'Rewriting History': Assam Higher Secondary Council Criticised for Dropping Key Topics

The move, taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, means that students will not be tested on lessons that deal with Nehru, the Ayodhya dispute, the 1984 and 2002 riots and the Mandal commission.

Guwahati: The Assam Higher Secondary Education Council (AHSEC) has come under the scanner for its decision to drop key units and sub-units on India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution to nation-building, his foreign policy, his term and the first three general elections that etched India’s stand in the modern world as a thriving democracy, and other units from the higher secondary’s 1st and 2nd years’ History and Political Science courses.

Some academicians, politicians and members of student organisation are accusing the state government of ‘saffronisation’, ‘brainwashing’ and ‘coercing’ young minds towards the agenda pushed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS).

Topics on famines, the suspension of five year plans, political succession after Nehru, the politics of ‘Garibi Hatao’, the Navnirman movement in Gujarat, the Punjab crisis and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 also stand to be dropped. Sections dealing with the implementation of the Mandal commission report, the United Front and NDA governments, the 2004 elections which brought the UPA government to power, the Ayodhya dispute and the 2002 Gujarat riots will also be axed.

The council, according to a notification dated September 5 and posted on its website, made the decision to drop the key units as part of a 30% reduction in the syllabus for all subjects of the higher secondary students of Arts, Science and Commerce streams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the chapters are not being done away with completely, students will not be tested on them during examinations.

‘Rewriting history’

Akhil Ranjan Dutta, professor of political science at the Gauhati University told The Wire that there is a pattern that can be observed in the sections which will be dropped. “It amounts to re-writing history to conforms to the ideological orientation of the incumbent regime. Indian politics since Independence cannot be understood without studying the contributions of Nehru. This is an attempt to undermine this dimension.”

Also Read: The BJP Wants to Erase Nehru. Let’s See What India Would Have Been Without Him

He said the first three general elections were held under Nehru’s leadership. “The consolidation of Indian democracy was steered through these elections. Understanding these three elections is very crucial. Nehru’s contribution towards building India as a modern nation was immense. He combined constitutional democracy, the socialist approach of the state and planned development.”

Dutta said that Nehru’s most important contribution was establishing India as a credible unit in international politics in the post-World War II period. “The Afro-Asian Bandung Conference of 1955 and the Belgrade Conference of the Non-Alignment Movement in 1961 are important milestones in Indian foreign policy, where Nehru played the most important and active role. This sub-unit has also been deleted.”

Debabrata Saikia, the leader of the opposition in Assam, wrote a letter to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Friday urging him to instruct the council to retain certain the chapters on Nehru.

“This is quite unfortunate. Nehru built modern India. There is a campaign by a section over the past few years to tarnish the image of Pandit Nehru and deny his contribution to the nation. There is ground to suspect that this force is behind the AHSEC’s decision to drop chapters about Nehru from the curriculum,” said Saikia.

A bust of Jawaharlal Nehru in London. Photo: Paul Hudson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

‘Students are free to study the sections’

A senior official from the council told The Wire on September 25 (Friday) that the topics and themes have only been dropped for the examinations, but it is ‘open for online classes’. The students are ‘free to study’ these sections, the official said.

Other topics to be deleted from the first year history course deal with the displacement of indigenous peoples, Central Asian history, the Caliphate and the rise of Sultanates, the Crusades, South Asian history, colonisation and the slave trade, among others.

The AHSEC was set up in 1984 to ‘regulate, supervise and develop the system of higher secondary education or the +2 stages in Assam’.

The student wing of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti (SMSS), told The Wire that it strongly opposes the move. “We will protest against this. This is utter saffronisation of education. Young minds will be brainwashed to toe the line of the RSS’s version of Hindutva. Nehru built public sector units and Modi is selling it. Young minds will be taught whatever Modi does is good and what other leaders did was harmful to India. It is an attempt to rewrite history,” said Pranjal Kalita, the assistant general secretary of SMSS.

A portion of the notification reads, “It is well known to all that due to Pandemic Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) (sic) students of our state had already lost the valued academic time. After the CBSE decided to reduce the volume of the course for class XI & XII, the AHSEC was seriously deliberating upon the issue.”

‘Decision made after consultations’

To seek more clarity over its decision to delete topics, The Wire reached out to a senior AHSEC official for a response over the burgeoning controversy and accusations of ‘saffronisation’ of higher education.

The official said the move is not ‘controversial’ as the decision was taken after a slew of consultations with educationists, experts and academicians through a ‘filter’ process.

“We also had consultations with boards from states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Meghalaya, Nagaland and others. It was only after a wide range of consultations with experts from the education field and consent from 80% of them that the curriculum has been reduced. The council’s academic body is an autonomous one. The move to reduce the topics is not a deliberate one, but has been forced by the pandemic. Students are free to study the topics even now. The decision to reduce the curriculum was taken through a filter process after days of discussions and consultation. There is no conspiracy as such,” said the senior official.

Representative image of students attending an examination centre. Photo: PTI

Manoranjan Kakati, the AHSEC’s secretary told the Indian Express, “The decisions were taken by experts and teachers. And not one expert or one teacher, but a wide range, from institutions across the state. If complaints come up, we will hold meetings again and decide further.”

For first year students of political science, the exams will not test them on units which deal with the Indian constitution at work, the Bill of Rights, how laws are passed and the constitutional means to prevent defections. In addition, topics on the need for an independent judiciary, how courts use their powers for public interest and how federalism should ensure the accommodation of diversities and special provisions for some states and areas will also be dropped.

For second year students, topics such as debates on the nature of the consequences of globalisation,  challenges to the US in economy and ideology and the rise of China as an economic power have been dropped from the curriculum.