Aditya Nigam

Received via Maya John, the following statement was issued by over 250 historians and concerned scholars, protesting against the blatantly ideologically driven agenda of the present government in deleting chapters and sections of the school textbooks.

The recent decision of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to drop entire chapters from the history textbooks for class 12, as well as from other classes and to delete statements from other textbooks is a matter of deep concern. Using the period of the pandemic-cum-lockdowns to argue that there was a need to lighten the load of the curriculum, the NCERT initiated a contentious process of dropping topics like the history of the Mughal courts, the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, the Emergency, mention of Dalit writers, the Naxalite movement, and the fight for equality from social science, history, and political science textbooks of classes 6 to 12. The new editions of these NCERT books have simply made the deletions the norm even when we are in a post-pandemic context in which school education has limped back to normalcy and is no longer in the online mode.

In this light, it is deeply troubling that a chapter on the Mughals has been deleted from part-II of the history textbook for class 12, while two chapters on modern Indian history have been removed from part-III of the history textbook. There has been no attempt to consult members of the teams that had prepared the textbooks, which included historians and school teachers, apart from members of the NCERT. The books were developed through a process of consultation and wide-ranging discussions. This was valuable not only in terms of content, but also in terms of pedagogy, which ensured an organic unity and a graded development in understanding from the middle to the senior school. The attempt was also to make the textbooks as inclusive as possible, and to provide a sense of the rich diversity of the human past both within the subcontinent and the wider world. As such, removing chapters / sections of chapters is highly problematic not only in terms of depriving learners of valuable content, but also in terms of the pedagogical values required to equip them to meet present and future challenges. While we understand the need for periodic revisions of school textbooks, this can only be done in sync with the consensus of existing historical scholarship. However, the selective deletion in this round of textbook revision reflects the sway of divisive politics over pedagogic concerns.

According to the Director, NCERT, the deletions are part of the rationalisation of the school textbooks, and have been done in order to reduce the burden on students. As per the NCERT, during the pandemic the students faced loss in learning, and in the post-pandemic period the students have been feeling overburdened with the syllabus. According to the NCERT, since some of the chapters were overlapping across subjects and classes, it was rational to reduce the content for the overburdened students. The NCERT authorities have denied any ulterior political motive behind this move of rationalisation.

However, notwithstanding the NCERT Director’s denial, the selective dropping of NCERT book chapters which do not fit into the larger ideological orientation of the present ruling dispensation exposes the non-academic, partisan agenda of the regime in pushing through amendments to school textbooks. This becomes abundantly clear when one critically analyses the removal of selective themes in the textbooks in the backdrop of the present central government’s larger ideological agenda of misconstruing the history of the people of the Indian subcontinent as a product of a hegemonic singular (Hindu) tradition.

Driven by such an agenda, the chapter titled ‘Kings and Chronicles: The Mughal Courts (c. sixteenth-seventeenth centuries) has been deleted from part-II of the history textbook. This is despite the fact that the Mughals ruled several parts of the subcontinent for a substantial period; making the history of these times an inseparable part of the subcontinent’s history. In medieval times, the Mughal empire and the Vijayanagara empire were two of the most important empires in the Indian subcontinent, both of which were discussed in the previous textbooks. In the revised version, while the chapter on the Mughals has been deleted, the chapter on the Vijayanagara Empire has been retained. The exclusion exposes the wider communal undertones, based on an inaccurate assumption about India’s past — that the religion of the rulers was the dominant religion of the times. This leads to the deeply problematic idea of a ‘Hindu’ era, ‘Muslim’ era, etc. These categories are uncritically imposed on what has historically been a very diverse social fabric.

Moreover, two very important chapters have been deleted from part-III on Modern India, namely, ‘Colonial Cities: Urbanisation, Planning and Architecture’ and ‘Understanding Partition: Politics, Memories, Experiences’. Also significant is the deletion of any mention of the role of Hindu extremists in the killing of Gandhi. For example, in the chapter titled ‘Mahatma Gandhi and the Nationalist Movement’ in part-III of the history textbook the reference to Nathuram Godse being “the editor of an extremist Hindu newspaper” has been expunged.

It is important to stress that the present retrograde step by the NCERT to delete entire chapters and portions of texts from the history textbooks is not based on any academic or pedagogic consideration. Rather, the chapters deleted from the history textbook are precisely those which do not fit into the pseudo-historical schema of the ruling dispensation. Excising any period from the study of the past would make students unable to comprehend the connecting thread of the past with the present times, and would deprive students of an opportunity to connect, compare and contrast the past and the present, and would disrupt the organic inter-connectedness of the subject-matter of the discipline. Furthermore, removing entire periods of history from history textbooks would not only perpetuate misconceptions and misunderstandings, but would serve to further the divisive communal and casteist agenda of the ruling elites. The books and history syllabi designed earlier by the NCERT were meant to provide an understanding of the Indian subcontinent as a great melting pot of different cultures consisting of various groups, ethnicities, etc. The sequence of the chapters was designed to teach students about the craft of history, and to develop critical thinking about the past. The composite heritage of the Indian subcontinent and historical genealogies of the present times were the main focus of the old NCERT syllabus from which chapters have now been strategically excised.

Apart from deletions in the history textbook of class 12, there are several deletions from the history textbook of class 11, which includes very essential themes like the industrial revolution, inter alia. There are also deletions from the textbook for political science, which includes sections on the rise of popular movements, the 2002 Gujarat Riots, and the mention of the report of the National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, the reference to the 2002 Gujarat Riots has been dropped from the Class 11 sociology textbook ‘Understanding Society’.

Guided by a divisive and partisan agenda, the NCERT by selectively deleting several important themes from school textbooks is not only doing great disservice to the composite heritage of the Indian subcontinent, but betraying the aspirations of the Indian masses. The colonial constructions and their contemporaneous reproduction manifest the misconstruing of Indian civilization as a product of a hegemonic singular tradition, such that categories like ‘Hindu society’ are uncritically imposed on what has historically been a very diverse social fabric. Ultimately, all these deletions present the students with a sanitized history of a homogenous ‘Hindu’ society in the Indian subcontinent. History of this variety has a disturbing preoccupation with the narrative surrounding kings and the wars they waged. It reduces state formations, empire-building, and transformations of the medieval period to an unsubstantiated, perennial contest between an allegedly homogenous ‘Hindu’ society and ‘Islamic’ invaders and rulers. It also projects the idea of presumably widespread social harmony in India’s past which conceals the exploitation and oppression of populations under different state formations along the axes of gender, caste, and class etc. It also overlooks regional diversity. By reducing the study of history to such monolithic accounts, the ground is being prepared for pseudo-histories, especially of a communal and casteist variety, to hold sway.  In any case, such ‘histories’ are widely circulated today through WhatsApp and other social media applications.

We are appalled by the decision of the NCERT to remove chapters and statements from the history textbooks, and demand that the deletions from the textbooks should be immediately withdrawn. The decision of the NCERT is guided by divisive motives. It is a decision which goes against the constitutional ethos and composite culture of the Indian subcontinent. As such, it must be rescinded at the earliest. has a list of signatories.

Top - Home