Christians from across Surat city and district in western India’s Gujarat state on Monday submitted a memorandum to the district collector, vehemently objecting against a state Hindi school textbook where Jesus Christ is referred to as “haivan” or “demon”. Christians from Syrian Church, Pentecost, Brethren Mission, Protestant, Roman Catholic and other denominations have expressed shock over the class IX Second Language Hindi textbook published by Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB). Christians took out a rally and submitted a memorandum to district collector Mahendra Patel.
Jesus - “haivan” (demon)
Chapter 16 in the textbook titled 'Bharatiya sanskriti mein guru-shishya sambandh' (teacher-student relationship in Indian culture) says, "Is sambandh me haivan Isa ka ek kathan sada smaraniya hai (In this context, one statement of demon Jesus is always memorable). Jesus Christ is quoted as saying, "My followers are much greater than me and I am not worthy enough to even untie their shoes" - another mess by Anandshankar Madhwan, the author of the controversial chapter 16, which, in fact, are a hash of John the Baptist’s words regarding Jesus.
Spokesperson and presbyter-in-charge, Reverend Dennis E Amin said, "Christians are a peace-loving community.” “It seems there is a deliberate attempt to instigate the community by using the word 'demon' for Jesus Christ. We are followers of Jesus Christ and it hurts when such a mistake is committed," the Times of India reported him as saying.
Amin added, "The religious leaders had pointed out to the chairman of GSSTB and chairman of National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) and sought removal of the word 'haivan' from the textbooks around a month back. Still the children in class IX are reading this. We want chief minister Vijay Rupani to take prompt action in this matter."
Following an outcry from various quarters, state education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama told News18 he was aware of the error and added that it will be corrected. GSSTB chairman Nitin Pethani said that it was a typographical error. “The word ‘haiva’, a disciple of Jesus Christ, got misprinted as “haivan”, meaning a demon,” Pethani explained adding that “Aadam Isa” and “Haiva Isa” were the two disciples of Christ and an “n” inadvertently got printed in the book. However, given the Hindi keyboard layout, the typographical error does not appear convincing at all. Furthermore, the chapter written by Madhwan has no reference whatsoever to “Aadam Isa” and “Haiva Isa”, probably meaning Adam and Eve in the first book of the Bible, who were not Christ’s disciples.
Offence punishable by law
Advocate Subramaniam Iyer, who noticed the mistake, says that the error attracts section 295 (a) of the IPC, which pertains to deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class.
Speaking to “News18”, Iyer said, “Jesus is being portrayed as a demon to students. Quite clearly, this is a case that attracts section 295(a) of the IPC that pertains to hurting the religious sentiments of any class.”
Iyer said that the error may be unintentional, but it can create a rift between communities and cause a law and order problem. “This simply is unacceptable and should be removed immediately,” he said.
Pethani said an internal inquiry will be conducted regarding the matter. The error in the online version of the textbook has been rectified. However, it would not be possible to withdraw the book from the schools. The board's solution to address the problem now is to hand an advisory to teachers to make them aware of the error when they use the book in class, the Hindustan Times reported.
Fr. Cedric Prakash – a "brutal plan to promote fascist ideologies,"
“The fact that Jesus is denigrated in school books says a lot about those in charge of shaping the minds, character and future of children,” said Jesuit priest Fr Cedric Prakash, a well-known human rights activist belonging to the Gujarat Jesuit Province. “This also reflects the mind-set of those who govern us, those in power who with their acolytes appear bent on destroying what is deemed sacrosanct in the Constitution of India, that justice, freedom, equality, and fraternity belong to every citizen of India; that India is a secular, socialist and sovereign country," said Fr. Prakash who in 2001 founded "Prashant", a Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Ahmedabad. Fr. Prakash, who now works with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Middle East, said the textbook error is part of a "brutal plan to promote fascist ideologies," and called for the "immediate removal from the textbooks” of the offending word, and “that the perpetrators be prosecuted according to the law and that the government apologize to the Christian community".
Gujarat textbooks – comedy of errors
This is not the first time that errors have been pointed out in school textbooks in the home state of prime minister Narendra Modi that is ruled by the pro-Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the past, a GSBST had claimed that Japan had dropped an atom bomb on the United States during the World War-II. In another instance, a book had got the date of Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary wrong. "The Times of India” had earlier reported that Class X social studies textbook contained chapters on ''Hitler, the Supremo'' and ''Internal Achievements of Nazism''. According to “The Hindu”, some social science textbooks contained the line: All south Indians are “Madrasis.”
Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar and president of All Gujarat United Christians Forum, said the textbook error hurt the sentiments of the Christian community and asked the authorities to ensure no such mistake gets repeated. "We would want things to be clarified. The Bible has not been quoted properly as well," Archbishop Macwan noted.
"We demand criminal action against the perpetrators and an unconditional apology from the state government," Abraham Mathai president of the Indian Christian Voice (ICV) told IANS. He said the book should be pulled out from schools and re-issued when the necessary corrections have been made. "Such wild and reckless statements,” he said, “have the potential to spark off a conflagration that could seriously jeopardize communal harmony.”