What are the recommendations of the panel?
- The report ‘Reforms in context and design of schools textbooks’ was recently tabled in the Rajya Sabha.
- It was composed by the parliamentary standing committee on education, children, youth, women and sports. It is headed by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe.
- History books should be continuously updated.
- Option of regular review of the National Curricular Framework should be kept open.
- NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training) should review the guidelines for writing history textbooks and ensure equal importance for various periods of our history.
- Study of educational methodologies adopted by Nalanda University and the universities at Takshashila and Vikramshila.
- Books that aren’t published by government agencies but are used for supplementary reading must be in consonance with NCERT structure to avoid discrepancies.
- The committee also recommended a review of the manner in which freedom fighters are represented in school textbooks.
- It also called for better representation of ‘community-identity-based history’.
With regards to the syllabus:
- Inclusion of post-independence history in textbooks.
- The 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas) and the Bhagavad Gita to be part of the syllabus.
- The syllabus should also include parts of Agam literature i.e. Jain scriptures like Lord Mahavir’s preachings.
- Inclusion of Indian empires that have been under-represented till now. Eg: the reigns of Vikramaditya, Chalukyas, Cholas, Vijayanagara Empire, Gondwana, Travancore and the north-eastern Ahoms.
- Covering contributions of ancient Indians in the areas of Ayurveda, medicine, natural sciences, science, mathematics, philosophy, epistemology, economy, politics, linguistics, arts, ethics, etc. in the textbooks
- Linking traditional Indian knowledge systems with modern science and presenting them in contemporary context.
- It suggested that the education ministry look into the possibility of developing a ‘class-wise core common syllabus’ for different subjects. Various state education boards, CICSE and CBSE, could implement this syllabus. This is to bring in uniform educational standards among the students across India.
Why is there concern?
- On the face of it, these suggestions seem innocuous and well intentional. However, these recommendations bring up a vital question- the academic basis for the diagnosis of unfair representation and prescription of these solutions.
- The Indian History Congress has opposed the committee’s recommendations and has argued for “adequate attention to academic content developed from research-based understanding” of the various periods in history. It has also called for the involvement of ‘recognized scholars’.
- In India, teaching history has often involved ideological contestations. All nations and national ideologies source their legitimacy from narratives about the past. But a historian’s objective is to develop a rich and complex understanding of the country’s past- not to spin comfortable and simplistic myths that feed nationalistic narratives.
What is the way ahead?
- There isn’t a ‘bias-free’ or ‘true’ history that exists, waiting to be reclaimed by right intentions.
- Historical research is not a version of ‘my freedom fighter versus yours’ contest that is playing out in the social media and in the political scene.
- Since 1960s and 1970s, academic history writing has shifted away from narratives of ‘great kingdoms and men’ to focus on the histories of the common people. It has also shifted the perspective to view history through the gender and caste prisms.
- The body of scholarship on regional kingdoms and histories has been growing, even though these haven’t been reflected by the current school textbooks.
- The NCERT has informed the parliamentary committee that it has already taken steps to revise the syllabus to include more recent topics like demonetization, Swachh Bharat, Digital India and GST and to make history textbooks more representative by including regional icons and women such as Rani Avantibai Lodhi, Rani Channamma, Ammaiyar, etc.
- In 2018-19, the NCERT had included topics like Indian contributions to metallurgy, Vikram Samvat and Paika revolt in history textbooks.
- The committee is right in calling for regular updation of educational material. However, any such revision such by guided by ‘research-based understanding’.
Contestations over exclusions and blind spots in history writing is part of the process. However, these debates are to be led by professional historians- not politicians who seek to use the debates to fuel culture wars.