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Amid Recommendation To Replace 'India' With 'Bharat', Here's How NCERT Books Have Attracted Controversies Over Time

The push from a government committee for replacing 'India' with 'Bharat' in social science textbooks comes months after it came to light that mentions of the 2002 Gujarat Riots and passages critical of the Hindu right-wing organisations have been removed from NCERT's history and social sciences textbooks.

A G20 installation mentioning 'Bharat' before 'India' at G20 Summit, Delhi
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The social sciences textbooks of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) are again in the news. A committee set up by the NCERT has recommended that 'Bharat' should replace 'India' in all the social sciences textbooks up to class 12. 

The news comes barely a month after the India-Bharat controversy waned when the Centre pushed for the usage of Bharat and the Opposition and several academics criticised the move. While there has been no change in policy at all, and India and Bharat have always been two names of the nation as per the Constitution, the raging controversy and debates invoked sharp reactions and involved themes of decolonisation, secularism, and Hinduisation-Sanskritisation. 

The replacement of 'India' with 'Bharat', if accepted, would be the latest revision in social sciences textbooks in recent years that has seen a lot of deletions from the syllabus, most of which related to the Mughals and Muslim rulers.

The criticism of the NCERT textbooks is, however, not unique to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The textbooks have long been criticised to be inadequate as they lack several parts of the history that they teach and lack adequate representation of all the regions, such as Northeast India or Jammu and Kashmir. The criticism has mounted under the current government as, instead of filling these gaps, the government has deleted even more content.

Are NCERT books dropping 'India'?

A committee set up by the NCERT has recommended that all social sciences textbooks up to class 12 should use the term 'Bharat' instead of 'India'.

No change has, however, been announced as it is just a recommendation and this particular committee is just one of the several committees that are looking at the content. The Centre is in the process of rewriting of the books. 

"The committee for revising the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has suggested that ‘India’ should be called as ‘Bharat’ in all Social Science textbooks up to Class 12...The committee has also suggested replacing the ‘ancient history’ with ‘classical period of Indian history’. He [committee’s chairman CI Issac] also added that the Committee has agreed to add more about Indian Knowledge System in the curriculum to teach more about achievements, history and culture of the country," reported The Indian Express.

While suggestions are made all the time and are not always accepted, and the government has no compulsion of accepting suggestions, the bigger picture is key here. The suggestions come at a time when the there has been a push for the promotion of 'Bharat' over 'India'. Notably, for years, the BJP-led governments have also changed the names of towns and other places, such as renaming Allahabad as Prayagraj and Mughalsarai Junction in Uttar Pradesh as Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction.

"We must stop using the word India and start using Bharat. At times we use India to make those who speak English understand. This comes as the flow however we must stop using this," said RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat shortly before the Centre sent out G20 Summit invites with the name 'Bharat' instead of 'India'.

Notably, NCERT panel chief Issac is also associated with the RSS for a long time and two more of the seven members of the panels are also members of the RSS, according to The Print. 

Criticism of the NCERT textbooks

Even before the latest round of deletions in textbooks, dubbed as 'revision' or 'rationalisation', the NCERT textbooks had long been criticised.

While the Left and the Congress-led Opposition criticised the then-Atal Bihari Vajpayee's NDA government for reworking the textbooks to suit its ideological leanings, commentators also criticised the textbooks later on, even those reworked under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, as being insufficient. 

It has been highlighted that the NCERT social sciences textbooks have been North India-centric and lack an appropriate representation of other regions, particularly the Northeast India and Jammu and Kashmir. It has also been highlighted that, even though there have been chapters on Southern dynasties, the history of contemporary southern India has fewer mentions to promote the North Indian history of the time dominated by the Mughals or the Delhi Sultanate. 

It has also been pointed out that there are several omissions as well, such as incomplete lists of rulers of Delhi Sultanate dynasties or the vast exclusion of later Mughals after Aurangzeb from the history of the Mughals. 

The critics have also said the NCERT textbooks don't capture the nuances of the Mughal period, ignoring the grey streaks to paint an overly favourable picture. 

"While compressing three hundred years' worth of Mughal history, for school students, is an arduous task, it is no reason to keep the students oblivious to the crimes and atrocities committed by the Mughals...The people in academia with a soft spot for the Left must realise that everything about the Mughals cannot always be sugar-coated. While a few aspects, like the scale of architecture or foreign trade, for instance, can be taught, to expect a whitewashing of all their crimes or attribution of every innovation to those three hundred years is foolishness," writes Tushar Gupta in an article for Swarajya magazine. 

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Toying with history in recent years

While the NCERT textbooks had long been criticised, the solution was always said to be addition of more content and the revision of existing content. 

The Centre has, on the other hand, gone in the exact opposite direction and has further reduced the content in the books. One estimate suggests that as much as 20 per cent of the entire syllabus has been deleted in NCERT textbooks since 2018.

Moreover, such deletions have followed a certain pattern. At a time when 'Bharat' is being pushed over 'India' and Sanskritised names are taking over the public space, the Muslim past and similarly uncomfortable aspects of the history have been deleted from the textbooks.  

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No 2002 Gujarat Riots, no mention of RSS in Gandhi's killing

Earlier this year, it came to light that the Centre has "quietly" removed all mentions of the 2002 Gujarat Riots and passages associated with Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. 

From class 12 history textbooks, the background of Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse, the fact that the then-Union government cracked down on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after Gandhi's assassination, and the fact that Gandhi stood for Hindu-Muslim unity and opposed Hindu majoritarianism after Independence have all been removed, reported The Indian Express, adding that these removals were "quiet" and were not included in the list of revisions made public last year. 

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In addition to the passages on Gandhi and communalism, all mentions of 2002 Gujarat Riots have been removed from the NCERT books. In 2002, a total of 1,044 people were killed in communal violence in Gujarat, comprising 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, according to a report. 

Citing the removal of a passage on communal ghettoisation, The Express reported, "With the removal of the above paragraph, all NCERT social science textbooks for classes 6 to 12 have been purged of all references to the Gujarat Riots. The Council has officially announced deletion of references to the Gujarat Riots from the last chapter of the Class 12 political science textbook titled 'Politics in India Since Independence' and the Class 12 sociology textbook 'Indian Society' in its 'list of rationalised content' released in June last year."

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Deletion of Islamic history, Mughal courts, Cold War

While the changes around Nathuram Godse or Gujarat Riots were done 'quietly' and were learnt this year, as much as 20 per cent of the content has been slashed from the books since 2018. 

A review of the revisions published by the NCERT shows that several chapters, pages, and passages have been removed from all textbooks — not just social sciences. The stated reasoning was that students' study load had to be reduced in the wake of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The most impactful are, of course, the deletions in the social sciences books over their sociopolitical implications. 

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Apart from key deletions in chapters on the Mughal administration and wars and history of Islamic rulers in India, there were also several other deletions that would appear to be strange. For example, in class 11 political science textbooks, chapters on US hegemony in world politics and the Cold War were removed. 

Here are some of the major deletions made in social sciences textbooks of NCERT:

In class 7 history textbook, Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals saw major deletions. While this falls in line with the ideological leanings of the establishment, two full chapters on architecture and socioeconomic make-up of the society at the time were also removed, titled ‘Rulers and Buildings’ and ‘Towns, Traders and Craftspersons’. In class 7 civics textbook, the entire chapter ‘Struggle for Equality’ was deleted.

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In class 8 civics textbook, the entire chapter on the criminal justice system was removed. Some references to caste were also deleted in other chapters. In the history textbook, the chapter ‘Weavers, Iron Smelters and Factory Owners’ was removed.

In class 11 history textbook, chapters on Islamic history and the Industrial Revolution were removed entirely. Moreover, the two chapters of ‘From the Beginning of Time’ and ‘Confrontation of Cultures’ were removed. In the political theory textbook —11th has two books, one on Constitution and one on political theory — two chapters on ‘Peace’ and ‘Development’ have been removed.

In class 12th political science, two full chapters on the Cold War and US hegemony in world affairs were removed. In history, full chapters on the Mughal courts and culture, Partition, urbanisation and development of cities in the colonial period were removed. 

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While the stated reason is to “rationalise” the syllabus, trends in the removal of contents —related to the Islamic rulers, political theory related to development, Partition, and Gandhi's assassination— have led to a perception that the removal is tilted towards shaping the national narrative as what students read shapes their mind firmly for their future lives.

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