Fun Fact: History textbooks are the best government propaganda tools. They’re simple (one great editor and a round of publishing are all it takes) and effective (you get a whole generation of people thinking exactly like you want them too). They are colored with opinions and perceptions of authors – and the government which commissioned them – rather than actual historical facts. That’s why we have new history textbook in school every few years, history is been written and rewritten several times suited to the government in power. From the Maharashtra Education Board excluding Mughal history, Rajasthan refusing to mention Jawaharlal Nehru to Gujarat including a whole chapter on Narendra Modi. But how is this allowed in a democratic country, you ask? We ask the same.
In 1961, under the Nehru Government, the National Council of Education and Training (NCERT) was established.
Historians believed education was a great way to instill feelings of unity and patriotism in children by creating a more secular view of our cultures, narratives, and symbols for generations to come. And so, they created a version of history that was rational, modern and secular – free of myths or any communal bias. Basically, they took a pass on Ramayana and refused to depict Muslims and other communities as barbarians.
“Saffronisation” is used to refer to the policies of right-wing Hindu nationalist organizations. The term refers to the saffron-colored robes worn by Hindu sages.
Hindu nationalists criticized the post-independence period way of structuring history textbooks, saying that their focus on social and economic issues reduced the importance given to culture and tradition. Hindus and Sikhs claimed that their respective religion or religious leaders weren’t glorified enough. The secular textbooks that were provided by the NCERT under the Congress were called anti-national for not having enough disapproval of Muslim invaders. So, when the BJP Government came to power in 1998, these history textbooks underwent revision, making them more to the liking of Hindu nationalists and their idea of Indian culture. They claimed this presented a more “accurate” version of Indian culture and tradition; introducing books with more focus on religion and Hindu mythology was introduced.
In 2004, when the UPA Government came into power they pledged to de-saffronize these textbooks. The new textbooks were released with updated content based on content from the NCERT books.
But unfortunately, it turned out that the new textbooks were poor in content, sloppy in presentation and scattered with a lot of irrelevant information. And so, the books were withdrawn until they were devoid of these defects. The students were left with books before the saffronized period, while the NCERT received flak for the late availability of textbooks.
Chapters in history textbooks have over time been included and excluded according to the mentality a particular state government wants to instill in children. The Rajasthan Education Board’s ‘curriculum restructuring’ omits the mention of PM Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse, a former RSS and Hindu Mahasabha member. The role of Congress is also shown in poor light. The Government basically wanted to inculcate a BJP favoring ideology. The history department of Rajasthan University also changed the syllabus by pointing out that Akbar lost to Maharana Pratap in the Battle of Haldighati, the opposite of what was taught earlier.
The Maharashtra state board reduced the Emperor Akbar’s reign to just three lines, removing almost all traces of the Mughal rule and the monuments built by them. The focus of Maharashtra history textbooks has shifted to Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire. The Gujarat Education Department decided to include an entire chapter on the life of PM Narendra Modi, his childhood, and all other life incidents, in the textbooks of classes 5-7. The Haryana Government included chapters on moral education regarding ‘Indian values’ authored by RSS-backed members, creating a Hindutva ideology in the minds of children. The Chhattisgarh Board of Secondary Education incorporates the Salwa Judum movement (a militia for the anti-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh aimed at countering Naxalite violence) as a peace march in the chapter on social security from Naxalism. Their main aim was to inform the students of the steps taken for the betterment of the state, but in actuality, the movement caused violations of human rights.
While the CBSE board syllabus has been made more uniform now, the state board syllabi are still subject to revision from state governments. Education is compulsory and the widest reach a political party can reach is through education. Isn’t this unshakeable control that government has over textbooks restricted the flow of ideas in young India? Or is it necessary for the country’s youth to be in sync with the national mood?
Let us know what you think about this in the comments below.