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Highlighting role of caste in hurdles faced by Shivaji being construed as effort to spread hate: Teesta Setalvad

By Our Representative
Well-known human rights defender Teesta Setalvad is again in the eye of storm following a complaint lodged against an educational trust she has been running, Khoj, for "utilising" funds given by the Government of India's Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for five years till 2014 for creating an atmosphere of hate and venom through educational material prepared during the period.
In a sharply-worded letter to MHRD minister Prakash Javdekar, Setalvad has called it nothing but yet another witch-hunt against her, insisting, the Khoj project was "sponsored by the MHRD during the period of the Central government grant and were duly reported to the Ministry annually". Setalvad and her organization Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) are known to be in the forefront in the fight for victims of violence he 2002 Gujarat riots.
Insisting that none of her works could be "construed as hate speech", Setalvad said, a "suitable explanation" should be given to her by the MHRD to "avoid any unnecessary legal steps", adding, when a similar controversy arose in 2001 regarding historical facts on which she is being targeted, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), after studying manuals, set aside the complaint.
Insisting that Khoj's educational material was based Indian intellectual growth "embodied" in the writings of Dr BR Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule, who "seriously contested" the prevailing interpretations of history and culture, Setalvad, in a statement in an email alert, said, the latest complaint on Khoj her by an ex-employee of CJP is part of the conspiracy by powerful people to harass her.
Filed by Rais Khan Pathan, whom the email alert calls a "disgruntled ex-employee", his complaint with the Gujarat police claims that Setalvad mixed ‘religion with politics’ using her school education initiative Khoj, adding, Khoj received a grant of Rs 1.4 crore from MHRD under the UPA regime, utilising it for spreading disharmony by circulating “exploitative literature” full of “hate” and “venom”.
Active since 1994, Khoj (Invention), said Setalvad's email, has worked on the crucial area of education policy related to democratisation of social studies and history syllabus and text-books. The Khoj project ran in municipal and zilla parishad schools, and as recognition of its approaches, in 2004 she was appointed to the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee.
Trouble began in February 2015 when Union minister Smriti Irani made statements against Setalvad for including the subject of caste in teacher training manuals, with special reference to how Shivaji was represented. The matter referred to was from a chapter on Shivaji’s coronation used in middle school teacher for training manuals, prepared by Khoj.
"The narrative of Shivaji is supported by the work of reputed historians like Jadunath Sarkar and Govind Sakharam Sardesai. When objection to this had been first taken by the Shiv Sena in September 2001, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) Maharashtra had completely cleared the teacher training text books", Setalvad said.
Historian Jadunath Sarkar has been quoted as saying, “A deep study of Maratha society... reveals some facts which it is considered patriotism to ignore... The greatest obstacles to Shivaji’s success were not Mughals or Adil Shahis, Siddis or Feringis, but his own countrymen... We cannot be blind to the truth that the dominant factor in Indian life — even today, no less than in the seventeenth century — is caste..."
Another historian quoted is Govind Sakharam Sardesai, who recalls how on June 5, 1674, when the event of coronation of Shivaji took place at Raigad fort, "the orthodox Brahman opinion was not favourable to Shivaji’s claim to be recognised as a Kshatriya by blood, although he had proved this claim by action". To ensure smooth coronation, Shivaji had to negotiate with "Gaga Bhatt of Benares, a learned representative of that school of Hindu law–givers", who was "invited to Raigad to arrange the details..."

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