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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Smuggling Hindutva in through textbooks
By Yoginder Sikand

Hindutva’s ideological onslaught, based as it is on a deliberate distortion of history, poses an immense threat to Indian education, playing havoc with the minds of tens of millions of school-going children. In recent years, ever since the BJP-led coalition came to power, Hindutva ideologues have been strategically appointed to head major educational research and policy institutions, and from these positions of power have been at work seeking to promote their hate-filled ideology through the educational system.

Through its several publications, the Delhi-based Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) has played a major role in highlighting the deliberate manipulation of history texts by Hindutva forces. Recently, it released another report, tellingly titled, ‘Plagiarised and Communalised: More on the NCERT Textbooks’, uncovering how the major educational planning body in the country is now being used to promote the Hindutva agenda. As the report rightly sees it, the deliberate distortion of India’s past as presented in the new series of textbooks published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) constitutes a major ‘assault on history’ and an ‘utter disregard for historical facts’. These texts are replete with negative portrayals of Muslims and an uncritical glorification of Brahminism. 

The report provides numerous examples to substantiate its claims of how textbooks are being hurriedly re-written to promote the hate-filled ideology of Hindutva. Thus, it refers to a new NCERT book titled ‘Modern India’, prescribed for students of Class XII. The author, a certain Satish Chandra Mittal, is known for his fierce Hindutva proclivities. In a pamphlet that he had published some years ago he had complained about what he had called too-much emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity and India’s composite culture in the history textbooks. Quite naturally, then, when the NCERT authorities decided to issue a fresh set of texts, they chose, among others known for their antipathy to Hindu-Muslim unity, Mr. Mittal for the task. As can be expected, the little-known Mr. Mittal is thoroughly ill equipped for the purpose. The report quotes numerous glaring errors in his book— it refers to General Dyer, former governor of Punjab, as having been shot dead in 1940, whereas he actually died in 1927 of brain haemorrhage; it says that the foundation of the Forward Bloc by Subhash Chandra Bose so incensed the Gandhites that he had to resign from the presidentship of the Congress, whereas Bose formed the Forward Bloc only after quitting the Congress; it glorifies Savarkar, president of the Hindu Mahasabha, but remains studiously silent on Savarkar’s expounding of the theory of Hindus and Muslims being two separate, irreconcilable nations, and so on. As can be expected, Mittal lambastes the Muslim League for its communal politics, but spares the Hindu Mahasabha any critique. He also deliberately ignores the role of many Muslims in the movement for Indian independence, with all Muslims appearing to be portrayed as separatists. While the Muslim League and the communists are bitterly criticised for their opposition to the Quit India movement, the Hindu Mahasabha’s similar stance is completely ignored. So, too, is the Hindu Mahasabha’s role in fomenting Hindu-Muslim conflict. Students could be forgiven if they imagined, from studying this book, that Hindu chauvinists had nothing at all to do with the Partition of India, for here they are presented as ardent patriots and inspired fighters for India’s freedom, an image that has no bearing whatsoever with the facts of actual history.

Another intriguing aspect of the new NCERT history texts is large-scale, unacknowledged plagiarism. A history text, titled ‘Contemporary World History’, authored by two little known writers, Mohammad Anwar ul-Haque and Pratyusa Mandal, lifts entire passages from an American book throughout its various chapters. NCERT director JS Rajput termed the book as a ‘marvel of 21st century scholarship’, and when confronted with evidence of blatant stealing from the American book denied that any irregularity had occurred. All he could say in his defence was that the views of the authors of the two books simply happened to coincide! Unabashed plagiarism is also evident in some other new NCERT texts. ‘Modern India’ has entire chunks from R.C. Majumdar’s classic ‘History and Culture of Indian People’. ‘Ancient India’ lifts entire paragraphs from Romila Thapar’s ‘History of India’. 

Many of these texts are replete with grossly incorrect statements about places, dates and events. They also seem to have been carefully doctored in order to suppress ‘inconvenient’ facts and to promote the Hindutva agenda. Thus, Makkhan Lal’s book ‘Ancient Indian History’ deletes from the earlier text references to beef-eating and cattle-sacrifice in Vedic times, clear evidence of Brahminical hostility towards the Buddhist Emperor Ashok, and mention of oppressive aspects of the caste system. The pre-Islamic past is thus presented in such a way as to gloss over the oppression of the ‘low’ castes. Thus, the book claims, contrary to all that we know of the cruel subjugation of the Dalits and Shudras by the Brahmins, that ‘education was provided free with food and lodging’, and that ‘the ancient Indian education system was thought to be unique by foreign travellers because every village had a school and every individual participated in its maintenance’. ‘As a result’, Lal falsely claims, ‘India had the highest literacy rate in comparison to other countries of the world till the time up to the nineteenth century’. Lal’s clumsy language could be excused, but not so his blatant concoction of ‘facts’, completely ignoring the fact that non-Brahmins, accounting for the vast majority of the ‘Hindu’ population, were sternly forbidden by the Brahmins and their scriptures from any sort of education. That attitude still persists in large parts of the country.

No one concerned with the state of Indian education can afford to remain silent at the conscious manipulation of history by the NCERT, the country’s apex educational body. If ignored, the Hindutva brigade will have produced an entire generation of students ignorant of India’s past and filled with a burning sense of hatred against other communities—a sure recipe for civil strife on a massive scale. 

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