The lesson in the 8th standard text book on Social Sciences of Rajasthan State Board schools was titled `Kanuno ki samajh’ (knowledge of Laws) and the lesson was about the citizens’ historic movement to bring in the Right to Information (RTI) legislation in Rajasthan. Led by Aruna Roy, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in village Devdungri of Rajasthan had sowed the seeds of an era of transparency and right to information, inspiring enough, for Rajasthan’s education committee to include it in the Social Sciences curriculum.
The Rajasthan government, however, seems to think that this knowledge would empower citizens of tomorrow, who may demand accountability from the rulers and thus may have decided to nip this education, in the bud. RTI has been removed from the Rajasthan text books. Activists across Rajasthan are piqued with this decision and are demanding an explanation from the state government.
Aruna Roy, in a letter dated 15 May 2016, to CS Rajan, Chief Secretary of Rajasthan, writes, “In the hurry to re-write history and manipulate textbooks for political reasons, the government is hurting the sentiments of ordinary people, burying the truth and actually attempting to obliterate acknowledgement of a contribution that should be of pride to the whole state.”
Roy demanded that “the changes to the text book be put on hold and an open dialogue be established to determine if there is any need for amending text books, and if so, what these amendments should be.”
An RTI application has been filed by Kamal Tank, a citizen, on 10th May to the Primary School Department seeking copies of decision of the proposal to remove the chapter, report of the Committee, if it has been instituted for this purpose and copy of the decision of the fate of the second hand books, in case the chapter gets deleted.
The Suchna Evum Rojgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan, in a press note, has stated that, this seems to be political motive and this decision has hurt the sentiments of the citizens, who are very proud of this historic campaign. The organisation protests against keeping people in the dark, before making an outrageous decision.
Noted RTI activist, Subhash Chandra Agrawal, states, “It is definitely a step in reverse direction. Rather Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) should co-ordinate with Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRD) to ensure incorporating chapters on RTI in school text-books of all the states to develop student from schools to become informed citizens for not only availing their rights through RTI Act but also performing their duty to use the transparency-Act in larger national and public good.”
Agrawal suggested that the central government should modify RTI rules for copying charges to ensure that first 20 copied pages are part of basic RTI fees (say Rs50) but uniformly for all public-authorities and states with no provision for any more fees payable at stage of first or second appeals. “Attractive RTI stamps in denominations of Rs2, Rs10 and Rs50 can be introduced along the lines of erstwhile radio and TV license fees stamps not only to save funds on handling postal-orders (handling cost rupees Rs37.45 per postal-order) but also to popularise the Act,” he says.
It may be recalled that in the late 2000s, Maharashtra government had taken up the issue of including RTI lesson in the secondary school curriculum. However, after much media hype, the proposal went into oblivion.
Roy rightly reminds the government that, “I do not need to remind the government about the fundamental role played by ordinary people and peoples’ movements in Rajasthan, in fashioning the RTI for the whole country. This contribution is acknowledged and is part of many curricula the world over, including the Kennedy School of Governance in Harvard and in eminent universities in Europe and the Americas…We would like to know what was objectionable to warrant blacking it out.”
Sure, the government needs to provide a lot of explanation for removing RTI chapters from school textbooks.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)