[We are publishing below the full response of Concerned Historians to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, regarding certain proposed changes.]
RESPONSE OF CONCERNED HISTORIANS On the
CALL FOR REVISIONS IN SCHOOL HISTORY BOOKS IN INDIA
To be shared with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education pertaining to school history books.
Date: 15th July 2021
We have recently learnt of representations being collected by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports with respect to:
a. Removing references to un-historical facts and distortions about our national heroes from the text books.
b. Ensuring equal or proportionate references to all periods of Indian history.
c. Highlighting the role of great historic women heroes, including Gargi, Maitreyi, or rulers like Rani of Jhansi, Rani Channamma, Chand Bibi, Zhalkari Bai etc. in school history books in India.
We place before the Committee certain observations and points of caution.
Textbook revisions: certain cautionary notes
It appears from the notification of the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s proceedings inviting responses that a consensus presumably exists on the presence of “distortions” in existing history school textbooks such as of the NCERT. On this point itself, we wish to draw the attention of the Hon’ble members to the fact that while scholarship grows and propels the corresponding need for periodic revision of textbooks; the use of the word “distortion”, as in this context, appears to be an unsubstantiated allegation that creates roadblocks for the initiation of a serious scholarly exercise. Opinions are being sought regarding “unhistorical facts and distortions about our national heroes” in the existing history textbooks without substantiation, which is unfortunate and also objectionable.
Our submission is that there exists a body of recognized scholarship which has grown over time by drawing on clear protocols of professional research, peer review, etc. This body of scholarship, such as on Indian history, has been constituted by scholars from across the world, and any new intervention must take into account the insights and arguments of this body of scholarly work. This established protocol which involves constructive engagement with earlier work on the basis of recognized forms and methods of research rather than erasure/dismissal of older work/assessments, is what assigns content revision serious scholarly merit and acceptance.
Historians who have been involved earlier with the writing of NCERT textbooks, from R.S. Sharma, Bipan Chandra, Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, and many others, have been recognized in the larger global community of historians for their work. It is incumbent therefore that those involved in the writing and rewriting of textbooks belong to this larger community and are historians who are recognized for their scholarship by the scholarly community. As the community of historians have and continue to evaluate and assess the work of earlier scholars, textbooks and syllabi have seen visible changes/enrichment that are backed by sound protocols. Notably, the last round of revisions in NCERT history textbooks was carried out by a completely new body of historians of high repute, and was based on wider consultation within the community of professional historians, which should put to rest circulating allegations that only a particular set of historians have controlled content revision since the first NCERT textbooks appeared. Revisions propelled by the adoption of the National Curriculum Frameworks of 2000 and 2005 are also well-known. The contention of “distortions” and “un-historical facts” prevailing in textbooks, thus, appears highly misplaced.
Our further assertion is that there are certain undeniable features to rational history writing, which in itself is important for the progress of society. The creation of informed youth who come to see their present contexts and the past not as timeless entities, and who can comprehend the elements of diversity in material conditions, social structures, institutions and traditions that have existed in the Indian sub-continent, is essential for the construction of citizens who are critical of unchanging (and therefore un-evolving) and monolithic, singular representations of people in the Indian sub-continent. It is rational, inclusive historical narratives of widely-accepted scholarly merit which must be reflected in the content of school history textbooks. These history textbooks, like that of the NCERT, are a crucial initial window through which young students are acquainted with a sense of historical thinking that can help them distinguish the past, myths, and hearsay from actual history of their surroundings and the world. The exercise of revising the contents of these textbooks has, therefore, to steer clear of propaganda which merely seeks to indulge in rhetoric rather than seriously engage with the existing historical scholarship of wide repute and acceptance within the community of historians.
In the context of the Parliamentary Standing Committee inviting responses from experts and concerned citizens, certain quarters are derailing the process of serious engagement with the form and content of the history textbooks by spreading canards about the contributions of earlier historians involved in textbook writing. It is unfortunate that the works of reputed historians like R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, etc. are being derided by repeatedly counterposing them to the views of scholars like R.C. Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar, who are seen as belonging to the “nationalist school of thought” that allegedly portrays the “correct narrative of Indian history” (Public Policy Research Centre, Distortion and Misrepresentation of India’s Past: History Textbooks and Why They Need to Change, p.5). Ironically, what is conveniently lost in such poorly-researched claims are crucial realities, such as the fact that scholars like R.C. Majumdar actually ensured that upcoming historians of the time, like Romila Thapar, were made part of the advisory board of the NCERT. Clearly, textbook writing has involved scholars across ideological hues and has remained an exercise of scholarly merit.
It is clearly more a presumption than a fact that there exist “distortions” in the NCERT history textbooks. Such presumptions reflect a bias, and do not stem from a scholastic scrutiny of the contents of the NCERT textbooks. In this light, we assert that periodic revision of school history textbooks might be a welcome exercise, however, this can only be done in sync with the consensus of existing historical scholarship.
What should NOT be done during textbook revision
We have learnt of some submissions and statements that are being widely circulated in the social media which are, in the name of correcting alleged unhistorical facts and distortions, wrongly asserting political propaganda and undermining the scope of a scholarly exercise. The clamor for revisions from some quarters reflect, among many things, an obsession with ‘proving’ an imbalance in the course material compiled for different historical eras, as well as a disturbing preoccupation with a narrative surrounding kings and the wars they waged; the reduction of state formations, empire-building and appended transformations of the medieval period to an unsubstantiated, perennial contest between an allegedly homogenous ‘Hindu’ society and ‘Islamic’ invaders and rulers; etc.
A serious compromise with factual details and historical analysis is evident in such narratives. The claims about “distortions” about India’s past and the so-called neglect of certain eras and heroic figures are unfounded, which is a fact amply brought out by the Indian History Congress (IHC) in its submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. However, misrepresentation about the NCERT history textbooks continues to be widely circulated in the social media. In this light, we deem it fit to caution the Hon’ble members of the following:
- There are certain assertions which argue that the existing NCERT history textbooks have an “anti-Hindu” agenda because “Left-Liberal” scholars have compiled the material with a presumably minority-appeasement agenda and with an alleged overt focus on caste injustices [see for e.g., Public Policy Research Centre (PPRC), Distortion and Misrepresentation of India’s Past: History Textbooks and Why They Need to Change, p.3-4, p.27]. This is a highly misplaced opinion, given the rigorous process through which historians of varied ideological hues have collaborated to put together course content which draws on pertinent sources, is peer reviewed, and widely considered to be of a high standard.
- In a similar vein, certain claims for revisions are seeking to expunge from the textbooks the alleged projection of ancient India as a “backward era” (see for e.g., PPRC Report, p.3). Ironically, such allegations are based on colonial constructions about the pervasiveness of the religiosity of the Indian population, as well as the inaccurate periodization of India’s past along the presumption that the religion of the rulers was the dominant religion of the times, and this in turn characterized the very essence of the era – a measure which propagates the deeply problematic idea of a ‘Hindu’ era, ‘Muslim’ era, etc.
In an ironic reproduction of such colonial constructions, retrieving the ‘glory’ of the ‘Hindu era’ (see for e.g., PPRC Report, p.3, p.6, passim) and asserting the ‘darkness’ of the ‘Muslim era’ (see for e.g., PPRC Report, p.30, p.101, passim) is being sought in the supposed bid to rectify the alleged distortions in existing textbooks. The colonial constructions and their contemporaneous reproduction manifest the misconstruing of the Indian civilization as a product of a hegemonic singular tradition, such that categories like ‘Hindu society’ are uncritically imposed on what has historically been a very diverse social fabric.
- A misrepresentation of India’s past has been circulated with the malicious intent to downsize the component on the sramana/heterodox tradition and the contest between the brahminical and myriad agnostic, materialist and atheistic philosophical traditions of the Indian sub-continent.
- There exists in circulation a serious misrepresentation that the existing textbooks distort India’s past and create an inferiority complex among the country’s youth. It is correspondingly alleged that the ‘glorious’ past of India and presumably widespread social harmony was disrupted by foreign invaders, who destroyed the given social fabric (see for e.g., PPRC Report, p.30, 101, passim). In sharp contrast to such claims, the existing textbooks have a balanced narrative about state formation in various periods with an acute eye on the exploitation and oppression of the Indian population under different rulers along the axes of gender, caste and labour.
- The fact that some who demand revisions in the representation of national heroes in existing history textbooks actually reflect a preoccupation with political eulogies of ‘Hindu’ kings vis-à-vis condemnation and denunciation of ‘Muslim’ rulers (see for e.g., PPRC Report, pp.30-35). Political contestation between different rulers is wrongly portrayed as animosity between different religious communities (see for e.g., PPRC Report, pp.6, 39, 40, 49). Overall, such an approach dangerously contributes to the uncanny undermining of the republican ethos and the secular and democratic principles of present times.
- The bid to revisit the representation of the ancient era in the textbooks often slides into an uncanny defense of patriliny and glossing over complex gender-based experiences and hierarchies spread across social segments. In one such bid, the presentation in the NCERT textbooks of historical evidence related to elements of gender inequality in earlier times is contested on the grounds that later nationalist iconography has stoutly venerated motherhood (see for e.g., the discussion on images of Bharat Mata in the PPRC Report, p.26).
- In the name of assigning equal representation of all time periods, some claims slide into the demonization of “non-native Islamic” rulers of the medieval period as serial temple destroyers, religious bigots and power-hungry marauders (see for e.g., PPRC Report, pp.36-40). Such allegations present ideologically tainted accounts of state formation that alienate individual rulers and their actions from their immediate context of social and political processes. The resulting misrepresentation of Indian history can fuel heightened religious sectarianism and communal feelings; thereby endangering the social fabric of Indian society.
- Some circulating claims for revision dangerously reduce the trends of the 19th and 20th century social reform movement to a mere propagation of the “greatness” of western ideals (see for e.g., PPRC Report, p.64).
- In the so-called attempt to draw attention to national heroes, certain claims end up seeking dilution of the information about the marked ideological differences in the political strategies/agendas of various anti-colonial leaders in the bid to gloss over competing ideas of nationalist thought and nation-building (see for e.g., PPRC Report, pp.70-71). The existing textbooks give ample focus to representative personalities from different trends/currents in the anti-colonial struggle. It is important to understand that the attempt at endless exhaustive addition of names to the list of heroic figures is a pedagogic nuisance. This is especially so if these personalities are not situated within the broader trends and trajectories emerging within anti-colonial struggles and within the emerging context of the complex interlinking of different regions with the idea of a ‘nation’. Such an additive exercise overlooks the fact that noteworthy information on over 120 national heroes already exists in the NCERT textbooks, and literally amounts to accusing the existing textbooks of failing to include certain particulars whilst conveniently eliding the accuracy with which they describe the general context of anti-colonial struggles and parallel social movements.
We the undersigned are deeply concerned by the notice regarding ‘Reforms in the contents and designs of Text Books’. The current textbooks of the NCERT can neither be accused of circulating “unhistorical facts and distortions” about heroic figures, nor providing disproportionate information about different time periods. Moreover, we assert that the exercise of textbook revision cannot be pursued with the intent to placate a particular ideological hue, and must instead be based on well-evolved scholarly consensus, and meet the high standards set by earlier scholarship.
S.No. NAME INSTITUTION OF AFFILIATION
1.Dr. Bharati Jagannathan Miranda House College, University of Delhi
2. Dr. Mahesh Gopalan St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
3. Prof. Prabhu Prasad Mohapatra Department of History, University of Delhi
4. Dr. Maya John Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi
5. Prof. Romila Thapar Professor (Retd.), Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal
6. Dr. Rahul Govind Department of History, University of Delhi
7. Prof. G. Arunima Director, Kerala Council of Historical Research
8. Dr. Pankaj Jha Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
9. Dr. Sangeeta Luthra Sharma St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
10. Prof. Dilip Menon History and Mellon Chair in Indian Studies,
University of the Witwatersrand
11. Dr. PK Yasser Arafath Department of History, University of Delhi
12. Prof. Kumkum Roy Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
13. Prof. Charu Gupta Department of History, University of Delhi
14. Prof. Lakshmi Subramaniam BITS Pilani, Goa
15. Prof. Uma Chakravarti Professor (Retd.), University of Delhi
16. Prof. Shalini Shah Department of History, University of Delhi
17. Dr. Aparna Balachandran Department of History, University of Delhi
18. Prof. Krishna Kumar Upadhyay Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi
19. Prof. Sumit Sarkar Professor (Retd.), Department of History, University of Delhi
20. Prof. Tanika Sarkar Professor (Retd.), CHS, University of Delhi
21. Prof. Sucheta Mahajan CHS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
22. Urvashi Butalia Feminist historian and publisher
23. Prof. PK Basant Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia
24. Prof. Mukul Kesavan Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia
25. Prof. Janaki Nair Professor (Retd.), CHS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
26. Prof. Salil Mishra School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi
27. Dr. Aditya Pratap Deo St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
28. Dr. Vrishti Kanojia Lakshmibai College for Women, University of Delhi
29. Dr. P. Sanal Mohan Professor (Retd.), Kerala
30. Dr. Rana P. Behal Associate Professor (Retd.), University of Delhi
31. Dr. Aditya Pratap Deo St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
32. Srabani Chakraborty PhD Candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University
33. Dr. Naina Dayal St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
34. Dr. M V Shobhana Warrier Kamla Nehru College, University of Delhi
35. Dr. Ismail Vengasseri Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
36. Tripti Deo Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi
37. Dr. Smita Sahgal Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
38. Dr. Rajesh Kumar Associate Professor, Motilal Nehru College (E),
University of Delhi
39. Dr. D.W. Karuna Miryam Azim Premji University
40. Prof. Suchetana Chattopadhyay Department of History, Jadavpur University
41. Dr. Prabhat Chandra Choudhary Associate Professor, Motilal Nehru College (E),
University of Delhi
42. Dr. Puneet Yadav Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
43. Nishtha Srivastava Associate Professor, Shivaji College, University of Delhi
44. Dr. Namrata Singh Associate Professor, Rajdhani College, University of Delhi
45. Dr. Shubhra Sinha Associate professor, Kamala Nehru College,
University of Delhi
46. Dr. Prabha Rani Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
47. Ranjan Ghosh Individual researcher
48. Dr Sandhya Sharma Associate Professor, Vivekananda College,
University of Delhi
49. Sneh Jha Miranda House College, University of Delhi
50. Dr Akanksha Narayan Singh Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
51. Dr. Dinesh Chandra Varshney Associate Professor, Motilal Nehru College (E), University of Delhi
52. Dr. Justin Mathew Hansraj College, University of Delhi
53. Dr. Saumya Gupta Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi
54. Dr. Debatri Bhattacharjee Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
55. Dr. Anubhuti Maurya Bharati College, University of Delhi
56. Prof. Anindita Mukhopadhyay Department of History, University of Hyderabad
57. Dr. Vikas Gupta Department of History, University of Delhi
58. Dr. Sujata Patel Kerstin Hesselgren Visiting Professor, Umea University
59. Dr. Rachna Singh Hindu College, University of Delhi
60. Dr. Sanghamitra Misra Department of History, University of Delhi
61. Rupamanjari Hegde History teacher, Gurgaon
62. Pooja Thakur Ramjas College, University of Delhi
63. Dr. Saumya Varghese Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi
64. Dr. Tanu Parashar Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi
65. Dr. Shahana Bhattacharya Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
66. Dr. Tara Sheemar Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi
67. Ameen Muhammed Student, CHS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
68. Dr. V.K. Jha Motilal Nehru College (E), University of Delhi
69. Mahesh Kumar Deepak Dyal Singh Evening College, University of Delhi
70. Dr. Ranabir Chakravarti Professor (Retd.), CHS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
71. Prasanta Dhar Department of History, University of Toronto
72. Taranjot Singh Bala Panjab University, Chandigarh
73. Sh. Sheodutt Shaheed Bhagat Singh (E) College, University of Delhi
74. Mukul Mangalik Associate Professor, Ramjas College, University of Delhi
75. Malavika Kasturi Associate Professor, Department of History
University of Toronto
76. Rahul Kumar Researcher, Panjab University, Chandigarh
77. Dr. Ataullah Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi
78. Sanoj Kumar Shyam Lal College, University of Delhi
79. Dr. Sanjay Verma Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi
80. Dr. Molly Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi
81. Zeeshan Illahi Researcher, History Dept., Panjab University, Chandigarh
82. Dr. Aparna Vaidik Associate Professor, Ashoka University
83. Jauddin Researcher, History Dept., University of Delhi
84. Dr. Srimanjari Associate Professor, Miranda House College, University of Delhi
85. Shayar Husain PhD researcher, IIT-Mandi
86. Dr. Radhika Chadha Associate Professor, Miranda House College,
University of Delhi
87. Dr. BK Chaudhry Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi
88. Dr. Levin NR Bharati College, University of Delhi
89. Dr. Mayank Kumar Satyawati College (E), University of Delhi
90. Monisha Behal Feminist writer and social activist
91. Mirza Ayaz Beg Researcher, Panjab University, Chandigarh
92. Dr. LRS Lakshmi Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi
93. Rashmi Paliwal Former Fellow, Eklavya Institute, Hoshangabad
94. Dr. Sanghamitra Rai Verman Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi
95. Dr. Rajshree SGTB Khalsa College, University of Delhi
96. Dr. Shilpi Rajpal AURO University
97. Dr. Shadab Bano Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University
98. Sidheshwar Shukla Rajdhani College, University of Delhi
99. Dr. Anisha Aurobindo College, University of Delhi
100. Dr. Paragati Mohapatra Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi
101. Dr. Amita Paliwal Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi
102. Dr. Snigdha Singh Miranda House, University of Delhi
103. Bhim Tiwari Researcher, Dept. of History, Punjab University
104. Mohd. Bilal Researcher, Dept. of History, University of Delhi
105. Dr. Chitra Joshi Associate Professor (Retd.), Indraprastha College for
Women, University of Delhi
106. Ajitha Popuri ARSD College, University of Delhi
107. Smarika Nawani Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi
108. Ranjan Anand Zakir Husain Delhi College (E), University of Delhi
109. Nayana Dasgupta Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
110. Vinita Malik Kamla Nehru College, University of Delhi
111. Prof. Chhaya Datar TISS, Mumbai
112. Purwa Bharadwaj Writer on gender and education, Delhi
113. Shewli Kumar Associate Professor, TISS, Mumbai
114. Brinelle D’souza TISS, Mumbai
115. Dr. Sharmila IIT-Bombay
116. Dr. Simmi Mehta Mata Sundari College, University of Delhi
117. Prof. Monica Juneja University of Heidelberg, Germany