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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 15, April 8, 2023

Statement by Concerned Historians on the Recent Changes Made by the NCERT in School Textbooks (April 7, 2023)

Saturday 8 April 2023


Date: 07.04.2023

The recent decision of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to drop entire chapters from the history textbooks for class 12, as well as from other classes and to delete statements from other textbooks is a matter of deep concern. Using the period of the pandemic-cum-lockdowns to argue that there was a need to lighten the load of the curriculum, the NCERT initiated a contentious process of dropping topics like the history of the Mughal courts, the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, the Emergency, mention of Dalit writers, the Naxalite movement, and the fight for equality from social science, history, and political science textbooks of classes 6 to 12. The new editions of these NCERT books have simply made the deletions the norm even when we are in a post-pandemic context in which school education has limped back to normalcy and is no longer in the online mode.

In this light, it is deeply troubling that a chapter on the Mughals has been deleted from part-II of the history textbook for class 12, while two chapters on modern Indian history have been removed from part-III of the history textbook. There has been no attempt to consult members of the teams that had prepared the textbooks, which included historians and school teachers, apart from members of the NCERT. The books were developed through a process of consultation and wide-ranging discussions. This was valuable not only in terms of content, but also in terms of pedagogy, which ensured an organic unity and a graded development in understanding from the middle to the senior school. The attempt was also to make the textbooks as inclusive as possible, and to provide a sense of the rich diversity of the human past both within the subcontinent and the wider world. As such, removing chapters / sections of chapters is highly problematic not only in terms of depriving learners of valuable content, but also in terms of the pedagogical values required to equip them to meet present and future challenges. While we understand the need for periodic revisions of school textbooks, this can only be done in sync with the consensus of existing historical scholarship. However, the selective deletion in this round of textbook revision reflects the sway of divisive politics over pedagogic concerns.

According to the Director, NCERT, the deletions are part of the rationalisation of the school textbooks, and have been done in order to reduce the burden on students. As per the NCERT, during the pandemic the students faced loss in learning, and in the post-pandemic period the students have been feeling overburdened with the syllabus. According to the NCERT, since some of the chapters were overlapping across subjects and classes, it was rational to reduce the content for the overburdened students. The NCERT authorities have denied any ulterior political motive behind this move of rationalisation.

However, notwithstanding the NCERT Director’s denial, the selective dropping of NCERT book chapters which do not fit into the larger ideological orientation of the present ruling dispensation exposes the non-academic, partisan agenda of the regime in pushing through amendments to school textbooks. This becomes abundantly clear when one critically analyses the removal of selective themes in the textbooks in the backdrop of the present central government’s larger ideological agenda of misconstruing the history of the people of the Indian subcontinent as a product of a hegemonic singular (Hindu) tradition.

Driven by such an agenda, the chapter titled ‘Kings and Chronicles: The Mughal Courts (c. sixteenth-seventeenth centuries) has been deleted from part-II of the history textbook. This is despite the fact that the Mughals ruled several parts of the subcontinent for a substantial period; making the history of these times an inseparable part of the subcontinent’s history. In medieval times, the Mughal empire and the Vijayanagara empire were two of the most important empires in the Indian subcontinent, both of which were discussed in the previous textbooks. In the revised version, while the chapter on the Mughals has been deleted, the chapter on the Vijayanagara Empire has been retained. The exclusion exposes the wider communal undertones, based on an inaccurate assumption about India’s past — that the religion of the rulers was the dominant religion of the times. This leads to the deeply problematic idea of a ‘Hindu’ era, ‘Muslim’ era, etc. These categories are uncritically imposed on what has historically been a very diverse social fabric.

Moreover, two very important chapters have been deleted from part-III on Modern India, namely, ‘Colonial Cities: Urbanisation, Planning and Architecture’ and ‘Understanding Partition: Politics, Memories, Experiences’. Also significant is the deletion of any mention of the role of Hindu extremists in the killing of Gandhi. For example, in the chapter titled ‘Mahatma Gandhi and the Nationalist Movement’ in part-III of the history textbook the reference to Nathuram Godse being “the editor of an extremist Hindu newspaper” has been expunged.

It is important to stress that the present retrograde step by the NCERT to delete entire chapters and portions of texts from the history textbooks is not based on any academic or pedagogic consideration. Rather, the chapters deleted from the history textbook are precisely those which do not fit into the pseudo-historical schema of the ruling dispensation. Excising any period from the study of the past would make students unable to comprehend the connecting thread of the past with the present times, and would deprive students of an opportunity to connect, compare and contrast the past and the present, and would disrupt the organic inter-connectedness of the subject-matter of the discipline. Furthermore, removing entire periods of history from history textbooks would not only perpetuate misconceptions and misunderstandings, but would serve to further the divisive communal and casteist agenda of the ruling elites. The books and history syllabi designed earlier by the NCERT were meant to provide an understanding of the Indian subcontinent as a great melting pot of different cultures consisting of various groups, ethnicities, etc. The sequence of the chapters was designed to teach students about the craft of history, and to develop critical thinking about the past. The composite heritage of the Indian subcontinent and historical genealogies of the present times were the main focus of the old NCERT syllabus from which chapters have now been strategically excised.

Apart from deletions in the history textbook of class 12, there are several deletions from the history textbook of class 11, which includes very essential themes like the industrial revolution, inter alia. There are also deletions from the textbook for political science, which includes sections on the rise of popular movements, the 2002 Gujarat Riots, and the mention of the report of the National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, the reference to the 2002 Gujarat Riots has been dropped from the Class 11 sociology textbook ‘Understanding Society’.

Guided by a divisive and partisan agenda, the NCERT by selectively deleting several important themes from school textbooks is not only doing great disservice to the composite heritage of the Indian subcontinent, but betraying the aspirations of the Indian masses. The colonial constructions and their contemporaneous reproduction manifest the misconstruing of Indian civilization as a product of a hegemonic singular tradition, such that categories like ‘Hindu society’ are uncritically imposed on what has historically been a very diverse social fabric. Ultimately, all these deletions present the students with a sanitized history of a homogenous ‘Hindu’ society in the Indian subcontinent. History of this variety has a disturbing preoccupation with the narrative surrounding kings and the wars they waged. It reduces state formations, empire-building, and transformations of the medieval period to an unsubstantiated, perennial contest between an allegedly homogenous ‘Hindu’ society and ‘Islamic’ invaders and rulers. It also projects the idea of presumably widespread social harmony in India’s past which conceals the exploitation and oppression of populations under different state formations along the axes of gender, caste, and class etc. It also overlooks regional diversity. By reducing the study of history to such monolithic accounts, the ground is being prepared for pseudo-histories, especially of a communal and casteist variety, to hold sway. In any case, such ‘histories’ are widely circulated today through WhatsApp and other social media applications.

We are appalled by the decision of the NCERT to remove chapters and statements from the history textbooks, and demand that the deletions from the textbooks should be immediately withdrawn. The decision of the NCERT is guided by divisive motives. It is a decision which goes against the constitutional ethos and composite culture of the Indian subcontinent. As such, it must be rescinded at the earliest.

  1. A R Khan Retired Professor, IGNOU
  2. Abhijit Guha Retired Professor
  3. Abhijit Roy Jadavpur University
  4. Abigail Mcgowan Professor of History, University of Vermont
  5. Adil Jussanwalla
  6. Aditi Kanchanbaras University of Hyderabad
  7. Aditya Mukherjee Retd. Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  8. Aisarya Dutt Roy University of Hyderabad
  9. Ajeet Kumar Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, DU
  10. Ajitha Kakumanu Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College
  11. Akanksha Singh Lady Sriram College, DU
  12. Akhila Mathew Azim Premji University
  13. Alka Saikia Gargi College, DU
  14. Amita Paliwal Jesus & Mary College, DU
  15. Anamitra Sarkar St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College, Kolkata
  16. Anand Chakrabarti Former Professor, DU
  17. Anand K. Sahay
  18. Anand Patwardhan Researcher and documentary filmmaker
  19. Anil Kumar Motilal Nehru College, University of Delhi
  20. Anindita Ghoshal Diamond Harbour Women’s University, Kolkata
  21. Anisha Srivastava Sri Aurobindo College (Eve), University of Delhi
  22. Anita Rampal Retd. Professor, Central Institute of Education, DU
  23. Anjan Roy
  24. Anuradha Roy Retd. Professor, Jadavpur University
  25. Anwesha Sengupta Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata
  26. Aparna Balachandran Dept of History, DU
  27. Apoorvanand Dept. of Hindi, DU
  28. Archana Ojha Kamala Nehru College
  29. Archisman Chaudhuri Rutgers University
  30. Arnav Gogoi University of Delhi
  31. Arunangsha Maity Taki Government College, West Bengal
  32. Asha Hans Sansristi
  33. Ashesh Kumar Dhar University of Hyderabad
  34. Ashish Ghosh Retd. Associate Professor, Dyal Singh College (Evening), University of Delhi
  35. Ashoke Chatterjee
  36. Ashwin Padi Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi
  37. Asshique Ahmad Iqbal KREA University
  38. Ataullah Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi
  39. Avijit Singh Research Scholar, DU
  40. Avinash Kumar Centre for Equity Studies
  41. Barbara D. Metcalf University of California Davis
  42. Bharati Jagannathan Miranda House College
  43. Bhim Tiwari Research Scholar, DU
  44. Bhupinder K Chaudhry Maharaja Agrasen College, DU
  45. Biswajit Mohanty Delhi University
  46. Biswaroop Chatterjee Durgapur, West Bengal
  47. Bob van der Linden University of Amsterdam
  48. Brij Tankha Retd. Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi
  49. C. Saratchand University of Delhi
  50. Chairashree Das Gupta Centre for Law and Governance, JNU
  51. Chayanika Uniyal Shyama Prasad Mukherji College for Women, DU
  52. Chitran D University of Hyderabad
  53. Christiane Brosius Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies
  54. Christine Marrewa-Karwosi Columbia University
  55. D. Manjit Delhi University
  56. Dane Kennedy Professor Emeritus, George Washington University
  57. David Blamey London
  58. David Ludden Professor of History, New York University
  59. Debashree Mukherjee MESAAS, Columbia University
  60. Debjani Sengupta IP College, Delhi University
  61. Denys Leighton OP Jindal University
  62. Devaki Khanna
  63. Devarpita Manjit Delhi University
  64. Dilip Menon University of Witwatersrand
  65. Dilip Simeon Writer and former Professor, Ramjas College, DU
  66. Dilshad Ahmad Composite school SARVAT
  67. Dinesh Kumar Singh Bharati College, Delhi University
  68. Dinesh Varshney Motilal Nehru College (Evening
  69. Dipta Bhog
  70. Dolan Samanta Research Scholar, JNU
  71. Farhat Hasan Dept. of History, DU
  72. Feroze Chandra Retired
  73. G. Arunima Professor, JNU
  74. Geeta Arya Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi
  75. Gyan Prakash Professor, Princeton University
  76. Harbans Mukhia Retd. Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  77. Inder Salim
  78. Indu Agnihotri Historian and writer
  79. Indranee Dutta OKDISCD, Guwahati
  80. Irfan Habib Historian and Professor Emeritus, AMU
  81. Ismail Vengasseri Lady Sriram College, DU
  82. Jabir P. Dept. of History, University of Hyderabad
  83. Jashobanta Pan Berhampur University
  84. Jaya S. Tyagi Dept. of History, DU
  85. Jayanti Gupta Kamala Nehru College
  86. Jayati Ghosh University of Massachusetts Amherst
  87. Justin Mathew Hansraj College, DU
  88. K N Sunandan Ajim Premji University
  89. K. Satchidanandan Professor
  90. K.I. Tuteja
  91. Kali Chittibabu JNU
  92. Kanhad Sinha The Sanskrit College and University, Kolkata
  93. Karuna Dietrich Wielenga Azim Premji University
  94. Kavita Singh Retd. Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU
  95. Kavita Srivastava PUCL
  96. Keya Dasgupta Retired faculty, CSSSC, Kolkata
  97. Krishnakumar M.V. Newman College, Thodupuzha, Kerala
  98. Kumkum Roy Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  99. Lakshmi Subramaniam Visiting Professor of History, BITS Pilani, Goa
  100. Latika Gupta University of Delhi
  101. Levin N R Bharati College, Delhi University
  102. Lianboi Vaiphei Indraprastha College for Women, University if Delhi
  103. M H Ilias Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam
  104. M V Shobhana Warrier Kamala Nehru College, DU
  105. Madhuri Chatterjee
  106. Madhuri Sharma Bharati College, Delhi University
  107. Malavika Kasturi Dept. of History, University of Toronto
  108. Manorama Sharma Retired professor, Dept. of History, NEHU, Shillong
  109. Manu V. Devadevan IIT-Mandi
  110. Maroona Murmu Dept. of History, Jadavpur University
  111. Martin Sökefeld Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany
  112. Maya John Jesus and Mary College, DU
  113. Maya Krishna Rao Theatre artist
  114. Md. Hamid Husain Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi
  115. Meena Bhargava Retd. Associate Professor, Indraprastha College for Women, DU
  116. Meena Megha Malhotra History for Peace - The Seagull Foundations for the Arts
  117. Mekhola Gomes Amherst College
  118. Mercy Dutta JNU
  119. Mita Hussain Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, DU
  120. Mohd. Bilal Research Scholar, DU
  121. Monmayee Basu Hansraj College, DU
  122. Moushami Bhowmik
  123. Mridula Mukherjee Retd. Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  124. Mukul Kesavan Retd. Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia
  125. Mukul Mangalik Retd. Professor, Ramjas College, DU
  126. Naina Dayal St. Stephen’s College, DU
  127. Najibuddin Ahmed Assam
  128. Nandita Narain Delhi University
  129. Nasir Tyabji Jamia Millia Islamia
  130. Navoneel Ray Research Scholar, JNU
  131. Nayana Dasgupta Lady Sriram College, DU
  132. Neerja Singh Satyawati College (Evening), DU
  133. Neeru Ailwadi Delhi College for Arts and Commerce, DU
  134. Nishtha Srivastava Shivaji College, University of Delhi
  135. Nitoo Das IPCW, DU
  136. P.K. Basant Jamia Millia Islamia
  137. Pankaj Jha Lady Sriram College, DU
  138. Partho Datta School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU
  139. Parvin Sinclair Retd. Professor, IGNOU
  140. Pia Malik Research Scholar, Delhi University
  141. Ponniah Rajamanickam People Science Movement
  142. Poonam Kanwal Janaki Devi Memorial College, DU
  143. Prabhu Prasad Mohapatra Department of History, University of Delhi
  144. Pradip Datta Retd. Professor, JNU
  145. Pragati University of Hyderabad
  146. Pragati Mohapatra Indraprastha College for Women, University if Delhi
  147. Pranab Kanti Basu Retired Professor, Visva-Bharati
  148. Pratyay Nath Ashoka University
  149. Preeti Chauhan Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi
  150. Preeti Chauhan Lakshmibai College, DU
  151. Prem Kumar Delhi University
  152. Promukh Bhattacharya Durgapur, West Bengal
  153. Puneet Yadav Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
  154. Purwa Bharadwaj Delhi
  155. R. Mahalakshmi Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  156. R. S. Meena Banaras Hindu University
  157. Rachna Singh Hindu College, DU
  158. Radhika Chadha Miranda House, DU
  159. Rajesh Kumar Motilal Nehru Evening College, DU
  160. Rajinder Arora
  161. Rajni Arora
  162. Rajshree Chandra DU
  163. Rajshree Dhali Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College, DU
  164. Rakesh Kumar Ram Lal Anand College, Du
  165. Ram Murti Sharma Central Institute for Education, DU
  166. Ramesh Dixit
  167. Rana P. Behal Retd. Associate Professor, Deshbandhu College, DU
  168. Ranbir Chakravarti Retd. Professor, Centre of Historical Studies, JNU
  169. Ranjan Anand Zakir Husain College (Evening), University of Delhi
  170. Ranjan Ghosh
  171. Rashmi Pant Delhi University (retired)
  172. Ratan Lal Hindu College, DU
  173. Ravi Ahuja Centre for Modern Indian Studies of Georg-August-University Göttingen
  174. Renu Bala DU
  175. Renuka Devsare Goethe Institit, Delhi
  176. Reyaz Ahmad
  177. Rhea David St. Stephen’s College, DU
  178. Ritu Menon Delhi
  179. Romila Thapar Historian and Professor Emerita, JNU
  180. Rudrashish Chakraborty Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
  181. Ruplekha Khullar
  182. S.K. Ehteshan Uddin Ahmad Dept. of Law, AMU
  183. S.Krishnaswamy Retired Senior Professor Ex Madurai Kamaraj University
  184. Sabina Kazmi Delhi University
  185. Sagnik Saha Doctoral Scholar, University of Hyderabad
  186. Sandhya Sharma Vivekanand College, Du
  187. Sangeeta Luthra Sharma St. Stephen’s College, DU
  188. Sanghamitra Rai Verman Jesus & Mary College, DU
  189. Sanjay Verma Kirori Mal College, DU
  190. Sanjeeb Mukherjee formerly with University of Calcutta
  191. Sanjukta Naskar
  192. Sanoj Kumar Shyam Lal College, DU
  193. Santanu Sengupta Polba Mahavidyalaya, University of Burdwan
  194. Santosh George
  195. Santoshi Kumari Delhi University
  196. Sarah Chauhan Jamia Millia Islamia
  197. Sarika Sunder Dept. of History, University of Vermont
  198. Saumya Gupta Janaki Devi Memorial College, DU
  199. Sayandeb Chowdhury School of Letters, Ambedkar University Delhi
  200. Shabnam Hashmi Anhad
  201. Shadab Banu Women’s College, AMU
  202. Shahana Bhattacharya Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
  203. Shailja Menon Ambedkar University, Delhi
  204. Shantha Sinha
  205. Shatarupa Bhattacharya Lady Sriram College, DU
  206. Sheodutt University of Delhi
  207. Shikha Jhingan Associate Professor, JNU
  208. Shilpi Rajpal University of Copenhagen
  209. Shivaji K. Panikkar Delhi/Vadodara
  210. Shobhana M V Warrier Kamala Nehru College, DU
  211. Shobna Nijhawan York University, Toronto
  212. Shreekala MV JNU
  213. Shubhra Sinha Kamala Nehru college
  214. Shubhra Sinha Kamala Nehru College, DU
  215. Simmi Mehta Mata Sundri College for Women, DU
  216. Smita Sahgal Lady Sriram College, DU
  217. Sneha Ganguly Jesus and Mary College
  218. Snigdha Singh Miranda House, DU
  219. Sonu Vincent Jesus and Mary college
  220. Souraj Bhan Bhardwaj
  221. Srabani Chakraborty Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  222. Sreekala M V Jawaharlal Nehru University
  223. Srimanjiri Miranda House, DU
  224. Subhendu Dasgupta Retired faculty, Calcutta University
  225. Subir Rana Research Scholar, JNU
  226. Suchandra Ghosh School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad
  227. Sucheta Mahajan Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
  228. Suchetna Chattopadhyay Dept of History, Jadavpur University
  229. Sufiyan Abdul Sathar Calicut
  230. Sujata Patel Retd. Professor, University of Hyderabad
  231. Sujato Bhadra
  232. Sujeet Kumar Delhi College for Arts and Commerce, DU
  233. Suparna Puri
  234. Surajit Sarkar Delhi
  235. Surbhi Vatsa Miranda House College, DU
  236. Suvritta Khatri Deshbandhu College, DU
  237. Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi Professor, Dept. of History, AMU & Secretary, Indian History Congress
  238. Tanu Parashar Jesus and Mary College, DU
  239. Tasneem Suhrawardy St. Stephen’s College, DU
  240. Tilak Hazarika Cotton University, Guwahati
  241. Tilottama Mukharjee Jadhavpur University
  242. Uma Chakrabarti Historian, DU
  243. Upinder Singh Ashoka University
  244. Urmimala Sarkar Munsi JNU
  245. Vaibhav Ramani Ashoka University
  246. Vandana Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
  247. Vandna Mathur University of Delhi
  248. Vani Subramanian Delhi
  249. Vibhas Chandra Verma Delhi University
  250. Victoria Potshangbam Kamala Nehru College, DU
  251. Vijaya Venkataraman University of Delhi
  252. Vijjika Pandey Singh ARSD college
  253. Vinita Malik Kamala Nehru College, DU
  254. Virender Singh Research Scholar, Panjab University
  255. Vishwa Mohan Jha Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, DU
  256. Yael Rice Amherst College
  257. Yasser Arafat Dept of History, DU
  258. Yousuf Saeed Jamia Millia Islamia
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