New Delhi: From the Haryana government including paragraphs on Congress’ “appeasement policy” in a Class 9 history book, and Karnataka adding a speech by RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar to a Class 10 text, to the Gujarat government incorporating parts of the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ in the Class 6-10 syllabi.
A series of decisions taken by different states has put the spotlight back on the debate around the establishment tailoring school texts to suit its political bent.
The debate isn’t a new one.
The erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was criticised by historians for what was described as its bid to “saffronise education”.
Allegations have also been levelled at the Congress for focusing too much on Mughal history in textbooks and leaving out information about “Hindu rulers”, as well as the contribution of “various segments of Indian society to history”.
In Rajasthan, textbooks are said to change every five years as the two parties alternate in power.
Political players defend their decisions to tweak textbooks as a response to rivals’ attempts to manipulate the narrative.
But historians and academic experts urge caution. It is important to update texts as more information comes to light, they say, but add that no winners can come off turning textbooks into ideological battlegrounds.
Congress ‘appeasement’, RSS’ Hedgewar & Bhagavad Gita
In Haryana, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government has replaced textbooks for classes 6 to 10 in state schools. A list of the same has been put up on the official website of the Haryana Board of School Education (HBSE).
The move made headlines earlier this month.
A Class 9 history textbook being introduced by the HBSE from the current academic session claims that the Congress’ “greed for power” is one of the reasons for India’s Partition in 1947.
This has been explained in a portion titled “Congress’s appeasement politics (Congress ki tushtikaran ki niti)”, according to which the party’s leaders were unable to stand up to the “Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim nation”.
Another portion of the same text claims that Congress leaders were “tired” of the freedom struggle, because of which the Partition happened.
“One of the main reasons behind Partition is considered to be the fatigue within Congress and its greed for power. Constant struggle for freedom had tired the Congress leadership, they were not ready to struggle anymore. Some Congress leaders wanted immediate freedom and power,” read a paragraph in a chapter titled ‘India’s Partition, integration of princely states and rehabilitation of the displaced’ in the Class 9 textbook.
“When Gandhi opposed Partition, the leaders were not excited with the idea and he had to accept Partition,” it further read.
Another chapter in the book has a portion on RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar and the role of Hindutva leaders in peacekeeping in 1922.
The portion claims that after repeated attacks on Hindus, Hedgewar and Balakrishna Shivram Moonje — a member of the Congress who later became president of the Hindu Mahasabha — decided to form a group for the protection of Hindus.
In a Class 6 textbook, there is a chapter called the ‘Ramayana and Mahabharat period’. Using a map of India, the chapter points out archaeological excavation sites to claim that the epics were based on true events.
Other changes in the syllabus include a number of chapters about the Mughal invasion of India and how local rulers fought back.
The Haryana controversy was soon followed by a similar one in Karnataka — another BJP-ruled state.
The Basavaraj Bommai government in Karnataka was accused of removing a chapter on freedom fighter Bhagat Singh from the Class 10 Kannada textbook, along with works of progressive thinkers like Kannada poet P. Lankesh, the founder-editor of Lankesh Patrike, Sara Aboobacker, a prominent Muslim Kannada writer, and A.N. Murthy Rao.
While Karnataka Textbooks Review Committee head Rohith Chakratirtha told ThePrint that they have not removed the chapter on Bhagat Singh, he accepted that works of other authors had been taken out. This, he said, was done because of complaints that the syllabus was only favouring a “certain ideology”.
Like Haryana, Karnataka, too, introduced a portion on Hedgewar in its Class 10 Kannada textbook. Chakratirtha defended the move, saying it was just a speech where Hedgewar says that instead of worshipping humans, one should follow values that will not change over time, and had nothing to do with his ideology.
In March, the Karnataka government also said that it is contemplating introducing the Bhagavad Gita as part of “moral science” lessons in state-run schools.
Gujarat Education Minister Jitu Vaghani had announced earlier the same month that school children from classes 6 to 12 will be taught the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ as part of their syllabi. The minister had said that the idea is to introduce the “values enshrined” in the religious text in the curriculum.
Many states followed suit. Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, all-BJP ruled states, announced they will introduce the Gita as a part of their curriculum at different levels.
Tagore story removed, chapter on Modi govt dropped
In July last year, the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government — also a BJP-led state — made major changes to the Class 10 and 12 syllabi of state-run schools.
The Uttar Pradesh Madhyamik Shiksha Parishad (UPMSP), also known as the UP Board, removed the works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and former President Dr S. Radhakrishnan from the 2021-22 academic session.
Tagore’s short story The Homecoming and Dr Radhakrishnan’s essay The Women’s Education were removed from the Class 12 syllabus. Mulk Raj Anand’s The Lost Child, and An Astrologer’s Day by R.K. Narayan were also taken out.
The board officials had said at the time that the changes are in line with the implementation of the new NCERT syllabus for English.
The change in syllabus is not just limited to BJP-ruled states. In 2019, just months after Congress’ Ashok Gehlot became Rajasthan’s chief minister, the state government discontinued four textbooks that talked about the Modi government’s policies, which were being taught in state board schools under his predecessor Vasundhara Raje.
State education minister Govind Singh Dotasra had said the government did not see any “benefit” in teaching the students about the policies.
In states’ justifications, an NEP push
Both Haryana and Gujarat have defended the latest changes they’ve made to school texts by saying that these are being implemented as part of the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 — which proposes sweeping reforms in the country’s education sector — that calls for a more ‘India-centric’ education.
Gujarat Education Minister Jitu Vaghani said his government’s decision to introduce the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ in school curricula was in line with the new NEP.
“The decision was in line with the Union government’s National Education Policy 2020, which recommends the introduction of modern and ancient culture, traditions and knowledge systems so that students feel proud of India’s rich and diverse culture,” Vaghani had said in the state legislative assembly on 18 March.
The Haryana state board (HSBE), too, said the revisions it had made to the school curriculum were in line with the NEP, which talks about “rootedness and pride in India” as one of its aims.
“The vision… is to instill among the learners a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit, intellect, and deeds, as well as to develop knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions that support responsible commitment to human rights, sustainable development and living, and global well-being, thereby reflecting a truly global citizen,” reads the policy document.
As part of the policy, the central government is currently in the process of developing the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) that will guide syllabus formation and how school textbooks are designed in the coming years. ‘Pride in India’ is also one of the broader themes of the NCF.
BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan said that whoever has any concerns regarding the changes made to school curricula is free to challenge and approach the stakeholders involved.
“Whenever there is any change in the syllabus, it is done after a discourse with the public and all relevant stakeholders. If anyone has any problem with it, they can approach the authorities,” he told ThePrint. “If learning and understanding about our proud Indian culture, history and civilisation is saffronisation to some, so be it.”
Paswan said “we should also take note of the way our history has been rewritten post-Independence”.
“Our younger generation today does not know about many of our unsung heroes. This is why we needed to celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav [Centre’s initiative to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of Independence], because people should know that there are many individuals and organisations that have immensely contributed towards building the nation,” he added.
Asked to comment on claims that Hindutva-inspired material was being included in school textbooks, Paswan said, “Those who think that a particular religion is being given importance, should study in detail. This is India’s history and we have every right to take pride in the country’s history.”
Karnataka’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister B.C. Nagesh said that his government was trying to teach “real history”.
“We do not believe in teaching half-truths, that is why we have revised the textbooks,” he told ThePrint.
Nagesh said the chapter on Bhagat Singh by “communist writer” G. Ramakrishna was replaced by one by writer Chakravarty Sulibele. The minister also alleged that the textbooks revised by the previous review committee were filled with “lies and misinformation”.
“The speech by Hedgewar has been included because it talks about role models. It has nothing about the writer, organisation or any political party,” he added.
On his government’s plans to include the Gita in the syllabus, Madhya Pradesh BJP leader Durgesh Keswani said they were meant to respect the common people’s sentiments.
“The previous Congress government praised the Mughals and whitewashed their sins in history textbooks. We are only taking a positive step in the direction of making people more aware about Indian culture and glorious history,” he added. “The basic difference is that we are advocating Gita while they (opposition) are advocating Mughal invaders. Gita should be read by every individual. Whoever reads it, their outlook towards life changes.”
What educationists & historians say
Educationists ThePrint spoke to were of the view that while it is important to change, and, more importantly, update the syllabus, the same should not be inspired by political ideologies.
“It is indeed important to change syllabi and texts as we understand better the demands of modernity from pedagogical tools. These are decisions that need to be taken after careful consideration and with a view on what skills and knowledge we need to provide our youth as they take on the next industrial revolution,” Amirullah Khan, a professor at Dr Marri Channa Reddy Human Resource Development Institute of Telangana, told ThePrint.
“Political ideologists rewriting history and redefining science is unfortunately suicidal for any education system,” he said.
Meeta Sengupta, an educator who founded the Centre for Education Strategy, a Delhi-based think tank, said, “For many countries and throughout history, education has been a political tool, but that happens only when we are stuck in a single story.
“With an education system that encourages critical thinking, also recommended by the NEP, the textbook ideally should be just a take-off point for raising questions and not seeking answers.”
When the Vajpayee government had proposed new history books in 2001, the changes were heavily criticised by historians.
The new history books were to say that Aryans go back to the fourth millennium BC — preceding even the Indus Valley civilisation of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa — and that they were not migrants from Iran.
British political and cultural magazine New Statesman had in a December 2001 issue published an article on the matter, under the headline ‘India moves to talibanise history’.
The BJP’s ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had also weighed in with the claim that Kshatriyas (Hindu warriors) were the ancestors of the Chinese. References to consumption of beef were also proposed to be removed from textbooks over their potential to corrupt upper caste, Hindu children.
Historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, among others, had criticised the changes that were suggested by a “review committee”. According to them, the panel did not include historians.
“RSS’ conspiracy against history must be a matter of concern for every citizen of India who has any care at all for the secular and democratic character of our republic,” Habib wrote in an article in One India One People magazine in June 2001.
In response to the Vajpayee government’s move, Thapar had written a piece in the Hindustan Times in December 2001 titled ‘Propaganda as history won’t sell’.
“This is also an assault on the fundamentals of acquiring and handling knowledge. If knowledge is to progress in any field there needs to be a critical enquiry and analyses of the subject, and this includes the exploration of conventional, controversial and sceptical ideas,” she wrote.
The changes were eventually not made in the textbooks by NCERT.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)