Why bring in freedom of expression?

Cartoons in text books? Hmm.. that must be new! We never had any cartoons in our Karnataka state syllabus text books. I was really surprised to read about this Ambedkar cartoon row in NCERT books. IIRC, the NCERT books have always been colorful and attractive. Now they have cartoons too? I had to find out, so did what I always do to find out, Googled it. Found this link which complained that the particular NCERT book in question could be still be seen online. Followed that link and not so surprisingly, the book could still be seen on the link referred to there.

Going through the text in there, I see the context in which the cartoon is inserted. This is not the only cartoon in that chapter. There is another cartoon about Nehru, one about EU and two more about Iraqi constitution. With each of the cartoon there are some questions about what the cartoon conveys. Overall the cartoons seem to have been used effectively to present an opinion and invite the young-adults (these are class-11 kids remember?) to ponder over the opinion expressed and finally, to form their own opinions. The subtext to this particular cartoon in the book could have been better. It essentially says that the constitution forming was going on at ‘snail’s pace’ and only after that asks the questions. Proper context to that may be available in the details, but who reads that first? It’s the cartoon that everyone looks at first.

Many a blogs and web articles been written on this. I’m surprised at the mention of ‘Freedom of Expression‘ in this context. Whether cartoons should be part of school textbooks could have been the issue debated. Instead what we see is this debate on the ‘Freedom of Expression’! If you don’t see anything wrong with that cartoon being there in the textbook, don’t go on arguing about freedom of expression of the cartoonist. Instead, argue on the basis of why (and how), that particular cartoon enhances the learning for the kids. You have a chance to win the debate. If you go on ranting about the freedom of expression, you will loose.  For, the term freedom of expression has been used and abused. While it is important to preserve the freedom of expression, it is also important to recognize the stage where it can be used. An adult is free to smoke or drink on his own volition, but he (or she) can’t advocate the same in school textbooks, can he(/she)? Under the guise of freedom of expression one can bring in any cartoon (or anything for that matter) into school textbooks!

I have read few articles on this and this one from Prajavani seem to be the better one. It covers the context of the cartoon in the textbook as well as the historical context.

(Looking at the book, i think it is a good idea to use cartoons in school textbooks, as long as textbooks remain textbooks and not look like dummy’s guides 🙂 )


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