A clumsy way to whitewash history

A clumsy way to whitewash history

The NCERT assumes that 17-18-year-olds come to class with a blank mind, untouched both by their family background and their social environment, totally insulated from the news. It also views them as mere passive receivers of whatever is taught to them.

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Last Updated : 24 June 2024, 05:38 IST

Would studying about interfaith riots that have taken place in the recent past make students violent and depressed? That's what D P Saklani, director of India’s apex textbook writing body, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), would have us believe. Here we're not talking about school kids, but 17-18 year-olds in Class XII who have chosen to study political science!

If what the NCERT director says is true, then what would be the effect on these students when their textbook tells them, as the Class XII text does, that parties that indulge in ‘vote bank politics’ and ‘minority appeasement’, ‘disregard the principles of equality and give priority to the interests of a minority group.’? What would students belonging to that minority feel when this was being taught? Wouldn’t the prejudice bred by such an assertion fuel support for communal riots among majority community students?

These are questions Saklani needs to answer.

Saklani’s absurd justification for dropping all mention of the riots that followed the 1992 demolition of the Babri masjid and the Gujarat 2002 anti-Muslim massacre from the Class XII political science textbook, would not have merited attention. But given the recent drastic changes in NCERT textbooks, we must heed what the man responsible for them says.

These changes have been made over the last five years, though we knew they were in the offing from statements made by Hindutva ideologues soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the 2014 general elections.

This meddling in textbooks was to be expected. The BJP is an ideology-driven party. Its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has a well-defined view of Indian history, which is diametrically opposed to the view that prevailed after Independence, which saw India as an ancient land whose culture both enriched and was enriched by the cultures of those who came here as settlers or invaders. Many of the top functionaries of the government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are RSS products. It would be surprising indeed, if the RSS did not seize this opportunity to push its version of history and politics into education.

What is surprising is the clumsiness with which the changes have been wrought, and their irrationality.

It was inevitable that the RSS/BJP's main themes would make their way into textbooks. Some of these have been successfully implemented, viz the abrogation of Article 370, the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, and the denigration of secularism as government policy.

It is here that the clumsiness comes through. The Ram temple would not have been such a triumph for the BJP had it not been built after demolishing the Babri masjid. Any number of temples claiming to have been built at the spot where Ram was born can be found in Ayodhya. But for the BJP, the correct spot had to be one where allegedly, a temple was destroyed, and a mosque built over it. Hence its insistence on ‘mandir wahin banayengey’.

Everyone who lived through the 1980s and 1990s knows how many lives were lost because of that slogan.

But that’s not what the NCERT wants students to know. It wants to gloat about the temple, and at the same time obliterate the memory of the Babri masjid. So, the textbook talks about a dispute over a ‘three-domed structure’; and a Ram temple built in its place on the orders of the Supreme Court (which in fact, said there was no evidence that the masjid was built after destroying a temple.) This process has been presented as a ‘classic example of consensus building...showing the maturity of civilisationally ingrained democratic ethos...’.

Obviously, the NCERT assumes that 17-18-year-olds come to class with a blank mind, untouched both by their family background and their social environment, totally insulated from the news. It also views them as mere passive receivers of whatever is taught to them. So, these near-adults are not expected to know what a ‘three domed structure’ is. Nor are they supposed to be curious enough to find out what this particular unnamed structure was, on the site of which now stands the grand Ram temple.

These changes are reminiscent of a similar exercise carried out when the first BJP government was formed at the Centre in 1999. With Murli Manohar Joshi as education minister, the NCERT history textbooks told students that Muslims played barely any part in the freedom struggle. This lie was taught to students in Class IX, mere 13-year-olds.

This author knew of at least one teacher in Mumbai who told her class that it was wrong to slander one community in this manner; all communities participated in the freedom struggle, she informed her class. Today, when students think nothing of videographing their teachers and handing over the video to political groups whom they know would use it against the teacher, would any Class XII teacher have the courage to tell their students about the price paid by ordinary Indians before Ayodhya's Ram temple could be built?

(Jyoti Punwani is a senior journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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