Those seeking admission for their son or daughter invariably face a series of questions including one or two about their religion. There is nothing remarkable about this, yet different political parties in Kerala have twice cried foul over a section titled 'Mathamillatha jeevan' in school textbooks!
The first time was back in 2008. The Left Democratic Front was accused of deliberately including the section in which the school headmaster asks the parents of a boy named Jeevan about his religion. The Congress-led opposition utilised the opportunity to condemn godless communists while the church saw it as an attack on organised faith.
Since the words 'jeevan' and 'matham' in Malayalam mean life and religion, respectively, few questioned the latter's astonishing inference. The section seemed to suggest that the boy's parents were atheist and hence students were liable to conclude that it was not merely advocating secularism.
Even though a panel of experts had come up with 'Mathamillatha jeevan' after prolonged deliberations, the barrage of criticism forced a high-level rethink.
The LDF government ordered that textbooks containing the offending section be taken back from the students. Accordingly, officials collected the available copies from schools across the state.
Cut to Jun 2012. The controversy is reignited but this time it is the Left parties which are protesting the most. Raising the matter in the Assembly, KS Saleekha of the CPI-M pointed out that 'Mathamillatha jeevan' was being taught at some schools in Palakkad district.
The MLA demanded an explanation from the ruling dispensation. After all, the United Democratic Front had seen red over the same material four years ago.
Education Minister PK Abdu Rabb, a member of the Muslim League, replied that nine schools had received as many as 685 textbooks. Assuring that all of them will be recalled, he rued, "The text was banned in 2009 and new books were distributed that year. The old stocks were handed over to the Kerala Books and Publications Society. It remains a mystery how these books have been distributed now."
He added that an inquiry will be conducted in this connection. The amazing thing is not his suspicion about the reappearance of 'Jeevan' as a "politically motivated" development but the fact that trivial issues like this are blown out of proportion.
Despite the high level of literacy in the state, politicians apparently do not have confidence in the vibrant people and believe that children in God's Own Country must be protected from misinformation. Nothing else explains the attempt to sanitise the curriculum.
There is no denying that young minds are impressionable. However, if they are intelligent and aware enough to cast their votes, then surely they can discriminate between right and wrong. Why should the leaders mollycoddle them?