Gujarat State Textbook Controversy: Swayam Sainik Dal Urges Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks to Rectify Errors in Class 12 Textbook on Buddhism

In response to the concerns, the Swayam Sainik Dal urges the Gujarat State School Textbook Curriculum Board to promptly rectify the errors in the Class 12 Sociology textbook.
Representational image
Representational image

Morbi- The Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks (GSBST) finds itself embroiled in controversy following allegations of misinformation and inaccuracies concerning Buddhism in its Class 12 Sociology textbook.

The Swayam Sainik Dal (SSD), a prominent organization representing Buddhist followers in Gujarat, has given a memorandum highlighting multiple discrepancies in the textbook's portrayal of Buddhist principles and practices.

Last week, the office of the GSBST director received representations from the Gujarat Buddhist Academy (GBA), former GPSC member Mulchand Rana, and numerous followers of Buddhism, demanding the removal of the "lies" from the textbook and their replacement with accurate information.

Copies of these representations were also sent to the Chief Minister, Governor, and Education Minister.

The GBA, a prominent Buddhist organization in the state, asserted that the false information was published with "ill-intention."

The memorandum submitted by the SSD to the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks (GSBST) through Morbi Collector, raises several critical concerns regarding the depiction of Buddhism in the Class 12 Sociology textbook. Key points of contention include:

Caste Misrepresentation: The textbook suggests a hierarchical structure within Buddhism, claiming distinctions between upper-class Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and householders, versus lower-class tribals and marginalized groups who have converted to Buddhism. This portrayal is vehemently contested by the Swayam Sainik Dal, asserting that Buddhism fundamentally rejects caste distinctions and promotes equality among all its adherents.

Misinterpretation of Doctrine: It inaccurately presents Buddhist beliefs, such as conflating rebirth with reincarnation and introducing fabricated ideologies like 'Virajayana,' which are not recognized within authentic Buddhist teachings.

Terminological Inaccuracies: The memorandum highlights the misuse of religious terminology, such as referring to Buddhist monks as 'Lamas,' a term specific to Tibetan Buddhism and not universally applicable across all Buddhist traditions. The correct terms, 'bhikshus' or 'bhikkhus,' are advocated for accuracy.

Symbolic Misrepresentation: There are objections to the textbook's description of Buddhist symbols, notably the misidentification of the Dharma wheel as a 'wish wheel' associated solely with Tibetan traditions. The Dharma wheel, known as Dharmachakra, holds universal significance in Buddhism and should not be misrepresented.

In response to these concerns, the Swayam Sainik Dal urges the Gujarat State School Textbook Curriculum Board to promptly rectify the errors in the Class 12 Sociology textbook. They stress the importance of providing accurate and respectful information about Buddhism to ensure that students receive an authentic understanding of the religion's principles and practices.

Copy of memorandum submitted by SSD delegation in Morbi
Copy of memorandum submitted by SSD delegation in Morbi

Contentious Paragraph on Buddhism

The contentious paragraph is found in a subsection of the chapter titled 'Indian Culture and Community,' which covers eight religious communities in India, including Buddhism.

The paragraph states: “Similar to Sikhs, Buddhists form a small portion of India’s population, with most residing in Maharashtra, as well as in northwest India and Arunachal Pradesh. During Emperor Ashoka's reign, Buddhism was widely spread in India. Buddhism is divided into three branches: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. It is described as having two tiers: the upper tier, consisting of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and certain elites, and the lower tier, composed of tribal and marginalized groups who converted to Buddhism. Important Buddhist sites include Sarnath, Sanchi, and Bodh Gaya. Their religious leader is referred to as a Lama. Buddhist temples, their places of worship, feature ‘wish wheels’. The Tripitaka serves as their sacred text, and they believe in karma and reincarnation.”

In a BBC report, Ramesh Bankar, Secretary of the Gujarat Buddhist Academy expresses deep concern over these inaccuracies. He emphasized that such misrepresentations not only misinform students but also disrespect the cultural heritage and teachings of Buddhism, which advocate for tolerance, compassion, and truth.

While in the same report, Dr. Balakrishna Anand, Chairman of the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Institute of Social Sciences (BARISS), states, "There is no caste in Buddhism. Lord Buddha himself was a Kshatriya. Initially, Kshatriyas and Brahmins were also included with him, but when they all became followers of Buddhism, their caste disappeared."

Ramesh Bankar states, "The descriptions in the textbooks have been taken from a private publication without fact-checking. How can information written in any publication be considered true?"

On the other hand, V.R. Gosai, Director of the Gujarat State School Textbook Curriculum Board, has also admitted to the error in this matter.

V.R. Gosai informed BBC Gujarati, "This textbook was published in 2017, and this is the first time we have received a report that some descriptions about Buddhism are far from the truth."

When asked where these descriptions came from in the book, V.R. Gosai said, "The information about Buddhism that was included in the Class 12 Sociology textbook in 2005 without any changes has been included in this textbook."

In response to the question of rectification of errors, he said, "Discussions have been held with the author-panel regarding rewriting the issues related to Buddhism after checking the evidence and necessary improvements."

However, he also mentioned, "This textbook was revised on September 20, 2016. The report stated that no objectionable material for any religion or community was found in the book along with other proposed amendments. Then, after approval from the government, this book was published in 2017."

He said steps would be taken to ensure that if writing about Buddhism is sent through the Buddhist Academy, the passages will be rewritten after necessary improvements and evidence checks.

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