NCERT textbook controversy
The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is an apex resource organisation set up by the Government of India to assist and advise the central and state governments on academic matters related to school education. The model textbooks published by the Council for adoption by school systems across India have generated controversies over the years. They have been accused of reflecting the political views of the party in power in the Government of India. In particular, during the years of the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled governments, they were accused of "saffronising" Indian history (i.e., reflecting Hindu nationalist views) and engaging in historical revisionism.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) was established in in 1961 by the Government of India by combining a number of existing organisations. It is an autonomous body in principle. However, it is Government-funded and its Director is appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (formerly Ministry of Education). In practice, the NCERT has operated as a semi-official organisation promoting a "State-sponsored" educational philosophy.
In the early 1960s, national integration and unifying the various communities of India became a major concern to the Government. Education was seen as an important vehicle for the emotional integration of the nation. The Minister of Education M. C. Chagla was concerned that the textbooks in history should not recite myths but be secular and rational explanations of the past. A committee on history education was established with the membership of Tara Chand, Nilakanta Sastri, Mohammad Habib, Bisheshwar Prasad, B. P. Saxena and P. C. Gupta, which commissioned a number of history textbooks to be authored by the leading historians. Romila Thapar's Ancient India for class VI was published in 1966, Medieval India for class VII in 1967. A number of other books, Ram Sharan Sharma's Ancient India, Satish Chandra's Medieval India, Bipan Chandra's Modern India and Arjun Dev's India and the World were published in 1970's.
These texts were intended to be "model" textbooks which were "modern and secular," free of communal bias and prejudice. However, Deepa Nair states that they also carried a "Marxist imprint." The Marxist emphasis on social and economic issues implied a critique of culture and tradition. The value of spirituality was reduced. The Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was sympathetic to the Marxist view of history and believed in a scientific outlook on civil society. In contrast, the Hindu nationalist historiography disagreed with Marxist historiography and based Indian history in the antiquity with glories of Hindu civilization and culture. These contrary views of history set the scene for conflict.
The textbooks faced political pressures from the inception. In 1969, a Parliamentary Consultative Committee wanted the textbook on Ancient India to state categorically that the "Aryans" were indigenous to India. But the demand was rejected by the Editorial Board as well as Thapar as the author. Further critical reactions came from Hindu and Sikh religious organisations that their respective religions and religious leaders had not been glorified. The Hindu Mahasabha and Arya Samaj claimed that the mention of beef-eating in ancient times went counter to the religious sentiments of the "Hindu nationality."
Such controversies continue till today. The controversy centers around the charges of an attempted "saffronised" rewriting of Indian history (i.e., making lessons consonant with the Hindutva). Allegations of historical revisionism with a Hindu nationalist agenda arose in two periods: under the Janata Party government 1977 to 1980 and again under the Bharatiya Janata Party government from 1998 to 2004. In 2012, the organization has been blamed for attempting to insult the government by publishing 'offensive' cartoons in its textbooks.
Controversy during the Janata Party government
Three months into the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister was handed an anonymous memorandum by Nanaji Deshmukh, former Jana Sangh leader and general secretary of the Janata Party, which targeted the NCERT textbooks. The books criticised were Thapar's Medieval India and Bipan Chandra's Modern India, along with two other books, Freedom Struggle by Tripathi, De and Chandra, and Communalism and the Writing of Indian History by Thapar, Mukhia and Chandra. (Only the first two were NCERT textbooks.) The Prime Minister forwarded the memorandum to the Education Minister suggesting that the books be withdrawn from circulation. In August 1977, R. S. Sharma's Ancient India was published, which was also targeted. The books were said to be "anti-Indian and anti-national" in content and "prejudicial to the study of history." The main issues seemed to be that they were not sufficiently critical of certain Muslim invaders during the medieval period and that they emphasized the role of leaders like Tilak and Aurobindo in the development of Hindu-Muslim antagonisms. The Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh launched a separate campaign against the books in its magazine Organiser.
The memorandum got leaked and a public debate ensued, which ran till 1979. The authors of the books argued for the legitimacy of independent interpretations as long as they were based on reliable evidence. The most hotly contested issue in the 1977 to 1979 controversy was the depiction of Mughal era (Muslim ruled) India and the role of Islam in India. Romila Thapar's Medieval India was criticised for being too sympathetic to Muslim viewpoints and for showing too little enthusiasm for Hindu heritage. In November 1977, a committee of reputable historians was asked to examine the textbooks, which supported their continuance. Nonetheless, the government passed an act in July 1978, withdrawing R. S. Sharma's Ancient India from the syllabus of the Central Board of Secondary Education.
In the course of the controversy, both sides became deeply suspicious of the other's motivations, contributing to the intensification of Indian "communalism" and leaving resentments that were to resurface in the renewed controversy under BJP rule twenty years later.
Communalism and "saffronised" content
In 2002, under the NDA government spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the government made an attempt at changing the NCERT school textbooks through a new National Curriculum Framework. Marxist historians raised objections to the new curriculum, claiming "saffronisation" of education by allegedly raising the profile of Hindu cultural norms, views and historical personalities in school textbooks. The BJP opined that their only goal was to overhaul the stagnant and saturated institutions like NCERT and free them from the alleged dynastic control and hegemony of the Indian National Congress and the Communists. Party members also opined that their goal was not to promote sectarianism, but present a more accurate picture of Indian history and Indian culture (such as Vedic science), which was being downplayed by the left wing ideologues.
The NDA was defeated in the elections of 2004 and the new UPA government pledged to "de-saffronise" textbooks and curricula nationwide and restore the secular character of education. In March, the UPA Government released new NCERT textbooks, based on the texts used before the controversial 2002 updates. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, which oversaw this project, stated that it had made only minor modifications to the books that predated the "saffronised" era. In Delhi, the Directorate of Education, in collaboration with the State Council of Educational Research and Training, prepared 47 new textbooks, and other state governments were expected to do likewise. In June 2004, a panel constituted by NCERT reviewed the new textbooks and determined that they had poor content, shoddy presentation, and significant amounts of irrelevant information. The panel recommended to the Human Resource Development (HRD) minister that the new books not be used until the defects could be resolved. resulting in Delhi students also using texts from the pre-"saffronised" period.
Press reports indicated that the rush to "de-saffronise" school texts resulted in Urdu versions not being ready for the academic year, which began in April. The reports asserted that this failure hurt Urdu-speaking students by depriving them of needed textbooks. The NCERT denied the claims. In turn, the UPA and previous Congress-led governments have been accused by the BJP, the dominant Hindutva party, of revising history to present a Marxist bias, and whitewashing the record of Muslim "atrocities" to acquire Muslim votes.
In April 2012, The Republican Party of India (RPI) Athavale group demanded a ban on an eleventh grade text book by the NCERT saying a cartoon in the book insulted Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. The book, which had been originally published in 2006, wasn't recognized until 2012. On April 2, Ramdas Athavale held a press conference and burnt copies of the page from the textbook prescribed in the political science syllabus. Athavale demanded the resignation of Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal who also was the president of the NCERT board. RPI workers burnt his effigy. The cartoon figures on page 18 of chapter one titled “Constitution, why and how” in the book called Indian Constitution at Work. It shows Ambedkar sitting on a snail which is labelled ‘Constitution' cracking a whip. Behind him is Pandit Nehru, also shown with a whip. The caption says: “Cartoonist's impression of the ‘snail's pace' with which the Constitution was made. Athavale said the cartoon insulted the architect of India's Constitution and the people responsible must be dealt with. The NCERT too had insulted him, he pointed out. The issue created uproar in both Houses of Parliament. NCERT chief advisors Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar resigned on Friday after the government issued an apology and promised to remove the cartoon. Speaking to reporters, Palshikar said it seemed like the government didn't have an option and therefore decided to agree with the protesting MPs. “The caricature was a symbol of the progressive outlook in education. This has now been undone. We are of the opinion that as advisors we can have a different opinion. Hence, we don't think it's appropriate for us to be in this position anymore.” Suhas Palshikar is a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Pune.
Soon after that controversy had been solved, the Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Mosque, Mohd Mukarram Ahmed wrote to Kapil Sibal asking for the removal of a medieval painting of Archangel Gabriel and another of pilgrims at the Kaaba from the chapter 'The Central Islamic Lands' on the ground that they were against the Sharia law. The letter, dated September 10, 2012 has also been sent to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, education minister Kiran Walia and NCERT chief Parvin Sinclair. "Jibril (Gabriel) is the chief angel who brought messages to the Prophet. The painting in the book is comical in its presentation of the Archangel. Secondly, the caption for the illustration on pilgrims at the Kaba states that they are 'touching' the stone even though it's customary to kiss it. But the Jibril painting is the most objectionable and will not be tolerated," Ahmed, who is planning to write to the prime minister and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, depicted in his letter. However, rejecting this, Najaf Haider, an associate professor at the Centre for Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University said "The Gabriel painting was sourced from a 13th century text called Ajaib-ul-Makhluqat, written by a renowned scholar, Qazwini. The second illustration was taken from a 15th century collection of fragmented pieces. The letter only states the paintings are against Sharia and doesn't exactly point out what's objectionable about them. Moreover, these texts (from where the paintings are sourced) were written in Muslim courts by people who were far more scholarly and pious than anyone can claim to be today." this became the new generation of NCERT...
Notes and references
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- Kumar, Krishna (4 November 1989). "Secularism: Its politics and ideology". Economic and Political Weekly 24 (44/45): 2473+2475–2476. JSTOR 4395556.
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- Nair 2009, p. 148.
- Thapar 2014.
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- Nair 2009, pp. 149-150.
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- Jaffrelot 1996, pp. 287-288.
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- Mukherjee, Mridula; Mukherjee, Aditya (Dec 2001). "Overview". In Delhi Historians' Group. Communalisation of Education: The History Textbooks Controversy (PDF). Jawaharlal Nehru University. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
- R. Upadhyay (2000-02-26). "Opposition in India: In search of genuine issues". South Asia Analysis Group. Archived from the original on 2007-07-06. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
- Know your value about NCERT controversy by K. R. Malkani, Hindustan Times, 29 November 2001, archived at hindustan.org.
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- Goel, Sita Ram (1994). "The Magnitude of Muslim Atrocities - II". The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India. Voice of India. ISBN 81-85990-23-9.
- "Cartoon issue was first raised by RPI". The Hindu. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
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- Jaffrelot, Christophe (1996). The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 978-1850653011.
- Nair, Deepa (2009). "Contending `Historical' Identities in India". Journal of Educational Media, Memory & Society 1 (1): 145–164. JSTOR 43049323.
- Thapar, Romila (2014). "Writing history textbooks: A memoir". The Past as Present: Forging Contemporary Identities Through History. New Delhi: Aleph Book Company. ISBN 9383064013.
- Yadav, R. K. (1974). Problems of National Identity in Indian Education. Comparative Education 10 (3). pp. 201–209. doi:10.1080/0305006740100305.
- Delhi Historians' Group (Dec 2001). Communalisation of Education: The History Textbooks Controversy (PDF). Jawaharlal Nehru University. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
- Rudolph, Lloyd I.; Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber (1982). "Cultural Policy, the Textbook Controversy and Indian Identity". In A. J. Wilson; D. Dalton. The States of South Asia: Problems of National Integration. London: Hurst.
- Lall, Marie (2005). "Indian education policy under the NDA government". In Katherine Adeney; Lawrence Saez. Coalition Politics and Hindu Nationalism. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-35981-3.
- Lall, Marie (2010). "Globalization and fundamentalization of curricula: Lessons from India". In Marie Lall; Edward Vickers. Education as a Political Tool in Asia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 157–178. ISBN 0415595363.
- NCERT Website
- Puniyani, Ram (6 April 2015). "India should say no to the RSS version of history". Dawn. Retrieved 9 April 2015.