By Kavita Chowdhury / The Diplomat

The Indian government’s decision to remove significant sections from school Social Science and History textbooks has stirred controversy, as historians perceive it as an attempt to rewrite history.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is keen to regulate the history of India that children are taught in schools.

Last month, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) removed selected topics from school Social Science and History textbooks. Among the topics that were deleted from textbooks in grades 6 to 12 are the history of the Mughal courts, the communal riots in Gujarat, the Emergency, Dalit writers, the Naxalite (Maoist) movement, and the fight for equality.

While the CBSE described the exclusion of these topics as a “syllabus rationalization” exercise, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which publishes the textbooks followed by CBSE schools, said that the deleted content was “overlapping” and “irrelevant.”

In response to a question in parliament on the “rationalization” exercise in NCERT textbooks, India’s junior Minister for Education Annapurna Devi said that during the pandemic, school children struggled to learn through online classes. Concerns were raised about “curriculum overload,” she said, justifying the deletion of topics from the textbooks.

However, there are more complex motivations behind the BJP government’s agenda to revise textbooks. It is rewriting India’s history. A look at deleted topics provides some useful insights.

An entire chapter on the contributions of the Mughals (a Muslim dynasty that ruled during the medieval period) and their manuscripts has been removed from the Grade 12 history textbook. The BJP and its Hindutva votaries have often argued that the NCERT texts currently in use give undue importance to Mughal rule. They want to shift the focus to the achievements of ancient India, which in their view is primarily a Hindu India. In their perspective, the medieval period was essentially a Muslim period, a view that historians have contested.

In effect, they are promoting the Hindutva vision of India in school textbooks.

Some of the deletions point to a whitewashing of the record of BJP leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister during the riots in 2002. The deletion of this topic seems aimed at erasing this inconvenient fact from textbooks.

In addition, a critique on the Emergency that was imposed by former Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the excesses that were committed during the 1975-1977 period when it was in force, has been removed from the Political Science textbooks. This deletion appears to be an attempt to remove from school curriculums any critical understanding of authoritarianism.

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