what the CBSE is teaching children

i like to keep tabs on the CBSE curriculum as it’s one of the major boards in indian school education. currently there are around 16000 schools affiliated to CBSE, meaning they use the CBSE curriculum.

CBSE, Class X

CBSE, Class X

so i took a look at the class X syllabus for social sciences. the whole thing looked a more contemporary syllabus than we had when we were in school. our batch saw the early part of the first wave of the serious modernisation of CBSE text books. at the time, as students, we had no respect for the change, seeming as it did to only get fluffier without actually teaching anything. this was especially visible in english. so i was dubious by the time i left school and subsequent glimpses of my friends’ children’s books weren’t exactly reassuring.

recently, i thought i really should see what the board had gotten up to. so yes, social sciences, class X. i picked out a chapter – chapter 3, because the title sounded interesting – “Democracy and Diversity“.

oh boy. talk about a prime example to use for unpacking politics. here we go. this, people, is what most of your children are learning right now in school. and it’s eerily in sync with slimy national politics.

first off, yaay, talking about diversity in a democracy: how good that such a topic has been chosen to start young teenagers thinking. but then, the way it insidiously perpetuates the same things…

racism is shown as “what white people do to black people”… seriously? no self-conscious look at our own backyard? at the size of the fairness cream industry and social stereotypes that are neatly woven into caste perceptions? ‘madrasi’ has a strong association of blackness (not dark, black). within the tam land itself, we of course have these caste-based shade card associations. and then the whole country has a long record of being vile to anglo indians, africans, chinese, and north east indians based on purely racist grounds (as opposed to the more complicated caste-race bundle).

yet, the text book had to look to the united states and black oppression. down the line there are references to other countries across the world, but we never quite get to indian racism. hypocrisy, much?

every bit as disturbing as the hindu right dictating what constitutes indianness, is the perpetuation of black people as the face of victims of racism. make and strengthen an association like that repeatedly, you’ll eventually stop recognising the signs in any other forms. starving children? – somalia or some african country, of course. but 19 million chronically hungry children in india? – barely a dent in our national consciousness.

to carefully dot the last ‘i’s: it is not good to teach children to be delusional about reality, to condition them to be unable to recognise their own environment and society.

then, the more overtly dangerous segment like this one:

These social differences are mostly based on accident of birth. Normally we don’t choose to belong to our community. We belong to it simply because we were born into it.

ah, what a mellifluous way to say biology is social destiny. it ceases to be purely an “accident of birth” when we torture, kill and intimidate to prevent intercaste marriages. that, is a deliberate social choice which is cleverly made invisible in this disingenuous argument.

then, the true poison:

The difference between the Blacks and Whites becomes a social division in the US because the Blacks tend to be poor, homeless and discriminated against. In our country Dalits tend to be poor and landless.

They often face discrimination and injustice. Situations of this kind produce social divisions, when one kind of social difference becomes more important than the other and people start feeling that they belong to different communities.

tend to be? yes, they tend to be that way as naturally as you tend to have acidity. bye bye to any truths about years of inhuman oppression, about how even now the majority does this to minorities. the continuing rabid violence of the upper castes towards dalits is now a matter of dalit tendency to be a certain way which causes them to have experiences of injustice. the villians are invisible in the picture, because there is literally no depiction of them in the textbook. people starting to feel different makes it seem like the book implies dalits should be blamed for their divisive complaining. looking at the national uproar against conversion and the current ghar wapsi nonsense, we are nowhere as benevolent as wanting them to belong to a different community, we want them directly under our heel and there for good.

so when this bit comes after that prime dose of poison,

Social divisions of one kind or another exist in most countries. It does not matter whether the country is small or big.

it just sounds like it’s excusing the state of things, normalising the condition.

then a commentary on the ‘politics of social divisions’ for 3 pages, starting with:

How do these social divisions affect politics? What does politics do to these social divisions? At first sight, it would appear that the combination of politics and social divisions is very dangerous and explosive.

inferences we are encouraged to draw: that later, these things get smoothed over. the various country examples in the 3 pages? not a word about india, because hey, we need that cohesive nation-building message, so not one look at ourselves.

and on the third of those pages, this excellent victim-blaming message to reinforce the earlier perception:

If people see their identities in singular and exclusive terms, it becomes very difficult to

aka, the divisiveness is a problem clearly owned by the minority. this is whitewashed by a fatuous reference to how the tamils were oppressed in sri lanka.

and you know the saddest part of the whole thing? the dalits are conveniently touted for the sake of sounding democratic in the political argument – “we recognise them hence you can’t fault our liberality”. (tokenism, anyone?) but at the end of the chapter, you don’t learn even one name from any of our oppressed minorities. the “ashok” who is carefully mentioned as a dalit activist – they didn’t even bother providing the entire name that you could google him. was it too much to name dr ambedkar? talk about making people invisible and faceless…