Notwithstanding reader fatigue, the
controversy over the saffronisation of education does not die. As a student of
history, it is amusing to see the
jittery stance of earlier interpreters of history.
At the outset I must offer my credentials for
writing this essay not only as a student of History at Delhi University, but
more recently and importantly as a parent of three erstwhile school-going
children. Teaching and learning is and should be an evolving process.
Claiming sanctity shows an absurd disregard for
sifting and re-evaluating evidence. The prime minister makes a valid point in
claiming that NCERT is not engaged in re-creating history but in interpreting it
There is nothing Hitlerite in presenting
historical events from the indigenous people’s rather than the coloniser’s
perspective. To paint the above effort at indigenisation as some devious
Hindutva act is entirely indefensible.
To denigrate it as ‘swadeshi’ is inexcusable.
(The term swadeshi, a proud epithet otherwise, has been hijacked and given a
negative import, which is perplexing to say the least. What is wrong with the
swadeshi approach? Why is it a calumny? Should it not be every Indian’s
prerogative to sift inherited facts and interpretations against the yardstick of
indigenous experience and sensibility?)
Even a rapid reading of the much-contested and
maligned NCERT Class IX book on Contemporary India is an eye-opener. Undeniably,
the textbook contains ungrammatical writing and poor syntax. Some of the facts
may even seem questionable or contrived. But in the main its approach appears
sound. Its interpretation of British India, for instance, is refreshingly
localised to Indian needs.
Earlier books in my own or my children’s
student days echoed the British, therefore the ruler’s, take on events. Here
is an effort to interpret British rule in terms of how it benefited the British
but harmed India and the people England ruled. The book offers some harsh facts
about the negative impact of British rule on Indian economy, agriculture,
crafts, and development.
In my time, one had to wait to read
Economic History of India at the graduate level before getting an inkling of the
exploitative impact of British policies. The
textbook speaks bluntly of the racialism practised by the British, rather than
the one-sided ‘fair and enlightened rule’ gibberish we were fed with.
Even the foundation of the Indian National
Congress is presented in more believable terms, not only as the benign act of
well-meaning Anglican friends of Indians to enable Indians to taste and practise
democracy, but also as a survival mechanism, to serve as a safety valve for the
growing Indian restlessness.
Similarly, the performances of major British
administrators (for example, Lords Wellesley, Dalhousie and Curzon) are briefly
tackled for their divisive and deceptive nature, not as the earlier sources did,
as indicators of great statesmanship and masterly rule. On the Indian side,
there is vivid coverage of the nature and incidence, even persistence, of
Every reader must feel
inspired to learn of the heroic resistance put up against alien rule and
repression. This is intrinsic to nation-building as much as to building the
self-esteem of a people. It is comparable to native Americans and American
Blacks re-interpreting US history to account for how events played out
differently for them.
The carping about ‘packing’ of educational
and cultural institutions and ‘packaging of history’ has to be seen in a
historical perspective. The patron’s wealth and power as much as the
historian’s personality (name, fame, currency) and the ideational school to
which she or he belongs have ever been the more decisive factors than plain
‘facts’ or ‘available evidence’ when interpreting history.
The current effort to plant pro-India
historians and culture-ists in key positions is an endeavour to use posts and
their personalities to influence the products they command or help produce. This
is no novelty. It has been the practice of Hindu, Muslim or British India, as
well as Congress-dominated free India, and for that matter, the Communist-led
Indian states. British and other
earlier scholars of India had their own agenda in presenting historical
‘facts’ in their terms and shaped by their compulsions.
Historians under the Indian Marxist and Congress
regimes spoke to their covert and overt concerns. The ruling party, but more
importantly the swadeshi school of thought, should be expected to do no less.
Just because the shoe is not on the radical foot does not mean it should pinch
the student body more.