Maharashtra board's erasure of Mughals from history books will weaken legacy of Maratha empire

The Maharashtra government has revised the history textbooks that form a part of the state curriculum. Sadanand More, chairman of the History subject committee of the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research, told Mumbai Mirror that the revisions were made to orient the curriculum with a Maharashtra-centric view of history.

The revisions are an erasure of the Mughals from some parts of the curriculum and a renewed focus on the history of the Maratha empire. But what is the most startling thing about these revisions is that they also eliminated a chapter called India and the World which earlier discussed developments in Europe and the Middle East during the medieval era. This means that there is no discussion of how Indian numerals made their way across the world, the rise of republicanism in France (the preamble to our Constitution reads Liberty, Equality, Justice and Fraternity, a hat tip to those events). The rise of Islam in Arabia is also an important element that has been left out. The many reasons that made India the way it was at that time often had overseas causes. Without this, it is fully impossible to create the basic framework for the India in that period.

Changing history will only weaken the significance of the Maratha empire. Reuters

Changing history will only weaken the significance of the Maratha empire. Reuters

The renewed focus on the Maratha empire is most welcomed. The empire doesn't often get the attention it should from our History Books. The Marathas were the key political force in India between the height of Mughal power and the onset of British administration. Around 1760, the Marathas were the largest empire in the sub-continent and they also were the supreme political power in India at that time. Their legacy still remains today in many parts of the country and remains in India as the modern Indian Navy owes its origins to the Maratha Navy, a naval power that could rival the European naval powers in the region.

But without adequate context, it is impossible to truly appreciate this empire.

The Maratha empire was one that was possible because of openness, tolerance and making the right political decisions at the right time.

It is important to place the history in context in order to truly appreciate it. Without a discussion on the Bijapur Sultanate, Aurangazeb's rise to power over other contenders to the throne and the invasion by Ahmed Shah Durani, one can never truly appreciate the history of this empire.

The Mughal and Maratha legacy are both equally valuable parts of modern Indian history and in particular equally a part of the modern history of Maharashtra. For example, the third battle of Panipat, where the Marathas were defeated by the Durani Empire of Afghanistan, the Marathas worked to restore Shah Alam II to the throne of the Mughal Empire (albeit Shah Alam II was only a puppet under the Marathas) and then led an army to punish the Afghans for their atrocities in 1772. They sacked fort of Pathargarh and forced the Rohilla Afghans to pay a huge war indemnity.

This entire amazing bit of history would not make sense to anyone who doesn't know why the Afghans were invading India, why the Mughal empire was in decline and what the British were up to. Let's look at another instance, this concerning the British in India. There are numerous instances where Chhatrapati Shivaji tried to throw the British out of Bombay for refusing to sell him munitions to aid his war against the Mughals and there is also a case where Chhatrapati Shivaji tried to ask the British for help in Madras when he was on the way to fight his brother in the south. This provides valuable context for the Anglo-Martha wars that would follow and the eventual British control of the sub-continent.

The revisions of the Maharashtra text books also leave out the Delhi sultanate and the Suri empire in India, without which most of modern Indian history would be unintelligible.

It is important to learn about the sultanate as its organisational legacy still survives today. It's also important to note the introduction of things like land revenue, the rupee and other legacies like the refurbishment of the Grand Trunk Road. How will students be expected to understand the reasons for peasant dissatisfaction that would lead to the war of Maratha independence unless they understand the way India was organised at the time?

While the spirit behind the reforms is something to appreciate, these reforms are very short-sighted. Students deserve to know their country's history in full without there being significant omissions. All facts need to be presented to let the narrative be truly comprehended. It is necessary to discuss the two sides of Akbar's legacy, one of which is a legacy that generated a lot of animosity amongst the Rajput states but another that he managed to consolidate India into a political power by cementing Mughal rule. After all, the Mughal empire is a key part of Indian history, just like the British empire or the Mauryan empire.

The introduction of post-independence history is one that needs to be celebrated but expanding the curriculum cannot come at the cost of eliminating fundamentals that are necessary to fully grasp it. Even the post-partition history of India is one that still has many problems that can go back to that time. There is the problem of caste, religious unrest and unfortunate political events. These structural problems can only be understood with a firm historical foundation. Even the map of India as we know it cannot be truly comprehended without it. What is the legacy of Hyderabad State (a significant portion of which was made a part of Maharashtra) without an understanding of who the Nizams were and why they declared independence on the Mughal empire collapsing? The dispute about Belgaum, for example, is another such case.

A nation's history is what makes the nation that nation. It is very tempting to often recast history with a view to attaining a specific kind of national identity. This is, however, a dangerous road to go down. For the distorted view of events, cherry-picking can result in current events being greatly miscalculated. India has many sensitive problems to deal with as she rises to be a superpower. These problems need to be approached with caution, empathy and understanding. The purpose of teaching history at the school level is to give the students a lens through which they can understand their world. The revisions to the textbook grossly fail in achieving this purpose. They need to be urgently reconsidered.

Updated Date: Aug 08, 2017 08:03 AM

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