Do You See?

When “Critical Pedagogy” Fails for Adults, Fanatics and Cartoon Lovers

I’m a cartoon lover. With some rancor at the moment.

Then, I’m not going to write about the recent *B R Ambedkar cartoon controversy* that emanated from a specific cartoon entry in NCERT school textbook. Google and the media has it all. Only, it is certain that the said cartoon did not stir my imagination at all and ascertained my conviction that it can justifiably anger a large section of intellectuals and thinkers, so what if the cartoon in question was published in 1949.

What also irks me is the line “oh, 1949 was such a tolerable time; look what what we have now“. Let me tell the liberals here that “critical thinking” in 1949, right after India gained independence, DID NOT include a large number of critical thinkers. The nation’s intellectuals, largely upper class/caste elites, had conveniently sidelined a sizable chunk of the population, which they find not so easily done today. Hence, all the questioning, minus clear answers.

I’m writing a few lines about this cartoon that was recently published in Tehelka news magazine:



What about it?

Again, I’m not going to write here about the story of Ekalavya.

Simply put, the binary of Mr. Sen and Ekalavya here is churlish. For cartoon lovers, so-called “fanatics” who question, and adults with a fairly developed understanding of political satire, this piece fails to deliver any sort of “critical pedagogy” that the smug liberals are shouting themselves hoarse about.

  • Of the two characters, I see Ekalavya, a hero in all sense for the Dalit-Tribal community (and all of us) in India, portrayed as the passive one (even a school kid will be able to tell that). Why?
  • The *teacher* (or the mumbo-jumbo clairvoyant, if you please) still retains the right to question. And a dumb question too at that. Was Ekalavya being tested with that sort of redundancy? Seriously, we don’t need no education ….!
  • Ekalavya’s dialogue is again supplied in a “hierarchical” manner. The boy replies. His tone is wounded. And that’s not the Ekalavya people want to see today.
  • Describing Ekalavya as “demon hunter and godslayer” sounds too casual, as though these were his only possible redemptive characteristics. Can’t be that easy. Ekalavya is not anymore a mythical character out of a Hindu epic. He is empowered with all modern knowledge. That’s the only way I think one can acknowledge he is a hero and not just a wronged boy from the mythologies.
  • Besides, juxtaposing the “hood” look for Ekalavya with the “genteel” look for Mr. Sen is absolutely lame and devoid of all imagination. It caters to stark stereotyping.
  • And, finally, it almost appears as if as a follow-up to Mr. Sen’s questioning, Ekalavya would be required to again chop off another body part, as if his talent will cost him similarly against ‘merit’ measured in cruelty. There is a sense of foreboding. Enough with it.

What is the “critical pedagogy” here for us? Tehelka can do what it pleases as an independent news magazine. I’m not at all for banning *works of art in public spaces*, although this art invites a discourse to be raised regarding its wonderfully puerile subtext.

But on a separate note, mixing up “freedom of expression” and children’s textbook designing is certainly not ‘critical thinking’ (refers to the second line of my post).

(NOTE: I’m probably going to add more points as I absorb this cartoon further…)


How can we do without poetry? From my preview of Adil Jussawalla‘s forthcoming poetry collection for young readers, “The Right Kind of Dog”, I reproduce a stanza here:

“A Song of Ekalavya”

Ekalavya must cut off his thumb
the boar step aside for the lion
for the other’s Arjun
the royal Arjun
for the sake of his family
there must be humility
for the sake of our welfare
deceit, servility
Ekalavya must cut off his thumb

That was the Ekalavya of the Mahabharata. Deceit and servility still dog many Ekalavyas today. Critical pedagogy has to understand that they are getting empowered, nonetheless.


8 comments on “When “Critical Pedagogy” Fails for Adults, Fanatics and Cartoon Lovers

  1. Do You See
    May 26, 2012

    A message elsewhere tells me adults have no need for “critical pedagogy”. I’m critically amused.

  2. Mihir Vatsa
    May 27, 2012

    “The members of Parliament have reacted with rare unanimity and an unwarranted sense of outrage to the cartoon included in a textbook published by the NCERT. If they had not done so they would have realised that the text book in question was an excellent example of creative pedagogic innovation, which is rare in our school system,” Dr. KN Panikkar.

    Showing Nehru with a whip, thus equating his image with some sort of a dictator is as problematic as showing Ambedkar under it. Right now, a section is furious at the latter. Tomorrow, a sect will say that Nehru is shown in a kind of fascist position and the cartoon should be taken down. Otherwise, PETA people will march on the streets demanding the cartoon to be taken down because it defames that turtle named Constitution. Critical Pedagogy, anyone?

    It’s like the game of Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge in HP-5 where students at Hogwarts are given stupid books for a subject that is Defense against the Dark Arts.

    That Eklavya cartoon was just lame.

  3. Mihir Vatsa
    May 27, 2012

    oh, and that’s a snail, not a turtle. Big deal.

  4. Do You See
    May 27, 2012

    OK! Turtle will do, as an evolutionary step from the snail!

    Interesting how you analyse things in the light of the Hogwarts school of thought, MV. Kidding 🙂

    I’m tired after walking up a teeny hill in the sun. It’s the sun, not the hill. Catch you later. Keep working on that ms.

    • Mihir Vatsa
      May 27, 2012

      Yes, yes. Working. This is going to be like 3th or 4th ms. Exam tomorrow. 😀

  5. Do You See
    May 27, 2012

    Exam? And you’re on blog and fb? Scoot, child. And all the best!

  6. Kush
    May 27, 2012

    Eklavya I have often thought about – nice to see a poem around the idea….

    • Do You See
      May 28, 2012

      Good to see you after a long time Kush. Hope all’s well in Bangalore? Ekalavya has featured widely in Indian writing, both vernacular and English. The iconic Ekalavya has been employed, especially, in Dalit writing in a fresh light. No longer a wronged little hunter boy, but an assertive, talented voice who’ll not part with anything to stop him in his path. Have you written something?
      Keep visiting.

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This entry was posted on May 25, 2012 by in Ambedkar cartoon controversy, Ekalavya, india, Nabina Das, NCERT, poetry, tehelka.
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