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Sectarian Story or History?
|by Chitra Srinivas|
I am a schoolteacher who has taught history for the past 25 years. I have enjoyed teaching the subject. I don't claim to be an expert, and I do not belong to any group or subscribe to any particular ideology - the Left, the Hindutva school, or any other. I think the study of history is important because it helps us discriminate and judge, see patterns and connections and, above all, think logically by observing cause and effect.
History has long been treated as a boring subject; indeed, not many students want to study it at the college level. Yet, every government wants to control the writing of this subject. Because it is history that makes a nation. It is through history that one can control minds, especially the young, impressionable minds at school.
I was a member of the five-day Review Workshop organized in January 2002 by the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) for the class 10 textbook. I went with an open mind, but as the reading of the draft proceeded, I observed that there was virtually no discussion. For two days, the history text was merely read out. I was the only one who raised objections, whether about the language, facts or even the obvious ideological slant. It was a lonely battle.
At the end of two days, I was not only mentally exhausted but also exasperated at the casualness of the whole exercise, conducted without the aid of a subject expert.
Initially, I was told that I would be invited for the review of the Class 11 textbook as well, but by the third day it was clear that I was not wanted. I gave my suggestions and objections in writing but these are not really reflected in the published textbook. Worse, a matter as serious as writing a school textbook was dispensed with in just two days. No wonder the final product is so shoddy!
At the review, I found myself helpless for the most part. I found the other participants ignorant of South India's contribution to the Freedom Movement. Consequently, my objections to the neglect of this important aspect cut no ice with them. I was told to supply the relevant material, which I did, even though it is the author's job to do all the research. This was later incorporated into the text - only a few names and words, as if to complete a formality. Basically, I found there was no understanding of the South or North-east. No one from these regions was invited to the workshop.
The history of India's freedom struggle is taught in class 8. So, it is really not fair to expect the child to learn it again the very next year. I therefore suggested a thematic approach, which was rejected. An interactive method with suggested activities woven into the text could have relieved the students of the tedium of poring over the same content.
J S Rajput - Director NCERT - had assured me that the text would carry several interpretations. That would have taught the child the importance of looking at a problem in all its dimensions, of understanding that there could be different perceptions. You have to be the teacher of a vibrant group of 13-year-olds to know how eager they are to learn and how well they think and analyze. But none of this happened. The text is crammed with facts and names that are unrelated to a clear context; several statements are disjointed and unsubstantiated. The illustrations are pathetic, and maps, which figure only in the first chapter, mention incidents and places that find no place in the text. What is the child to make of all this? Do we want to produce robot-like, unthinking individuals? Perhaps that was the intention. In most places, the language is awkward, harsh and unrefined. Worse, there is some kind of an error in every paragraph. The ideological slant is obvious and blatant in these and other examples:
Gandhiji's assassination finds no mention, nor do the roles of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha during riots and Partition. Also omitted is V D Savarkar's reference to Hindus as a separate nation.
The 1931 Karachi Session of the Indian National Congress which passed the historic resolution on Fundamental Rights and National Economic program is missing, though the Nehru Report is discussed in detail with full emphasis on the role of the Muslim League. The contribution of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to reforming Muslim society and to education does not even get a mention! The establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia is ignored, while the Kashi and Gujarat Vidyapiths are mentioned.
Mahatma Gandhi's Hind Swaraj is given primacy, giving an erroneous impression that he was totally against anything western. Swami Vivekananda has been made into a bigot! At the review workshop, when I produced his Chicago Address, it was not taken seriously.
In world history, the anti-semitic policies of Hitler and the Holocaust do not find a mention. The word 'coup' is used to describe the Russian Revolution. Originally 'military coup' was used, but I had objected to it. Nazi ideology is defined as a sort of fusion of German nationalism and socialism. Mussolini's fascism is described as aimed at rescuing Italy from feeble government.
Thanks to the strong ideological slant, our Freedom Movement looks as if it was a religious struggle against Christian missionaries and Muslim communalists. Page 59 of the book says: "The Constituent Assembly's foremost job was to ensure the integrity of the country taking into account the presence of Pakistan within India herself."
What is one to make of this? How will I - as a teacher - explain this to my class which includes many Muslim children? Four hundred years of world history have been reduced to 11 pages - statement after statement is made without any connection or explanation. The disintegration of the USSR is dismissed in one line.
Rajput has admitted to some of the mistakes. But the problems with the book are far too enormous for them to be corrected at this stage. Ultimately, it is not about language or facts; it is about the whole tenor of the book. It has to be entirely re-written.
At the review, I had also objected to the unnecessary emphasis on some aspects. The mention for example, of some leaders dying holding the Bhagvad Gita. I was immediately told that people like me do not respect India's culture and heritage. Bhagat Singh and some others did not die with the Bhagvad Gita in their hands, I said, but that did not make them lesser martyrs.
I have always told my students that the beauty of Indian culture lies in its ability to accept and assimilate any stream of thought. As a responsible teacher, I am unable to accept distortions in the writing of history that go against the very spirit of India's existence.
I wish for all my children a world where they will be free from hatred towards one another. I also love children too much for them to be left to the mercies of politicians who have their own sectarian agendas.
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