The recent deletions made from the NCERT textbooks have been explained by the NCERT director as a process of ‘rationalisation’ necessitated by the need to reduce the academic load on children who lost out due to the COVID-19 related disruption of their academic programme. Nothing could be further from the truth.
An analysis of the deletions from the history, sociology and political science texts, the political statements made by members of the ruling party in that context and the long history of the Hindu communalists trying to distort history will make this amply clear. It is in the same vein as the duplicity the communalists have exhibited historically. They never take responsibility for their actions. Unlike Bhagat Singh, Gandhi, Tilak and countless others who bravely took responsibility for their actions and faced the consequences, including exile, jail and the death penalty, we are told no organisation was responsible for Gandhi’s assassination (paras fixing the responsibility were removed from the NCERT texts), nobody committed what the Supreme Court called the “criminal act” of destroying the Babri Masjid, nobody was responsible for the Gujarat massacre (all sections removed from NCERT text).
Historical overview of distorting history
The RSS recognised very early that communal ideology constitutes the core of the communal project. A particular version of history in turn forms the core of communal ideology. Therefore, once the ban imposed on the RSS in the wake of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was lifted after they pledged to work only as a cultural organisation, which would stay away from politics, they set themselves assiduously to the task of spreading communal ideology. Since the 1950s, the RSS, through their schools (the first Saraswati Shishu Mandir being inaugurated by RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar) and their textbooks, tried to promote a distorted, often totally imagined version of history. A version which demonised members of other religious communities.
RSS school texts, for example, would teach nine-year-old tender minds in class IV about Islam:
“Wherever they went, they had a sword in their hand…. Any country that came their way was destroyed. Houses of prayers and universities were destroyed. Libraries were burnt. Religious books were destroyed. Mothers and sisters were humiliated. Mercy and justice were unknown to them”
“Delhi’s Qutb Minar…. was actually built by emperor Samudragupta. Its real name was Vishnu Stambha…. This Sultan (Qutbuddin Aibak) actually got some parts of it demolished and its name was changed.”
Similar invective was reserved for the Christians, Parsees etc., who like the Muslims were defined as “foreigners” not deserving full citizenship rights, using Savarkar’s definition that only those whose “fatherland” (pitribhumi) and “holy land” (punya bhumi) were in India could claim to be Indians. (An absurd definition – if applied to all the Christians of Europe, America and Korea or to the Buddhists of Japan, it would make them foreigners in their own country as their holy lands were not in the country they inhabited!)
Use of state power to distort history
While promoting this kind of history in RSS schools which had multiplied by the thousands over the years was bad enough, what was even more dangerous was that the RSS tried to use state power, whenever they had access to it, to introduce similar history in state-run schools and into the national curriculum and launched an attack on secular scientific history.
The first major attack came when the Janata party was in power from 1977-79, as the Jana Sangh, the political/electoral wing of the RSS, had merged with the Janata Party. The existing NCERT textbooks written by the tallest of our scholars, who were globally recognised, such as Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, Satish Chandra, R.S. Sharma and Arjun Dev, were sought to be banned. But at that time, the institutions in India were still functioning with considerable independence and the effort was resisted strongly, from within the NCERT itself, in the media and universities across the country. The books survived.
Next time round, when the NDA came to power at the Centre in 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had replaced the Jana Sangh as the political arm of the RSS, was in the driving seat. Learning from past experience, they removed key people from the syllabus committees and appointed pliant people to top administrative positions in the NCERT, UGC (University Grants Commission), ICSSR (Indian Council of Social Science Research) and ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research), before launching a frontal attack on secular scientific historians.
On grounds of religious and community feelings being hurt, passages were sought to be deleted from NCERT textbooks written by R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, Satish Chandra, etc. Notably, 41 passages which were sought to be removed had already been identified in a RSS publication, The Enemies of Indianisation: The Children of Marx, Macaulay and Madarsa, in which the newly appointed NCERT director J.S. Rajput himself had contributed an article. The secular scholars and those who defended them (which included the Indian History Congress, the most representative body of professional historians in the country, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, President of India, K.R. Narayanan, editors of major newspapers, etc.) were described as “anti-national”. The RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, branded them as “anti-Hindu Euro-Indians”.
The alarming tendency of intimidating those who did not agree with the Hindutva (Hindu communal) version of history was evident when a group of self-appointed protectors of Indian nationalism collected at the house of education minister Murli Manohar Joshi and demanded the arrest of historians like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Arjun Dev. The minister added fuel to this fascist tendency, branding the history written by these scholars as “intellectual terrorism”, which was “more dangerous than cross border terrorism” that needed to be countered effectively!
Eventually, the existing NCERT books written by ostensible “intellectual terrorists” were removed and a new set of books were brought in. Such was the poor quality of the books and the communal bias that was being dished out to our children that the Indian History Congress was constrained to bring out a book in 2003 called History in the New NCERT Textbooks: A Report and an Index of Errors. The report concluded: “Often the errors are apparently mere products of ignorance; but as often they stem from an anxiety to present History with a very strong chauvinistic and communal bias. The textbooks draw heavily on the kind of propaganda that the so called Sangh Parivar publications have been projecting for quite some time.”
The decade beginning 2004, when the Hindu communal forces lost state power at the Centre, provided some reprieve from the communal onslaught. These books were withdrawn and a new set of books was prepared involving a team of scholars from all over the country. They were chosen for their scholarship, not political sycophancy. While this was a welcome move, the secular forces unfortunately failed to utilise the opportunity fully to challenge on a war footing the rapid communalisation of society done through the spread of a virulent, communal interpretation of history through texts taught in RSS schools or in schools run by religious minorities.
The return to power at the Centre of the BJP-led NDA in 2014 and again in 2019 provided the RSS/BJP combine a new opportunity to return to their favourite pastime of rewriting India’s past in their own image.
Reports of major deletions being made from the NCERT textbooks in print began to emerge. As in 2001, the deletions in the NCERT texts was preceded by an RSS publication demanding the same. In June 2021, the Public Policy Research Center headed by the National Convener of the e-training cell of the BJP produced a report demanding changes in the existing history curriculum. In tandem, the parliamentary committee headed by Vinay Sahsrabuddhe, a BJP/RSS ideologue, produced a similar report. The NCERT produced a revised syllabus, details of which were printed in the Indian Express in April 2022. In this syllabus major deletions were made from the history of the Moghul period as well as the Delhi Sultanate including the Tughlaqs, Khaljis and Lodis.
Lest one thinks it was a purely an academic exercise, the home minister declared on November 24, 2022 that no one could stop India from rewriting its history with pride to remove past distortions. The prime minister on December 26, 2022 talked of the “concocted narratives” taught till now that needed to be corrected. He went on to declare “On the one hand, there was terrorism, and on the other, spiritualism… On the one hand there was the mighty Mughal Sultanate blinded by religious fanaticism, while on the other hand, there were our Gurus gleaming in the knowledge and living by the ancient principles of India…”
The new textbooks with all the deletions incorporated hit the market in early April 2023. Again, immediately on release of the books, BJP leader Kapil Mishra, as reported on April 4, 2023, declared: “It is a great decision to remove false history of Mughals from NCERT. Thieves, pickpockets and two-penny road raiders were called the Mughal Sultanate and the emperor of India. Akbar, Babar, Shahjehan, Aurangzeb are not in the history books, they are in the dustbin.”
Given this context, the repeated statements by the NCERT director that the deletions were a part of a rationalistion done to reduce the academic load on students who got a setback due to COVID-19 cuts no ice. Nor does his claim that a few “faltu” (useless) sections have been removed.
A quick look at the so called “faltu” deletions makes clear the primary motivation. Some deletions defy any reasoning except total ignorance or incompetence. A lot of the deletions as noted above relate to the Mughal period and the Delhi Sultanate. This is in tune with the constant vilification of the Muslim community and the efforts to remove their names from roads, cities and now textbooks and also to push them into ghettoes. Significantly, references to the 2002 Gujarat riots, the National Human Right Commission’s observations on the Gujarat government’s (headed by Narendra Modi) handling of the riots and on how such riots lead to ghettoisation, converting mixed neighbourhoods into single community ones have also been deleted.
Research in many parts of the world has shown that genocide of a community is often preceded by the community being demonised, their names changed, their history being erased and they being pushed into ghettoes so that people do not interact with them in their daily lives. These processes have begun in India and open calls for genocide of Muslims are being given in various parts of the country with amazing impunity. These early signs must be noted and resisted by the democratic forces in the country.
The erasure of the Mughal and the Sultanate period is also extremely detrimental to the understanding of our own history. Do remember that if all was evil in this period, India at the beginning of the 18th century would not be producing nearly a quarter of the world’s GDP, more than that of entire West Europe put together and eight times the GDP of the United Kingdom. India was then the largest exporter of textiles to the world and the British were indulging in industrial espionage to try and steal techniques and design prevalent here. This was also the period when a syncretic culture evolved and amazing advances were made in music, art, architecture and literature.
The people of India did not see this period as one of Muslim atrocities over Hindus. British colonial ideologues were the first to view this period in this manner, a view lapped up and propagated by the Hindu communalists. It is worth reminding ourselves that during the 1857 revolt, soldiers and people belonging to all communities attempted to overthrow the British and install in their place none other than the Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar! To deny our children a peep into this period is to cut one’s own feet.
Those who want a Hindu rashtra as a mirror image of Muslim Pakistan are now imitating how history is taught in Pakistan where they teach about Harappa and Mohenjodaro as it is in Pakistan and pre-Hindu, then gloss over several centuries of pre-Islamic period and the period of the Indian national movement. This, when the existing historiography in India had advanced to among the best in the world.
Another set of deletions relate to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. These deletions were made surreptitiously and were not even mentioned in the list circulated to schools in April 2022 , as highlighted yet again by The Indian Express. Passages which spoke of Gandhi’s conviction “that any attempt to make India into a country only for the Hindus would destroy India” and how his “steadfast pursuit of Hindu-Muslim unity provoked Hindu extremists so much that they made several attempts to assassinate Gandhiji” were deleted. So were the lines that said: “Government of India cracked down on orgnisations that were spreading communal hatred. Organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh were banned for some time”.
In the revised paragraph in the class XII history text all details regarding Gandhi’s assassin’s political views are removed. It now just says, “At his daily prayer meeting on the evening of 30 January, Gandhiji was shot dead by a young man. The assassin who surrendered afterwards, was Nathuram Godse.” A clear attempt at a whitewash where typically the responsibility of the forces of Hindu communalism in the murder of the Father of the Nation was sought to be denied. At the same time in the prevalent political eco system, Nathu Ram Godse is allowed to be worshipped and BJP Member of Parliament Pragya Thakur can retain her office after calling Godse a “Deshbhakt”! Clearly, no lessons are to be learnt by the next generation from circumstances that led to the ghastly murder of one of the greatest Indians.
We do not have space here to discuss the inexplicable deletion of other ‘faltu’ subjects like the Industrial Revolution, caste oppression, Rise of Popular Movements, ‘Confrontation of Cultures’, Democracy and Diversity, Challenges of Democracy, The Emergency, Central Islamic Lands, Environment and Society, Urban Environment (with a section dealing with urban inequities with the police backing the privileged against the poor), etc.
With such deletions we will succeed in creating a generation of unthinking bhakts who do not ask questions. We do not wish our children to be bigoted morons.
Fortunately, large number of academics and several state governments have registered strong protests and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the changes which are seen to be guided by divisive motives going against the constitutional ethos and the democratic and composite culture of the Indian subcontinent. Many newspapers too have published editorials critical of the NCERT decision. It is to be hoped that saner voices will prevail and persuade those entrusted with the education of our children to act in their best interests.
Aditya Mukherjee and Mridula Mukherjee taught at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU.