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Books commissioned by Amarinder Singh’s govt have been withdrawn after Akali Dal accused them of insulting Sikh Gurus.

Chandigarh: What is taught in history textbooks has always been a touchy matter for any government, but it seems to be a particularly difficult matter for Punjab.

Twice in six months, history textbooks for government schools have been changed, only to be rendered “unusable” following widespread protests.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders led by president Sukhbir Singh Badal courted arrest Monday after a dharna outside the chief minister’s residence to protest against the latest version of the class XII history textbook, which they said was replete with “insults to the Sikh Gurus”.

The SAD has decided to continue its protest till Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh apologises for the “denigration of Guru sahiban in history books under Congress regime”.

The Congress termed it “violence triggered by Akali protesters, who clashed with the police while trying to break through barricades outside the CM residence”. Amarinder, meanwhile, said it was Sukhbir’s frantic bid to divert attention from the crisis in the Akali Dal, which is facing an internal revolt months before the crucial Lok Sabha elections.

The fresh round of protests began almost two weeks ago, when the content was put up on the website of the Punjab School Education Board. The books were to be published by the board for use in all the senior secondary government schools across the state.

Although the government quickly withdrew the books saying students should continue to use the books available last year, it is back to square one with no finality on what the books for classes XI and XII should contain.

Also read: A colourful revolution is sweeping across Punjab schools without a single paisa from govt

Genesis of the problem

Until the last academic session, government school students of classes XI and XII who opted to study history were supposed to cover the history of India in class XI, and the history of Punjab in class XII. The syllabus for these was prescribed by the Punjab board.

Based on the syllabus set by the board, private publishers printed ‘reference books’ for the students to use. The reference books ranged from 350-550 pages depending on the publisher, and the cost between Rs 300-450.

In order to provide cheaper books, and to align its senior secondary history syllabus with NCERT’s National Curriculum Framework, 2005, the board changed the syllabus and got new class XI and XII history books written. The new textbooks were in the process of being printed for use in the session 2018-19, but the move sparked a major controversy for two reasons.

First, the syllabus virtually wiped out most of Punjab’s history, replacing it with Indian and world history. Second, parts of Punjab history, especially about the Sikh gurus, was “distorted”, and included a host of errors.

Discrepancies galore

Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema, former education minister and senior Akali leader who led the protest at the time, said it was a move by the Congress government to “kill” Punjab’s history. He said the old class XI syllabus had 22 units dealing with India’s history, while the new one has 11 units — six dealing with the history of Punjab and another five with world history.

While the old class XII syllabus had 22 units dealing with Punjab’s history, the new one has 11 units — six dealing with pre-modern India, three with modern India, and two with modern Punjab.

Cheema also pointed out mistakes in the books: “The book categorises life and teachings of Guru Nanak as part of Ram Bhakti movement. They are actually a part of the Bhakti movement. The Punjabi edition of the book referred to ‘appointment’ (niyukti) of the second Sikh Guru, Angad Dev ji, instead of ‘anointment’.

“The book referred to Shaheed Udham Singh taking oath on Waaris Shah’s Heer before avenging the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh. This fact is under contention.”

Also read: Punjab makes kho kho, ooch-neech, chidi udd mandatory in its govt schools

First withdrawal

After initially projecting a stiff stance over the issue, the government went on the backfoot and withdrew the books. On 11 May, the CM formed an oversight committee headed by renowned historian Prof. Kirpal Singh to develop fresh content. The other members included J.S. Grewal, Indu Banga, Prithipal Singh Kapur and SGPC representatives Balwant Singh Dhillon and Inderjeet Singh Gogoani.

A month later, the committee suggested that the class XII history book be replaced in the next session, and that the board would continue with the old book for this session. The board, however, started pushing the committee to finalise the syllabus and generate content for use in the current session.

After almost a dozen meetings, a part of the committee-approved content was recently put up on the board’s website. But once again, it threatened to snowball into a major controversy.

Controversy reloaded

Almost immediately, the SGPC withdrew its representatives from the oversight committee. Gogoani wrote to Prof. Kirpal Singh that the proposed textbook had inappropriate remarks about Sikh gurus.

Addressing the media, Sukhbir said the new content described Sikh gurus as “deserters, absconders, patrons of irreligious criminals”.

“The new book says that the fifth guru, Arjan Dev ji was not martyred by the Mughals, but was merely fined. On the sixth Guru Hargobind, the history book says that the Mughals’ differences with him were not because of any ideological or religious reasons, but just because the Guru was a hunter and kept hunting dogs.

“The books also claim that the 10th master, Guru Gobind Singh, deserted the battle of Chamkaur Sahib without informing anyone. These are shocking claims about the history of the great Gurus by the Punjab government. What are they trying to teach our children and the whole world by changing the facts in the history of the Gurus?” the SAD president asked.

Contemporary sources

The oversight committee defended the changes, saying it had used contemporary sources to write the content.

“These issues which are now being raised by the Akalis were discussed threadbare when they were being written. The committee is of historians, and the idea was to use fresh evidence of these events,” said Prof. Kapur, member of the oversight committee.

“As more and more research is done, fresh evidence is gathered and the knowledge of the same event changes. This is how history evolves. A historian’s effort is to bring in fresh insights based on new facts. That is what has been done.”

Kapur claimed that the SGPC members attended six meetings of the committee and were consulted during the process of the creation of the content.

“The only thing which went wrong was the deadline which was imposed on us (the committee) by the board. The board was pushing us to prepare the content for this year’s session. It was not possible. We told them we wanted more time, and could have deliberated further,” he said.

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