Re-looking into rewriting

History rainbow can’t be surveyed with a one- dimensional raindrop
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Netizens stormed the internet with dank memes with the sensational news of Mughals being ousted from the history syllabus. From ‘Anarkali Utho’ to ‘Biryani Blasphemy’, the creative side of people was pure savage. Effaced history tweets were quite comical. Being a history student, I felt obligated to think, rethink and unthink through the “prism of the past’’.

Almost a year down the line, UGC proposed a trimmed curriculum that generated heated arguments. Restructuring is a welcome. Filtered realignment and selective rationalisation is not; it is objectionable. Changing narratives is questionable but expressing bias with omissions and insertions is plain notoriety. Should cutting workload on students be politically motivated?

The ‘rationalisation’ exercise is not a new move. There is a proper timeline of the major shifts in the syllabi, particularly of Social Sciences. The Janata government (1977-79) questioned the NCERT books of having anti-national content. The NDA government (1998-2004) attempted to tailor the curriculum to remove the Marxist influence on Indian history writing. The Congress government (2005) overhauled the NCERT and introduced the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) to undo the NDA changes. Overall result was that the old NCERT course books authored by the stalwarts of history like RS Sharma, Satish Chandra, Romila Thapar, Arjun Dev were done away with. Though fine text books were removed, but a final blow couldn’t be given. Old NCERTs were replaced by new NCERTs, compiled by well-read historians but there was a dilution in the rigour. Certain themes pertaining to art, architecture and aesthetics were added. Certain topics were sidelined. Historians opposed the move then, came up with long critiques but couldn’t influence the action to a greater degree.

Since few years, serious experiments have been made to water down the historical content supplanted by myths. As an example, the proposed syllabus that the ministry came up with has the ‘Idea of Bharat’ as the first paper. In this context, a unilinear approach has been employed for history narration. History rainbow can’t be surveyed with a one- dimensional raindrop. The subject is colourful because it is a result of cumulative diversifications. It is progressive; it has its ups and downs, influxes and effluxes alike. Can history be without an evolutionary nature? How could there be uniformity throughout from day one? How could everything be hunky dory since Vedic Aryans came to India? Why less emphasis on the Harappan civilization, now called the Saraswati civilization? The idea of Bharat Varsh without studying its old regressive social structure is indigestible. Why has the history of the marginalised been draped?

Can injustice take a greater height than underplaying the long medieval past of India? History of the Mamluks, the Khiljis and the entire Sultanate has been cut short by various pages. The Mughals have been concentrated to few chapters. It is interesting to note the people from past given attention to in the new curriculum. Less of Akbar and more of Aurangzeb. Sulh e Kul hasn’t been discussed while the controversial Hindupad Padshahi has been. Ganga-Jamuni culture has evaporated from the pages. Effective explanations of disputed terms by Prof Satish Chandra have been cropped. Facts have been bulldozed and replaced by a synopsis which is unfairly prejudiced towards the upper caste, demonises minorities and highlights India’s Vedic past.

As a matter of fact, the curriculum is the decision of the government in power. State has always been directing on what to write; the reason why we study the colonial interpretation of Indian history even today. Even the British imperialists gave a free hand to the historians of their times to decide on inclusions/ exclusions in the curriculum. For the first time, historians have been relegated to a corner; the government and its cohorts determining what should be taught and not taught. History is not science; it has its natural bias, the attempt of historians is to look at the past through the monocle of primary sources of that particular period. Right-wing historians like RC Mazumdar, BL Grover have been historians first and ideologues afterwards. Putting forward selected narratives at the expense of historical facts is downright ridiculous.

The ‘’marginalised matter’’ seeks attention in the new curriculum. There is a powerful critique from the marginalised communities on putting down their role in Modern Indian history and giving undue attention to their contributions. Ambedkar quotes have been dropped. The upper castes always had an upper hand even in the Marxist historiography. The contributions of underrepresented sections weren’t duly acknowledged; the quantum of material needed to introduce them wasn’t enough and thus their remained lacunas. The monumental legacy of the minority leaders has been treated with a “non-existential’’ approach; thus the aspects demanding more highlight have been reduced to removal.

Were secular historians unable to incorporate voices from the marginalised because of the shrinking space? Yes. Because public opinion faces consistent throttling, historians find it difficult to face the onslaught. From disengagement with masses due to language barriers (language of transmission being English and understanding being Hindi) to the inability to compile basic textbooks for a simpler understanding, the works of secular historians couldn’t percolate to the ground level. Many preferred to remain silent. Voices were raised against this high-handedness but the actions required to do needful weren’t done.

History is one of the subjects which welcomes additions and subtractions. New information is added every year, possibly if not, over a couple of years. Advanced researches show new directions; the need for revising the syllabus is essential. The review should be done in the light of researches conducted worldwide. Chucking out few chapters based on the likability towards few historical accounts doesn’t behove the government of a country with a profound secular stature. Learning is about arguments within various doctrines. Students should be exposed to all ideas irrespective of the proclivities and disinclinations. The researches of the last seven decades shouldn’t be erased. It is important to provide a balanced and comprehensive view of Indian history, based on scholarly explorations and historical evidence. While India has flexed its “secularism’’ on multiple fronts, lest we forget that it is History of, by and for all.

Author is a student of History.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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