History, altered to regime’s tastes
History is complex and nuanced, and an understanding of it is important for students to develop a worldview and a national and individual identity
The NCERT’s (National Council of Educational Research and Training) move to “rationalise” textbooks of Classes 6 to 12 is an attempt to change the content of the books to suit the ruling establishment’s ideology and idea of history. It proposes to remove from the textbooks large segments which are important for an understanding of the country’s past, including its recent past. The NCERT’s reasoning is that the changes are intended to lighten the burden on students after two years of disruption in their schooling caused by Covid-19. But the argument is not convincing for several reasons. Many children studied these lessons online and it is not known what extra burden the children have to bear in the physical classes that have started now. If the burden has to be reduced, it has to be done across the syllabus. But most changes have been made in history and humanities, which have remained the target of editing and rewriting by the Sangh Parivar.
Most of the chopped content is in chapters on the part of history that is not held in favor by the ruling establishment, like the periods of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire. Changes have been made in the accounts of some recent political events like the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat and the Emergency in 1975-77. Critical comments on the Gujarat riots, including former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s “raj dharma” remark, are proposed to be removed. The changes made in the reference to the Emergency are mystifying, and the reason could be that students should not learn how an authoritarian government worked. Other changes relate to the inequities of the caste system and the impact of social movements and protests like the Narmada Andolan and the Chipko agitation.
The NCERT has claimed that these changes have been made after consultations with social scientists. But it has not revealed the names of the experts consulted by it. It has also said that it was removing content that is “irrelevant in the present context”. It can easily be seen that the changes are in accordance with the political positions and predilections of the establishment and so the words “irrelevant in the present context” acquire added significance. History is complex and nuanced, and an understanding of it is important for students to develop a worldview and a national and individual identity. They should not be presented with a narrow and political view of the past that whitewashes certain events, personalities and eras, blacks out others and generally censors it. They should be encouraged to study it in all its complexity and diversity, which will enable them to understand facts, use their critical faculties, and arrive at their own judgments.
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