In Post- independent India the first important attempt to communalise education was taken by the central government in 1977 when Ancient India for Class XI prescribed and published by the NCERT was withdrawn form circulation at the behest of the Education Ministry. The book was restored in 1980 when the Congress came to power. But the present government has decided to remove not only this book but also the other history textbooks written by competent and conscientious scholars committed to secular values. Neither the books were academically examined nor the authors asked to answer the objections raised against their writings. A few objections were published in the newspapers. It was stated that the historicity of the gods couldn't be questioned on the ground of archaeological evidence. In my view people should freely worship Ram and the other gods. But for this it is not necessary to deny the absence of even modest habitation in Ayodhya until the fifth century BC. Again, the NCERT authorities deny beef eating in ancient India. But the greatest Dharmashastra scholar P V Kane supports it on the basis of literary sources, and the greatest Indian archaeologist H.D. Sankalia supports it on the basis of excavations.
Those who hold power go on swearing by secularism, but there is a vast gap between their profession and practice. This became clear at the conference of the state education ministers called by the Education Ministry, which tried to impose Saraswati Vandana or the participants irrespective of their religions. What is more significant the agenda for discussion at this conference was prepared by the education cell of the RSS. It had to be dropped because of stiff opposition from the majority of the participants. In this meeting in last year no curriculum was approved. But for abolishing history at the pre-secondary stage and distorting it at the higher stage the NCERT now talks of this curriculum. Although there is no confusion in our constitution about secularism the present government at the centre and its supporters in some states are bent Upon destroying the secular character of education.
What should be taught at the primary and secondary stage is an important problem. The communalists want to present all subjects in a communal colour, but they consider history to be the most effective vehicle of their indoctrination. If they have their way in history they will concentrate on two or three questions, which will certainly make things easy for both teachers and students, but at the same time this approach will destroy the very fabric of secular India and lead to the disintegration of our nation. They will emphasize that all temples were demolished by the Muslims who are foreigners in this country. They will teach that all social evils in Hindu society have been introduced by the Muslims. They will given special attention to beef eating and hold the Muslims responsible for the introduction of this practice. This is an important ground on which they have decided to withdraw Ancient India again. They have also raised a great hue and cry against D.N. Jha's book on this subject. They will teach that the Hindus are the descendants of the Aryans who were the indigenous inhabitants of India and all the other are foreigners.
Some textbooks taught in UP say that martyrs such as Bhagat Singh and his comrades were extremists and terrorists and those who demolished the Babri Masjid were great freedom fighters. The advent of British rule is welcomed by them as the deliverance of India form foreign rule.
In the NCERT policy as reported in the papers, history, geography and civics are to be abolished as independent courses at the primary and secondary stages. Obviously the authorities find it difficult to get written chauvinistic books to replace the existing academic books. That is why they have abolished history as an independent paper at the pre-secondary stage. At the cost of history and other papers they want to promote Sanskrit, Jyotish and Vedic mathematics. Sanskrit should be taught as an optional paper at the secondary stage like Greek and Latin which are no longer compulsory in England. The importance of history and various science subjects cannot be ignored. Science should not mean Vedic mathematics. In the mid 19th century the Sanskritist and social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar argued for the introduction of modern mathematics in place of the Sanskrit book on mathematics called Lilavati. He also recommended the study of history and philosophy for students of Sanskrit College, Calcutta. The present authorities are bent upon reversing the whole process.
Because of their blind faith the RSS agenda on education stresses nationalization, Indianisation and spiritualization. This will mean that so far education in independent India has not been national and Indian. Really they think of chauvinistic Indianism and nationalism, which has no place for rationalism. They consider spiritualization to be an important element of Indian lifelike some western scholars. But why don't they practice it? The Indian tradition reserves the second and third stages in life for cultivating spiritualism. Why the Hindutava ministers who are above fifty do no renounce the world and why they hanker after power?
All this raises the problems of fighting communalist attack on education. Although we have made considerable progress in education, we have not been able to get rid of many superstitious beliefs, which influence our decisions and actions. These beliefs pave the way for the spread of chauvinism. Therefore our teachers and students need a rational and objective approach to various subjects that are taught. In the states ruled by communalist party's communal colour has been given to not only history textbooks but also to other subjects taught at the school stage. Secularists should examine such books from UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and ensure those distortions denigrating minorities and women are removed from textbooks.
It is not easy to write any school textbook on history or other subjects in humanities and social sciences. Indian textbook writers should always bear in mind the basic value enshrined in our constitution while communicating their ideas to school students. They should not ignore the consensus achieved on important issues by scholars in the field but not on minor details. Although accepted views should be placed before members of a younger age group, some original ideas, which hold potentialities for discussion and elaboration at the university stage should not be held back from them.
R.S. Sharma is Former Professor and Head, Department of History, Delhi University, and Former Chairperson, ICHR. Courtesy: Delhi Historians Group