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Rajasthan govt's move to 'roll back BJP's changes' in history textbooks has academicians displeased, students resigned, parents worried

Jaipur: The Congress government in Rajasthan is keen on showing how different it is from the previous administration of the BJP. To that end, it recently formed a committee to make changes in the history textbooks that are part of the state curriculum.

On Monday, State Education Minister Govind Dotasra announced that changes will be made to the biography of freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar — better known as Veer Savarkar — to portray facts "in the right manner". He also criticised the BJP for glorifying Savarkar extensively on the basis on its ideology.

 Rajasthan govts move to roll back BJPs changes in history textbooks has academicians displeased, students resigned, parents worried

Indian independence activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, better known as Veer Savarkar. News18

Playing politics with education

While the Congress believes it is merely rolling back the changes made by the previous government, the Opposition has accused the current administration of not wanting to promote India's history.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said: "Such revisions are made across the country as and when governments change. The Vasundhara Raje government had made changes according to the party's beliefs. Now, the Congress has set up a committee based on what it thinks is right. It will take steps according to the committee's recommendations."

In response, Rajasthan BJP president Madanlal Saini said: "BJP bhaagva rang nahi karegi toh kya haraa rang karegi (If BJP won't promote saffron, will it promote green)?"

"The Congress doesn't feel a sense of attachment towards this country and its culture. That's because the party was set up by a Britisher. It removed the nationalists from within after coming into full force. The changes being brought about in the curriculum shows the basic difference between their thought process and ours," Saini said.

The BJP leader added: "The Congress blames us for bhaagwakaran (saffronisation). We tell them, 'Hum bhagwakaran karenge. Is desh mein hara rang lagwayenge kya?' (We will resort to saffronisation. Are we supposed to put up green in the country?) Should we let our country be an Islamic one? Saffron symbolises sacrifice and penance, the colour through which our freedom fighters got us Independence. The colour was also a symbol in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These battles were fought to protect our culture. Now, if we do it, we are labelled communal, but when they do it, they are secular. That's not how it works. Decisions should be made based on an analysis."

Academic circles abuzz

Historians and academicians are not pleased with the decision to alter Savarkar's biography in Rajasthan's history textbooks. They believe such frequent changes can hamper the education system and cause confusion among students.

"In higher education, we don't teach anything that is not substantive. When facts are being studied, they cannot and should not be changed as per the changing governments. There are certain things that are based on perspective, analysis, and understanding... When things are changed based on ideology, the attempt is to glorify one and put down another, which is not appreciated. Information that was missing because of a particular ideology should be introduced, but there should be no deletion or glorification of facts," said Rashmi Jain, associate professor with the Department of Sociology, University of Rajasthan.

"The last government was hell-bent on glorifying Indian history, and it felt that much of what was written was not a correct representation. It also received directions from the Centre based on the party's ideology. The new government (in Rajasthan) is doing the same thing... It is not the duty of the government to sermonise. It is supposed to provide a platform for students to learn."

Education experts also believe that such distortion of facts can affect the image students have of a certain leader or freedom fighter.

Rohit Singh, a history student from Bharatpur, said: "Branding certain people as idols and others as terrorists or anti-nationals affects children and how they perceive these people. A state like Rajasthan faces more issues because the government changes every five years. I have seen the syllabi change multiple times."

Worried parents, resigned students

Parents and school teachers, too, believe that attempts to influence children from a very early age is an alarming trend.

Smita Agarwal, a parent, said, "Is the government trying to influence my daughter from infancy? The curriculum should be updated by scholars and researchers, not netas (politicians)."

Co-founder of Gyan Saarthi school in Jaipur, Rahil Sheikh, has a more balanced take on the matter.

"History is written by the victors, even if it's the history of democratic elections," he said. "The concern that history books are being changed too frequently is overblown because by nature, history is subjective. At the same time, governments treating educational curriculum as a tool to indoctrinate children to hateful dogmas is worrisome and should not be allowed to continue."

History students, on the other hand, have resigned themselves to changes based on ideologies of political parties. These changes, they say, are a regular affair.

Giriraj Gurjar, a history graduate from Kotputli, said: "History is based on facts. The government tries to either glorify or hide some of these facts according to its convenience. The demerits of this are usually not disclosed to the public. Considering that history is studied to know a person or an event, it should be presented on facts, not ideologies."

"Most schoolbooks are being used to propagate the ruling government's agenda. Sometimes, the thought processes of even historians get influenced by such ideology. This whole aspect of this is based on bias as certain facts are hidden while others are represented in a wrong manner," Singh added.

The author is Jaipur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters

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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 10:25:09 IST