NCERT rewrites Babri Masjid as '3-dome structure', 2019 verdict as 'consensus'

This is the fourth update of textbooks since 2014, and the changes are 'interesting', to say the least. The modern 'Ayodhya-kaand' is now just half its former size

The triumphalism of kar sevaks atop Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, before its demolition (photo: Getty Images)
The triumphalism of kar sevaks atop Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, before its demolition (photo: Getty Images)

Mohua G.

The latest revised textbook for political science for students using the NCERT class 12 syllabus were launched early in June, with summer vacations on in most parts of India.

Only coincidentally, surely, the publication comes out while a good part of the country is preoccupied with a gruelling heatwave and citizens are still coming to terms with the 2024 Lok Sabha mandate, each in their own way.

However, it can't but be significant to both Hindutva proponents and opponents that the section on Ayodhya has been halved in size, as a report in the Indian Express notes on 16 June.

No less significant, surely, is that the Babri Masjid is no longer even acknowledged by its name! It is merely a 'three-domed structure' that occupied the Ram Janmabhoomi.

Also gone missing from the record to be read and regurgitated by the next generation of children, per the report:

  • the BJP's great rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya

  • the role of the kar sevaks in the mobilisation around the Ram Temple demand and the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid

  • the widespread communal violence that followed in the aftermath of these events in 1992 and 1993

  • the announcement of President's Rule in several BJP-ruled states

  • and the BJP's official statement expressing regret over the "happenings at Ayodhya"

And why is it necessary, in the wake of the almost complete triumph of the Ram Mandir in 2023, for these matters to be expunged for the precise youth who will be the very next set of 'first-time voters' — even as the BJP's calculations were just made mock of by the Faizabad electorate?

We don't know.

But some things we do know...

Foremost among the things we do know (and those we don't know) is that the revision was decided before the 2024 general elections, certainly long before the verdict was called.

For a 5 April article in the same newspaper had already reported the NCERT's declaration that three references to the actual Babri mosque demolition on 6 December 1992 were being elided — to reduce the burden on the Covid-cursed batches of young learners.

At the same time, the Ram Janmabhoomi 'movement' was to be foregrounded and discussion of the 2019 Supreme Court verdict added.

And now, the full extent of the revisions is clear.

Two whole pages speaking of mobilisations on both sides of the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid dispute are now gone — and have been replaced by a single para:

In 1986, the situation regarding the three-dome structure took a significant turn when the Faizabad (now Ayodhya) district court ruled to unlock the structure, allowing people to worship there. The dispute had been going on for many decades as it was believed that the three-dome structure was built at Shri Ram’s birthplace after demolition of a temple. However, although Shilaanyas for the temple was done, further construction remained prohibited. The Hindu community felt that their concerns related to the birthplace of Shri Ram were overlooked, while the Muslim community sought assurance of their possession over the structure. Subsequently, tensions heightened between both communities over ownership rights, resulting in numerous disputes and legal conflicts. Both communities desired a fair resolution to the longstanding issue. In 1992, following the demolition of the structure, some critics contended that it presented a substantial challenge to the principles of Indian democracy.

Those of us who actually lived through those horrific years cannot but stare at the casual 'demolition of the structure' — no apportioning of responsibility, far less guilt; no agency of the ruling dispensation even acknowledged.

Bye-bye, Babri Masjid — and BJP guilt

Also gone is all reference to the BJP's own expression of 'regret over the happenings at Ayodhya' and its aftermath, as well as all discussion of the 'serious debate over secularism' this dispute provoked and continues to feed.

The importance of the structure to the Muslim side and to secular students of history, its status per the 1991 Places of Worship Act passed just the year before — which the demolition both violated and circumvented in terms of the ongoing legal proceedings — that's all buried.

Now, it is set aside as a structure that sounds simply inconsequential, and it is characterised as a 'three-dome structure (that) was built at the site of Shri Ram’s birthplace in 1528, but the structure had visible displays of Hindu symbols and relics in its interior as well as its exterior portions'.

It is as though there was never any dispute of its 'Hindu-ness' at all! Whatever was the matter with our courts and indeed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), then, that they took so long to debate the matter?

The building's history and significance as a 16th-century mosque built by Mir Baqi, Babur's general, or as a mosque that was in active use even at the time of its demolition? Gone.

Jai, Supreme Court!

The 2019 verdict is added in, as promised in April. And its framing is, again, 'interesting'.

Quoted from the judgement is the section that says 'in any society, conflicts are bound to take place', but 'in a multi-religious and multicultural democratic society, these conflicts are usually resolved following the due process of law'.

Is it not curious that in this context, a demolition that expressly violated due process has been elided — and indeed, obfuscated with this framing, as though it happened per 'due process of law' and is wholly unremarkable in the way it did happen? All mention of bloodshed and conflict in the actual demolition process has been duly sanitised.

What the section on the 2019 Supreme Court verdict dwells on instead is how even-handed and 'evidence-based', how entirely 'democratic' and 'civilised' the whole exchange — of the Babri Masjid of 1528 in Faizabad, for the Ayodhya Ram Mandir of 2023 — has been:

The verdict allotted the disputed site to the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust for the construction of Ram temple and directed the concerned government to allot appropriate site for the construction of a Mosque to the Sunni Central Waqf Board. In this way, democracy gives room for conflict resolution in a plural society like ours, upholding the inclusive spirit of the Constitution. This issue was resolved following the due process of law based on evidences such as archaeological excavations and historical records. The Supreme Court’s decision was celebrated by the society at large. It is a classic example of consensus building on a sensitive issue that shows the maturity of democratic ethos which are civilizationally ingrained in India.

Apt and undisputed — indeed, indisputable? — restitution to the waqf board and the Muslim community, then.

And celebrated by all, the judgement. No dissent observed, none to record, apparently. It was all based on consensus.

There are simply no two ways about how it went, after all — surprise, surprise! We wonder what the fuss was even about, with such a 'classic example of consensus building'.

In the 'civilisational greatness' that is Bharat, there is no other way.

Now, while much praise is heaped on the 2019 judgement, there is an older direction — from 1994 — that has been taken out entirely.

This was an excerpt from the observations of Chief Justice Venkatachaliah and Justice G.N. Ray, convicting Kalyan Singh, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, of contempt of court — for his failure to 'uphold the majesty of law', that same Places of Worship Act that was violated by the forcible and unsanctioned demolition of a masjid that was sub judice at the time.

A significant order that the older version of the textbook contains:

...since the contempt raises larger issues which affect the very foundation of the secular fabric of our nation, we also sentence him to a token imprisonment of one day.

This too is now gone.

That the court recognised both the negligence of authorities and actual public wrongdoing in the Babri Masjid demolition now stands erased from the education provided to our children.

We have instead this excerpt from the 2019 judgement, with no record of any demur or doubt from the apex court about the matters of the Ram Janmabhoomi:

The Constitution does not make a distinction between the faith and belief of one religion and another. All forms of belief, worship and prayer are equal…It is thus concluded … that faith and belief of Hindus since prior to construction of Mosque and subsequent thereto has always been that Janmasthaan of Lord Ram is the place where Babri Mosque has been constructed which faith and belief is proved by documentary and oral evidence.

Doubtless few students, and even fewer teachers, will note the absence of archaeological or otherwise historical 'documentary evidence' of the janmasthaan being this very spot.

Media? Censored

Also gone from the revised textbooks are a bunch of newspaper clippings.

One of them was a newspaper headline quoting then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP: 'Ayodhya BJP’s worst miscalculation'.

Another had referred to Kalyan Singh being sacked as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh by the Centre, by the very NDA government that Vajpayee at the time led — dateline: 7 December 1992, the day after the demolition.

Was Kalyan Singh a scapegoat led to slaughter by the BJP leadership? That is not a debate this generation of schoolchildren are invited to participate in, as they prepare themselves to become enfranchised adult citizens of India, exercising their right to vote just four years from now, as soon as 2028.

Of course, in a generation so trained to viewing the media as mere stooges, possibly such 'evidences' would have been misread anyway, even if retained.

An 'inclusive' education, forsooth

Putting out the first information on its upcoming revision in April, the NCERT had said:

Content is updated as per latest development in politics. Text on Ayodhya issue has been thoroughly revised because of the latest changes brought by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional bench verdict and its widespread welcoming reception.

What this 'widespread' does is retroactively frame all dissent as outliers' inane grumblings, a 'radical' rather than possibly mainstream position — which, curiously enough for the children fed this nauseating diet, what those who lived in those times will remember it as.

For we remember the kar sevaks and demolishers as the radicals, the outliers in a society that for the most part thought secular was what India was, was meant to be and should be going forward forevermore.

But it would seem the national authority on education has a different idea regarding knowledge of 'entire political science' than this author's generation grew up with.

The NCERT chief, however, has informed news agency PTI that far from the alleged saffronisation of education, the revision withholds images of violence and dissent in the interest of letting "such young children" grow up as happy and healthy, well-adjusted citizens of India. Director Dinesh Prasad Saklani's exact words are:

Why should we teach about riots in school textbooks? We want to create positive citizens not violent and depressed individuals.
Hatred and violence are not subjects of teaching
Dinesh Prasad Saklani, director, NCERT

Meanwhile, doubtless due to the difficulties that 'Aurangzeb ke aulaad' face in adjusting in the 'new Bharat', a two-page table detailing the achievements of Mughal emperors Humayun, Shah Jahan, Akbar, Jahangir and Aurangzeb has also been removed from the latest set of history textbooks.

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