Mainstream, VOL LIX No 31, New Delhi, July 17, 2021
Misinformation and Bias in the Name of NCERT Reforms - Statement by Indian History Congress | July 14, 2021
Friday 16 July 2021#socialtags
The Indian History Congress
Recently, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat came out with a notice stating that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports (EWCY&S) has “taken up for examination and consideration the subject ‘Reforms in the Content and Design of School Text Books’ with focus on removing references to un-historical facts and distortions about national heroes; ensuring equal or proportionate references to all periods of Indian history and highlight the role of great historic women heroes…” The notice asked the various stakeholders across the country to send in their suggestions.
The Indian History Congress is much disturbed at the misinformation and biased view that is being projected in the name of bringing reforms in the existing NCERT textbooks. It is to be noted that the critique of the existing textbooks implicit in the ‘Reforms’ being contemplated is not emerging from any expert body of nationally and internationally recognised historians but from a political position favoured by non-academic votaries of prejudice. The implicit critique is in fact exactly the same as that argued in a Report brought out recently by the Public Policy Research Centre (PPRC), PP 66, Dr Mookherjee Smruti Nyas, Subramania Bharti Marg, New Delhi-110003. This is reminiscent of the effort made in 2001-2002 to make deletions from existing NCERT textbooks and ultimately replace them with books written by those with a chauvinistic and communal bias. That effort too was preceded by a publication The Enemies of Indianisation: The Children of Marx, Macaulay and Madarsa edited by Dina Nath Batra, General Secretary of the RSS-run Vidya Bharati.
School textbooks written for the NCERT by some of the tallest scholars in the country, like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra were actually removed, and in their place books with a clear sectarian, majoritarian bias were introduced in 2002. The authors of the PPRC report seem to be unaware of this, although they have submitted their report in June, 2021, and base their so-called critique on the books of these eminent scholars which have not been in use after 2002. The textbooks of the NCERT, with the brief exception of the books brought out in 2002, have always been authored by eminent scholars in the field of Indian history with enormous research experience and expertise, and after considerable deliberation and discussion. The books brought out in 2002 were severely critiqued in a publication of the Indian History Congress: History in the New NCERT Text Books: A Report and an Index of Errors, (authored by Suvira Jaiswal, Irfan Habib and Aditya Mukherjee), 2003. Under widespread public criticism, the books had to be withdrawn. The current effort behind the proposed ‘Reforms in the Content and Design of School Text Books’ seems to be to once again introduce such books.
The current textbooks were first introduced from 2006 onwards. The claim that there are “un-historical facts and distortions” with regard to national heroes is completely false. The chapter 5 in the textbook ‘Our Pasts III’ is titled ‘When People Rebel: 1857 and After’; and chapter 9 in the same book is titled ‘The Making of the National Movement: 1870s-1947’. Both bring to light important events and figures related to the freedom struggle in India. In fact, even though in the premodern period the modern concept of the nation or ‘national’ cannot be found, several iconic figures dot the pages of almost every chapter.
Further, the claim regarding apparent lack of equal space accorded to various periods of Indian history is not borne out by the books that are currently in use by the NCERT. There are eleven chapters in ‘Our Pasts 1’ for students of class VI, and ten chapters each in the remaining two books, and all the relevant issues related to the study of broadly the ancient, medieval and modern periods find a place here.
The claim to highlight the role of great historic women heroes in the proposed new textbooks is again aimed at obfuscating the instances where women who played a major role in their times find their place in the relevant chapters of the existing textbooks. To illustrate with just one example, there is a discussion on Rani Laxmibai on pages 51-52 and 57-58, 59; Rani Avantibai Lodhi of Ramgarh is mentioned on pp. 58 and 59; both are in the chapter on ‘When People Rebel: 1857 and After’. A note on the Misleading and Factual Misrepresentation of the Current NCERT Textbooks in response to the Public Notice has been prepared by the Indian History Congress, to be presented to the Parliamentary Standing Committee examining ‘Reforms in the Content and Design of School Text Books’, as well as to be placed in the public domain.
As the premier professional body of historians, the Indian History Congress is greatly perturbed at this attempt to politicize and give a biased view of the existing textbooks. While a review process is always necessary, this should be done involving recognised scholars from all over the country and with adequate attention to the academic content, derived from a research based understanding of different historical periods. Further, the textbooks are meant to present a synoptic understanding of Indian history to school children, and hence must also keep pedagogical concerns in constant view. The IHC opposes any attempt to present a distorted understanding of the historical past, and is apprehensive that the above-mentioned notice is premised on such a distortion.
Sd./- Prof. Amiya Bagchi, President, IHC
Sd./- Prof. Mahalakshmi Ramakrishnan, Secretary, IHC