The last five years have witnessed an unprecedented debate about the history textbooks prescribed in schools in India. The debate was occasioned by the steps initiated by the government to withdraw the books then in use and replace them with a new set of books. Periodic revisions or even change of textbooks normally should not arouse much opposition, as it is a necessary practice, if advances in knowledge are to be incorporated in them. It was, therefore, not so much the revision or change that occasioned the debate, but the nature and purpose of the exercise. Changing the textbooks was intrinsic to a reorientation of education, which the new government headed by the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), the political wing of Hindu fundamentalist forces, was contemplating. The reorientation was intended to inculcate political and cultural values, which would impart ideological legitimacy for a Hindu nation. The discipline central to this project was history, because a nation’s identity is inevitably enmeshed with its historical consciousness.
All governments in India, beginning with the colonial rule, have been alive to the importance of textbooks as a means to ensure their future interest by hegemonising the young. Taking keen interest in the nature of instruction they tried to shape the text books according to their ideological needs. The British, for instance, had set up textbook committees in the beginning of its rule in order to oversee their content and character. These committees laid down guidelines for the preparation of textbooks and to orient their character to compliment the colonial worldview. Apart from the official agencies there were also unofficial organizations like the schoolbook societies, engaged in the preparation, production and dissemination of textbooks . All of them, both official and non-official, helped further the interest of the colonial rule by crafting the textbooks, in conception and content, to fulfill a legitimising role for colonialism. The textbooks prescribed in states ruled by Indian princes also fulfilled a similar role by disseminating the notions of dynastic patriotism and loyalty. In other words, the textbooks carried in them the political purpose of creating consent in the mind of the subjected.
The growth of education during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, both through the initiative of the state and private agencies, made the textbook production an extremely challenging task, particularly because of the number of languages in which education was imparted. The textbook production was a predominantly private enterprise, with the government exercising a modicum of control in the form of approving the textbooks. The government did not directly enter into the preparation and production of textbooks and permitted private agencies, whose interest was primarily commercial, to monopolize it. The government was concerned not so much with quality as with the image of the colonial rule the textbooks projected, as education was looked upon essentially as an instrument for bringing the ‘natives’ under its hegemony.
The colonial textbooks performed this assigned task not merely by idealizing the British through the narratives of their political and military achievements but more by exposing, even if indirectly, the contemporary state of Indian civilization. The work of Orientalists had such an implication as it highlighted the past achievements of Indian civilization in contrast to the degradation of the present. The colonial presence drew its rationale from this contrast. Colonialism had intervened in a chaotic society, divided into religious communities which were interminably in conflict with each other. This view of Indian society also informed the colonial conception of the past, which acknowledged religion as the motor of Indian history and social consciousness. As a consequence the colonial ideologues invoked religious identity as the distinguishing characteristic of Indian history. Hence James Mill’s periodisation using religion as the marker. The influence of this interpretation has been so overriding that it continued to persist for a long time, with some of its vestiges present even today. The importance of Mill’s view of Indian history, however, was not that he followed the religious affiliation of the rulers to characterize a historical epoch, which he indeed did, but his conception of society as constituted by religious communities continuously in conflict. Such a view became central to colonial historiography with the textbooks incorporating it as an axiom.
History is often invoked as a source of legitimacy by all regimes. The preparation and promotion of textbooks by ruling powers reflect this political interest. The growth of historiography in India during the last two hundred years comprehends within it the influence of changing contours of power and politics. Most of the writings on India authored by the colonial administrators and ideologues were intertwined with the interests of the colonial rule . Delegitimising the pre-colonial, even if colonial strategies of domination were not without an element of appropriation of the ‘native’ past, was one of the objectives they had pursued. The familiar themes of colonial historiography like the despotism of Indian rulers and the characterization of the pre-colonial era as a dark age are integral to this quest. The racial explanation of the British conquest of India and the debilities of Indian character, which the colonial historiography so eloquently narrated, had the same intent. The Indians lost out to the Europeans, it was argued, not because of the technological superiority of the latter, but because of the racial inferiority of the former. The innumerable histories of British military conquest bears testimony to this. What they highlighted as reason for British success was the European character in contrast to that of the Indian. The intellectual make up of generations of Indian students were influenced by this coloured version that the colonial textbooks imbibed in them. The sense of inferiority, which the Indian intelligentsia suffered in relation to the West, can be traced, at least partially, to the ideological and cultural influences that the school textbooks initially brought to bear on the young minds.
Equally important was the political message. The colonial textbooks conveyed the idea that India, inhabited by an agglomeration of religious and caste communities antagonistic to each other, was neither a nation nor had the potential to be one. The Indians did not share a national sentiment or a sense of patriotism, but were involved mainly in their personal or group interests. India, to borrow a popular expression from colonial historiography, was nothing but a geographical expression. The Indian history that the colonial textbooks projected was, therefore, a record of sectarian strife.
The teaching of history in India after independence in 1947 was burdened with this religious-communal baggage bequeathed by colonialism. The new government was quite alive to the colonial character of education and urgent need to reform it, as evident from several education commissions it had set up. The reports of these commissions recommended steps for evolving a national policy of education, which would help decolonise the education system. The production of new textbooks replacing the ones in circulation during the colonial rule was a necessary precondition, if education were to meet the demands of the new nation. With this in view the government set up the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 1961, entrusted mainly with the mission of preparing school level text books.
Among the textbooks prepared by the NCERT the history books had attracted considerable attention, both for academic and political reasons. Academically they marked a distinct departure from the then current textbooks, both in content and interpretation. They followed a scientific approach and adopted an interpretative frame distinct from the colonial and the communal. Written by some of India’s well-known historians—Romila Thapar, Ram Sharan Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra—they incorporated, to the extent possible within the limitations of school textbooks, the advances made in the discipline. In place of the dynastic political history, which occupied the center stage of earlier texts, they tried to locate historical developments as a part of the social process. The new NCERT books were, therefore, welcomed widely by historians and teachers.
Despite their academic quality these textbooks attracted the ire of the Hindu fundamentalist forces. They alleged factual inaccuracy and biased interpretation. The Aryan migration to India and their beef eating habits were particularly contentious, as these historical facts undermined the Hindu nationalist claims. Therefore in 1977 when they became partners in the government an attempt was made to withdraw these books, which had to be eventually abandoned due to the protest of the academia and the opposition of liberal sections within the government. However, the intention of the fundamentalist forces was clearly revealed. Whenever they succeeded in having a more effective control over the government the textbooks would be so recast to project a Hinduised view of the past. Within twenty years of the initial attempt this possibility in fact became real. During this period the political climate in the country turned in favour of the Hindu fundamentalist forces, which enabled them in 1998 to lead a coalition government in which the Ministry of Human Resource Development which dealt with education was headed by a long standing cadre of the Hindu fundamentalist organization, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh( RSS). Under his stewardship the government spared no effort to change the content and character of education, of which the introduction of new textbooks, was perhaps the most prominent and indeed controversial.
POLITICS OF TEXTBOOKS
The preparation or revision of textbooks undertaken by the successive governments was part of their larger educational and political vision. For instance, the educational system that the post-independent government led by the Indian National Congress tried to bring into being was integral to its commitment to a secular- democratic polity and society. Such a commitment evolved out of the struggle against colonialism and from a perception of multi-cultural and multi-religious national identity. Seeking a fundamental change from the colonial system – in objectives, in teaching methods, in programmes, in the size and composition of the student body, in the selection and preparation of teachers, and in organization – the government envisioned education as an instrument for creating a sense of common citizenship and culture, and for strengthening national integration. Even if this intention was not fully translated into practice and the vestiges and influence of the colonial system continued to persist, initiatives were taken to realise a modern system of education. In doing so there was no attempt to adopt the western or to resurrect the traditional as the ideal. Instead, the concern of all those involved with educational reform, from the early nineteenth century onwards, was to marry the traditional with the modern. A national system of education envisaged by them was based on a possible synthesis of all that is advanced in the West with all that was socially healthy and abiding in the traditional. In other words, the national policy was not lodged in dichotomy between the indigenous and the Western. The impact of such a policy was the internalisation of a universal outlook and the location of the indigenous in the wider matrix of human history. The educational system that evolved in independent India, despite severe limitations, had a liberal and universal outlook.
Such a trajectory of educational development suffered a major set back with the emergence of Hindu fundamentalist forces and their control over the government . The freedom from British rule, they argued, did not bring about any change in the system of education, for the new rulers were the product of the colonial system, ‘the children of Macaulay’, as they were derisively described. Therefore, the education system of independent India, it was contended, continued to be colonial and Western. The real reason for opposition, however, was the liberal and secular character of education, which did not serve the fundamentalist cause. The advocates of Hindu fundamentalism, therefore, wanted the existing system to be dismantled in favour of the traditional and the indigenous. A national system of education, in their reckoning, should be anchored in Hindu religious ethos and indigenous knowledge. M.S. Golwalkar, the leader and ideologue of the RSS, had advocated such a system, which is essentially religious in character with emphasis on tradition, discipline and military training. Following the principles enunciated by its intellectual mentor, the BJP government set upon implementing an inward looking system, largely ignoring the achievements of other civilizations. Identity, national pride and attachment to the past were the qualities the government wanted to develop in the students:
A sense of belonging must be developed in every individual learner by focusing on India’s contribution to world civilization. It is high time that India’s contribution in areas like mathematics, sciences, maritime, medicine, trade, architecture, sculpture, establishment of institutions of learning is emphasised and made known to the learner to develop a sense of belonging to the nation with respect and an attachment to the past .
The BJP’s prescription to achieve these objectives was an ‘Indianised, nationalized and spiritualised’ system of education. The prerequisite for the implementation of such a system was the reordering and reorientation, if not a complete dismantling, of the existing curriculum and syllabus, which were by and large secular in character and universal in outlook. The alternative proposed had an unmistakable Hindu religious orientation with emphasis on indigenous knowledge and practices. The focus was to ‘privilege the innovative experiments and experiences’ emanating from the indigenous context and thus to bring to notice the contribution of India to the world wisdom’ . These ideas were put into practice through the government agencies at all levels of teaching and research. The NCERT prepared a new curriculum statement, the University Grants Commission (UGC) announced new programmes for financing and research-funding agencies like the Indian Council for Historical Research and Indian Council for Social Science Research supported projects with a fundamentalist flavour. The NCERT curriculum statement effectively used the pretext of value education to impart a Hindu religious character, in place of the values the existing system had enunciated: honesty, kindness, charity, tolerance, courtesy, compassion and sympathy . The UGC, at the same time, liberally financed and promoted subjects that contributed to obscurantism and superstition like astrology and Hindu priest craft, in the name of preserving indigenous knowledge. A new philosophy of education, backward looking and fundamentalist, was being put in place. In this endeavour the textbooks, particularly of history, were of crucial importance, for history was central to the concept of religious nationalism as championed by the Hindu fundamentalist forces in India.
NARRATIVE OF RELIGIOUS NATIONALISM
The introduction of new textbooks by the NCERT was inspired by the political purpose of seeking rationale from history for constructing India as a Hindu nation. The textbooks were, therefore, recast as narratives of Hindu religious nationalism. Claimed as an effort to retrieve the true nationalist history from the motivated distortions of colonial historiography they attribute to Indian nation an exclusively Hindu character. As such the new textbooks are not a continuation but a departure from the ‘nationalist’ history the anti-colonial movement had advocated, which countered the colonial misrepresentations by underlining the historical evolution of India as a multi- cultural and multi-religious society. In contrast, the communal version shares the colonial view of Indian civilization being static. Therefore the ancient civilization of India was depicted as the living present. What characterized the Indian civilization, according to these textbooks, is continuity as many practices, both religious and social, of the earliest civilisation continued to persist without change. The continuity is traced in the worship of gods, in social customs and political practice. Although reminiscent of the colonial conception of unchanging India, such a view of the past being modern and the present being a replica of the past lent credence to the argument in favour of India being a Hindu civilisational state.
The idea of India being a Hindu civilisational state runs through all the texts, either directly expressed or indirectly suggested. The question of the indigenous origin of Aryans and the identity of Harappan civilization with the Vedic society has some bearing on this issue. The former is quite central to the fundamentalist agenda of claiming the nation as Hindu, as the migration theory would deprive the Hindus of indigenous lineage. Therefore, against the widely held scholarly opinion Aryans are credited with indigenous origins, subscribing in the bargain to the colonial view of Aryan race. In the former case the textbooks put forward the view that the Aryans were indigenous to India and that the opinion widely held by scholars about their migration dismissed as inconsequential. In defense of indigenous origin no substantial evidence is adduced, except negative reasoning. It is asserted that the ‘the oldest surviving records of the Aryans, the Rig Veda, does not give even an inkling of any migration. It does not have any knowledge even of the geography beyond the known boundaries of Ancient India.’ It further says: ‘Many scholars think that the Aryans were originally inhabitants of India and did not come from outside. It has been argued by such scholars that there is no archeological or biological evidence, which could establish the arrival of any new people from outside between 5000 B.C and 800 B.C. This means that if at all there was any migration of Aryans or for that matter of any other people in India, it may have taken place at least eight or nine thousand years ago or after 800 B.C. to both of which there is no evidence. Further, the skeletal remains found from various Harappan sites resemble the skeletons of the modern population of the same geographical area.’
The theory of the indigenous origins of Aryans serves multiple purposes in the Hindu nationalist agenda. For one, it is the ground in which the identification of the Vedic with Indus civilization is constructed. The identification starts with a change in the name itself. The Harappan civilization is rechristened as Saraswati –Sindhu after the Rig Vedic river, suggesting thereby the Vedic association of the Harappan civilization. The similarity between the two civilizations is then dealt with in great details. It is suggested that the ‘Harappan and the Rig Vedic knowledge of geography covers the same extent, from Afganistan in the north to Gujarat in the south, Ganga in the east to Kubha ( Kabul) Pakistan in the West’. This shared knowledge about territory is invoked as a proof for the identity of two civilizations. The second reason given is that most of the animals known to the Indus people are also known to the Rig Veda, such as sheep, dog, buffalo, bull, etc. The animals hunted by the Rig Vedic people were antelopes, boars, buffalos, lions, and elephants, most of which were also familiar to the Indus people. As regards animals the crucial evidence could be about the presence of horse, which is associated with Aryans and the Vedic society. It is stated that ‘horse bones and terracotta figurines have been found in some Harappan sites’, for which no evidence exists. One Mr. N.S. Rajaram, who claims to be a U.S. trained scientist engaged in historical research made an attempt to transform the unicorn of the Indus seals into horse through computer manipulation. This attempt was exposed as a fabrication by historians, particularly by Prof. Michael Witzel of Harward University. Yet, the Harappan civilization is credited with the presence of horses in order to prove its Vedic association. The similarity is also extended to almost all other aspects of life, including worship, use of metals, treatment of hair etc. On the basis of these ‘similarities’ the author suggests that a number of scholars have come to the conclusion that ‘the Harappan civilization is the same as the Vedic civilization and the Aryans did not come to India from outside’. The similarities thus invoked do not take into account the basic difference between the two: Harappan civilization was urban whereas the Vedic was pastoral. The author, however, concedes that there are ‘other scholars who consider Vedic culture as different from that of the Harappan civilization’. Why they consider so is not discussed at all and therefore the former is presented as a settled fact. Such an assertion in a textbook becomes particularly objectionable when there are hardly any scholarly research and opinion to support it.
The identity of Harappan –Saraswati civilisation with the Vedic society has been marshaled to trace the lineage of the nation to a Hindu past which can not be done by predating the Harappan to the Vedic. The Harappan being the oldest known civilization of India its association with Aryans would alone lend credibility to the Hindu origins of the nation. Secondly, it would also antedate the chronology of Vedic civilization at least by a couple of millennia, which would locate it not as one of the old, but as the oldest in the world. This is part of an India centric view that the Hindu fundamentalist forces have been trying to project, according to which humankind evolved and diffused from the upper Saraswati region. The Indian civilization, the textbooks affirm, has an ‘unbroken history of about 8000 years’ and its cultural and intellectual achievements both antedated and surpassed others. To substantiate this view the chronology of Indian civilization has been revised without any respect for evidence. As a result the Vedic and the Harappan civilizations are sought to be placed around 5000 B.C. More importantly, new civilization sites are being discovered which are claimed as flourishing as early as 10000 B.C. Such revisions have not been taking place after scholarly investigation or consensus. It is the Hindu fundamentalist politicians like the Minister of Education who announced such discoveries as in the case of a wooden piece from the Gulf of Kambat.
The purpose of this revisionist history, which has been incorporated into the textbooks, both implicitly and explicitly, appears to be the creation of an inward looking chauvinistic selfview in the impressionable minds of the young. The running theme in all textbooks prepared by the NCERT is the relative antiquity of Indian civilization and its qualitatively superior achievements, in both philosophical and material fields. The textbook meant for class vi students entitled India and the World which provides the initial introduction to human history is a good example of this tendency. The chapter on world civilizations is titled ‘non-Indian civilizations’, which suggests India as the point of reference to understand all other civilisations. The change in the title of the book – the earlier title was World Civilizations- to India and the World is itself symptomatic of the change in perspective. The focus is not on India in the world, but on India and the world, which in a way defeats the purpose of studying world civilizations, which can only be to create a universal outlook. By reorienting the syllabus to an India – centric framework the superiority of Hindu-Indian civilization is foregrounded. Such an aim seems to be inbuilt into the introductory statement itself, which modifies nomenclature, establishes antiquity and indicates greater geographical extent:
In the northern and Western parts of India and Pakistan there developed a civilization along the Indus and Gagghar/ Harkara (ancient Saraswati) rivers which is known variously as Harappan, Indus or Indus- Saraswati civilization. It started developing around 4600B.C. but reached its peak around 2600 B.C. and lasted at its peak for about 600 years. It started declining by about 2000 B.C. In geographical extent it was the largest civilization in the world. Its geographical extent was almost 20 times of Egyptian civilization and Mesopotamian civilizations combined.
The superiority, it is suggested, is not in geographical extent and antiquity alone, but more so in intellectual achievements, cultural practices and scientific pursuits. The ancient period of Indian history, identified as the golden- Hindu, is depicted as the era in which Indians not only excelled in many a field but also surpassed all others. The suggestion of Indian superiority is an undercurrent in the selection and description of facts as well as in the analysis and argument. As a result the textbooks carry an unmistakable Hindu religious flavour. It begins with the emphasis on the sacred and religious character of the Vedas and Upanishads. The Vedic literature is described as ‘ Hindu religious literature and is revered. But it must be remembered that the Vedas or the Vedic literature does not signify any individual religious work like Koran or Bible. The word Veda means Knowledge or the sacred spiritual knowledge.’ In a similar vein Upanishads are described as the ‘works of most profound philosophy in any religion.’ Evidently the descriptions are consciously so crafted to include an explicit comparison suggestive of Indian superiority.
In science and technology the achievements of Indian civilization is credited with much greater advances than others and favourably comparable with modern science, particularly in arithmetic, algebra geometry, astronomy, alchemy, medicine etc. The textbook on social sciences for class sixth students sets the tone: ‘ In the Vedic period, astronomy was well developed. They knew the movement of heavenly bodies and calculated their positions at different times. It helped them in accurately preparing their calendars and predicting the time of solar and lunar eclipses. They also knew that the earth moved on its own axis and around the sun. The moon moved around the earth. They also tried to calculate the time period taken by bodies from the sun. These calculations are almost the same as calculated by the modern scientific method.’ This assessment of the scientific achievements of Indian civilization is carried forward in subsequent textbooks. The class xi textbook states: In the field of mathematics, astronomy and medicine India had much advanced knowledge during this period in comparison with any other country in the world. These developments in science and technology in India were first borrowed by Arabs and then by the Western world.’ The implication is that India is the original home of knowledge in science and other countries in the world had benefited from the achievements of Indian civilization. The Indian youth could therefore take legitimate pride in this past.
DENIAL OF HISTORY
In contrast to the repeated references to the ‘Hindu’ achievements in science and technology the textbook on the medieval history of India is conspicuously silent about the new developments in the field during the medieval period. An impression is conveyed that there were no scientific pursuits or technological innovations worth mentioning in this period. This is part of a general view that with the coming of the Muslims Indian history passed into a dark age, loosing in the process all that Indian society had achieved earlier. As a result the syncretic tendencies manifested through the coming together of different cultural streams, which created a new cultural ambience, are overlooked.
Exclusion as a strategy of denial of history is most effectively practiced in the case of architecture and religion. Very few fields of cultural production have been more creative and innovative than architecture, as it developed during the Sultanate and Mughal periods. The blending of the Islamic and Hindu traditions heralded new styles in conception and execution. The textbook on medieval history turns a blind eye to this significant tendency in the cultural history of India. While the Islamic character of medieval architecture is emphasised the syncretic tendency, which developed during this period, as a result of the coming together of two different systems does not find any mention. Some of the magnificent buildings resulting from this interaction have been completely ignored, except Man Mandir built by Man Singh, the ruler of Gwalior, in the sixteenth century. But the influence it exercised over the Mughal architecture, which would highlight the procees of cultural synthesis, finds no place. Katherene B. Asher observes: ‘Man Mandir is rightly regarded as having influenced Akbar in the design of his own palaces. Its exterior influenced the inlaid mosaic façade of the Delhi gate in Akbar’s Agra fort, the interior of this palace had an even greater impact on Akbar’s architecture. The main body of the palace consists of a series of small connecting courtyards around whose perimeter are galleries containing rooms. These rooms are never arcuated, but have essentially flat roofs, a type that reappears in Akbar’s Agra and Fatehpur Sikri palaces.’ Similarly Islamic architecture had exerted decisive influence over the buildings constructed by Hindu rulers.
Despite this interaction, which characterized the medieval architecture as a whole, the textbook on medieval history pays no attention to it. Instead architecture is invoked as another example to underline religious division. The evolution of architecture during the Sultanate period, which is credited to have evolved in three distinct stages, is a good example. The initial phase is ‘characterized by destruction’, second by dismantling of buildings to ‘provide ready made material for new structures’ and third by building of ‘Islamic structures with specially prepared stone’. The suggestion that the grandeur of the medieval architecture was achieved at the expense of the existing Hindu structures is unmistakable and reminiscent of the campaign for the construction of the temple at Ayodhya on the plea that the mosque was constructed by destroying a temple. This idea is repeated as the general policy followed by all Muslim rulers, who, it is emphsised, not only forbade the construction of Hindu temples but also destroyed the existing ones.
Among the several syncretic religious movements that had emerged in Indian society during the medieval period the Bhakti and the Sufi are the most popular and influential. Both of them came into being in a multi-religious context and as vehicles of monotheism and universalism. Their import can hardly be understood if isolated from their multi-religious context and syncretic character. Yet, the textbook on medieval history attempts precisely that by locating them as movements emerging from within each religion, without any external influence. The Bakhti movement, it is asserted, was ‘not a Hindu response to the egalitarian message of Islam’ but only the continuation of the tradition from the time of Upanishads and Bhagavat Gita. In the same vein Sufism is described as a ‘movement that arose independently within the Muslim world and not as a consequence of its interface with Hinduism’. Naturally the Bakhti and Sufi saints who epitomized in them the syncretic tendencies do not figure at all in the text. The absence of nirguna Bhaktas like Kabir and Raidas who have made a major impact on Indian society through their ideas of a casteless egalitarian society is particularly conspicuous. The attitude of Sufi saints towards Hinduism and their attempts to promote cultural synthesis are also absent. The silence is perhaps not accidental, but part of a design to foreground religious exclusion and difference as the characteristic of Indian society for which historical facts are suppressed, distorted and invented. An undercurrent of religious identity is thus attributed for almost everything that happened in the past.
The underlying assumptions and the interpretative structure of the text books prepared by the NCERT thus impart an unmistakable religious character, privileging the Hindu as the embodiment of the nation on the lines of the ideas and arguments earlier advanced by communal ideologues like V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. This is inspired by the political project of Hindu fundamentalism, to transform the multicultural and multireligious Indian nation into an exclusively Hindu state. What the textbooks have attempted is to reshape the Indian past to derive legitimacy for this political project and to communally reconstruct the historical consciousness of the coming generations. In the process the generally accepted norms and methods of historical discipline have irreparably suffered.
Although there is considerable concern in the country about the fundamentalist turn in History textbooks produced by the government agencies, it is often forgotten that they form only a small part of the textbooks actually used in the schools. In fact, the textbooks produced by the NCERT are used only in three per cent of the schools. The textbooks used in the remaining schools suffer from the same malady, perhaps they are much worse. A national Steering Committee, which reviewed the textbooks, noticed communal influence quite pervasive in the reading materials used in almost all states. More so in schools managed by Vidhya Bharati, the educational wing of the Hindu fundamentalist forces. The reading material in schools run by Muslim communal outfits are equally so. They subscribe to the view that religion alone played crucial role in moulding the course of history and therefore considers the advent of Islam as a marker of historical epochs. They divide history into two phases: pre-Islamic and Islamic. The Report observes : ‘These textbooks present an extremely narrow view of the subjects they deal with. In the name of developing an Islamic Viewpoint and religiosity, these textbooks foster all kinds of irrational and obscurantist and narrow sectarian ideas and, in many ways, a communal outlook’. This is precisely the problem with most textbooks. What is objectionable in them is not factual errors, as is often projected by many, which indeed is deplorable, but the worldview it imbibes and the social ideals it upholds.
In no other discipline communal influence has been so well pronounced as in history. In recent times popular historical discourse has considerably changed in favour of the communal; the debates in History have tended to revolve around communal distortions and interpretations; the teaching in universities has increasingly come under communal influence. Even research establishments have promoted communal history. Such an all out assault on history is indicative of the importance the fundamentalist forces assign to the discipline. In fact, communalism invokes History as an ideology and uses it for multiple purposes: to gain legitimacy for the construction of India as a Hindu nation, to cast the ‘outsider’ as enemy and for creating a religious cultural identity. Above all history is the source from which cultural nationalism, foregrounded as the real and positive nationalism, derives its justification as rooted in the historical experience of the people.
The textbooks in History have thus become a matter of contention in India. The fundamentalist forces have been trying to transform history as a narrative of Hindu religious nationalism. In the bargain they have violated the generally accepted norms of historical discipline, which has aroused much opposition from a large section of historians who have been trying to retrieve the discipline from the distortions and misrepresentations of the religious revisionist history. The debate about history in India is a contest between these viewpoints. The textbooks are the terrain in which this contest is most evident.
History Textbooks in India: Narratives of Religious Nationalism
by K N Panikkar [October, 2004]