Chennai: Syllabi, whether for schools or colleges, are not unalterable. But any changes need to have a clear and convincing rationale. For instance, changes are perfectly legitimate when they correct an error, when they are carried out for the purpose of an update of a new discovery or a new theory or when they are made to bridge a pedagogical gap. Tragically, the recent changes in the CBSE syllabus fail to meet any of these criteria and therefore need to be squarely criticised.
It is not clear, for instance, how students benefit if a chapter from the Class 12 history syllabus called The Mughal Court: Reconstructing Histories through Chronicles, is dropped. If there was a specific issue pertaining to it in the syllabus, then it should have been pointed out. The wholescale excision of subjects such as this, including a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, suggests that the revision has been undertaken for considerations other than educational. History is a deeply contested territory, but care should be taken to see that blatant ideological considerations do not influence the school curriculum.
Clearly, many of the other changes have been undertaken to purge what the ruling dispensation believes is a marked leftist bias in what schoolchildren are taught. The excision of sections on ‘globalisation and agriculture’, ‘popular struggles and movements’, issues relating to ‘democracy and diversity’ are clear examples of this. As for ‘non-alignment’, its relevance in a post-Cold War environment can always be questioned. But it was a vital part of India’s foreign policy and dropping it seems like a part of the larger political plan to downplay the Nehruvian era.
The Museum of Prime Ministers, which was recently opened in New Delhi, and is situated just behind the official residence of the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is of a piece with this. No one can object to the idea that all of the country’s 14 Prime Ministers played a role in shaping the country. But the location of the museum and the political signalling make it very clear that the Modi dispensation does not want Nehru to loom over other political figures, like the icon he is remembered as by many in the country.
Battles to retell history, to reimagine historical figures, and to correct lapses in historical memory cannot be banned or prohibited. Such battles will continue to be fought as long as there are deep ideological cleavages in a nation. But school curricula should never become a battleground for such wars. Even if we deeply disagree about the interpretation of events, there is no doubt that there are historical facts and there are ways to assess their significance in the trajectory of a nation or a region. Governments will come and go, but they would do well to remember not to use school curricula as a playground to impose their views and as a sandbox for politics