Forgotten Heroes of Independence: How NCERT books are perpetuating injustice
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice- Mark Twain
The sad truth in Twain’s words is nowhere more evident than the Indian historical discourse. It is undeniable that a select clique often skims through glaring omissions and conspiracy theories to present them as historical facts. In this regard, it is lamentable to note that the textbooks for ‘History’ being issued by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) perpetrate a similar con on our past. It might come across as a revelation, but the history being taught to India’s children traverses a rather preordained trail, that does gross injustice to the legacy of India’s freedom.
It was the same lament as highlighted by Prime Minister Modi in his address on the floor of the Lower House of Parliament on February 7, 2017. In his inimitable style, the Prime Minister decried how the sacrifice of peerless souls such as the Damodar Hari Chapekar and his brother Balkrishna Hari Chapekar as well as the revolutionaries such as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, has gone unnoticed by those holding the reigns of Indian history. The PM deserves kudos for bringing to the fore this glaring anomaly in the political discourse, and by extension the historical discourse, since Independence. Having said this, the moot point here is not the political chicanery and therefore, the cynosure shall remain the eclectic nature of Indian historical discourse.
Every government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has at one point or the other been heaped with accusations of meddling with the education of ‘young impressionable minds’. The accusation often seen in practice has been one of ‘saffronisation of education’, and therefore, it became an incumbent duty upon the Marxist historians to remove the so called ‘distortions’. Consonantly, with the coming of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power in 2004, a massive exercise in appeasement was carried out, termed as ‘de-saffronisation’. In the Indian edition of ‘The Great Purge’ that followed, numerous figure heads of our National Movement were condemned to oblivion. The current edition of NCERT books for ‘History’ from the 6th to 10thstandard,introduced during the UPA regime are evidence enough of the matter at hand.
It is illustrative to note that the History textbook for 8th standard, Our Pasts III (Part II), ‘eloquently bends’ the history of modern India. In the chapter The Making of the National Movements: 1870-1947, on page 146, the Swadeshi Movement has simply been glossed over and enumerated as a mass mobilisation and boycott of British institutions and goods.
Furthermore, it is glaring to note that the textbook completely jettisons the Revolutionaries: “Some individuals also began to suggest “revolutionary violence” would be necessary to overthrow the British rule.” Tragically this is where it ends. The pain, struggle and sacrifice of the Revolutionaries hasn’t been considered worthy of finding a place in the history textbooks of independent India. The textbook unfortunately finds no mention of the sway that revolutionary activity held over the youth of colonial India. Right from the Chapekar brothers to Barinder Kumar Ghosh and V.D. Savarkar, the de-saffronisation drive led to a pervasive and ubiquitous erasure of a phase of our history that none other than Hirendranath Mukherjee described as one that ‘gave us back the pride of our manhood’. Resultantly, the supreme sacrifice of great revolutionaries like Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki, Sohan Singh Bakhana, Lala Hardayal, Rash Behari Bose, Sachindranath Sanyal, Bagha Jatin and many others tragically doesn’t even find a mention in the textbooks. It is also rather anguishing to note that the Cellular Jail, a declared national monument by the Janta Party government of Morarji Desai, which stands as a testimony to the barbarity of the British Empire doesn’t find even a mention in the history textbooks.
Furthermore, in the post-World War I (WWI) phase, the revolutionary movement was carried forward by stellar figures such as Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad. However, herein as well, in a bid to not blemish the Nehruvian legacy, the UPA government excised the second coming of the Revolutionaries. Only a passing reference is made to Bhagat Singh in 8th and 10th standard NCERT textbooks and furthermore, his staunchly secular credentials as well as his faith in socialism are completely omitted. What is more is that Chandrashekhar Azad’s struggle unto death as well as his critical role in the ‘Kakori Conspiracy’ along with Ram Prasad Bismil, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahri and Ashfaqullah Khan, has been mislaid in its entirety. The ‘Chittagong Raid’ is also sadly absent from the discourse. Along similarly skewed lines, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s legacy has also been unceremoniously cut down to size, especially so far his differences with Mahatma Gandhi were concerned.One may not agree with Bose’s ideology or his approach, but it is without doubt that he was one of the most influential leaders of the National Movements, one whose legacy deserved a respectful assessment.
Though this is not a critique of the ahimsa and satyagraha ideological viewpoint carried through by the followers of Mahatma Gandhi, it is beyond doubt that the Mahatma’s legacy was ingeniously hijacked by the Congress, and any strand of struggle that was outside the narrative of the ahimsa and satyagraha was brought down to naught. The casualty of this has been a unidimensional narrative of the freedom struggle wherein the National Movement is portrayed as following a solitary preordained path, one from which there was no divergence. Whereas, the truth lies in acquiescing to the fact that multiple strands were in existence, functioning parallel to each other, albeit working towards the same goal of India’s independence. In this respect, to omit the martyrdom and sacrifice of many a great revolutionary as well as non-INC and non-Gandhian leaders would be no less than the hara-kiri.
Our Past III (Part-II),NCERT Std. VIII (seehttp://epathshala.nic.in/e-pathshala-4/flipbook/)
Ibid, p. 146
Hirendranath Mukherjee, India Struggles for Freedom, Bombay, 1948 edition, p. 96
Our Past III (Part-II),NCERT Std. VIII, p.155; see also India and the Contemporary World (Part-II), NCERT Std. X,p. 63