Caste, Mughals & Emergency: How Historians See NCERT's Syllabus Rationalisation

Passages on Mughal rule, Gujarat riots, and caste discrimination have been dropped from social science textbooks.

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Caste, Mughals & Emergency: How Historians See NCERT's Syllabus Rationalisation

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Why has the National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) dropped numerous references and topics from social science textbooks across classes? As per the NCERT, "the rationalisation of syllabus is nothing new," and the government body that decides the syllabus and the curriculum has been "doing it for years."

But educators and historians are skeptical. They say there are "larger trends at play." While some changes have been made because "they make the ruling party uncomfortable," others are "linked to electoral gains," they claim.

Let’s delve into some of the themes that have been left out – and why historians believe they are important to be taught to students.


Chapter on Emergency Cut Short

A chapter in the Class 12 political science textbook has been cut down by five pages. Incidentally, these were pages that delved into the excesses of the Indira Gandhi government during the Emergency declared in 1975.

There are references to malpractices and misuse of power by the government.

"Parliament was suspended and new laws were made directly by the government. Civil liberties were revoked and a large number of politically active people were arrested and jailed without trial. Censorship was imposed on the media, and government officials could be dismissed without normal procedures. The government coerced lower level officials to implement its programmes and produce instant results... When elections were held unexpectedly in early 1977, the people voted overwhelmingly against the ruling Congress Party," the now-deleted paragraph states about the Emergency.

Speaking about the excesses of the Indira Gandhi government, assistant professor of history at Delhi University, Jitendra Meena, said:

"Most of the references and themes that have been left out are important for any empowered nation, and hence, important for students. During the Emergency, we had seen a crisis of democratic order at the time – and we are seeing it now to an extent. The chapters that have been struck down touched upon curbing press freedom and democratic rights."

An Attempt To Gloss Over Caste?

A passage on manual scavenging from social activist Harsh Mander's book has been left out and so has a reference to papers that touch upon how lower-caste women face more discrimination than upper-caste women.

A poem on the Dalit movement has also been removed from the textbook.

"The sun of self-respect has burst into flame – Let it burn up these castes! Smash, break, destroy These walls of hatred. Crush to smithereens this eons-old school of blindness, Rise, O people!"
A poem on caste movements from the Class 12 sociology book

Another paragraph that has been left out from the same chapter reads, "By and large when compared to the situation prevailing before independence, the condition of all social groups, including the lowest caste and tribes, has improved today. But by how much has it improved? How have the lowest castes/tribes fared in comparison to the rest of the population?"

Another paragraph in the Class 6 political science textbook earlier said that women and shudras were not allowed to read the vedas. This reference had also been removed.

Dr Anirban Bandyopadhyay, a History professor at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Bhubaneswar, told The Quint, "It is being conveyed that ancient India was an idyllic place. It is true that due to limited sources from the time period, there are some grey areas."

The grey areas in history are now being filled by what is convenient for the ruling party, believes Meena, who said, "Caste is a reality in our country and our society was formed on the basis of caste. But they want to make it invisible. They want to limit students' access to such topics."

Writing for The Quint, S Irfan Habib, historian of science and modern political history, noted, "Most references to caste-based discrimination, that had been a historical fact and continues to pester us even now, have been deleted. This history can be deleted from the textbooks but it will remain part of our past. Our ostrich-like behaviour cannot eliminate caste-based hatred that our society faces every single day."


Chapters on Mughal Rule Left Out For 'Political Gains'

Pages from Chapter 3 on the Delhi Sultans and Chapter 4 on Mughal Empire have been left out of the Class 7 History textbook.

Entire pages on the major campaign and events of Mughal emperors – Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb – have been struck down. These pages touch upon their major achievements.

"The ruling party keeps claiming that there is too much information on the Mughals. The truth is that the Mughal rule has been well-documented, especially because the British came right after them," Bandopadhyay said.

Ruchika Sharma, a doctoral fellow of history at JNU, told The Telegraph, "So much has been done on the Mughals, compared to these dynasties, because the Mughals documented a lot of what they did, especially Jehangir, not just through actual meticulous writing but also through architecture and painting…. The Cholas, Satavahanas ruled at a time when there wasn’t a very developed sense of history."

An entire chapter – Theme 9 of the Class 12 history book on Mughal courts – has been left out.

The chapter deals with Mughal manuscripts.

"At one level they were a repository of factual information about the institutions of the Mughal state, painstakingly collected and classified by individuals closely connected with the court. At the same time these texts were intended as conveyors of meanings that the Mughal rulers sought to impose on their domain. They therefore give us a glimpse into how imperial ideologies were created and disseminated. This chapter will look at the workings of this rich and fascinating dimension of the Mughal Empire.
An excerpt from a chapter on Mughal Courts from Class 9 textbook

Habib wrote that the deletions are linked to electoral gains. "Yet, the focus of all the curriculum changes remains the most polarising issue, that pays maximum electoral dividends. Thus, the deletion and downscaling of the Muslim/Mughal history from most of the textbooks continues to be the prime NCERT agenda."


Numerous references to the Naxalite movement have been dropped, in addition to those of other popular movements. References to Tawa Matsya Sangh's fight for the rights of displaced forest dwellers of Satpura forest of Madhya Pradesh have been left out; so have references to the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the non-violent Kittiko-Hachchiko (pluck and plant) protest of Karnataka in 1987.

While the passages are critical, historians believe that the deletions point to a larger trend. Earlier this year, two Urdu poems of Faiz Ahmad Faiz from a book named Democratic Policies II were removed from the Class 10 political science curriculum, drawing severe criticism.

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