History is certainly not writ in stone. It gets rewritten or revised when new facts and perspectives emerge or when new methodologies are adopted which give a clearer, more specific or more comprehensive vision of the past. This is different from distorting or reinventing the past or obliterating a period or certain events to suit political and ideological positions and predilections. The NDA government has tried to do this by reading history the way it wants to and making others read and study it the way it wants to. The decision of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to remove three chapters running into about 70 pages from its Class 9 history textbook is born of this urge to black out history that the ruling party does not like. The direction came from the HRD ministry and the excuse was the need to reduce academic burden. But the real motive is to ensure that students do not access certain readings of history.
The three chapters are about the role of caste and class in social history, how they shape the conduct and attitudes of communities and about the resistance to and protests against caste oppression and exploitation. One chapter is on clothing, another on sports and the third one on workers and peasants. The chapter on clothing describes how lower caste people were mandated to dress or rather how they were not allowed to dress. It gives an account of the long struggle of the women of the lower caste Channar community in Travancore in the 19th century to wear clothes on the upper part of their body. The other chapters describe how social status has determined the type of games played by people and throw light on the conditions of work of those who rank low in the social hierarchy through history.
These chapters were meant to give students a sense of how society evolved through the interplay of social and economic forces over long periods of time. Long and detailed discussions among scholars, experts and teachers had gone into their making. The social situations as they existed in various parts of the country, the problems, protests and conflicts among communities and their manifestations in different ways are all part of history. The BJP has been uncomfortable with such a view of history and with discussions on the role of caste and class in ways that do not agree with its ideas. That has prompted the NCERT to remove the three chapters from the textbook. But it is wrong to censor history and deny the students’ right to learn it without meddling from politics.