The recent directive of the Central Board of School Education to drop certain chapters from the textbooks of the classes 10 and 12 has drawn the attention of the media. It is quite natural that what made news this time, too, was the excision done by the CBSE in the textbooks of political science and history. Similar exercises have been done for the textbooks of other subjects, but there is no discussion regarding that.
That tells us something about the narrowness of our own approach, which largely revolves around being very protective of history but barely noticing what is happening in other knowledge domains. This was the lament of a mathematician after the exclusion of the poems by Faiz Ahmad Faiz from the textbooks created some excitement in academic circles. She said that the decision of the CBSE to drop the unit on mathematical reasoning has upset her a lot. Without it, she wondered, how do you make sense of what mathematics is? But since mathematics does not arouse the emotions of the masses as history does, one can see her suffering this loneliness.
Reason Is 'Unnecessary Intrusion'
However, that is very indicative of a fact – it is reasoning, or reason, that is, according to the present regime led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), an unnecessary intrusion in education. That is what we see when we try to understand how the party treats matters of school education in general and in textbooks, in particular. But before we get to that, let us see what has been done to provoke, once again, a public discussion on the content of school textbooks.
The CBSE, as part of its purported ‘regular syllabus rationalisation’ process, dropped the topic ‘Impact of Globalisation on Agriculture’ from a chapter on ‘Food Security’ from the class 10 textbook.
Two excerpts from the translations of Urdu poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz have also been excluded from the section ‘Religion, Communalism and Politics — Communalism, Secular State’.
The deleted verses are Aaj bazar mai pa-ba-jaula chalo and Dhaka Se Wapsi Par.
According to news reports, “The CBSE also announced that in the segment on religion, communalism and politics for Class 10, the images on page 46, 48 and 49 would be excluded.”
The images referred to are two posters and a political cartoon.
One of the posters, illustrated with Faiz’s verses, was issued by ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), which has social activists Shabnam Hashmi and Harsh Mander among its co-founders.
Chapters on ‘Democracy and Diversity’, which introduced students to the concept of social divisions and inequalities along the lines of race and caste across the world, including in India, have also been dropped from the syllabus.
Changes have also been introduced in the Class 11 syllabus. The board has decided to forego the chapter ‘Central Islamic Lands’ from the history textbooks. This chapter dealt with the rise of Islamic empires in Afro-Asian territories and its implications for the economy and society.
Similarly, in the Class 12 history syllabus, a chapter titled ‘The Mughal Court: Reconstructing Histories through Chronicles’, which examined Mughal courts and the social, religious and cultural history of the Mughals, has been omitted.
A chapter on ‘Cold war era and Non-Aligned Movement’ has also been dropped from the Class 12 Political Science curriculum.
The exclusions seem to be driven by the ideology of the regime. Its unease with the Mughal era and mention of any positive relations of Islam with India explains the deletion of the chapters dealing with these topics.
Similarly, its denial of any discrimination and division in traditional Hindu society can be the reason for the axing of the chapter dealing with democracy and diversity. It calls upon and wants people to believe that India, which, according to it, is primarily Hindu, is a samras (equitable) society. So, any discussion on discrimination makes the regime uncomfortable.
The regime would also like Independent India to be viewed without any mention of the contribution of Nehru or the Congress regimes. So, it makes all efforts to restrict discussions on them. It also wants to change the iconography of India, from ancient to the present times. That would require the removal of certain figures and enthroning of ‘icons’ like V D Savarkar or Hedgewar, among others. Since characters like Gandhi and Nehru and struggles led by the Congress party are so well-entrenched in the textbook memory of India, replacing them with the ‘real nationalist’ heroes is not so easy.
Any independent observer who is not part of this ideological tug of war would find it absurd that politics is sought to be taught with an understanding of democracy, or Indian society is discussed without even a mention of divisions in society. Similarly, the exclusion of globalisation is bound to distort the understanding of the present-day world economy.
The Great Hindu Past
If we survey the piecemeal changes, removals and additions done at the behest of the present regime in the textbooks, we find that the BJP wants the textbooks to take a ‘nationalist’ turn. They want the students to be fed with images of India that make them believe in its glory and its greatness. The idea that one should look at oneself critically is anathema to this regime.
It is faith and belief that the BJP wants the students to have; it does not want them to waste their time inculcating reason. That is why we can have mathematics without reasoning. Isn’t mathematics all about making our transactional life easier? All we need to know is how to add and multiply. It requires rote learning, not applying one’s mind.
Apart from that, all that the regime wants the students to believe is that all mathematical knowledge went from India to the world outside, that we were ‘gurus’ everywhere, that our ancestors gave science to the world, that Sanskrit is the mother of all languages in the world, that Hindi is the national language of India.
With the regime’s obsession with history, it wants to change history in textbooks to make the readers believe in a ‘great Hindu past’ and also make them look at all non-Hindus as ‘intruders’, ‘invaders’, or ‘polluters’. It wants Hindus to see themselves as a people wronged by these ‘outsiders’. But it also wants India to be seen as the leader in all knowledge areas. That is why it harps on the ancient period in all fields.
The medieval period is a hurdle for the regime. Ideally, the party would like it to just vanish, all the monuments and music and art to disappear, and All Muslim names to go to oblivion. But since it can’t achieve that, the regime wants to change the facts – as it did in Rajasthan textbooks when it got to power there. It showed Rana Pratap as the victor in his battle against Akbar. The BJP regime also produced textbooks that portrayed Hindu marriages as being better than Muslim and Christian marriages.
But What Have Our 'Secular' Textbooks Achieved So Far?
However, it’s a deep sense of inferiority that leads the BJP to flex muscles in the field of education. It gives a false sense of victory to the Hindus who have been made to believe that the older textbooks have not given them their due.
These changes can produce a constricted nationalist mind, which would be of great benefit to the BJP. But how does it help the Indian youth?
Apart from this question, we also need to get past our textbook anxieties. I have often wondered how is it that after 60 years of ‘secular’ textbooks, our classrooms have remained mostly – even if silently – divisive?
Our popular sense of history has not been shaped by our secular textbooks – neither has our understanding of society been informed by the so-called ‘scientific’ textbooks. What explains the failure of the ‘correct’ textbooks? This is the question we need to confront before we criticise – even if rightly so – the idiocy that the BJP regime wants society to accept as ‘knowledge’.
(The writer teaches at Delhi University. He tweets @Apoorvanand__. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)