Rewriting textbooks

Manufacturing history

Print edition :

Replicas of history textbooks being burnt in protest against the BJP government’s attempts at rewriting history, in Mumbai in August 2017. Photo: RAJESH GUPTA

From rewriting history textbooks tailored to suit its political agenda to devaluing science and scientific temper, the BJP regime’s “reforms” in education have been regressive.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders find nothing odd in being on the wrong side of history. The latest in a series of inanities uttered by BJP leaders was mouthed by the BJP’s Rajasthan unit president Madan Lal Saini when he said: “When Humayun was dying, he called Babur and said that to rule we must respect, cows, Brahmins and women.” For the record, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, was the father of Humayun. And neither he nor his son has said anything close to what Saini believes, historians say. On the contrary, many historians have narrated the story of how when Humayun fell seriously ill, Babur walked around his bed and pleaded with God to take his life and spare the child. Babur died soon after. Humayun survived to be the second Mughal emperor.

Saini is not alone in holding such philistine ideas about history. His colleague in the party and a legislator from Uttar Pradesh, Sangeet Som, once waxed eloquent about Mughal history thus, “Taj Mahal was built by a man who imprisoned his father.” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath called Akbar “a foreigner” and Rana Pratap, “the man who shook off the yoke of foreign rule”.

The fact is that Shah Jahan did not imprison his father. Rather he was incarcerated by his son Aurangzeb. And irrespective of what Adityanath may claim, Akbar was not a foreigner. He was born in Umerkot in Sindh, which was very much a part of India. It was 400 years after his birth that Pakistan was created and Umerkot became part of the new country. Incidentally, Akbar won the Battle of Haldighati fought between the Rana of Mewar, Maharana Pratap, and the Mughal forces.

The historian Prof. Rizwan Qaiser of Jamia Millia Islamia calls the Hindutva brigade “anti-knowledge”. “Knowledge threatens them,” he says. “What they are doing is complete distortion of history. They are manufacturing facts. In saffronisation, you change the hues a little bit. Facts are frozen. They cannot be changed. No matter what they might say about Rana Pratap or Hemu or the role of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] in the freedom struggle, everything is written and known. Now they are manufacturing facts. With such actions, they are making themselves completely ahistorical.”

Says Prof. Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi of Aligarh Muslim University: “Whenever and wherever the BJP gains power, just like any other fascist group, it tries to tailor our past. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed the first NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government, it made a concerted attempt to change school textbooks. The old NCERT [National Council for Educational Research and Training] textbooks of history were withdrawn and certain scholars with saffron background were commissioned to rewrite the textbooks. In the face of vehement protests their attempts failed. Now, under Narendra Modi, first with Smriti Irani as Minister of Human Resource Development, then Prakash Javadekar, they feel strengthened enough to totally overhaul our whole educational system. The attack this time is not only on certain interpretations of history but the whole system and institutions of education.”

The subversion of history is widespread, from calling Vallabhbhai Patel a Hindu leader who was marginalised by the Congress to hailing V.D. Savarkar as a freedom fighter. Not to forget the unseemly controversy around the Taj Mahal with allegations of it being a Shiv temple.

“Sources of history can be one or a thousand,” says Qaiser. “Any event of history can be recorded by a hundred historians across the globe. You might change it here, but somebody else across the world will know the truth. For instance, now they are saying Sardar Patel was a Hindu leader as was Bhagat Singh. The reality is that Sardar Patel opposed India being declared a Hindu Rashtra. Differences of opinion were there between him and Nehru, between Nehru and Gandhi. Just because of these differences, you cannot say there were no leaders in the Congress except Nehru. The same for Bhagat Singh.” The legendary freedom fighter and martyr has been hailed as a Hindu leader who believed in the Arya Samaj despite his writings which clearly prove him to have been an atheist.

Bipan Chandra’s timeless book Indias Struggle for Independence has come under attack for calling Bhagat Singh a revolutionary terrorist. “What is wrong with that expression? It had no demeaning connotation. But they would not know. The Hindutva brigade feels they are here to rule for ever. It is the same mindset they suffered from in 2004. Just because you are in a position of power today, it does not mean you have become the power. Power changes hands. Facts stay the same,” says Qaiser.

Attempts have been made by the Rajasthan government to paint a halo around the persona of V.D. Savarkar. So much so that even Mahatma Gandhi has had to yield space to this founding father of Hindutva.

The apparent anomaly was once explained by Professor Aditya Mukherjee, who co-authored RSS, School Texts and The Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project, with Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan thus: “Savarkar was the original ideologue of Hindutva. [M.S.] Golwalkar and others borrowed the idea from him. He was the one who gave the idea of pitrabhoomi and punyabhoomi whereby only a person whose birth-land and sacred land happened to be here could claim to be Indian.” As for Gandhi being replaced by Hindutva hawks in textbooks, he says, “That is because he [Gandhi] was the foremost and the most visible opponent of Hindutva. He was a practising Hindu yet opposed Hindutva. He was not a communalist. He had to be killed. Today, they are wiping out his name from books.”

But is not catering to a certain section of society which laps it up a cause for concern? “They are playing an ideological game in the name of education. People in millions are lapping it up. But even if a billion people were to accept it, it will not alter the facts of history. They imagine facts and call it history. They do so as they are opposed to knowledge,” Qaiser reiterates.

Rewriting history is not the only point of dismay. The entire system of education is under attack, from Shishu Mandirs where “novel knowledge” is sought to be imparted to the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is to be replaced by a Higher Education Commission of India. According to Rezavi, “The central body which is responsible for higher education is being systematically dismantled. The UGC, which was an independent body to fund education, is being replaced by a body which would be under the direct control of the Ministry [of Human Resource Development]. Science and scientific temper are under a serious challenge: it is being replaced by what the whole world considers hocus pocus.”

Tools of distortion

The rot runs deep. Says Prof Rezavi: “'Unscience' is the mantra, from Vedic maths to Vedic medicine and physics. Similarly history is being replaced by myths. Saffronisation of history is not simply a school of interpretation, but an organised lynching of the facts and replacing them with fantastic falsehoods. Things and events which never happened or existed are now being introduced to be taught to the gullible. This time it is not only schools and children who are the targets but even those getting higher education. Bodies such as the ICHR [Indian Council of Historical Research] which fund research are now being used to fund and create mythical researches.”

Yet another tool in the hands of the saffron brigade is archaeology. “Every second day a ‘new’ discovery is being floated. Hitler and Goebbels had once proved that repeating a lie makes it acceptable. They are going a step further: they are ‘digging’ out lies and making them flow like a truth. Recently tubewells were used to give birth to Sarasvati river. And now attempts are being made to replace the teaching of Harappan or Indus Culture with the term Sarasvati Culture which 'has now been found',” says Prof Rezavi, adding, “I was in for a surprise at a recent meeting of a UGC synopsis revision committee held in Delhi. Certain ‘scholars’ tried to teach me that Manusmriti is not only scientific but one of the best progressive texts. And that it is the Manusmriti which was the inspiration and source for Asoka’s Dhamma. Ashoka’s Dhamma is nothing but what is taught by Manu!”

With such innovations, “saffron history stands for creation of myths,” says Rezavi.

Qaiser concurs with his opinion. “It is not history at all. They are manufacturing facts,” he says. “If they feel manufacturing facts will be history, the whole world will laugh at us. I repeat, they are anti-knowledge. Knowledge threatens them. They are trying to destroy the basic structure of higher education. The attempts to toy with the education system are not new. Remember, for more than 20 years, through Shishu Mandirs, there has been complete destruction of knowledge. Look at the way the Prime Minister talks of Ganesha and plastic surgery. They are doing it deliberately. We should continue to fight them with knowledge, assertion and solid historical facts.”

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