There was a time when India’s history and social science official texts, though burdened with a slew of dates and events in a top down linear narrative, nevertheless celebrated the reality of the evolution of a rich and diverse civilisational ethos.
Today, the corrosive power of exclusion and hate runs deep: 11 days ago, April 14, reports of a deeply disturbing incident caused concern on social media but was met with a deafening silence by India’s political class. An 11-year-old boy was allegedly thrashed and stripped simply to pressurise him into “chanting religious slogans” in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore. That is how deep hate flows now in India’s veins.
Another recent incident in the cosmopolitan hub of Bengaluru makes for concerning, if not chilling, reading. The co-author and his colleagues were volunteering for a mathematics discussion session for middle and high school students for a couple of hours on a weekend where the subject mathematics is discussed with a bunch of motivated middle and high school students, once a week. The students range from 12 to 18 years in age. These students were chosen through a test on mathematics from classes VI to XI from various schools based in the city. They are extremely good in mathematics though not quite so well-versed in the social sciences, history, etc.
In the midst of this math circle session, there was the mandatory tea/coffee break. The students were chatting with each other and this is when the author overheard a student telling others that he is/was very happy with the current change in the history syllabus. The reason given was simple. For this student talented in mathematics, “Mughals were not ethnically Indians” and “they did nothing other than destroying many Hindu temples”. Herein lies the justification for the erasure from history.
Over nine years now, the present regime has acquired both state power and seemingly limitless access to monetary capital, the burgeoning of the propaganda mill, the WhatsApp University and the manufactured bots and troll armies, and its myriad outfits have been dishing out carelessly perverted and manipulated versions of “fact”, perpetuating dangerously selective myths about all minorities, especially Muslims.
The reason is as much a target of this Orwellian regime as diversity and this is evident from the equally brutally slashing of the Darwinian theory of Evolution from the same official NCERT texts. Easy prey then for bizarre concocted accounts of stem cell theory in ancient India with evidence of genetic science (test tube baby??) existing as “revealed” in the tales of Lord Ganesha’s Head and Karna’s birth! Not to mention flying machines being invented on “Bharatiya” soil!
Where did these students get their history lesson? Which books did they read? Which sources did they refer to? Were the books, the texts or the overall atmosphere a source of such toxicity? Coming from a school kid less than half his age, this was a shell-shocker to the co-author, assuming as he does that the study of both mathematics and science needs reasoning and logic, not propaganda and hate.
Parenting was never easy, but it has become even more challenging under the current regime. As hate and toxicity swirl in our midst, with so much of this poison just a clickbait video or WhatsApp forward away, one realises how careful, really careful, we need to be with our own kids. Teen and under teen, they are the future citizens of this country. What should the counter communication and counter experience techniques that we should apply as parents, given that the WhatsApp University is so all pervasive, the propaganda so systematic and negative?
To repeat the old cliché, charity begins at home. We cannot expect our ten year olds to respect people belonging to different communities unless we practise a lived respect for diversity and co-habitation with differences.
How many of us have attended an iftar party in the recent past? How many of us have eaten a meal in a Muslim home along with our kids? How many of us know how Christians observe Lent before Easter Sunday? Or what is the significance of December 6 for Dalit children and parents? How many of us relatively privileged Indians really care?
To probe further, how many of us walk with our children into spaces where young kids from various ethnic background can and do freely interact? Unless we make a special, all-out effort, tolerance and plurality will fade and a rigid monochromatic existence will be thrust upon us. Brazenly brushing out a rather unique lived history of vibrant colours, difference and yes, plurality. That is the truth of our civilizational ethos that we need to reclaim with several positive steps before it is violently snatched away.
Parthanil Roy is a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute Bangalore Centre. This article is based on the authors’ personal experience and opinion. Teesta Setalvad is a journalist and human rights defender.