The politics of toxic textbooks: History isn't repeated, it's rewritten

If you can’t make history, then just make it up. This strategy, that India’s political parties relish exercising when in power to further their ideological footprints, is a textbook case of what ails the country’s education system.

Consequently, the newly appointed Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are on a unique “detoxification” drive. They are busy purging textbooks and school syllabus of bias and Hindutva revivalism.

However, the three chief ministers want to address the matter at contrasting paces.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel seems most eager to “detoxify” school curriculum. He has instructed state education minister Premsai Singh Tekam to clean up textbooks that offer a dominant Hindu majoritarian world view, often at the expense of facts and accuracy.

“The chief minister and his team have started consulting experts across the country to form a committee which will review and scrutinise textbooks, syllabus and curriculum,” said Vinod Verma, political adviser to Baghel and formerly a journalist with the BBC World Service. “We are looking for a curriculum that is based on the concept of learning with burden as envisaged by the Prof Yashpal committee. We would like to teach our young generation unbiased history. We also wish to encourage scientific temper, rationality and inclusive outlook in students’ thought process.”
Verma says other than “saffronisation” of textbooks, school curriculum under 15 years of the BJP’s Dr Raman Singh had many howlers and inaccuracies that require correction. For instance, a class 10 social science textbook published by the Chhattisgarh Board of Secondary Education, had observed that unemployment spiralled after Independence as more women started working.

The politics of toxic textbooks: History isnt repeated, its rewritten

Representational image. Getty images

“Before Independence, few women were employed. But today, women are employed in all sectors that has increased the proportion of unemployment among men,” it read.
Baghel and Verma say they need to find a way on tackling the tricky issue of RSS-affiliated private school chains like Vidya Bharati having their own curriculum. Samples from Sanskriti Gyan Pariksha, or cultural knowledge, go like this:

Q) Which Mughal invader destroyed the Ram temple in 1582?
A) Babur
Q) From 1582 till 1992, how many Ram bhakts sacrificed their lives to liberate the temple?
A) 3,50,000

In Jaipur, chief minister Ashok Gehlot has asked his education minister Govind Singh Dotasra to “restore” roles of national icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. The minister, in turn, has directed the education department officials to prepare a status report to enlist revisions made in the textbooks during the Vasundhara Raje regime.

"Education is political,” said renowned educationist Anil Sadgopal. “Each time a BJP government was formed in the Indian Union, an attempt was made to give an ideological slant to education. As a consequence, each time a Congress, Left or centrist regime comes to power, a renewed effort has to be made for a course correction.” Professor Sadgopal, who was part of the Central Advisory Board of Education of the Union government, said frequent changes in textbooks create confusion and chaos for students.

Among the three formerly BJP-ruled states, Rajasthan had perhaps taken the most ‘creative liberties’ to reinforce a Hindutva revivalist agenda and attempt to erase Muslim identity. In history textbooks, for instance, Prithviraj Chauhan is called the king “who defeated Bharat’s invader, Mohammad Ghori several times”. In February 2017, state education minister Vasudev Devnani had supported a proposal to teach children an alternative version of history. He had insisted that in the battle of Haldighati in 1576, Maharana Pratap defeated Mughal emperor Akbar, and not the other way round, as the history books suggest. “We have maintained all along that Maharana Pratap has not been accorded his due place in history,” Devnani had boasted. Even the seemingly innocuous title of a chapter Ajmer ki Sair was changed to Ajmer ki Yatra.

In a class 8 book, the practice of ‘Sati’ was described in glowing terms. A Rajasthan school textbook referred to the Indus Valley Civilisation as the Sindhu Ghati Culture. And Aryans were described as “natives” of India, though credible historians say that Aryans had migrated to India.

In May 2016, the Vasundhara Raje government had dropped Jawaharlal Nehru’s name as the country’s first prime minister from class 8 textbooks. Sachin Pilot, who was heading the Congress unit in Rajasthan, had reacted sharply to it and told the media: “This is taking saffronisation to the next level. The BJP’s ideological bankruptcy has stooped to such levels that it is erasing the country’s first prime minister from school history books. But they should know that this does not mean they can erase Nehru’s memory and his contribution from the nation’s collective conscience.”

Pilot told us the new government was merely “restoring” what was there in previous books, giving Nehru and Gandhi due representation.

Dostara claims these revisions were carried out as part of “curriculum re-structuring” by the State Institute of Education Research and Training (SIERT), Udaipur. “We are also examining how SIERT had functioned,” he said, adding, “We are reviewing the appointment of RSS-backed officers in various boards and councils.”

In Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Kamal Nath reportedly wants to go slow till the completion of the Lok Sabha polls. The CM has asked state chief secretary SR Mohanty to prepare “grounds” for revision of textbooks and syllabus, and enforce changes from the next academic session beginning in June-July.

MP’s school education minister Prabhuram Choudhary said there is a need for “course correction”. “There are some glaring and disturbing trends in school curriculum that need to be corrected.” Choudhary said he was surprised to learn how the previous Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime had sought to pack “political propaganda” in school education and even set up an “Itihaas Sankalan Punarlekhan Samiti”, effectively to rewrite history.

Bhopal-based school administrator Ahmad Kamal said teachers are in a fix. “An old textbook says something and the new textbook says almost the opposite. Since some of our wards use old, used textbooks, teachers face a problem in explaining the changes.”

Informed sources in Bhopal said the Kamal Nath government is a little cagey about some “politically sensitive” issues related to textbooks and curriculum. For instance, from 2011 onwards, the Chouhan regime, in a stated bid to inculcate moral values, had decided to include ‘Gita Sar’ in the school curriculum. A Gita lesson was also introduced in government-run Urdu-medium schools. When Muslim and Christian representatives protested, Chouhan also incorporated texts from the Bible, Quran and the Guru Granth Sahib.

Sources close to Nath say any drastic move such as deletion or removal of Gita Sar could boomerang with parliamentary polls around the corner. The Congress has three out of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh and it plans to increase the tally to 15 this time.

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Updated Date: Jan 31, 2019 18:31:40 IST

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