Our subcontinent, now divided into parts, shares a common history; there are diverse ways of looking at the same history by groups belonging to different political ideologies.
With the change of government in Delhi, the leading institutions are having a major policy shift; organisations like the Indian Council of Historical Research, National Council for Education, Research and Training amongst others, as they have got heads whose qualification is not excellence in their disciplines but their proximity to ideology of the ruling dispensation.
These are the institutions which deal with history, education and most of the disciplines related to social sciences. The change of policy seems to be guided by the BJP’s parent organisation, RSS, whose political ideology is Hindu nationalism, in contrast to the values of the Indian Constitution, namely, Indian Nationalism.
To give an indication of the same, RSS Chief (Sarsanghchalak) stated (March 3, 2015) that Indian history should be 'saffronised'. To back him up, BJP leader and ex-minister of MHRD Murli Manohar Joshi said that the call to saffronise Indian history is necessary and the concerned minister should feel proud in saffronising history books.
What is the 'saffronisation' of history books?
This term was coined by progressive rational historians and intellectuals to criticise the move of the same Dr Joshi when he was minister of Human Resource Development – the ministry which also deals with education – in the Vajpayee-led NDA Government (1998) and had brought serious changes in the curriculum, education and social science-history books.
The books which were introduced during his tenure had statements like these:
It is because we are the children of Manu that we are known as manushya or manav (human).
Scientists consider plants as inanimate, while the Hindus consider them as animate and having life.
On refusing to accept Islam, Banda Bairagi had the heart of his son thrust down his throat.
Sati is presented as a Rajput tradition that we should be proud of.
Similar distortions in the Medieval period were, 'Qutub Minar was built by emperor Samudragupta and its real name was Vishnu Stambha'. In addition, the battles for power between Shivaji and Afzal Khan, the battle between Akbar and Maharana Pratap, and that between Guru Govind Singh and Aurangzeb were all given religious colour.
These changes came under scholarly criticism from the professional, progressive, secular historians. They coined the term ‘saffronisation of education’ for this presentation of history.
In the face of the criticism, the same Murali Manohar Joshi said that the changes in history books were not 'saffronisation' but merely corrections of distortions in history. Now, turning around due to newer political equations, he is owning the same term as a matter of pride.
It was the British who introduced communal historiography in India; this historiography is a way of looking at the historical phenomenon through the lens of religion. The same history in a modified way was picked up by the Hindu and Muslim communalists.
In sum, Hindu communalists and Hindu nationalists presented that India was a Hindu nation from time immemorial and Muslims and Christians are foreigners here. The Muslim communal history began from the invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in the 8th century and claimed that Muslims were the rulers of this land, so the British should hand over power to them once they left. A version of this prevails in Pakistan's history textbooks today.
In contrast, those identifying with secular, democratic Indian national movement presented a view of history where the religion of the King was not the main determining factor of his policies.
This view was also presented by the leader of the freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi. In his book Hind Swaraj he writes:
“The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognised that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent quarrels recommenced… Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mohammedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause of quarreling?”
After getting independence, while the British-introduced pattern continued for some time, a more serious and rational, research-based approach started entering the history books of India. Along with the formation of NCERT, books with the rational viewpoint did replace the one’s with communal interpretation in schools which had the NCERT curriculum.
With the coming to power of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance from 1998, Dr Joshi introduced communalisation and saffronisation into education. With the NDA’s defeat in 2004, the Congress-led UPA came to power and it gradually – to some extent – restored the spirit of scientific temper and rational thought in education, while scrapping the communal version of histories.
Whether in India or Pakistan, the communal version of history is a fiction suiting the political agenda of religious nationalism.
So here, in India, a Taj Mahal becomes Tejo Mahalay (purported to be originally a Shiv Temple); the freedom struggle is presented as a religious war against Muslims; Muslim kings are blamed for destruction of temples and spreading Islam by sword.
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The divisive mindset is promoted for political goals.
Apart from the official school textbooks, a chain of schools run by the RSS – Sarswati Shishu Mandirs, Ekal Vidyalayas and Vidya Bharati – are using this version of history, and it is this same version from the RSS stable schools which they are now proposing for state-run institutions.
This will be a very divisive move for our plural, diversified country.