Mumbai: The Archdiocese of Bombay and a Salesian school have clarified that the federal Human Resources Development minister referred to non-existing handbooks to hit back at her critics in parliament.
Father Bernard Fernandes, principal of Don Bosco School in Matunga, a Mumbai suburb, said his school had discontinued the handbook in 2001. “These were no textbooks but handbooks. These books were used by some of our schools on an experimental basis for a year and were meant for teachers,” the Salesian priest added.
The principal also said the school discontinued the handbooks “after a year they were introduced. Today, none of our teachers use these handbooks.”
The minister, Smriti Irani, alleged in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, on February 24 that Don Bosco School in Matunga had used the controversial handbook for fourth graders.
The handbook, authored by activist Teesta Setalvad, claimed that Shivaji Maharaj, a 17th century Maharashtrian warrior, was born as a shudra (untouchable) and that he rose to fame after he fought against injustice and caste barriers.
Shiv Sena, a political party that draws inspiration from the great warrior leader, staged a series of protests over the handbook in September 2001. The school withdrew it immediately.
An official from the school said, “The matter is being discussed among school administration and we are contemplating writing to the HRD ministry informing that the book has been discontinued.”
Bombay archdiocesan spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett on Saturday termed as “unfortunate” that the issue was raised in parliament.
“I think Irani wanted to illustrate the point as to how under the previous regime textbooks were used as a means to create a one zone agenda,” the archdiocesan offical added.
Father Barret told ANI news agency that Don Bosco School “has been emphatic in saying that they used it as an experiment.”
Irani flashed the handbook and quoted from it after opposition leaders criticized the manner in which the BJP government treated students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for `anti-national` activities. She said such handbooks created differences between students on religious and caste grounds.
Mumbai has two schools with the name Don Bosco – one in Borivli and another in Matunga.
The then principal of the Matunga school Father Bonny Borges justified the move to introduce the handbook saying the idea was to provide progressive information about history.