Bipan Chandra Hazir Ho: Indian History, Textbooks and Censorship

Is withdrawing state patronage from a certain kind of scholarship conducive to creating a level playing field?

3 min read
Bipan Chandra Hazir Ho: Indian History, Textbooks and Censorship

Founded in 1957, the National Book Trust (NBT) was an autonomous body under the Ministry of Education of the Government of India. It now functions under the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

According to Jawaharlal Nehru, the NBT was envisioned as a bureaucracy-free structure, meant to publish low-cost books. The Trust also publishes reading material/textbooks in several Indian languages.

Just a few months after Delhi University stopped selling and distributing late historian Bipan Chandra’s book India’s Struggle for Independence, the NBT has decided not to reprint the Hindi edition of Chandra’s Communalism – A Primer.

Incidentally, Dr Chandra served as the Chairman of the Trust for eight long years (2004-2012).


Academic Outrage

Just a few months ago, Delhi University stopped selling and distributing late historian Bipan Chandra’s book India’s Struggle for Independence.

A large section of the academic community has been outraged by the Trust’s decision, more so when they have been extremely ambiguous about the reason behind not ordering fresh print runs for Chandra’s primer. 

This is a routine process. We routinely analyse the present status of books to take a call as to whether they be reprinted. Prof Chandra’s book is just one in relation to which we have decided not to order reprinting.
An NBT source to The Hindu.

The Quint called up the NBT’s main office in New Delhi but was refused any comments.

Speaking with The Quint, Dr Mridula Mukherjee, historian, and a former teacher at JNU, said that the the vagueness of the Trust’s statement is proof enough of some kind of ideological motivation. Dr Mukherjee, along with Dr Chandra, is a co-author of India’s Struggle for Independence.

The Trust had cited a problem with Bhagat Singh being referred to in a certain way in the book. We understood that with changing times, connotations also change, and as part of updating the book to a new edition, submitted all the changes soon after the objections were raised. The NBT hasn’t acted on it yet. But this is outrageous. The primer was an easy to read and understand guide for students.
Dr Mridula Mukherjee, Historian

Textbooks and the Censorship Conundrum

Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus.

Even if one pushes oneself into considering the Trust’s reasoning as adequate, the history of excluding and censoring certain texts from curricula in the recent past makes it difficult to digest. In 2012, the ABVP raised a storm, asking AK Ramanujan’s celebrated text Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation be excluded from the History syllabus in Delhi University. Ramanujan was accused of favouring a few (read titillating) versions of the Ramayana, hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus in the process.

When it comes to school textbooks, a long-standing battle is being waged among educationists. Dr Chandra was Chairman of the NBT and had also authored the NCERT’s Class 12 textbook Modern India. The book was in circulation from the 1970s, till it was replaced by the Vajpayee government.

Add then there was the pulping of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus.


State Patronage and ‘Admissible’ Scholarship

Speaking with The Quint, Dr Rohit Wanchoo, Head of the Department of History, St Stephens College said:

I haven’t read Chandra’s primer, so I don’t know what can constitute as objectionable, and if that was at all the reason behind the NBT’s decision to discontinue printing the book. But there has been a history of censoring and one cannot discount that. 
Dr Rohit Wanchoo, Head of the Department of History, St Stephens College

Effectively, the NBT is a government institution, run on taxpayers’ money. When it decides to stop the print run of a book, it is withdrawing state patronage for a certain kind of scholarship. To create a level playing field between academic and public discourses, and also for pragmatic and democratic politics, the government should just promote whatever scholarship it wants to, but not stop anything from being in circulation. Just like a lot of historians were critical of Chandra’s critique of communal nationalism, but never asked for banning the book.

Till then, let us remind ourselves of this:
Socrates was tried and put to death for corrupting the youth.

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