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Should India allow Metahistory in school curricula?

 

Bhubaneswar,

Last updated 30 Oct 2014 08:58 IST

  India, History, Metahistory, School Syllabi
While right wing organisations and most of their leaders are in favour of rewriting history on the view that the history needs a nationalistic perspective as the existing syllabi and the textbooks have a Leftist perspective or Marxist lenience, historians like Romila Thapar and elites term such attempt as violation of human rights and intellectual freedom.
 

Attempts by the radical Hindu outfit of India, Rastriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its sympathisers to rewrite India’s history from a different perspective, which they term as nationalist perspective, has drawn criticism from the elite and historians world over while raising the most vital question if history is something to be altered, revised and restructured as per the needs of a ruling government and its mentors.

Believed to have played a crucial role in the never-before-victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi in the last general elections, the RSS has been aggressively pushing its Hindu nationalist agenda, which is evident from various statements made by its senior leaders over past few months.

“Using education as a tool of indoctrination, the RSS or “Sangh,” as it is often referred to, and various organisations associated with it have begun a systematic campaign in BJP-ruled States and at the Centre to restructure school syllabi and rewrite textbooks, giving them a Hindutva focus,” says Divya Trivedi of the Frontline magazine.

As part of grand preparations for its centenary in 2025, the RSS is working on writing a version of Indian history based on the Puranas. The 10-year project has been dubbed ‘Puranantargat Itihaas’ (the history as depicted in the Hindu religious scriptures), reports Shyamlal Yadav of The Indian Express newspaper adding, “The Sangh is also planning to put together the history of each one of the over 670 districts in the country, as well as the history of the over 600 tribal communities in India.”

 

Quotation starts

Metahistory provided the underpinning of two monstrous dictatorships of the twentieth century in Europe: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

Quotation ends

 

The Akhil Bharatiya Itihaas Sankalan Yojna (ABISY), an organisation linked to the RSS, has arranged a workshop for over 100 historians in Gujarat to take the project towards realisation, the report says.

Dinanath Batra, the convener of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, who could successfully pressurise Penguin to withdraw American Indologist Wendy Doniger's book “The Hindus: An Alternative History.” has been advocating for an overhaul of national curriculum framework (NCF) and revision of the school textbooks.

"National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks will be rewritten according to the aim and objects of the nation so that it inculcates feeling of patriotism among children. Modernity is not westernisation. We want modernity with Indian base," wrote the Times of India quoting Batra as saying.

Batra has historically been the man behind the push for more 'saffron textbooks,' says Hassan Suroor of the Firstpost adding that, as the lead campaigner for RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN), Batra was the driving force behind reforms Murli Manohar Joshi introduced as HRD minister. Joshi had pursued the issue of rewriting history doggedly, even introduced changes to NCERT textbooks and later faced backlash for them from non-BJP ruled states, which claimed that the books had extensive factual errors and refused to use them. Batra's involvement, Suroor writes, is the clearest indicator of who is driving such decisions.

In lines of the idea perceived by Batra, while replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha in the context of rising crime in the country, Home Minister Rajnath Singh emphasised upon the need to inculcate values in the public to bring about a “change in perception” and said, “There is also a need to change the contents in textbooks so that youngsters know what our values are.”

It was almost like an endorsement to the idea from Smriti Irani, India’s Human Resource Development minister, who spoke in her speech at a symposium titled “Restructuring of our education system with Bharatiya perspective of values,” held in Hyderabad, that to build a resurgent nation which would be stronger, resilient and humane, India needed “course correction” to be done in the education policy, which was last formulated in 1986.

While right wing organisations and most of their leaders are in favour of rewriting history on the view that the history needs a nationalistic perspective as the existing syllabi and the textbooks have a Leftist perspective or Marxist lenience, historians like Romila Thapar and elites term such attempt as violation of human rights and intellectual freedom.

About allegations that the present curricula and textbooks are left lenient, eminent historian Professor Romila Thapar says, “It is perhaps worth pointing out that the kind of history that is often dismissed by Hindutva ideologues as Marxist is not actually Marxist but bears the stamp of the social sciences. The distinction between the two, despite its importance to the interpretation of history, is generally glossed over by the proponents of Hindutva. This is largely because they have scant understanding of what is meant by a Marxist interpretation of history and therefore fail to recognise it. For them, a Marxist is simply someone who opposes the Hindutva ideology. Consequently, a range of historians unexpectedly find themselves dubbed as Marxists.”

“What is being referred to as the saffronisation of education is, in effect, the de-intellectualising of education in such a severe way that little of academic value will be left in what comes to be taught in the next few years. Totalitarian ideologies are built on cynicism and the new national curriculum is immensely cynical,” says Thapar in her keynote address at the National Consultation on Communalisation of School Education.

“The question now is whether educational reform will be used not just to create an educated citizenry and trained work force but also to promote a particular ideology,” asked The New York Times in one of its editorial.

“The assault on history is part of the assault on knowledge. It will not stop with history. But history is one of the easier subjects for starting such a campaign since everyone thinks they know history and there is nothing new in it. However, the undermining of history is also essentially the undermining of the social sciences and the danger is not limited to history but to all the social sciences,” says historian Thapar.

Dubbing it as march of Metahistory, historian Robert C Williams writes in his book The Historian’s Toolbox, “Metahistory provided the underpinning of two monstrous dictatorships of the twentieth century in Europe: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.”

“Nazis and Marxists also rewrote, or altered, history to suit the party line, not the truth. The Aryan race and the working class became collective heroes of a deadly new kind of official history,” says Williams.

Keeping these examples in view, no nation or a civilised society can, and should, afford to allow Metahistory to exist in the guise of history. The question now is whether India should respect plurality and opt for just “history” in its education system or allow “Metahistory” to march into its school syllabi and text books.

In rejection of the idea of altering history, Hindustan Times newspaper mentioned in one of its editorial comments, “The freedom of choice cannot be curtailed because a certain view does not fit into the cookie cutter culture that some are attempting to foist on us. India is pluralistic, inclusive and multi-cultural. That is our great strength.”

Basudev Mahapatra

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