Learning History as fact, and not fiction
by Sandhya Jain on 25 Jul 2017 15 Comments

As schools reopened earlier this month, voices began to be raised about the quality of education being imparted to students in certain subjects, especially history. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath questioned the rationale behind excluding certain revered figures from the school curriculum. Though much has been written over the years about distortions in textbooks written by Marxist-Secularist scholars who dominated academia for decades under Congress patronage (which governments in between could not shake), it was hoped that the Bharatiya Janata Party, with its own parliamentary majority, would urgently address the problem.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally focused on ambitious nationwide schemes for the marginalised (Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat, housing for all, etc.) and firming up ties with the neighbourhood and bilateral relations with virtually all nations, a prescient move in a fast-changing world. He struggled with mega problems concerning the economy, of which demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) are important pillars in controlling the parallel economy and raising government revenue.  


Successive education ministers have done little regarding two critical issues of public concern. However, on 21 July 2017, BJP MP, Maheish Giri, moved a private bill in the Lok Sabha to amend Article 15 (Clause 5), to modify the Right to Education Act. This clause, added by the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA regime in 2005, brought private (aided or unaided) schools within the ambit of the RTE and forced them to reserve 25 per cent seats for Economic Weaker Sections (EWS). This caused closure of lakhs of modest private schools across the country as they could not bear the financial burden.


Further, the UPA shamelessly gave minority institutions the luxury of not catering to EWS in their own communities, thus denying institutions run by Hindus the constitutional Right to Equality. Sadly, the Supreme Court pandered to this flagrant violation and religious bias. Given the growing public unrest over this issue, Giri’s initiative could eventually yield results.


History is a critical tool of nation-building. While early tinkering with the discipline began with Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous spat with R.C. Majumdar, India’s invented and distorted history blossomed in the 1970s when Indira Gandhi needed Left support to stabilise her regime and surrendered the education sector to them and funded the plethora of institutions they created to bolster their hegemony across the spectrum.


Soon, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) emerged as the sole authority for writing and prescribing textbooks for schools, and became the target of public ire for gross distortions and errors (e.g., Bhagat Singh was a terrorist).


Two young scholars, Neeraj Atri and Munieshwer A. Sagar, have systematically culled the factual and ideological distortions in textbooks taught from Class VI to Class XII, the impressionable age when children imbibe for life what is taught in school; few take up History in college, where they might be exposed to more varied material. Brainwashed Republic (Abhishek Publications, 2017) is the result of these painstaking efforts.


Atri and Sagar observe that an honest account of Ancient India would record its cultural unity as manifested in the art of governance, style of royal courts, methods of warfare, maintenance of agrarian base, and Sanskrit as the language of communication and discourse. Instead, India is portrayed as a land that was first conquered by Dravidians (whoever they might be), then by Aryans (whose ‘homeland’ remains unidentified to this day), and finally by the British (who invented these myths to legitimise their rule). The poisonous legacy of the Aryan-Dravidian conflict, though unsupported by history or genetic studies, remains with us to this day.


The glory of non-native rule is always glorified. Though the Vijaynagar Empire lasted nearly 350 years and played an exemplary role in preserving India’s rich heritage, it gets short shrift when compared to Mughal rule, which lasted about 150 years from Akbar to Aurangzeb (the ‘Great Moghuls’). Krishna Devaraya’s kingdom was much larger than Akbar’s.


It is true that Hindu rulers lost huge territory to invading Muslim armies from the seventh century. But the barbaric molestation of kingdoms, people, and Gods is erased, as also the fact that despite so much suffering, the vast majority of people valiantly adhered to their native faith and traditions when other lands on the path of the invaders capitulated completely, erasing all traces of their ancestral ways. That is why the Zoroastrians came to India for refuge.


Yet, India’s embrace of the persecuted across centuries, be it Jews, descendants of the Prophet, Parsis, Bahai’s, even wandering Poles during World War II, finds no mention in school books. It is notable that the kings who sheltered Jews, Parsis, and Poles ruled separate kingdoms at different times; their generosity derived from Sanatana Dharma, the civilisational ethos of a land ruled by different kingdoms. Instead, children are taught about divisions engendered by caste, geography, religion, gender and what not.


Atri and Sagar expose the lies and insidious distortions by juxtaposing each case with original historical facts and references. The idea of the book grew when, after filing over one hundred applications under the Right to Information Act, for copies of original documents and evidences for various ‘facts’ from NCERT’s Department of Social Sciences, they were told that NCERT did not possess such records. This is true, as NCERT appoints ‘eminent historians’ (from Jawaharlal Nehru University etc.) to write the textbooks and presumes that they would have correct facts at their fingertips.


Brainwashed Republic reveals that Ancient India received the worst treatment. India is projected as a geographical region with no underlying cultural unity, thus reinforcing the colonial dogma of India as an artificial construct created by the British Raj. Yet, all ancient sources - Megasthenes (Greece), Fa Hein and Hiuen Tsang (China), Al-Beruni and Amir Khusro (Central Asia) - record India’s unbroken cultural and geographical unity from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, with ‘south India’ an intrinsic part of the nation. Yet NCERT textbooks prefer the colonial version of India as a fragmented entity.


The Sanskrit language is tarnished as a language of (Aryan) invaders who imposed it upon the natives and the local languages. It is also called the exclusive language of Brahmins who used it to exploit the ‘natives’. Surely it can’t be both.


The book gives educationists, bureaucrats, politicians and lay readers a profound insight into the deficiencies with History textbooks, and offers real solutions to rectify them. It is must read for all concerned about the state of social science education in India.  

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