Rewriting History; more about politics and less about education? 

The Maharashtra govt had appointed a committee to take a fresh look at the school history text books and clearly, there is an attempt to distort historical facts to suit their own divisive agenda

Photo by Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Sujata Anandan

A week after the dust settled on the rewriting of history text books for Class 7 by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, it is clear no one, including the BJP ideologues, has bought the explanation by the state government that the change was in the interest of students.

The Maharashtra government had appointed a committee to take a fresh look at the history text books and clearly there is an attempt to distort historical facts to suit their own divisive agenda. The school board has dropped an entire chapter on Moghul Emperor Akbar, dismissing him in three lines and students will now learn about Islamic dynasties only in context of their association with Chhatrapati Shivaji - like Afzal Khan, Aurangzeb, etc. And these Muslim kings and generals cannot be portrayed as anything but negative in the context of Shivaji.

It is a move that has been fiercely defended by Sadanand More, head of the subjects committee that rewrote the text books. More says students from Maharashtra ought to know more about Shivaji than about Moghuls. But to completely drop chapters on Moghul kings? More has no defence.

“This is less about education and more about politics and so I will not comment on the issue,” says Babasaheb Purandare, noted historian, balladeer and chronicler of Shivaji's life and times.

It is noteworthy that the current dispensation in Maharashtra had awarded Purandare with the Maharashtra Bhushan Puraskar in 2015, a move bitterly opposed by the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP) which is attempting to appropriate the legacy of Shivaji exclusively to itself.

The NCP had forced its own government to name the Maharashtra equivalent of the Dronacharya awards after Dadoji Kondadev. Dadoji Kondadev was Shivaji’s guru who raised him in his father’s absence and turned him into a fine warrior. The NCP, a Maratha-centric party, is in a running battle with the Brahmin domination of the present dispensation but their anti-Brahminism goes back to the Peshwa regime when these dynastic prime ministers had dominated the latter descendants of Shivaji and lost them their Maratha empire (after the Third War of Panipat in 1761) that ultimately helped the British to take over their territories completely.

In fact, in 2014, when it became apparent that the BJP would win the assembly elections, NCP President Sharad Pawar had publicly warned his supporters that they were in danger of returning to Brahmin domination in the state. Their worst fears came true with barely a Maratha minister in the ruling cabinet and many political observers believe this tinkering with history could be an attempt to kill two birds with one stone — win over the restless Marathas by giving importance to Shivaji and at the same time propagate their own anti-Muslim agenda (Marathas, though, were never anti- Muslim, Shivaji had many Muslim generals in his army).

Marathas have also always blamed historians like Purandare for superimposing a Brahmin narrative on Shivaji - how could a Brahmin have taught a Maratha the use of arms and warfare?, they ask - and that was the reason behind their opposition to even James Laines’ book on Shivaji which was guided by Purandare.

But now this writer of the most read book on Shivaji — Raja Shivchhatrapati — reluctantly acknowledges that students deserve a well-rounded knowledge of history though he stresses that this is not a comment on the recent rewriting of history text books which he has not yet read or compared with previous texts.

Javed Shroff, a Congress functionary and managing trustee of the Ismaili Education Trust which runs several schools and colleges is cautious about his comments but generally agrees with Purandare that students need a well-rounded knowledge of history. He says, “One must not distort history. Even if they feel there were negative aspects to Moghuls, students must be given a knowledge of Moghul rule and culture in all its aspects.” This will help them to sift the grain from the chaff and make up their own minds, he adds.

Kishore Gaikwad of the National Tribal University at Amarkanthak, who in the past had been on several school book committees and was “chucked out”, as he puts it, for his liberal views, says the most difficult part of writing a syllabus for young students is how to synthesise history for class rooms without infusing hate into young minds about the “others”.

“I have a basic problem with a history book that makes it all about us and them. India is an amalgamation of cultures, ethnicities, religions, traditions and, yes, dynasties. Even Muslims are not and never were monolithic. In the past these were a mix of Moghuls, Afghans, Turks, Persians, Mongols etc. They were all at war with each other. But the common people knew they were different and yet there were no differences between them. Unity in diversity was a real thing then, not an empty slogan like it is today. We should go back to that unity by celebrating those differences rather than hating the ‘others’.”

His appeal, though, is likely to fall on deaf ears though there is a section of historians who do agree with More but only on the limited point of the history syllabus. Raja Dixit of the Savitribai Phule University in Pune, who also was on school book committees for 27 years, says he too has been concerned how the history taught by the National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT) has been too north-centric by far. “Not just Shivaji, even other dynasties of South India, whether Hindu or Muslim, find barely a mention in NCERT text books. A course correction is needed to make such text books all-encompassing.”

But this embracing of cultures and traditions that shaped India are not likely to happen. For as Tushar Jagtap, former member of the Bombay University Senate and an independent political activist, says, “This latest attempt at rewriting history has Savarkar written all over it. Sadanand More is a hard core Savarkarite. And Savarkar is well-known for distorting history to suit his own twisted ideology. Do not expect a course correction here.”

This presents the real danger of students growing up on a mix of hate and bigotry in the name of Shivaji who was the exact opposite of those values now being indoctrinated into young minds.

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