How Kerala school textbooks described Russia & China in the late 1950s | Column


Share This Post

or copy the link

In August, 1958, the Ministry of Education received a complaint in the form of a “memorial” submitted to the President of India by the Kerala School Managers’ Association, Kottayam. The association was furious at the E M S Namboodiripad government for changes it made in school textbooks in the state.

“We have made a detailed study of all the texts up to now published by the Government,” V O Abraham, president of the association wrote in the complaint. “Committees consisting of experienced teachers and men of learning in the various subjects were constituted for the purpose. From the reports they have submitted, we note with extreme regret that the Textbook which should be a mirror of truth and beauty for the teacher and the pupil, has been turned by the Kerala Government into a tool of party propaganda.”

Abraham added that achievements of Communist countries were praised, whereas those of non-Communist ones were belittled. “Finally, they have been at great pains to justify and extol everything relating to Communist countries like Russia and China, sometimes even in such a fashion as to discredit our own Motherland,” he wrote.

This was a period when India and China had a very good diplomatic relationship and the idea of a border war between them (as it occurred in 1962) would have been seen as absurd. The USSR was also seen as a friend, so the complaints from Kerala, at least in relation to these communist countries, may not have been taken too seriously by the central government.

Chinese Revolution
As expected, the social studies textbook took aim at Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese nationalists. “The Nationalist Government, stained with corruption and favouritism, sustained continued defeats,” the book said.

The book totally praised Chiang’s opponents. “The Communists expressed their desire to cooperate with Chiang for safeguarding the freedom of China. But Chiang paid no heed to it,” the book said, adding, “Chiang tried to hunt down and destroy the Communists.”

Eight pages were allocated to the Chinese Revolution, suggesting that the People’s Republic of China had managed to eradicate poverty and inequality in a matter of a few years after the revolution. It would have been hard for even the most ardent supporter of China to justify the exaggeration in the textbook.

Abraham was also irked with what was left out about China in the textbook. “In dealing with the ancient history of China in Chapter V, we find no mention of Laotse or Confucius,” he wrote. “In fact, the entire culture of China is built upon the philosophy and teachings of these two great sages. This is an unpardonable offence.”

It wasn’t just social studies, where the success of communism was praised. Literature textbooks also had poems about contemporary China. One book carried a poem of Sardar K M Pannikkar, who had then recently served as India’s ambassador in China. This poem, titled Inquilab, noted China’s success in poverty alleviation.

Russian progress
The books had far more praise for the Soviet Union than they did for China and said that “Soviet Russia helped China most sincerely.”

On the Bolshevik Revolution, the social studies textbook for the 11th standard said, “A new economic justice and a New Social Order on the basis of it, arose as a result of the Revolution. It added, “The Russian Revolution presented us the novel idea that all property belongs to the society and that it is to be used for the growth and progress of all the members of the society.”

The book also said a new world “based on social equality arose in Russia,” and said that the country made incredible industrial and agricultural progress: “The world was astounded when it saw Russia, almost in its political infancy, bringing into successful operation this many-sided scheme which was impossible even for the advanced countries of the world. An industrial revolution! An agricultural revolution! It appeared to them like the work of the magician’s wand when all this was completed within the span of four years.”

The Soviet education system was seen as a model for Kerala. The textbooks laid a lot of emphasis on how good it was. The textbook said, “The Educational system in Russia is the most modern in the world. There is compulsory education. Besides, there is no fees. Even the books and meals are free for the students. Illiteracy is non-existent there. Challenging the West, research institutes, hospitals and centres of physical culture are developing today in Russia.”

The complaint from the Kerala School Managers’ Association did the rounds at the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Education before a decision was taken that nothing could be done by the central government was education was a state subject in India.

Namboodiripad’s government was dismissed by the Centre in July, 1959. By the time he became chief minister again in 1967, the India-China equation had changed beyond recognition. Textbooks in Kerala continued, however, to portray Russia in a positive light. This is one major reason that the state has always been among the most pro-Russian in India.
(Ajay Kamalakaran is a multilingual writer, primarily based in Mumbai)

How Kerala school textbooks described Russia & China in the late 1950s | Column

You can subscribe to our newsletter completely free of charge.

Don't miss the opportunity and start your free e-mail subscription now to be informed about the latest news.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Log in or create an account now to benefit from IndiaLevel Media privileges, and it's completely free!

Bizi Takip Edin