New Delhi: The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) – an ‘autonomous’ government body tasked with developing teaching curricula for schools and producing textbooks – is under pressure to replace a reference to the ‘Anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat’ in the political science textbook for Class XII to simply the ‘Gujarat Riots’, the Hindustan Times reported on Sunday.
The Wire has learned that this change is only one of a host of deletions and ‘corrections’ the NCERT is being asked to carry out in the textbook, Politics in India Since Independence [PDF] by various Hindutva-oriented organisations and the Central Board of Secondary Eduction (CBSE), the apex body which conducts school and competitive examinations.
NCERT insiders say the manner in which the changes are being pushed has rendered the council, once a thriving intellectual place with its own mind, into a toothless body. An NCERT official recalled being surprised at the CBSE raising this issue in the May 11 meeting of the course review committee which was expected to be a routine one, and said that the NCERT official present was unprepared to put up any resistance.
It is not only the description of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom that has riled a section of the government. The manner in which former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rebuke to then chief minister Narendra Modi has been used has made them angrier. The book has Vajpayee’s famous ‘raj dharma’ quote: “My one message to the chief minister (of Gujarat) is that he should follow ‘raj dharma’. A ruler should not make any discrimination between his subjects on the basis of caste, creed and religion.” Vajpayee had said this at a press conference in Ahmedabad in March 2002 with a visibly discomfited Modi sitting by his side.
“There is no need to have this [quote],” a senior official of the CBSE said on condition of anonymity. He said a mere passing reference to the 2002 riots would suffice. However, he added, whatever the CBSE suggests is merely ‘advisory’ in nature.
Mere ‘advice’ it may be but the desire to change runs deep. Asked for his reaction to the Hindustan Times story, Atul Kothari of the Shiksha Sanskritik Uthhan Nyas – the Hindutva-oriented outfit headed by RSS member Dinanath Batra – told The Wire, “We have been representing against this description of the Gujarat riots for long. We protested even when the UPA was in power. It’s good if the change is being made.” But the much bigger demand is for a new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) – the vision document that shapes what will be taught and how in India’s schools. A change in the NCF, last revised in 2005, will automatically lead to new NCERT textbooks. Kothari argues that changes should not take place in bits and pieces. “A complete overhaul of textbooks is needed,” he said.
With three years gone, neither the Union human resources development ministry nor the NCERT is showing any signs of following the tedious route of creating a new NCF – involving consultations with a variety of experts and stakeholders. A senior ministry official said, “On a daily basis we get dozens of complaints about NCERT textbooks. It is better that they are revised.” These complaints had gone up in the last three years, since the BJP government came to power, he said. He also admitted that the media often carried mischievous articles. It was not a coincidence, he said, that “two of the recent stories have emanated from Nagpur,” using the geographical indicator for the RSS whose headquarters are in that city.
In one case, the Times of India carried a story claiming that a Class X NCERT textbook ‘glorified the Maoist leader Kishenji’, whereas, in fact, the book refers to veteran socialist leader Kishan Patnaik. The TOI report immediately drew a derisory response from Yogendra Yadav, one of the editors of the 2007 textbook
Now got to read this silly TOI story from Nagpur.Appalling that it mixes Gandhian Kishen Pattnayak & maoist Kishenjihttps://t.co/0BPjc8nUlm
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) May 3, 2017
When the PMO sought details on this matter, says an official, the NCERT issued a clarification pointing to the absurdity of the TOI’s claim:
“The textbook was published in March 2007, wherein it was mentioned that “Kishenji is no more”. No change has been made on this page since then. The Naxalite leader Kishenji was killed in 2011. It is obvious that the book published in 2007 could not have referred to the Naxal leader as dead, who was actually killed in 2011.”
In another instance, a Nagpur-based newspaper, The Hitavada, ran a story claiming that NCERT textbooks promote Naxalism because they had a page describing the origins of the 1967 Naxalite movement including some information on its leader, Charu Mazumdar.
To deal with the so-called surge in demand for a change in the textbooks, while simultaneously avoiding an exhaustive revision process that would involve including expert opinion, a ragtag curriculum group within the NCERT is being entrusted with the task of ‘reviewing’ – as against ‘revising’ – the textbooks. This group will ostensibly carry out some ‘factual changes’ – for instance, replacing the Planning Commission with Niti Aayog – while also presumably introducing changes to reflect the government’s and the RSS’s political agenda.
The last big push to comprehensively change the NCERT’s history textbooks was made in June 2015 when historians from the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), a national body set up to encourage historical research, and others from across the country, were called for a five-day workshop.
Saradindu Mukherji, one of the new members inducted into the ICHR by the BJP government, noted that the pace of change was slow, despite the detailed suggestions he had given in the 2015 meeting. For instance, he had claimed then that Jinnah was highlighted at the expense of Bose in the Class XII history textbook, and that the textbook had ignored anti-Hindu violence for the last 1400 years.
Political scientist Yogendra Yadav, who was one of the chief advisors for the political science textbooks but has since joined politics, reacted to the proposed change, saying, “It is our duty to future generations to tell them the truth without any exaggeration or euphemisms. That is what we have done. That is why we brought the unpleasant truth of the Emergency, the 1984 riots and the 2002 riots on record. Any selective editing will be unbalanced.”