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When textbooks forget history

Published : Aug 9, 2017, 12:36 am IST
Updated : Aug 9, 2017, 12:36 am IST

This is not the first instance of History getting a biased gloss in school textbooks.

A statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji
 A statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji

With the Maharashtra education board omitting much of Mughal history in favour of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s rule, history buffs around the city examine the repurcusions of the move...

The battle between Babur and Ibrahim Lodi, the expansion of the kingdom by his grandson, Akbar the Great, the battles of Panipat, the construction of the Taj Mahal and the strict rule of Emperor Aurangzeb — all of these will be relegated to the corners of history text books for Class seven and nine students in Maharashtra’s SSC board schools. A more detailed study of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s rule and the Indian political scenario will be made available for the students of these classes from the next academic year, instead. It is not just the Mughal history that has borne the brunt, but also western history, as the books will feature significantly less international events such as the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and Greek Philosophy, which were a part of the syllabus before.

This is not the first instance of History getting a biased gloss in school textbooks. The Rajasthan board also changed the narrative on their Maharana Pratap history a while back. Instead of stating the fact that the ruler lost the battle of Haldighati to Akbar, books there now say that he won. The suffix of ‘the great’ has also been removed from Akbar’s name.

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

Though the members of the Maharashtra education board have denied any political motives behind the move, historians are not quite satisfied with their explanation. “It is like deleting a massive chunk of history and you simply cannot do that. The sign of a mature culture is being able to tolerate views other than your own. You cannot just erase facts from text books or relegate events that took up so much of our history to tiny amounts of space,” says an outraged Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, director of the Bhau Daji Lad museum.

The historian adds that it is ridiculous to change the narrative in an era where the Internet makes any information available at the tips of one’s fingers. “You can just look up alternative narratives online within minutes, so putting a skewed perspective in texts is pointless,” she adds.

A biased view making its way into texts, however, is nothing new, says film historian S.M.M. Ausaja. “If you look at the texts, there is very little you will find about the Indo-China war, since it was such a defeat for the Indians. You will easily find a lot more books dedicated to our victories than our defeats, because that is what people want to read about, and that is the legacy they want to pass on to the next generation. This nationalist pride is reflected in our films, our popular culture and our books,” he says.

Indeed, Tasneem agrees, that historical records have been biased for as long as they have existed. “Even in ancient times, when a king lost a battle, he would still have his scribe record it as a victory, since these records would remain for posterity. It is only by reading contemporary records from other quarters that one can gauge the actual historical facts,” she smiles, adding that this is still no excuse to completely exclude historical events, instead of investigating the existing texts.

History buff and former SSC tutorial teacher, Karthik Chandru, however, does not see much of a problem in the changed syllabus. “What the Maharashtra education board is doing is emphasising its local history instead of the broader national history. In a federal set-up that’s quite natural. So long as they are not changing facts, I don’t really see a problem with it. I’m sure that the history books of Tamil Nadu will focus a lot on the history of that state, just as the books in Rajasthan will reflect the history from there. I’m willing to bet that history books from each of these states will look quite different,” says a confident Karthik.

What’s needed, though, is not such a drastic change in the syllabus but a re-evaluation of historic facts in themselves, to check if they are correct or told from a British perspective. For that to be successful, however, it would have to be done with expert historians and thorough study, says Tasneem. “A study of that nature is what people should be focusing on, instead of indiscriminately cutting away parts of history from the syllabus. Hinduism itself preaches tolerance. So, when you make a move like this, apparently to propagate religious bias, you are, in fact going against the very roots of Hinduism itself,” she sighs.

Tags: chhatrapati shivaji, maharashtra education board, mughal history, history text books