Emerging on the eve of the 70s, ACK (Amar Chitra Katha) has its finger on the pulse of the palpable discontent brewing among the younger generation, increasingly faced with unemployment and failure and disillusioned with nationalist idols.
Sculpting the Citizen: History, Pedagogy and the Amar Chitra Katha
Deepa Srinivas

In this paper I revisit, after a considerable interval, my work on Amar Chitra Katha (ACK)[1] and its role in teaching history. I recall the start of my research in the early 1990s and its rather straightforward intent—looking at ACK and its readership, its impact on Indian children. But something changed during those years—it was the period of anti and pro-Mandal agitations, and my not-so-complicated thesis got steered into choppy waters. Those years, especially within academia, were marked by intense debates around the idea of merit and its presumed neutrality. Suddenly, the ‘universal’, unmarked subject of the liberal humanist and nationalist discourses was open to interrogation, no longer assured of its stable status. As pro-merit (largely upper-caste and middle-class) agitators adopted street-sweeping or shoe-shining to protest the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for enhanced reservations, they inadvertently revealed the hidden class/caste affiliations of the secular self.[2] At that historical moment, especially within university spaces, one was pushed to engage with the overt and covert workings of caste in institutions and disciplines, in textbooks and in classrooms.

[...] Amar Chitra Katha, a picture story series started by Anant Pai in the early 1970s, came into existence at a historical conjuncture when the contradictions and inequalities of the post-Independence Nehruvian state became increasingly visible, and culminated in large-scale protests and agitations by socially and economically marginalized groups—women, workers, tribals and peasants. Concurrently, there was a different set of challenges from the right, blaming the Nehruvian ideology of socialism and secularism for the moral collapse of the nation and seeking, instead, a spiritual revolution. Aligned with the position of the right was the emergence of a competitive middle class that favoured crucial partnerships with foreign capital, thus demanding a masculinization of the self in place of ‘special rights’ conferred by the state. Significantly, through the fashioning of a nationalist, brahminized yet modern masculinity as the ideal for emulation by middle-class children, ACK inserts itself right into this discourse.
We, the citizens?

Fundamental rights and duties, the three branches of the government, their relative powers, the powers and functions of the houses of Parliament . . . we are all familiar with the Civics textbook spiel—but what is it that students take away from all this? Going by relatively recent firsthand experience, not much.

What makes a citizen? What does being one entail?

The final Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) released on August 31, 2019 that left out 19,06,657 residents of the state, only adds to the need to draw students into critical engagements with the crucial issues that inform our surroundings. With this in mind, we put together a loose mosaic of exercises based on quiz, superheroes and poetry to make a flexible, topical model that we hope will come in useful in encouraging your students to think beyond textbook definitions of citizenship!

What's in a Citizenship?
Initiate a discussion on citizenship and what it means to the students. The below questions could be used to navigate the discussion, subject to how the discussion develops:
  • How do you identify yourself? What makes you ‘you’?
  • How can you prove this identity? Who decides what proofs count as legitimate?
  • What are the circumstances in which one might need to prove one’s identity?
  • If you are unable to prove your identity, what then?

Conduct the Scroll ‘Are you a Citizen?’ quiz and discuss the findings of the quiz in light of the students' responses/assertions in the preceding discussion. 

Why did Genocide Watch issue a genocide watch in Assam, India, 2019? 
Use this question to begin a brief overview of the history of the NRC in Assam and where it stands now.

Suggested reading material
'The Final Count', Scroll.in, August 1-31, 2019

Poetry and Citizenship
Explore citizenship vis-à-vis the NRC Assam through poetry to make it accessible and usable even beyond the History classroom! Access the assignment structure here: Poetry and Citizenship.

Here's one that your students will most certainly find exciting!

In the faraway land of Iratia . . .
Iratia won independence from colonial rule over 70 years ago, to become a ‘sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic’. The nation of Iratia has recently had amendments made to its Illegal Actions Aversion Act (IAAA), legislation originally drafted to control terrorism. A list of well-known figures has been accused of being guilty under these amendments. What’s the actual story? Let’s dig deeper!

List of accused

  • Superman
  • Wonder Woman
  • Daredevil
  • Cyclops
  • Spider-Man
  • Magneto
  • Killmonger
  • Luke Cage
  • the Omega men

Understanding Displacement
This is an excellent pertinent learning activity from historiana.edu on using case studies to analyze sources towards an improved understanding of the factors that cause people and communities to be displaced. The case studies range from the Suabians of Danube who moved to Brazil in the 20th century to escape the advancing Soviet army, to intra-Europe migrations, to narratives of migrations forced by the 1947 Partition of India.

The addition/inclusion of newer case studies could make this activity easily adaptable to topical/historically significant/syllabi related incidents of displacement. For instance, 

Students could watch this documentary by Andrew Whitehead as background learning for the 1947 Partition.
Would any of the above ideas come in handy? Tell us how you can use them in the classroom! Write to us at info@historyforpeace.pw
If the nation is an 'imagined community', what is citizenship?
Benedict Anderson developed the concept of an 'imagined community' to analyze nationalism, proposing that the nation is a socially constructed community imagined by those who believe they are a part of it. Tracing the trajectory of 'imagined communities', Anderson dwells on media's role in creating contemporary imagined communities using images—a perspective whose echoes can be found in journalist Ravish Kumar's opinions on Indian news channels and their role in the nationalism game.

What do we understand by the 'rule of law'? What role do people's struggles have in its making? Sociologist Professor Nandini Sundar looks at these negotiations in the context of India's post-colonial society.

Is your citizenship the same as mine? Does everyone in India have the same citizenship? Our inequality-ridden environs would suggest not. Yet, India has persisted, often aggressively, in its nationhood for over seventy years now. How? Scholar of modern Indian history and politics Ornit Shani explores this thread in her paper on conceptions of citizenship in India and the 'Muslim question'.

A little of this and that...
In March 2019 Superman/Clark Kent found place in the ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) rhetoric with US President Donald Trump announcing all-Superman related material be removed because 'they glorify an alien'. A US senior Policy Advisor added that Superman was 'no different from the hordes of criminals that are sneaking across our borders'. Sound familiar?

Is Superman a superhero from Krypton or an illegal alien, an undocumented immigrant? Watch this NerdSync video for a detailed examination of Superman story arcs over the years to find out!

In related news, read about artist, activist and comics-connoisseur Neil (Clavo) Rivas' 2012 'Illegal Super Heroes' project that denounces 27 comic heroes as 'illegal', here.

The Idea of the Indian Constitution: Impressions
The Transformative Constitution - Gautam Bhatia

'We think of Independence as a moment of political transformation from the erstwhile colonial regime to a democratic and republican government. The Indian Constitution is meant to embody this moment of transformation. However, the Constitution was meant to go much further than simply set out the blueprint for a political transition, or a mere transfer of power: it was intended to facilitate a thoroughgoing transformation of society itself, through the trinity of "liberty, equality, and fraternity", and democratise hierarchical relations in the "private sphere", such as those of caste, gender, and the economy. This talk will discuss how close attention to the radical social movements that led up the framing of the Constitution, along with the Constituent Assembly Debates, reflects the radical and transformative character of the Constitution, a character that has more often than not been obscured by subsequent scholarship as well as by judicial decisions.' 
'The task of setting out to attempt an overview of a conference such as The Idea of the Indian Constitution, is at the very outset a somewhat impossible one. Is X talk not described justifiably, is Y talk not represented enough—is that reflective of my biases, has the elusive ‘essence’ of the event made any mark on the report, is the devil not in fact in the details? The doubts are numerous, all equally procrastinative, and so without further ado here is an imperfect jigsaw of impressions I retained from the three day conference[...]'