The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports chaired by Rajya Sabha MP Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe submitted the report titled “Reforms in Content and Design of School Textbooks” on November 30th 2021. In accordance with the NEP 2020 which aims at replacing the 1986 National Policy on Education, the Report makes suggestions towards revising the school textbooks. It makes a detailed list of the additions and reductions to be made in the contents of the history textbooks from class VI to class XII in its annexure, and has hit much criticism from multiple corners for being endowed with deep rooted right wing interests.

Do school textbooks matter ?

The Parliamentary report recognizes School textbooks “as the easiest way of sharing a single narrative across millions of students through the multitude of diversity that defines our country”. (p. 4) It is precisely for this reason that the proposed reforms have come under scrutiny. As the NCERT textbooks prevail throughout the schools of the country, they run the danger of serving as political instruments of propagating statist versions of history. On a very striking note, NCF 2005 literally warned that “the term National Curriculum Framework is often wrongly construed to mean that an instrument of uniformity is proposed.”

School textbooks are designed as per the National Curriculum Framework. The new National Curriculum Framework revised as per NEP 2020, is ought to be arrived at through a bottom up approach. The states have been directed to prepare the State Curriculum Frameworks first, to provide inputs and feed into the NCF being framed by the NCERT. “The Parliamentary Report is undoubtedly part of a larger political agenda operating for a long time. The RSS influenced rewriting of Rajasthan history textbooks, and Karnataka reducing the portions related to Tipu Sultan and Constitution in 2020 while under BJP regime’s rule, have been the regional precedents of the more centralized efforts happening now” said Anas Ali, PhD Scholar in History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, to The Compass. 

Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe with PM Narendra Modi

Major recommendations

The Parliamentary Committee report 2021 has put forth an array of changes to be incorporated in the NCERT History textbooks. The report makes a thorough stress towards greater incorporation of themes from ancient Indian history, a different perception of the Mughal period, and more space for regional histories. But the thorough saffronisation tendencies within the suggestions have brought it under scathing criticism.

Major changes are sought in the way Mughals have been portrayed in present NCERT textbooks. The topics to be added in Class VII textbooks notes that “the exaggeration of Mughal rulers should be decreased and the history of Sikh Gurus and their struggles should be added”. This comes along with an implicit insistence towards placing the Mughals as outsiders in the textbooks.  “Rather than glorifying the Mughal Rulers, great Indian warriors like Maharana Pratap, Bhai Bidhi Chand, Bhai Parapa Ji, Bhai Bachittar should be taught.” (class VII, Topics for Addition)

The call for inclusion of regional histories, which in fact is an interesting suggestion,  betrays itself as the revisions suggested are merely symbolic, and evidently biased. The report makes virtually zero reference regarding inclusion of regions of the south. The Ancient phase is emphasized without any particular concern over regional differences, while the thrust is opposite when it comes to the Mughal phase during which the kingdom expanded across the subcontinent. For example, the Tamil Epic Silappadikaram is mandated to be removed from Class VI textbook citing that Ramayana and Mahabharata are already given. Similarly, the history of North East deserves greater representation in our textbooks, World has to be much more than what could fall under the head, “Nomadic tribes as Pastoralists in the Modern World” (Recommendation, class IX)

Also it almost appears that there is a concerted effort to highlight the conflict between Mughals and Sikhs. The report insists to incorporate themes as the religious intolerance of Mughal rulers as Aurangazeb and Jahangir, and the imprisonment, execution and martyrdom of Sikh Gurus.(class VII, Topics for Addition) The team led by Nachiketa Tiwari and Prerana Malhotra have expressed their gravest concern about this “enthusiasm to dwell on histories of sectarian conflicts.”

Most importantly, the Report either lacks a perspective or holds an irresponsible perspective on the struggles waged against social inequities. The critique by Kumkum Roy and Pankaj Jha published in EPW pointed out that the suggested inclusion of women heroes is more like a token exaltation than as emanating from a systematic gender sensitive approach.  The Report has a consistent reluctance to acknowledge the histories of caste/gender/class  oppression, and address grounded themes as patriarchy.

For example, Indian women being granted the right to vote in 1947, and American women winning it in 1950, aren’t episodes that could be compared against each other, to prove India’s three years seniority of being progressive. This is simply because the respective contexts in which these two occurred are extremely different and such a comparison is very much insensitive to the American women’s struggle. The suggestions to include Guru Nanak Dev’s teachings in reference to the principles of Equality, Liberty upheld by French Revolution, and theories of Karl Marx also reverberate a similar dislike for contexts. A more grounded historical approach would be to look at such themes distinctly in a contextualized manner.

The dangerous proximity between the parliamentary committee report and the PPRC report

On  a disturbingly disappointing note the Parliamentary Report has been criticized for the similarity it has with the recent  publication titled “Distortion and Misrepresentation of India’s Past: History Textbooks and Why They Need to Change” brought up by the Public Policy Research Centre, New Delhi which has very visible right wing affiliations. T N Prathapan, MP and member of the Parliamentary Committee constituted to suggest reforms in the textbook noted in the official fb post that the PPRC report as an adjunct of the communal politics of Sanghaparivar built over the logic of colonial divisional politics and the neo-Nazi tendencies of the central government. The PPRC report audaciously made an open call against the intellectual inquiry of post-independence period tagging it as dominated by a “Left Liberal Lobby.”

TN Prathapan MP , former MLA , Congress Leader @ Rahul R Pattom / Manorama

Making such fancy claims in the introduction, terrible assertions regarding the history textbooks and historians of the country are made, in the report that sounds miles away from an academic engagement and is more a populist commentary. Rich with gross factual inaccuracies as to the content of previous textbooks and zero sensitivity to regional differences, each page of the PPRC report outshines its divisive communal attitude. The Indian History Congress, in their official statement, expressed deepest concern over the implicit critique within the Parliamentary Committee’s report being the  same as that found in the PPRC report.

When ‘History’ threatens!

Questions like whose is India, who are outsiders/insiders, whether Vedic values were better than western and modern values, whether Aryan cultural lineage was equivalent or greater than Greek , are less historical than they might outwardly look like. This is precisely because history is much more than the making of a nation state and defining who it belongs to or ought to belong to. Such reductive positions are in fact a direct offshoot of the colonial take on history. It is the British who had for the first time brought up questions of this kind in arguing for their right to rule India.

Academic history is expected to offer insights into the past to make better understanding of the present, and there are real constructive ways of working out history textbooks. For example, in the present hate driven times, tracing the plurality of Indian culture and how people embraced the differences in the past, are examples of how history could be best studied. The proposed revisions in school History textbooks, on the other hand, have dangerous populist and divisional beats within. The Indian History Congress totally condemned the “blatant misinformation and biased view being projected in the name of bringing reforms in the existing NCERT textbooks.”

Of late, a right wing version of India’s past characterized by glorified Vedic age and conflict ridden Medieval phase is being recurrently invoked in the words of politicians and public figures, aggressively challenging prevailing academia and research in history. The latest controversial IIT Kharagpur calendar which placed the Aryan invasion from Central India as a colonial myth has thus been equated as being part of an propagandist agenda. And, especially as there are terrible and tragic shout outs of hate around, both in social media and at Dharm Sansads that dare make open genocidal calls, institutional efforts towards propagating politically motivated history can’t be condemned anymore.


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