Freezing History in a Pedagogy-proof Textbook: Kishore Darak

Guest Post by KISHORE DARAK

In the current academic year, the fourth grade history textbook in Maharashtra titled Shivchhatrapati depicting the valiant life of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1630-1680) completed 43 long years of its existence, this being in itself a record. More than 3 million children in the 75000 plus schools affiliated to the Maharashtra State Board follow the textbook presently. It is probably the only example of textbook in the world which teaches the life of a single historical personality to 9 year old pupils.

The textbook shows remarkable similarity with a 1952 Marathi film, Chhatrapati Shivaji, directed by Bhalji Pendharkar who is known for his support of right wing ideology. The original version of 1970 and subsequent editions of the textbook follow an exact sequence of scenes and contain similar visuals as we see in the movie, as the first two images demonstrate.

Meeting between Afzhal Khan and Shivaji Maharaj 

In the 1952 film

Untitled 3In the text-book (Republished 2000)

Untitled 4

Any attempt to revise the textbook has invited severe criticism from political parties as well as groups and individuals involved in different forms of identity politics. The sacrosanct status enjoyed by the textbook since 1970 is further strengthened by an assurance given on the floor of Maharashtra Assembly on 26th July 1991 by the then Chief Minister Mr. Sudhakarao Naik- “We consider Shivaji Maharaj as the deity of Maharashtra…..Entire textbook would remain as it is. No change of any type would be made in it.” (Translation by the author) Except for a few (interesting) changes made in the 2009 edition which were compelled by political needs owing to the controversy triggered by James Laine’s book in 2004, the textbook remains the same from cover to cover for all these years.

In Maharashtra, unlike in many other parts of India, History, Geography and Civics are taught as separate subjects from grade three onwards. What can be called as a peculiarity of education in Maharashtra is the bifurcation of functions of preparing the syllabi and producing textbooks accordingly, between Maharashtra State Council for Educational Research and Training (MSCERT) and Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research (Balbharati), respectively. Recently, following Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE) compulsions and National Curriculum Framework-2005 (NCF), MSCERT has agreed to teach History, Geography, etc. as separate subjects from grade 6 onwards but has declared that the 4th grade history textbook would not  be changed in any manner (Maharashtra GR No. PRE 1212/(6/12) Pri.Edu – 5, dated 20th June 2012), perhaps fearing disturbance to social harmony. It is not easy to trace the long journey of the textbook as its genesis appears to be unclear. In written responses to different RTI applications, Balbharati has expressed its helplessness regarding revelation of original source materials or the first handwritten copy of the textbook fearing threat to public interest. (Correspondences dated 18.07.2006, No. M-2/277/RTI/3772,  dated 28.09.2007, No. M-2/277/ RTI 7097).

The two images below show the scene of young Shivaji taking the oath of swarajya.

A still from the  1952 film

UntitledA picture from the textbook (Republished 2000)

Untitled 2

The perfection of resemblance between such scenes gives the impression that the visual discourse of the movie directly translates into textual discourse deriving state sanction. Focusing on the story of Shivaji Maharaj’s establishment of Swarajya the movie presents a brahmanical, nationalist understanding of history. When it enters as official knowledge in schools, marked by absence of criticality, it implies a monolith source for historical knowledge which nurtures a particular popular imagination. Referring to the genres of museum, fictional novel and historical film as potential sources of history Peter Seixas points out an important difference between these genres and school history. According to him, while these genres aim at sweeping students in, the school history should do precisely the opposite and “provide students with the ability to approach historical narratives critically”. (Seixas, P., & Peck, C. (2004) Teaching Historical Thinking in A. Sears & I. Wright (Eds.), Challenges and Prospects for Canadian Social Studies (pp. 109-117). Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press.)

The warrior image of Shivaji Maharaj is a deliberate historical construction since the colonial times, serving different political purposes at different times. The said textbook also shares this lineage. The ideological import of the textbook confines Shivaji Maharaj to a king of the Hindus who fought against the Muslims. The Sultans and their Sultanates which shared same cultural geography with Shivaji Maharaj are designated as the ‘others’ while the Hindus or Marathas who fought against him are named as ‘internal’ (swakeey) enemies. There is no thought given to the incoherence pupils may face in their next grades on learning about British as the ‘other’ or the ‘outsiders’. The difference between the two ‘otherness-es’ is conveniently brushed under carpet. Visuals, insertion of small phrases and selection of details happen to be the chief ways of construction of the otherness which is prominently termed as religious difference.

Until 2009, all editions of the textbook carried a statement “…Daulatkhan Siddi Mistri…Kazi Haidar were all Muslims but they were all loyal servants of Swaraj.” (p.104, 2009 edition, emphasis by author) It is interesting to see how the conjunction ‘but’ suggests difference between the normative and an aberration only in case of the Muslims and not that of the Hindus. Veronique Benei, in her important work Schooling India, has also pointed out that the word ‘but’ carries an ‘understated mistrust’ (page 148, Schooling India, Permanent Black, 2008). It supersedes the historical truth that 17th century conflicts happened between ruling powers rather than only between religions, as the popular psyche believes today. While the textbook in its first chapter mentions that Shivaji Maharaj’s rule was based on justice and equal treatment to all castes and religions, the textbook employs the icon of Shivaji Maharaj to serve contemporary myopic politics of vilifying the Muslim community.

The excessive obsession of the textbook in portraying the life and times of Shivaji Maharaj in terms of sheer juxtaposition of wars and battles invites some reflection as it brings violence to centre stage and reduces his life and importance to that of a mere warrior. For example “Everybody (in Adilshah’s court) thought that either Shivaji would be chained and brought to the court or else his (chopped) head would be brought in…Shivaji sensed Afzalkhan’s plan. He quickly thrust the waghnakh (a weapon) in Khan’s stomach. With his right hand he took out the bichwa (a weapon) hidden in his left sleeve and drove it in Khan’s stomach and tore apart his guts.” (p.51, 2010 Reprint, Translation by the author) The sequence of actions in the textual descriptions matches exactly with the one in the above mentioned film. Intensity of graphic details of violence carries on to other examples- “Bajiprabhu cried – Hit them…kill them…Bravo my lads! Pelt more stones. Crush the enemy.” (p.58, 2010 Reprint, Translation by the author). It should be noted that the English version of the textbook abstains from translating such graphic details. The fascination for meticulous and graphical details of battles that goes on celebrating violence chapter after chapter stands in contradiction with the current emphasis on peace-education in NCF and in global policy discourse about education. The textbook forgets that it can be read in multiple ways, and it might instigate fear in some readers while making some others numb regarding violence. Veronique Benei, (Schooling India, Permanent Black, 2008) has shown how the textbook gets translated into a historical anti-Muslim discourse while getting transacted in classrooms (page 150).  How do we visualize aims of the RTE, in the wake of such a violence laden textbook, especially when the fundamental expectations of the RTE ask for conformity of curricula and evaluation to values enshrined in the constitution (Section 29.2.a) and freeing children of fear, anxiety and trauma and helping them express their views freely (section 29.2.g)? How would textbooks that seem to discriminate against minorities fare in a context where there is a global outcry for inclusive education?

Even a cursory glance at the apparently ‘small’ changes made in the textbook exposes political motivations. For instance, while describing the construction work of the first capital of Swarajya, all editions and reprints of the textbook until 2009 maintained the sentence – “Stone masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, water carriers, and other workers – all people got busy.” In the 2010 reprint of the textbook the same line gets changed to “Stone masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, water carriers, and other workers – all Marathi people got busy.” (Page 39, 2010 reprint of 2009 edition, emphasis added)  A mere insertion of one adjective – Marathi – amounting to an anachronistic insertion of the then nonexistent linguistic identity, reveals a clear attempt of exploiting history for contemporary politics of aggression.

In the last four decades, both the fields of education and history have registered changes in conceptual definitions. Leaving grand or meta narratives behind, writing of history has been designated as a time and space bound construction. For a substantial period now, it has been submitted to dissenting voices of the subaltern and the marginal. Epistemologically the discipline is being engendered. All these changes, stressing multiple possible interpretations of history contextualized by the present, have informed pedagogical practices and textbook writing across the world. Research in cognitive development and child psychology is seriously informing structure and transaction of curricula and textbooks in different parts of world including many state in India. In this context we need to think about how long a textbook should remain impervious to changes in the nature of discipline and at what cost. On the other hand, the post NCF scenario in Indian education values constructivism as a pedagogic practice which encourages children to construct their own knowledges to unpack the given. The contemporary social context of Indian education is also marked by a full fledged discourse of gender and caste which was almost inexistent in education in the 1970s when the said textbook was first written. Even the perception of childhood has undergone substantial change over the last four decades. Despite all these shifts, epistemological or otherwise, the textbook continues to be a pedagogy-proof creation, freezing the particular historical knowledge constructed in the 1970s.

The state and its educators are within their rights to teach their pupils what they consider to be important and worthy, but such an attempt should not belittle the stature of historically important figures like Shivaji Maharaj by confining his life and times to battles. On the backdrop of RTE and NCF, the state may contemplate a serious revision of the textbook so that it is appropriate to the cognitive imagination of learners and frees the iconic image of Shivaji Maharaj from being used for settling contemporary politico-ideological scores. Do we teach history to enable the learners to critically engage with the present and understand socio political structures or do we want to carve out a mass of mere hero worshippers through History education remains to be an important question for Maharashtra.

A shorter version of this article was published in Marathi in Loksatta 

Kishore Darak is a teacher educator and teacher of Mathematics and Science based in Pune. Cultural politics of education, curricula and textbooks are areas of his research interest. He can be contacted at kishore_darak@yahoo.com

——————————————–

6 thoughts on “Freezing History in a Pedagogy-proof Textbook: Kishore Darak”

  1. Not sure if there’s one answer to the questions posed!

    While there could be no second thought on the need to make the content more appropriate to the cognitive imagination of learners!

    But what’s the need to free the iconic image of Shivaji Maharaj? You would be with me when I state here, that history has always been an exaggerated reporting or re-creation of the incidents that have occurred in the past. Even, I remember as a kid from sleepy village schools in Tamil Nadu, performing the incident of Shivaji killing Afzal Khan in more than one school programme! It definitely lifted the spirit for the Afzal khan was presented as an autocrat thrusting his ideologies on to the local community and forced conversion among many! Of course Marathas were probably one of the few who dared to challenge the Mughals!

    Even a casual visit to any of the graduate or post graduate history schools will reflect the standards of the students and their abilities to critically engage the students with the present and understand socio political structures in the classrooms. It would be far fetched, a a near utopian, yearning!

  2. Just wonderful. In fact, I still retain the ‘pictorial’ memories of the Afzal Khan – Shivaji meeting (which you rightly mention) which was carried in the text book I read while schooling in Pune.

    1. Reiterating what you just said, I also remember the pictorial representation of the “Meeting between Afzhal Khan and Shivaji Maharaj.”

  3. histories are made by men but often not in circumstances determined by them . this sentence by marx would rather appear to be ironic in the case of the above article . here history is made not by the heroic ” man ” shivaji but by the school textbook bureaus of maharashtra . the article on the face of it sounds appropriate — what jarrs the most is the author employing the honorific ” maharaj ” when writing about shivaji .
    if the book has stayed on for so long a more thorough going enquiry needs to be conducted into the why and how of the exercise and not merely the more obvious aspect of stating its longevity
    a simple thought experiment — what would happen to a demand that calls for the scrapping of this text ?
    alternatively , as was done in 2009 what if this book is updated to accommodate all concerns raised by the author — making it more eco-friendly , gender and caste sensitive , maybe less domineering and less violent and then employ it for teaching students .

    1. A demand to scrap or even revise such a savarna interpretation of Shivaji would be crushed immediately in India today. If the Delhi University excised Ramanujan’s celebrated essay on Ramayana some years ago from its BA syllabus you can well imagine what the state will do to those who raise the kind of questions Kunjeer has raised. It will be difficult, if not impossible altogether, to officially revise the Brahmanical portrayal of Shivaji inthe classroom pedagogy of India in the foreseeable future. If the NDA comes to power at the Centre more monuments to Shivaji may be expected. The dalit-bahujan perspective with Phule in the foreground and the political support of the dalit-bahujan politicians is a possible antidote to the pedagogy of the oppressor imposed on school students across India and not only Maharashtra. The point is to cleave Hindutva. The other alternative is fraught with the kind of risk for which Dhabolkar has paid with his life. That is to make a new film on Shivaji which is a counter to the one on which the textbook in question is based. Which brigade will support such a film ? Writing, leave alone making, history in violent times is difficult. Croce may have survived Fascism but Gramsci could not and the brave Bloch was executed by the Nazis.

  4. Wonderfull artical. I used to think all this from the time i was in forth class. If our assembly can not stop publishing lie, we should look towards judiciary. Soneone should file a PIL against this so called history book.

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s