Last week, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) announced a 30% reduction in the syllabus for Classes 9-12 to ease the burden on students during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Class 12 student, I appreciate the sentiment of making the workload easier.
However, important topics under Indian Political Theory have been axed. These include secularism, citizenship, democracy and diversity and India’s relations with its neighbours. These topics have been immensely crucial in helping me understand social policy by arming me with a theoretical lens to be able to see what is happening around me. A complete deletion of these particular topics – especially at a time where hate crimes are on the rise, Muslims and Dalits fear for their lives, people’s citizenship is being questioned and civil society is being intimidated – is hugely problematic.
In this article, I want to highlight the importance of some of the concepts I learned from these particular chapters and why I think the cuts are not justified.
In the chapter on ‘Citizenship’ of the Class 11 book on political theory, we read about the various parameters on which citizenship depends. It asserts that the state should not discriminate against citizens on the grounds of religion, gender, caste, race, or place of birth.
These concepts I learnt of in the classroom became especially relevant when the government last year pushed the Citizenship Amendment Act through. The Act gives eligibility for Indian citizenship to migrants who faced religious persecution and entered India on or before December 31, 2014. However, it was only extended to people who were Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis belonging to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
The Act does not include Muslim persecuted minorities like the Ahmadiyyas of Pakistan and Rohingyas of Myanmar. Comparing this Act with what I studied in my lessons on citizenship made me realise that it is a gross violation of constitutional values, as it says that “the state shall not discriminate against citizens on the grounds of religion”.
The chapter on ‘Secularism’ in the Class 11 book states that India is an accommodating state in matters of religion and contributes towards reducing prejudice between religious communities. It asserts that secularism opposes the doctrine of inter-religious domination.
There is little doubt that the current political regime, under the BJP, has been pushing to build a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, clear from the the party’s outright focus on Hindutva issues like the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. I feel disappointed that the ruling party of a democracy favours a particular religion and constantly propagates narratives in favour of that religion and against others. It contradicts the ideals of secularism that India’s constitution espouses.
The chapter also asserts, “Indian secularism opposes the oppression of Dalits within Hinduism”. But the story of Rohith Vemula’s death lends a contrarian view. A Dalit and a scholar at the University of Hyderabad, Vemula stopped getting his monthly fellowship allowance os Rs 25,000 because he took part in protests with the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA). BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya had then written a letter to the then HRD minister Smriti Irani, alleging that ASA members were indulging in anti-national activities.
Vemula was suspended along with four others. He later died by suicide. The episode was a clear cut case of the government’s disregard for the rights of its citizens – and cried for justice for Vemula have largely fallen on deaf ears. And even though atrocities against Dalits are on the rise in India today, no steps are being taken to protect the community.
For Class 12, a chapter called ‘Regional Aspirations’ has been done away with. This chapter shows the political history of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the Northeast. The part on Jammu and Kashmir mentions the provisions of Article 370, and how it gives greater autonomy to J&K compared to other states.
Without the knowledge of these facts, it is impossible to understand BJP’s revocation of Article 370 last year. By removing the chapter on the state, we students will not be exposed to the Kashmiri perspective on the issue and would find it hard pressed to fully understand the consequences of the long lockdown that was imposed by the Centre there.
For Class 10, the chapter on ‘Democracy and Diversity’ has been deleted, and for Class 9, the chapter on ‘Democratic Rights’ has been removed. Even in sociology, the chapter titled ‘The Story of India’s Democracy’ has been dropped.
We were taught through these chapters that democracy is the most common and the most inclusive form of government in the world, including in India. We were taught what constitutes democracy and what an individual citizen’s contribution in making democracy a success is. We were also taught that democracy helps in maintaining quality and liberty in a country.
As famously said by Abraham Lincoln, a democratic government is, “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
How will we students fully understand the importance and fundamentals of a democracy? How will we be able to become the best future citizens we can, if such key topics are removed from the syllabus?
I do understand the importance and the need for cutting down the syllabus. However, these syllabus cuts seem more political than changes that are being made keeping the students’ best interests in mind.
Raghav Bansal is a class 12 student at BCM Arya Model, Ludhiana. He is interested in pursuing law after school.
Featured image credit: NCERT