Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gujarat Social Studies textbooks biased

An NGO study shows that the Gujarat textbooks are carrying a lot of garbage, such as:

*Gujarat is a border state. Its land and sea boundaries touch the boundaries of Pakistan which is like a den of terrorism. Under such circumstances, it is absolutely necessary for us to understand the effects of terrorism and the role of citizens in the fight against it

*If every countryman becomes an ideal citizen and develops patriotism, the National Population Policy can definitely be achieved

*When people used to meet earlier, they wished each other saying Ram Ram and by shaking hands. Today, people enjoy their meeting by speaking Namaste. Is it not a change?

*Making full use of Muslim fanaticism, Osama Bin Laden organized die-hard Muslims and founded the International Jihad Organization in the name of the Jehedi movement*
[Excerpted from Social Science textbooks, standard nine (2005) and standard eight (2004)]

This is very very disturbing. Textbooks have a huge role to play in shaping young people's mindsets. Most of the history that I know today comes from the Social Studies textbooks from class 5-10. If you tinker with those, the kids are going to have with a pretty skewed view of the world. Scary.

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I absolutely abhor this. But isn't history written by the victors? Thats why it is necessary for the enlightened citizens to express this kind of dissension to their govt. representatives and not elect them the next time around if they do not listen. How narrow minded and insecure do you have to be in order to see the need to indoctrinate kids. More control doesn't make them confident and patriotic, better no best conditions to grow, (read better opportunities, better law and order and better justice) would automatically make them more patriotic.
So you think the history that you learnt was balanced and neutral? I can point out many things which were examples of what Gaurav calls victors' history in the textbooks we studied (I s'pose I had the same textbook as yours), but one that sticks the most in my mind is the narrative of the nation-building process immediately after Independence.

All the debates and the turmoil that raged then about how the state should be (i.e., whether India should be a Hindu state or a secular state) were carefully screened from our eyes, as if the idea of a secular India was god-given and absolute, and there was never anything else. No wonder then, that when Hindu nationalism resurged in the 1990s, most of us who grew up on the academic staple dished out by the socialist/Congress school of thought felt shock and distaste.

I bet you that most educated Indians wont be able to write 5 sentences on what the Hindu Mahasabha stood for. Its a shame, not because the said organization was anything great, but because it is our history and we should know about it. It is like Iraqis after 50 years not knowing who Muqtada-al-Sadr was and what role (good or bad) he had to play in the birth of a new Iraq, because the textbooks screened him out.

I also find what you quote from Gujarat's textbooks disturbing, but the feeling fades a bit after you consider that a skewed view of the world has always been there.
What debate are you referring to anyways? I don't see any "debate" about whether India should be a secular state or a Hindu state in the debates of the Constituent Assembly, for example. Dunno where you read this, but whatever writings I've read (including those of people like Kanaiyalal Munshi who do raise pro-Hindu issues in the Constituent assembly discussions) don't hint at a Hindu state approach for India.

It sounds revisionist and silly to complain about Gandhiji's killers not getting sufficient airtime in Gujarati textbooks.

Gujarat Board covered history from Std. 5-10 as part of Social Studies which included civics and geography too. We studied world history, Indian history and Gujarat history in 6 * 1/3 books! Would the Hindu Mahasabha warrant airtime in these circumstances? Methinks not. There is plenty of room on the Internet and no dearth of Hindu Mahasabha supporters. Yet check out their page on Wikipedia - there is hardly anything there except for the life history of Savarkar. Savarkar was mentioned in our textbooks as far as I remember. So what're you complaining about?

I bet that most Iraqis wish and pray today that Muqtada-al-Sadr probably won't get a lot of airtime in Iraqi textbooks 50 years from now! A sidenote here or there (like the one for Savarkar) will be sufficient for them, I'm sure.
Oops, it was stupid of me to pick this example. Its a touchy subject and it evokes fierce responses like yours from most people. Trust me, I also believe, as strongly as any other self-respecting product of the eurocentric school of historical and social thought (thanks to our textbooks), in the idea of a secular India. But it is essential for me to be familiar with the dark side to fully appreciate the bright side, and it irks me as much to think I have been fed the incomplete truth as it irks me to see the bull in the Gujarat texts that the NGO points out.

By "debates" I did not mean the debates within the constituent assembly. It would be heretical to cast any aspersions upon the INC-dominated assembly, so I am not even going there. By debates, I meant the presence of an alternative stream of consciousness or alternative notion of nationhood that existed well before and well beyond the heydey of the "murderous" Hindu Mahasabha. This stream of thought, carried by as respected and authorative figures as Vallabhbhai and Sarojini Naidu, was obviously robust, given the fact that the BJP (which traces its roots and influences to JP, which traces back to BJS, which in turn to the Hindu nationalist voice in the Constituent Assembly - SP Mukhkerjee) is still hale and hearty as a political force. If the notion of alternative statehood wasnt strong then (at least not within the chambers where the C.A. deliberated), there is no reason why it should be so strong now. Remember, the nuevo-Hindu nationalism is referred to, even by centrist writers, as a "resurgence" and not a "birth".

And there is nothing new with secular commentrators dismissing the alternative stream as revisionist and silly, like you do. Reading 'Tilak and Gokhale' by Wolpert, you will notice how Tilak is belittled in every paragraph, line and word, while Gokhale is always the brilliant do-gooder. One wonders if Wolpert is an intellectual or Goebbel's student. Popular writers and movie-makers like Lapierre (Freedom at midnight) and Attenborough have done little justice to history by rubbishing the Hindu movement as a rabble of lunatics. Thats the history we learnt, and thats the history we believe in. But it wont hurt to also read Golwalkar's Bunch of Thoughts, just for the sake of academic propriety. Not learning lessons from the past only delays the pain.

I agree with you that with four millenia of history packed in 6*1/3 books, the best we got was a sidenote, at best, on individuals and events. That doesnt mean that those sidenotes were without bias, and that our worldview is any less skewed than this one that today's kids will develop.
I came across a bunch of books at the Gujarat University library on the Communists' vision of India around the Independence time and thereafter. It was quite unique and fascinating. I was pissed that I didn't read about it in my Class 9 history book. I'm not sure if you've read these books - I'd recommend them to you if I remembered their names. India is a big country. There were, are and will be hundreds of alternative visions of India. Each one of them equally sincere, fascinating and convincing. Each with its own set of supporters. Each could fill up an alternative set of history textbooks without any room for the other streams and their proponents. Theosophy was one such.

The Golwalkar point-of-view was a fringe view, with zero appeal in most of the country. Today's BJP has little to do with Jana Sangh etc. and a lot more to do with Advani's Rath Yatra, considering that it won 2 seats in the 1984 elections.
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