December 10, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Historians’ dispute threat to secularism
The editorial “Quickfix history” (Nov 26) is a timely advice to all concerned in the C.B.S.E. as well as the Ministry of Human Resource Development (H.R.D.). Indeed, history has always remained a victim of the powers that be. The court historians, the officer-historians (particularly of the British times) and the present-day historians as well as ideologues of the political parties have always laboured hard to highlight such stray facts and interpretations that can help bring forth justifications for the programmes and policies pursued by those in the saddle.
Indira Gandhi sought to preserve an account of her “glory” for the posterity by depositing a “capsule of history” in the historic Red Fort ground. It is another thing that it was dug out under the express orders of her successor, Morarji Desai, and thrown away as “rubbish” because, according to Janata rulers, it was a distortion of history and a pack of lies.
When she returned to power, a well-knit group of J.N.U. historians led by Dr Bipin Chandra got full opportunity to recast Indian history and more particularly the narrative of the freedom struggle to give it a leftist orientation so as to present it in tune with the Congress policies being then pursued. Doordarshan prime time was made available to them to project themselves and their “fresh” interpretations of modern Indian history. In order to lend credence to their work, this “school of historians” tended to rely more on methodology and the empirical evidence. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence available after the conquest of the Muslims is more in the form of court histories or such travelogues wherefrom a blurred picture of the conditions and peoples of India emerges. The account of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s activities in the Punjab narrated by “Syar-ul-Mutakhim” quoted in a textbook is both misleading and biased. Similar examples can be cited in other cases which have become the subject of an ongoing controversy.
Regarding the school textbooks in history, it has to be remembered that the approach to the teaching of the subject has undergone a sea-change. At the lower classes, the subject became a part of Social Studies. In the higher secondary classes the subject suffered another infirmity, the study of continuous narrative was discarded in favour of selective topical studies. Such an approach leaves enough room for misrepresentations.
Moreover, it requires to be examined whether it is desirable to introduce the school students of this standard to the “fresh” research work that overturns the established beliefs of the people in matters of their faith and social values. One can agree with your perception that the N.C.E.R.T.’s sudden action in this regard is suspect — may be an attempt to “project Muslims in bad light” and also to invent a “Pan-Indian culture of pure Hinduism” due to political reasons.
But a phenomenal increase in the number of schools getting affiliated to the C.B.S.E. took place in the recent years and that is why the books being used in those schools have come under close scrutiny only recently — hence the controversy. So far the N.C.E.R.T. has ordered deletions of some passages that seemed “to touch the susceptibilities of the people”. What comes next is yet to be seen.
My fear is that a “historian’s dispute” may not tear as under the very secular fabric of this country.
PRITHIPAL SINGH KAPUR, Patiala
Indianise education: Our MPs are interested neither in education nor in children; they are interested only in coining and shouting slogans. That too at the cost of public funds and sentiments. “Garibi Hatao” got Indira votes, but ended up making fun of the poor. The Saffronisation and Talibisation slogans will end up by victimising education. Children will wonder why at all Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas and others fought for freedom, if all the Muslim and English rulers were our friends and the nation’s well-wishers!
Nor are the historians doing the country any good. Even in independent India none of them as shown interest in finding out what was life like in India from 2500 B.C. to 600 A.D. Three thousand years of our history are summed up in a few pages. Books describe in detail the period that starts with Muslim invasions. Our slavery is well described. If historians can do nothing better, let us take “Discovery of India” by Nehru and Eastern Religion and Western Thought” by Radhakrishnan as standard references. How many of our MPs have gone through these books?
I leave it to investigative journalists to find out. Let us Indianise education, not Saffronise or Talibise it.
L.R. SHARMA, Solan
Source of wisdom: History is certainly one of the many sources of wisdom. “Histories make men wise”, said Bacon. As an individual, we are extremely limited and circumscribed. The records of the past, interpreted in practical life by noble men and women, supply the moral tonic, which must be administered to each generation, lest it should perish of ethical inanition and debility.
History is truly like a lustrous diamond, with many facets, it loses all virtue and value if it is broken into numerous fragments. The topsy-turvy custom of teaching national history first and world history later or not at all must be abolished. If history is taught in its genuine form, every student will become a convinced cosmopolitan, like Gothe who said, “Above all nations is humanity”.
VIVEK SINGH MAR GIRAN, Kurukshetra
What’s wrong?: There is no logic as to why the editorial insists on including beef eating as part of the Indian culture in the school textbooks. We had Duryodhana and Ravana in ancient Hindu India, but nobody wants to keep these names, and we burn the effigy of Ravana every year. Their bad deeds are not part of Hindu culture.
If at all there is somewhere mention of beef eating in some perverted literature, it does not become our culture. The fact is that even today when Hindus are in such a dilapidated condition, they do not eat beef. Not only that, Hindus in general avoid taking food with or from Muslims and Christians because they eat beef. In Valmiki Ramayana, Bharat counts touching a cow with a foot or disturbing a sleeping cow as sins.
If the BJP has removed such passages from the school textbooks, which associate beef eating as part of Hindu culture, it has done the correct thing. Why did the Congress allow such things in textbooks? And why they and the Communists are opposing the removal of such objectionable matter? They claim to be secular. Why do they want to interfere with Hindu culture and history? In fact, the Congress and the Communists are behaving like the Taliban.
ANAND PRAKASH, Panchkula
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