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History Textbooks: NCERT Opens its New File
Rewrite, Delete, Error?
From forgetting to mention Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin to claiming that sindoor was used by women during the Harappan civilisation, facts are history in the new NCERT textbooks. On one point, they score: they look more slick than the old, have more colour pictures. highlights the changes
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THE debate over the rewriting of NCERT school textbooks has, until now, been purely cast in left versus right terms. It should have been instead cast as: professional versus shoddy. If the two new NCERT textbooks introduced last week — Contemporary India Class IX Textbook in Social Science and India and The World: Social Sciences Textbook for Class VI — are pointers to future school textbooks, the stage has been set for yet another round of controversy despite the apex court’s decision.

Consider the facts:

While there is a fair amount of discussion of Gandhiji’s political strategies (including the Civil Disobedience movement and the Gandhi-Irwin pact) in the Class IX Contemporary India, the book forgets to mention that Mahatma Gandhi was shot by Nathuram Godse. If the omission is part of a deliberate political agenda, it is surely very foolish.

The class VI India and the World, under the chapter ‘The Vedic Civilisation’, mentions: ‘‘Injuring or killing of cow was prohibited in the Vedic period.... Vedas prescribe punishment for injuring or killing cow by expulsion from the kingdom or by death penalty, as the case may be.’’ This is totally incorrect. And this is not any figment of imagination of Marxist historians. If you don’t believe this, consult the best book yet written on the subject, The History of Dharamsastras, Volume I, by P V Kane of the Pune-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Bhandarkar, by the way, was a fairly traditional Indian rooted much more than anyone today to his traditions.

On Page 91, Zero is Vedic; on Page 118 it’s invented in the Gupta Period

• While there is a fair amount of discussion of Gandhiji’s political strategies in the Class IX Contemporary India, the book forgets to mention that Mahatma Gandhi was shot by Nathuram Godse.
• The class VI India and the World, under the chapter ‘The Vedic Civilisation’, says: ‘‘Injuring or killing of cow was prohibited in the Vedic period.... Vedas prescribe punishment for injuring or killing cow by expulsion from the kingdom or by death penalty, as the case may be.’’ This is totally incorrect according to P V Kane’s The History of Dharamsastras, Volume I, widely acknowledged as the best book on the subject.
• On page 91 of the Class VI book, the authors mention ‘‘zero was known’’ by the Vedic period, while on page 118, they claim zero was introduced in the Gupta period. The error is only of 1,000 years.
n On page 18 of the class IX book, the photograph of Sri Aurobindo’s brother Barindra Ghose is identified as that of Vasudeo Balwant Phadke.
• Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi is grouped with Indian revolutionaries abroad. The farthest he ever travelled was to Pondicherry, a French colony

The island of Madagascar, according to the class IX book, is in the Arabian Sea, not in the Indian Ocean.

Again in the class IX book, Portugal and Spain are termed as ‘‘western most states of Europe’’ instead of Iceland and Ireland.

On page 11 of the class IX book it is mentioned that ‘‘With Japan’s moral and material support he (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) and his Indian National Army was able to liberate the islands of Andaman...’’ The truth is that the Japanese occupied Andamans by December 1941-January 1942, while Netaji only arrived in the Andamans by July 1943.

The class VI book mentions the use of sindoor by women during Harappan times, surely a pure figment of imagination.

What brought the British to India? The new book says: “...all the sea and land trade routes between India and Europe were controlled by the Muslim powers and Europe was restless to have access.”

The Class IX book Contemporary India mentions under ‘Indo-US relations’ that the relationship between the two democracies was not very cordial until ‘‘Osama bin Laden and similar other persons’’ arrived on the scene in 2001. “(They) have changed the whole world and has (sic) virtually prompted the United States to join hands with India.”

Not just factual inaccuracies, even the language, whether it is grammar or spelling, used in the book is marked by awkward sentence construction or faults in reasoning. Some choice examples:

n In the first paragraph of the foreword itself: “It is crucial for the educators to emphasise in social science education.”

“Europe’s quest to reach India led to the discovery of new continents in the formation of the present map of the world.”

“(The British) created among the Indians a class of loyalists, first in the shape of landlords and then the middle classes. All this made the Indians to (sic) seethe with anger.”

“The most notable feature of the political situation arising out of the 18 March development was that the political leaders of all shades of opinion and radical elements reposed their faith in the Gandhi’s leadership.”

On the issue of controversies, unnecessary ones are raised without much historical evidence. For instance, the lumping of the Harappan and the Vedic civilisation into one and the same, or the “fact” that the Aryans were indigenous and did not come from Central Asia. The identification of the Ghagghar river in Rajasthan (called Hakra in Pakistan) as the river Saraswati, the identification of a river in Haryana as the Vedic Saraswati and so on and so forth are also contentious.

NOW take a look at Ancient India: A Textbook of History for Class VI, written by Romila Thapar. Compare the two books — the old and the new for class VI — say on their chapters on the Mauryas. While the old book devotes two chapters, one on political history and the other on economic, social and cultural history by a world-renowned expert on the subject, the new one just has one chapter and that reads like, to use Professor K M Pannikar’s phrase, a ‘‘telephone directory’’: Lots of names and years of the various rulers of the dynasty and very little else of substance.

Afar as political bias is concerned, one should have no great quarrel with the chapters added on religion, except that while the chapter on other religions are much more interesting and refreshingly irreverential, that on Hinduism is a bit too devotional.

It wouldn’t harm a class IX student to know that while the ten avatars of Vishnu does not appear in the Rig Veda, it does centuries later during the later Vedic period, or that others Gods of the pantheon like Ganesh in his full form only appeared by the third century AD. Or that the Mahabharata evolved over a fairly long period, with 8,000 slokas when it was called Jaya Samhita, 24,000 verses when it was termed Bharat and 100,000 slokas by the time it became the encyclopaedic Mahabharata.

Or that historical evidence dates the Ramayana after the Mahabharata while the conventional wisdom dictates just the opposite. Awareness of such controversies about perhaps the world’s oldest and most complex religion (with countless deities) would nurture the child’s sense of curiosity and provoke their imagination.

Preaching vs teaching: SC drew line

MURLI Manohar Joshi called it a vindication, from the country’s highest court, of the NCERT’s decision to change history textbooks for schools. To be sure, Joshi is not off the mark in his interpretation of the September 12 verdict which vacated the five-month stay on the release of new textbooks based on a curriculum framed at his instance. Howsoever controversial its reasoning, the Supreme Court did dismiss the substantive allegation that Joshi’s introduction of ‘‘value education’’ in the curriculum violated the constitutional bar on ‘‘religious instruction’’ in schools.

At the heart of the public interest litigation filed by information activist Aruna Roy and eminent journalist B G Varghese is their charge that value education is a camouflage for the Hindutva agenda, as Joshi’s curriculum asserts that religion is a ‘‘major source of value generation.’’ The basis of their attack is mainly this specific paragraph in the curriculum: ‘‘Another significant factor that merits urgent attention now is religion. Although it is not the only source of essential values, it certainly is a major source of value generation. What is required today is not religious education but education about religions, their basics, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions. These need to be inculcated at appropriate stages in education right from the primary years.’’

The petitioners contended that the Centre’s whole idea of teaching children about religions right from the primary school stage infringes the secular guarantee in Article 28(1) of the Constitution which says: ‘‘No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds.’’

But a three-judge bench headed by Justice M B Shah happily accepted the distinction made by the Centre between ‘‘religious instruction’’ and ‘‘education about religions.’’ The court also saw nothing wrong in the attempt to pass off ‘‘education about religions’’ as value education. Whatever the views of the experts, the court is convinced that ‘‘the essence of every religion is common. Only practices differ.’’ The only caveat the court deemed fit to enter is that ‘‘dogmas and superstitions should not be propagated in the name of education about religions.’’

Thus, the Supreme Court accepted the premise that religion is a major source of value generation and that the essence of all religions is the same. Its rather touching, if simplistic, faith in religions is belied by the textbooks that have been released in the wake of its verdict. Take the chapter on the Vedic Civilisation in the Social Sciences book for Class VI. It has a section on the caste system, which is sanctioned only by Hindu scriptures. Significantly, the book makes no judgement on the caste system. In a purely normative tone, the book points out that the caste system, though flexible in the beginning, ‘‘became rigid and moving from one (caste) to other became difficult.’’

What is the value that is sought to be imparted to 11-year-old students through this deliberately value-neutral approach on the caste system? If the caste system is taken to be part of the essence of Hinduism, it is a feature not shared by other religions. Neither is there any acknowledgement in the book of how the caste system and its by-product of untouchability oppressed a vast section of the humanity. So, whatever the angle, the section on the caste system does not fit into the formulation that religions are essentially salutary and alike. Rather, it seems to be more a case of religious instruction masquerading as education about religions. The line between the two is indeed fine.

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