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Explainers

Mughals and Gandhi: Will Removing History Create More Misinformation?

Will changes in NCERT textbooks lead to misinformation? BOOM spoke to historians, educationists and scholars to find out.

By - Kaisar Andrabi | 12 April 2023 5:28 AM GMT

Delhi -- Last week, news reports said that the National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) has changed textbooks and removed entire topics related to the Mughals and references to the assassination of Gandhi.

The changes have sparked concerns among educationists, historians and scholars who fear that important aspects of the country's heritage and culture are being overlooked. The recent changes have been condemned by around 250 historians from India and abroad, who issued a joint statement expressing their deep concern over the decision.

Will these changes lead to more misinformation? BOOM spoke to historians, educationists and scholars to find out.

What Has Been Dropped?

All references to the 2002 Gujarat riots have also been dropped from all social science textbooks. 

Also, three chapters detailing protests that turned into social movements in contemporary India have been dropped from political science textbooks across Classes 6 to 12. 

The NCERT's influence on the education system in India means that any changes made to its syllabus can have far-reaching implications for the country's future.

Sohail Hashimi, a Delhi-based historian believes that for all students it is essential to understand the totality of their past and which was put together by historians who have spent their lives studying history. Reacting over NCERT’s decision, Hashimi said people who have absolutely no background in history, don’t understand history or society have decided what will be read and what will not be. “They are not rewriting history, they are inventing history. This will add more misinformation for the future generations and would deprive them from the knowledge of the past,” he said firmly. 


Why Has It Been Dropped?

The NCERT, an autonomous body established by the Indian government in 1961, plays a crucial role in shaping national narratives and ideas of state.

The entire exercise NCERT claim is a part of syllabus rationalisation and that no curriculum trimming has occurred this year. It was done in June 2022 to reduce the load of students.


Can This Lead To More Misinformation?

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author and journalist with a special interest in Hindu nationalistic politics told BOOM that the move seems an intention by the Bharatiya Janata Party of whitewashing their part of history which they want to erase.

The author said, “Modi has consistently campaigned for what he says is 1200 years of slavery. The basic problem with the Sangh Parivar and the BJP is that they have a very north and west Indian understanding of ‘Bharat’.”

He believes that the ruling party thrives on misinformation. He said that the entire campaign of the BJP to a great extent is built on false information, and therefore, he fears that if there is no push back ten years down the line, lots of things would have been forgotten.

However, the author said that removing, editing out and omitting key portions of social science and history lessons is not new. There has been political interference in education and curriculum in the country earlier.

Successive governments have altered syllabus as per their political convenience and often added elements that fits their political motivation. Besides, omitting events and ideas that seems inconvenient to them.

“We will largely become a society of ignorant people of our past who have a very colored vision of the past. It will be doused in ideology of a certain kind,” the author told BOOM.

Have NCERT Books Been Changed Before?

Making changes or editing NCERT books is not a new occurrence. It has been done before to keep up with contemporary discoveries and changes in society. This regular practice of updating books taught in schools and colleges has received both positive and negative feedback from the educationists and political analysts. Some changes have been welcomed, while the majority of them have met with criticism for being politically motivated.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, there were instances of historical revisionism noted in NCERT textbooks under the rule of the Janata Party and BJP governments. These changes were seen as attempts to promote the Hindutva ideology.

NCERT books like Thapar's Medieval India and Bipan Chandra's Modern India were accused of being “anti-national.” In 2002, the NDA government tried to change the curriculum to remove previous “Marxist” influence.

In 2005, the Congress-led government overhauled the NCERT and introduced the National Curriculum Framework (2005) in an attempt to undo the BJP government's changes.

In 2012, NCERT was criticized for allegedly insulting the government by publishing “offensive” cartoons in its textbooks.

Post-2014, there have been three revisions/reviews in textbooks, with the latest coming before the proposed fifth revision of the National Education Framework.

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In 2017, NCERT updated 182 textbooks to include topics like Swachh Bharat, Digital India, 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao,' demonetisation and GST.

In 2018-19, history textbooks were updated to include contents on the knowledge, traditions, and practices of India, including portions on Vikram Samvat (the Hindu calendar), metallurgy, Shivaji Maharaj, Paika revolt, Subhash Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda, Ranjeet Singh, Rani Avantibai Lodhi, and Sri Aurobindo Ghose. A chapter on Maharana Pratap was also added to the Class 7 syllabus.

2019: NCERT deletes chapters on violent caste conflicts, colonial history of cricket, ‘Peasants and Farmers’, nationalism in Indo-China, rise of cities, and ‘novels, society and history’ from Class 9 and 10 textbooks.

2022: NCERT cuts out Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statements against communal violence in Gujarat, chronology of Godhra violence, quotes by Nehru and Ambedkar, history of Naxalite movements, discussion box on-farm laws, discussion on history of caste oppression, justifications of caste in Vedas, dangers of communal politics, portions relating to Mughal rule, courts and administrative systems, and history of other Islamic rulers including Mamluks, Khaljis, Delhi Sultanate from senior secondary textbooks.

2022: CBSE removes poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, political cartoons about communal politics, a chapter on ‘Central Islamic Lands’, and impact of globalization on agriculture from NCERT Class 10 Pol Science books.

What’s The Worry?

Delhi University professor and political analyst Apoorvanand said the reasons for such actions are rooted with the ‘delusion’ the government of India has related to the history of the country.

He dissects it in two components. “For BJP, this is a Hindu Rashtra and has always been, they believe India had a glorious past which was destroyed by Muslim invaders. The other belief they had was that in the medieval period, their ancestors were cheated and they have to get revenge. They believe that unless they change history, they cannot change the present,” the professor said.

“They want to deprive you from democratic sensibility and for that they are not only dropping chapters about Mughals, they are removing events of democratic protest, social movement because they want to destroy democratic sensibility,” he told BOOM.

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The professor explained how this exercise of making changes to textbooks will alter facts. Citing examples like removing the chapter on 2002 violence in Gujrat or the fact that Gandhi was killed by Naturam Godse, he said, “They know they can’t change the fact that Godse killed Gandhi, but what they can do is remove his association with RSS or Hindhu Mahasabha. The assisination looks like Godse was a derailed man and he killed Gandhi for no reason. They want to create cognitive dissonance,” he said.

The expert added that there was already a wide gap between education and the reality of the past but somehow, the textbooks that were written after 2005, tried to connect classrooms with social realities.

The uncomfortable past was brought to textbooks, he said, adding that in 2005 the UPA government did not remove mentions of the 1984 anti sikh violence, or the emergency period of India —things which showed the Congress party in negative light. “This is explained by a simple fact that now 2002 Gujarat violence has been removed but the 1984 violence remains,” Apoorvanand said.