PM’s ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’ Is OK – What About Revisionist History?

PM Modi’s recent Pariksha Pe Charcha session did not address many key issues such as biased history text books.

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PM Modi at his recent ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’ session.
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PM’s ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’ Is OK – What About Revisionist History?

In light of the upcoming Class X and XII board examinations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaged in an interaction with students, teachers and parents in the second edition of his ‘Pariksha pe Charcha’ in New Delhi on Tuesday, 30 January.

While Modi offered guidelines pertaining to time-management, identifying one’s passions, making clear and confident choices, among others, one of the many issues he failed to address was that of the content of Indian school text books.

Textbooks remain the cornerstone of education for the average Indian school-goer and also the backbone of classroom-teaching.

Therefore, it is imperative to rethink the writing and revising of our textbooks – both at the national and the state level. In this context, let us look at the ‘revised’ history textbooks in Maharashtra, to understand the larger trends in Indian school textbooks.

Maharashtra’s ‘Revisionist’ History Text Books

In Maharashtra, the school history textbooks (which are conceived, designed and published by the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research, Pune,) were revised to modify the content, which was said to produce ‘dutiful future citizens’ in the country.

In the preface to the Class VII text book, Dr Sunil Magar, Director of Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production, explains, ‘When you study this textbook, we expect that you will develop an awareness of being a citizen of India, and also a sense of duty’ – thus, the makers of the textbooks have certain expectations from the students.

Imparting values through education is desirable so long as it does not become a carrier of identity politics. Historians and scholars have warned against using textbooks and syllabi as vehicles of the government of the day to pursue identity politics, by chalking out (for the students) who are the heroes of their past and who are not.

The revised textbooks reveal narrow-mindedness and ideological-motivation which may teach ‘awareness, responsibility and patriotism’, at the risk of compromising historical inquiry and an objective understanding of the past.

The new Class VII textbook is limited to Maharashtra, consciously removing all sections on the Mughals – a step to erase Mughal legacy and heritage from the country.

Glorifying Maratha Kings

In the books for Class VII, including the new one, terms such as ‘an ideal ruler’, ‘epoch-making personality’ describe the Maratha king Shivaji. A similar tone has been reserved for Marathas and Shivaji’s mother Jijabai by addressing them as ‘the protectors of the nation’ and ‘political experts’, respectively.

There is not much reference to defeats or failures encountered by the Marathas, thus, painting a one-sided picture. A case in point is the complete absence of the Battle of Koregaon of 1818 in the Class VII textbook, when the East India Company’s army, comprising of Mahars (Dalits) defeated the mighty Peshwas. Thus, the accounts lack a plurality of discourses and accounts of contrasting histories.

In India, it is commonly believed that the teaching and learning of history is a mechanical process of rote-learning facts. But in reality, historical pedagogy can be equally challenging and stimulating for the learner, provided the textbooks serve as a solid foundation for the same.

Should Indian Students Learn Only Indian History?

Another mistake is the view that Indian school students are required to learn Indian History only. The syllabus for Class X in the 2010 version included topics such as World War I, Russian Revolution and Emancipation of Asia and Africa which do not feature in the new edition. Similarly, in the new book for Class VIII, the chapters such as Age of Renaissance, Age of Revolutions have been clubbed into one – Europe and India, thus, further narrowing the already limited scope of understanding world history.

With the world being reduced to a global village and an increasing dependence and inter-connectedness of global events with our own, it is unwise to ‘reduce’ textbooks to merely snapshots of world history in a way that further diminishes their aptitude to internalise world accounts.

History Text Books Should Not Misrepresent Or Exaggerate Accounts

The new books of Class IX and X have been drastically revised to deal with modern history and contemporary events, which is a welcome change, but not without its limitations. The new Class IX textbook focuses on achievements of the country after 1960, while dedicating only one chapter to India’s internal disturbances, and the objective of the new Class X book is to learn about applied history and understand career avenues related to subjects such as art, films and sports.

While the Class X text itself aptly states that, “History is not confined to narrating the stories of various dynasties and the battles fought by them,” at the same time, history as a discipline, must serve the purpose of laying the fundamentals of understanding the past – local, regional, national and global events.

What the creators of these textbooks need to address immediately is the absence of critical or contentious perspectives about the past, as revealed through the Maharashtra school text books, and to make sure these books are bereft of bias, and do not misrepresent, distort or exaggerate historical accounts.

(Sara Shadab Arab is a Master’s candidate in International History at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, with a previous experience of 9 years as a history educator in Mumbai. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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