Losing their religion, in Kerala

A fuss gets kicked up in India over a social studies textbook that supposedly promotes atheism.

Published June 25, 2008 9:15AM (EDT)

The great thing about Indian democracy is that one state can be run by Hindu fundamentalists who wage campaigns against books that they believe sacrilegously portray cherished historical symbols of Hindu tradition, while at the same time another state can be run by Communists who get into trouble for public school textbooks that are deemed too pro-atheist. That's what we call diversity, folks.

The latest blow-up is occurring in Kerala, where there is a long tradition of left-wing politics. Christians, Muslims and Hindus are all up in arms over the content of a "Class VII" social studies textbook.

The controversy is focused on one minuscule (58 words long) lesson, titled "Mathamillaatha Jeevan" [Jeevan, the casteless]. Communalism Watch has the translation.

After seating the parents, who had come with their ward, in the chairs before him, the headmaster began filling the application form.

"Son, what's your name?"


"Good, nice name. Father's name?"

"Anvar Rasheed."

"Mother's name?"

"Lakshmi Devi."

The headmaster raised his head, looked at the parents and asked:

"Which religion should we write?"

"None. Write there is no religion."


"The same."

The headmaster leaned back in his chair and asked a little gravely:

"What if he feels the need for a religion when he grows up?"

"Let him choose his religion when he feels so."

Makes sense to me, though I can see how it might be like throwing a lit match into an open powder keg in a country as riven by religious passions as India.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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