Caste, Cartoons and the Classroom: A Discussion on the Ambedkar Cartoon Controversy of 2012

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

In May 2012, several lawmakers raised the issue of a 1949 cartoon by Shankar Pillai in Parliament that allegedly insulted B R Ambedkar and humiliated Dalits. The cartoon showed Ambedkar sitting on a snail with the word “Constitution” written on it, while Jawaharlal Nehru stood behind with a raised whip in hand. Pillai’s cartoon appeared in the Class 11 textbook of political science published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). 

Although the cartoon was featured in the textbook since 2006, the issue was raised in 2012, and led to a “Cartoon Controversy,” with certain politicians asking the cartoon to be removed, some asking for the authors to be criminally prosecuted, and others asking for the disbandment of the NCERT. 

Manjit Singh believes the cartoon merely depicts the “ambient conflict” between Nehru and Ambedkar, with Nehru being eager to declare the Constitution to the public and Ambedkar ensuring that the Constitution’s draft is complete before it goes to the public. Singh questions the sudden degree of hostility towards the cartoon, writing that the controversy is more reflective of an offended political class rather than the Dalit community. 

An EPW editorial condemns the criticism against the cartoon and defends the autonomy of institutions and the integrity of the democratic process. 

Harish Wankhede, however, writes that the inclusion of the cartoon in the textbook exposes the “hidden contempt” of the dominant intelligentsia towards Ambedkar.

S M Dahiwale responds to Manjit Singh and the EPW editorial, stating that maturity is needed to understand the real issue of the violence caused by the cartoon’s depiction of Ambedkar.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Where Have the Mangoes Gone? Usha Menon, 2003
  2. Politics and Pedagogy, Valerian Rodrigues, 2012
  3. Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy, Anand Teltumbde, 2012
  4. Cartoons, Textbooks and Politics of Pedagogy, G Arunima, 2012
  5. Can Humour and Anger Coexist? N Ponnappa, 2017


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Education and Cartoons”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []

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