CPI-M’s TK Rangarajan.
The cartoon, first published in 1950s by cartoonist Shankar in his weekly magazine and reproduced in NCERT Std 11 Political Science textbooks, depicts Jawaharlal Nehru with a whip in his hand chasing Ambedkar, who is seated on a snail, representing the Constitution. The cartoon depicts Nehru asking Ambedkar to speed up the work on the Constitution.