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Mystifying history 
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: The deletion of some allegedly objectionable paragraphs from the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) history textbooks taught in Central Board of Secondary Education schools has stirred a hornets nest among the historians and the political circles. Reputed historians have dubbed this act of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre as an attempt to saffronise the education in the country.

There are two main charges against the Human Resources Development Minister, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, who is trying to rewrite the history through NCERT. The historians, who had written the present history books for the CBSE schools, are alleging that the government is trying to pack the textbooks with Hindu mythology and anti-Muslim references. Those historians who held this view included Arjun Dev, RS Sharma, Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and Harbans Mukhia. The other charge is that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh ideologues have been picked up to rewrite the history of the country instead by the reputed historians.

Among the paragraphs deleted by the NCERT is a reference in class six textbooks which said, "for special guests, beef was served as a mark of honour". The NCERT claimed that this was not right, as the Aryans were not eating beef. But on what basis the NCERT historians now oppose this statement could not be explained.

Another significant deletion ordered by the NCERT related to Ram and Ayodhya. What was wrong in the objectionable paragraph when the author stated that the archaeological evidence would be considered more important than those written in puranas for studying history? For the Sangh Parivar, if archaeological evidence is considered to trace the history in Ayodhya, its contention that a Ram Temple stood at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya would be demolished. So the BJP government's enthusiasm to delete the concerned paragraph in the history textbook. 

The NCERT has also come to the aid of the Brahmanical order. It ordered the deletion of a sentence which said, "the Brahmanical reaction began as a result of the policy of Ashoka. He prohibited killing of animals and birds and derided superfluous rituals by women. This naturally affected the income of the Brahmanas. They were not satisfied with his tolerant policy. They wanted a policy that would favour them and uphold the existing interests and privileges." Whether the dalits will agree to the deletion of the paragraph?

The new CBSE book for class XI henceforth will not have the following statement that "in 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested and executed. The official explanation for this, as given in some later Persian sources, is that after his return from Assam, the Guru in association with one Hafiz Adam, resorted to plundering and raping, laying waste the whole province of Punjab." During a debate in Parliament last month, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Promod Mahajan had alleged that the author of the book Satish Chandra had dubbed Guru Tegh Bahadur as a 'murderer and rapist." In fact, Chandra had only quoted from the Persian sources and added that this was being opposed by the Sikhs. Moreover, Chandra, quoting Persian sources, had never said that the Guru was a murderer and rapist. What was written in the book was that he had indulged in "plunder and rapine" (rapine does not mean rape!) and not "murderer and rapist".

The historians who wrote these books alleged that they were not consulted before the NCERT made these deletions. RS Sharma maintains that as per agreement entered into between the Council and the authors, the former was to consult the latter before making any deletions, changes or additions in the textbooks. This was corroborated by Romila Thapar and others. 

Stoutly defending the NCERT action, Dr. Joshi alleged that the CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal had incorporated a heavy dose of communist ideology in the textbooks in the state. But he had conveniently forgotten that unfounded and malicious statements were incorporated in the textbooks taught in the RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Mandir and Vidya Bharti schools. Some samples are: River of blood is the means by which Prophet Mohammad spread Islam; Sri Rama's son Maharaja Kush had first built a temple on the birth place of Sri Ram in Ayodhya; three lakh fifty thousand devotees of Rama laid down their life to liberate Ram Temple from 1528 AD to 1914 AD and seventy seven times did the foreigners invade Sri Ramjanambhoomi. Significantly the National Steering Committee on Textbook Evaluation had sought a ban on these books.

Dr. Joshi claims that the recent deletions are made on the suggestions of the reputed historians after they reviewed the textbooks. But there is a veil of secrecy regarding the names of these historians. The head of the NCERT, J.S. Rawat, a former student of Dr. Joshi in Allahabad University, also refuses to name the historians but asserts that they are "honourable and professional". This is not for the first time that the history books are being revised. But whenever this was done earlier by reputed historians, no hue and cry was raised against them. It is, however, reported that one of the historians who had been given the job of reviewing the history books by the government was Mr TP Verma. Mr. Verma is credited with writing a book defending the view that a Ram Temple was earlier situated on the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Another professional historian selected by the NCERT was reportedly none other than the consultant in its publication division!

The statement of the BJP spokesman, Mr VK Malhotra defending the revision of the history textbooks is more disconcerting. Mr. Malhotra maintains that even though the books may not be factually inaccurate but they hurt the sentiments of communities and religions and so the objectionable paragraphs had to be deleted. If the sentiments are to be considered, then the history will have to be distorted to suit the feelings of the various sections of the society. The history may then become moral fables! Moreover, the sentiments of communities and religions may often differ and contradictory like in the case of the Ayodhya where there is a difference of opinion on whether a temple earlier stood at the place of Babri mosque. In that case how NCERT will accommodate the diverse sentiments? Sentiments will have no role while writing history; otherwise it will be the distortion of the facts.
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