THE BLOG

Why The BJP’s Rewriting Of Textbook History Will Do Harm To Our Children

Do we want them to grow up to become standard bearers of bigotry?

29/06/2017 8:33 AM IST | Updated 29/06/2017 3:05 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

From Dadri to Una, Muslims and Dalits have been at the receiving end of vigilante violence in the name of the cow over the past three years.

Beyond the obvious, there's a concerted attempt on the part of the ruling dispensation to saffronise education and feed a skewed version of history to impressionable children especially across BJP-ruled states.

[T]he "inordinate" focus on the history of our immediate past isn't some conspiracy but a necessity to understand our present day problems.

According to those who subscribe to Hindutva ideology, saffronisation is an attempt at correcting grievous wrongs of the past by teaching a version of history that celebrates the heroics of Hindu rulers against the villainous Muslim raiders from the North. In a single stroke of a brush, the amnesiac Indian Right wishes to obliterate India's age old tradition of syncretism and diversity.

There's a growing clamour for giving more space to India's ancient past even if it means erasing "Islamic" medieval history. Even key figures like Mughal Emperor Akbar, famous for his religious tolerance, are at a risk of being effaced from history books across various states.

The fundamental premise of teaching history

Firstly, we teach history on the premise that events closer to our times have a greater bearing on us. Let me explain this through a simple example—the Partition is the single biggest event in the history of the subcontinent over the past century. Many among us, especially the older generations, in some way or the other were affected by Partition. Many lost their properties, their families and many were permanently uprooted from their ancestral lands. Bloodshed and marked history's biggest mass-migration. Isn't it necessary that we teach our children the immediate gory past of our land so that they know the dangers of religious fanaticism?

Back in my school days, we had a whole course on Civics. The primary focus of the course was teaching young students the history of post-independence era India—about the Constitution, governance, the electoral process. It inordinately focused on a few political figures such as Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. Again if we were to consider the fundamental premise of history, we'll find that, these are the people whose policies shape contemporary India. A secular India is Nehru's legacy. Similarly, Indira's authoritarian proclivities shaped India's polity in the 70s. Likewise, a pliant Rajiv Gandhi with no administrative experience is the best example to understand how things can go awry when a popular leader begins to appease fundamentalist Hindus and Muslims. The issue of "triple-talaq", the Babri Masjid demolition and the ensuing riots that continue to mar Hindu-Muslim relations in India are his legacy. These examples are enough to convince us that the "inordinate" focus on the history of our immediate past isn't some conspiracy but a necessity to understand our present day problems.

We need to dispel the myth of seeing our history as a constant battle between Hindus and Muslims... it's a history of constant struggle between despots of various hues who happened to be Hindus or Muslims.

Pretty similar is the argument behind teaching Indo-Islamic history at schools. The later-medieval era and the events in those times have a greater impact on our present than some long-lost battles between two tribes in the 4th century AD. It was the Mughal era when the conception of an Imperial India with a definite physical boundary was realised. The present-day relations between the Hindu and Muslim communities across India and South Asia are partly influenced by the events of Medieval India.

Militant Hindu organisations love to promote themselves as protectors of the ancient faith defending their brethren against fanatic Muslims. Fundamentalist Muslims on the other hand romantically long for the day when an Islamic state is finally established. It makes the matter only worse when we see high-decibel pitched battles between proponents of the Left, Right and Centre every evening on prime-time debates painting every issue in binaries; a battle between the virtuous and the depraved, between "us" and "them".

Dispelling the myth of us vs. them

In times such as this, it's necessary that we dispel the myth of seeing our history as a constant battle between Hindus and Muslims. There's almost an inexhaustible list of instances to validate the point that our history isn't actually an eternal struggle between people of two religions. Rather, it's a history of constant struggle between despots of varying hues who happened to be Hindus or Muslims. Don't forget there were also Rajput generals like Raja Jai Singh who commanded the Mughal army against Shivaji. It doesn't help the bigots when they find that Maharana Pratap's army against the mighty Mughal Emperor Akbar was led by a Pashtun, Hakim Khan Sur. How do they explain Harshvardhan's defeat to a co-religionist, the Chalukya King Pulakeshin? They conveniently ignore such facts as it never serves their agenda.

There's a concerted attempt by vested interests emanating directly from the upper echelons of the present regime to subvert the secular nature of our society.

How do we understand the actions of people like Raja Jai Singh or Hakim Khan Sur? Were they actually an anomaly in a world where fanatic wars were the norm? An emphatic no—these people weren't some champions of secularism in medieval times. They were driven by the only motive of securing a fortune or a political end just like most of the despots of those days. Subduing the Marathas possibly would have helped Raja Jai Singh to win favours from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Hakim Khan Sur wanted to exact revenge from the Mughals for humiliating his ancestors of the Sur dynasty. Similarly, Pulkeshin was defending his realm against a marauding Harshvardhan. Babur who's at the heart of the Babri Masjid- Ram Mandir controversy didn't flinch at waging a bloody war against his co-religionist Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi for the crown of North India.

There's a concerted attempt by vested interests emanating directly from the upper echelons of the present regime to subvert the secular nature of our society. It's incumbent on us as responsible citizens to fight this creed of hatred and bigotry. The very first step in this direction is teaching an inclusive version of history to our impressionable children so that they won't grow up to become standard bearers of bigotry.

More On This Topic

SPONSORED