The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) announced its decision to eliminate a section entitled ‘Caste, Conflict and Dress Change’ from its social science syllabus meant for Class IX students after the Madras high court ruled to remove the “objectionable content.”
The removed portion of the NCERT textbook that is being used by the CBSE and 15 state boards, involves chapters on the Nadar community, whose men and women were forced to keep their upper bodies naked by the caste council of the Nairs from Travancore in the early 1800s.
Basically, it was seen as a sign of respect towards the ‘upper’ castes and if they chose to wrap their body, they had to pay a mulakkaram or ‘breast tax’.
During 1822, the practice triggered a series outrages known as Maru Marakkal Samaram, or the Channar Revolt as women from the Nadar and Ezhava communities demanded the right to wear same clothing as ‘upper’ caste women.
Until 1858, the Nadar women were displeased with the compromises they were being asked to make. Those who were Christian converts were permitted to put on a kuppayam (a jacket-blouse of sorts), but not permissible to dress in any apparel in the style of Nair women.
Reportedly, the references to these women created a storm even four years ago. Significantly, late Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa and other politicians objected to the chapters claiming it was offensive and misleading. They said it represent Nadars as a community of migrants that would give students ‘a wrong impression.’ Many argue that they were early settlers in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
However, Santhosh R., an assistant professor in the department of humanities and social sciences at IIT Madras, linked the CBSE’s shift to a dangerous trend of writing significant historical events out of syllabus.
“This controversy is the latest addition to a series of incidents where government bodies give in to the pressure tactics of organised caste and religious groups when it comes to the framing of syllabus. Each of these organizations wants a highly sanitised version of history to be taught in classrooms,” said Santhosh in an interview with The Ladies Finger.
“This is linked to the general trend of creating histories that depict a glorious past for these communities and India in general. But in this process, very important historical events and insights that are highly relevant to understand historical evolution of gender and caste relations in India are erased. Denying the opportunity to learn objective history in classrooms is one of the greatest injustices that the government can do to students,” Santhosh added.
The question surfaces here is whether the CBSE should have ensured more diligent fact-checking and revisions rather than getting rid of the section altogether.