To read or not to read

Ipsita Kabiraj
NSoJ Bureau
Our textbooks never fail not to make news. Over the years we have had textbooks which praised our glorious past and some which denied all that. At the end of the day when we look at it we think about our children who we otherwise refer to as our future generation. Post-independence, our states formed their own education boards and had their own committees which worked behind text books. Along with the states, the ICSE and CBSE boards co-existed giving our syllabi a national stature.

The ICSE is the legacy of the British education and has been dominated by the Anglo-Indian schools and have tried to remain independent of any government interference despite being based in Delhi. The CBSE formed by the NCERT, is an apex body directly under the ministry of education. If we look at our syllabus the teaching of history has been the most controversial. With most of post independent India being ruled by centre or left of centre parties, the Marxist historians have had an upper hand in framing our syllabus. Post 1990, this underwent a drastic change with parties affiliated to the right of the political spectrum gaining control over state assemblies and later at the centre. This marked a drastic change at the way textbooks were written and history taught in schools. Soon it became a shortage of people who were convincing enough to formulate the right wing ideology.

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan founded by K M Munshi proved to be a pioneer in imbibing nationalist ideology in syllabus. Schools run by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh too joined the fray and with growing urbanisation and exploding population was able to make deep inroads to our cities too.
With increasing affluence and exposure to other cultures Indian and Indianness became more mainstream. Mr R C Majumdar is also a historian of repute whose essay on the Sepoy Mutiny in 1957 brought out the deep divide over writing India’s history.

 

Considering formation of India as the first and the biggest experiment of having a very diverse population as one nation itself tried to become a more cohesive idea in the minds of many. Our textbooks have seen even a picture comparing a white skinned woman to a dark skinned woman and stated that the former is beautiful and the latter is ugly.

Similar instances of insensitive content have been doing the rounds in textbooks for years now. A class four environmental science textbook titled ‘Our Green World: Environment Studies’ suggested students to ‘kill a kitten’ and another class twelve sociology book suggested that ugliness and physical disability of a girl were the reasons that her family needed to pay dowry.

 

Imposing such opinions on subjective issues should be the last thing that a text book does. Same size does not fit all. For what is called saffronisation of textbooks have left some academicians frustrated. Tampering with history, unfair representation of minorities, glorifying one sect- these are only a few flaws that can be found. Altering the school syllabi to bring it in line with a particular ideology is dangerous. Steps should be taken to avoid such aberrations in a country like ours which has the maximum diversity in religion, language, ethnicity and identity.

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