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Textbooks are new saffron targets
By M H Lakdawala 

Why is Akbar praised for putting into place an efficient administrative system? Why are Rajput chiefs shown supporting the Mughal empire? Why Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan are presented as enlightened and broad-minded? 

For Dinanath Batra, who has been appointed by the NCERT to review history textbooks, there is no end of complaints. Batra is the head of the Akhil Bharti Shiksha Sansthan, which runs a chain of 20,000 schools of the RSS. 

In his review Bhartiyakaran ke Virodhi, (Against Indian culture) Batra has listed a series of "distortions" in history textbooks authored by Romila Thapar, RS Sharma, Satish Chandra and Arjun Dev. These books will soon go out of circulation once the NCERT introduces new social science textbooks in consonance with the restructured curriculum from the next academic session. 

The list of "distortions" pointed out by Batra is interesting because it reveals the "mindset" of the present policy-framers who disagree with virtually every interpretation of the scholars. 

"Satish Chandra's Medieval India textbook for class XI minimises the contribution of early Rajputs and other Hindu groups," says the review. "Its 222 pages are just filled with Muslim history." 

Consider following arguments put forward by Batra justifying Saffronisation of history: 

* An efficient administrative system developed under Akbar's rule helped them (the Mughals) maintain stability for the next 150 years (Satish Chandra). 

Batra: This is an unnecessary glorification of the Mughal empire. It was very unstable during Aurangzeb's rule and stability could have lasted a maximum of 100 years. 

* In religious matters, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan were enlightened and broad-minded because of which they won the support and loyalty of the people (Satish Chandra).

Batra: That they committed atrocities are not mentioned. It is a highly controversial statement. Moreover, it is a historical impossibility to win the loyalty and support of all subjects. There was dissent even in Ramrajya. 

* Rajput chiefs during Akbar's time provided strong support to the Mughal empire. They, however, revolted against Aurangzeb when he tried to interfere with their privilege of inheriting ancestral land (Satish Chandra). 

Batra: An objectionable observation because it treats Rajputs as minions of the Mughals. It fails to underline their resistance. Such distortions in history, as are being carried out by the mandarins in the NCERT and the CBSE in the past couple of years since the BJP-led NDA came to power at the Centre, are not mere attempts with a view to ensuring that religious sentiments are not affected as it is claimed. On the contrary, the objective is to paint a distorted picture of the past. 

The present controversy of the ‘Talibanisation' of textbook history stems from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) edict of October 25, 2001, to delete certain passages from well-known prescribed textbooks. 

Acting on the October 6 diktat of the Human Resource Development Minister (HRDM), Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) have joined hands to delete ten ``objectionable'' portions from existing history textbooks. 

Within a fortnight of the HRDM's directive, the CBSE issued a circular citing a notification from NCERT to all affiliate schools asking them to ensure that these portions are not taught or questions put to students on these sections in tests/examinations. A majority of the portions that stand deleted are from Prof. R S Sharma's textbook on Ancient India for Class XI. And, at least four of the portions deleted from his book have references to either beef being part of the diet of people in ancient India or cows and bullocks being killed for Vedic sacrifices. 

Taken together, these are only 16 pages, a few thousand words, in three history textbooks for classes VI, VII and XI. But the BJP-led Government finds them so dangerous that in an unprecedented circular all CBSE schools have been directed to ''delete'' these sections ''with immediate effect.'' And ensure that they ''not be taught in the respective classes,'' or even ''discussed in the classrooms.'' 

These portions-ranging from life in the Vedic age to aspects of Jainism, Buddhism and the Varna System-have been in textbooks for over two decades and are critical of the Brahminical order. 

History has always been written and re-written. But by whom? A Dutch historian, Peter Gieyl, reflecting on various versions of the Napoleonic legend rightly called history ``an argument without end''. It is in that sense that Croce declared that ``all history is contemporary history''. But, history is a discourse. Official history by Government fiat is not history but propaganda. History by Government propaganda is the death of learning - destructive of the discourse of history and education itself. 

The state's entry into the domain of textbooks can be traced to the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in the Punjab Textbook case (1995) to the effect that the `executive' power of the state extended to selecting and prescribing textbooks for schools recognised by it even without the authority of an enacted law in preference to the books of private publishers. In the MP Textbook case (1974), Justice Bhagwati's insightful judgment warns against arbitrary and capricious actions by the Government. 

In the NCERT case (1992), the Supreme Court respected the autonomy of the NCERT by refusing to identify it with the state on the assumption that the Government's role was simply confined to overseeing the proper utilisation of funding grants. Today, the NCERT is unashamedly propagating the Government's and the Sangh Parivar's fundamentalism. So far, India's textbook system through the CBSE and the NCERT has worked well precisely because it has striven for excellence to get the best known authors (and not any politically-selected rabble) to independently write good books. The `Talibanisation' of textbooks put this system under threat. Till now, no one thought NCERT books were not good books or argued that texts cannot be updated or changed. But this cannot happen for political or fundamentalist reasons. 

The CBSE is an examining body which cannot play to political tunes. Its textbooks have stood the test of time. For the CBSE to abjure its own books under Sangh Parivar pressure is wrong. It is even despicable for a Board which should be promoting the culture of critically examining ideas to send a menacing message to young students on pain of failure that they should not dare question the fundamentalist message of the textbooks. The NCERT has been equally pliant. 

Historian Arjun Dev opines that the CBSE decision is incomprehensible and unprecedented. "Such things can only happen in fascist regimes. In any case, how are they going to ensure the 'objectionable' portions are not discussed" he said. "The aim of education is to promote open-mindedness and rational thinking. But the NCERT obviously thinks otherwise and is opposed to free discussion. Even if it wanted to review these books it should have been done by a panel of reputed historians".

How does a communalist party like the RSS go about creating this fear in 80 per cent of the population? The easiest way is to create the bogey of Muslim domination. So whatever good happened in history was during the ancient period and the Muslim period was one in which all this greatness was undermined - this is what they want to be taught in schools. It is a sinister effort to communalise young minds.

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