Indian Textbook Revisions Spark Controversy Over Historical Representation

KEY TAKEAWAYS
The revisions to Indian textbooks, which include the removal of a chapter on Mughal rulers, references to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the 2002 riots in Gujarat state, have reignited the debate over how history should be taught to Indian schoolchildren.
Critics of the revisions argue that the deletions will affect students' understanding of their country and accuse the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) of erasing portions of history that Hindu right-wing groups have campaigned against for years. They are particularly concerned about the removal of references to the Mughal dynasty, which is seen as foreign invaders who corrupted India's Hindu civilization.
Supporters of the revisions argue that a course correction is necessary because previous textbooks gave too much importance to Muslim rulers. Some suggest writing more about Hindu dynasties, but others argue that this oversimplifies India's syncretic past.
The revisions also cut content related to democracy, including four chapters about democracy and the making of India's renowned democracy. Critics argue that a healthy democracy must accommodate different views and be willing to re-examine its past without erasing unpleasant events.
Some experts warn that indoctrinating children now will ensure that a warped version of history lingers for generations. They contend that erasing the story of India's Muslims from textbooks is as outrageous as Russia removing the history of Joseph Stalin's repressions or China suppressing mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

 

A new set of textbooks published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has reignited the debate over how history should be taught to Indian schoolchildren. The revisions include the removal of a chapter on Mughal rulers, some references to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the 2002 riots in Gujarat state.

The changes, part of a syllabus “rationalization” exercise announced last year, aimed to reduce the load on children after the Covid-19 pandemic, according to NCERT.

Critics Fear Loss of Context

Critics argue that the deletions will affect students’ understanding of their country and accuse the NCERT of erasing portions of history that Hindu right-wing groups have campaigned against for years.

They are particularly concerned about the removal of references to the Mughal dynasty, seen by many right-wing activists as foreign invaders who plundered India and corrupted its Hindu civilization.

Hilal Ahmed, who works on political Islam and teaches at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, says removing uncomfortable or inconvenient information does not encourage critical thinking in students.

He adds that when something is removed arbitrarily, it loses its context and becomes distorted.

Hilal Ahmed, who works on political Islam and teaches at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, says removing uncomfortable or inconvenient information does not encourage critical thinking in students.

Supporters Call for Balanced Representation

Supporters of the revisions argue that a course correction is necessary because previous textbooks gave too much importance to Muslim rulers.

Historian Makhan Lal suggests writing more about Hindu dynasties, like the Vijay Nagar empire, the Cholas, and the Pandyas, instead.

However, others argue this is an oversimplified view of India’s syncretic past.

Manu S Pillai, a historian and author, explains that the Mughals were not peculiarly violent and that kingship as an institution involved violence everywhere.

He suggests that students should learn about these complexities instead of entirely erasing segments from textbooks.

Impact on Democracy and Education

In addition to the removal of the Mughal chapter, the new textbooks have also cut content related to democracy.

Four chapters in different grade levels about democracy and the making of India’s renowned democracy have been reduced or removed.

State governments led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have long been rewriting local school textbooks, and now the effort has extended to the national level.

Critics argue that a healthy democracy must accommodate different views and be willing to re-examine its past without erasing unpleasant events.

They contend that erasing the story of India’s Muslims from textbooks is as outrageous as Russia removing the history of Joseph Stalin’s repressions or China suppressing mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

They warn that indoctrinating children now will ensure that a warped version of history lingers for generations.

Craig Miller

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