Nation states remain conscious about the content of textbooks, since their aim is to highlight historical achievements and to ignore weaknesses of the rulers. In case of war, victory is mentioned while defeats are ignored. In the third world countries, textbooks are continuously changed when political parties with different political ideologies come to power. When a dictator usurps power, he is admired and projected in textbooks. When democratic changes occur, the dictator disappear in historic oblivion. Thus, we find that in both India and Pakistan, textbooks have become the victim of political parties that have come into power.
After the independence in 1947, realising the importance of textbooks, some leading Indian historians, including Satish Chandara, Rumila Thapar and H.R. Sharma, decided to write history textbooks. However, when Morarji Desai (1977) and his Janata party came to power, old textbooks were discarded and new ones developed on the basis of conservativism. Since then, textbooks have been victimised by every government. During the congress party rule, the contents of textbooks becomes liberal and tolerable to the religious minorities of India. In 1998, during BJP’s government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a major change occurred in textbooks when the Hindutva ideology was propagated and Hindu symbols were depicted, subsequently creating religious fanaticism and extremism.
In 2004, during the Congress government under Manmohan Singh, new textbooks were written in the supervision of reputed historians. These contained material which promoted tolerance and a positive understanding of history. However, these efforts have proved futile when the BJP won the 2014 general elections and Narendar Modi became the prime minister. The BJP government immediately announced that textbooks would be changed and now the outline of these textbooks was to project the achievements of the Vedic period. In the new books, it is argued that astrology should be treated as science despite India having scientifically and technologically advanced. In addition, the Muslim rulers are condemned as foreigners, it is further believed that the Arians were originally Indians and from India they went abroad. It is evident that such textbooks create religious intolerance and a hatred against other religious communities.
History gets made up as textbooks are tampered with to suit and serve the regime
Textbooks which inspire nationalism and patriotism are also politically used in America and European countries. In American books we find the American revolution glorified, along with an admiration for the founding fathers and a pride for their democratic institutions, but no reference to the native Indians who were mistreated, exploited and massacred by the European immigrants. There is also no reference to the slaves brought from Africa who were sold in the market and discriminated against on the basis of colour. The authors of these textbooks are careful not to mention the American intervention in the internal affairs of the foreign countries. Their bombardment and inhuman treatment against the Vietnamese and their defeat in Vietnam is not mention. Thus these textbooks present just one side of the story.
Similarly, British textbooks proudly describe the expansion of the British rule to the African and Asian countries and how they civilised and modernised these countries. They are hesitant to recognise the rebellion and resistance against their rule. There is no reference to their brutality or when the colonial government humiliated, insulted, subdued and crushed the local population. The objective of these textbooks is to revive the grandeur and greatness of the empire. Consequently, the young educated generation looks down upon the nation which their ancestors once colonised.
We find similar attitude in Pakistani textbooks. The war of 1965 is presented as a glorious victory against India with war heroes being exalted for the sacrifices rendered in defense of the country. However, a silence surrounds the 1971 war and the separation of East Pakistan, which emerged as independent Bangladesh. Therefore, textbooks in nearly all nation states are defective and do not provide full and correct information to students.
Several attempts have been made by Pakistani and Indian historians to write common textbooks which avoid hatred created by the antithetical interpretation of history. But despite a few meetings, the project did not succeed due to political tension between India and Pakistan.
However, intellectuals in every country point out the weaknesses and defects in textbooks but their criticism is ignored and little or no attention paid in order to revise them and create positive and analytical understanding of history.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 14th, 2016