‘Ideologically-driven nonsense’: What NCERT textbook panel members have said about history books

NCERT textbook panel members have called for including ‘yogic systems’ in psychology, claimed AMU and Jamia scholars ‘control’ historical sources.

some of the NCERT panel membrs also said that historical sources are "controlled by scholars in AMU, JMI" (Representational Image: SCERT Assam)some of the NCERT panel membrs also said that historical sources are "controlled by scholars in AMU, JMI" (Representational Image: SCERT Assam)

Atul Krishna | November 22, 2023 | 11:54 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Members of the new panel set up to prepare the social science curriculum for National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have for long maintained that the history taught in NCERT textbooks are “blatantly false” and that students are fed “ideologically-driven nonsense”.

The NCERT panel members, over the years, have called for introduction of “yogic systems” in psychology, and have claimed that some historical sources are controlled by scholars in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI).

The 35-member curricular area group (CAG) headed by Michel Danino, a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, was set up on November 10 to prepare the NCERT curriculum and books for subjects like history, geography, political science, sociology and psychology.

‘Indian knowledge system is key’

Danino is a French-born electrical and electronics engineering graduate who moved to India in 1977 and got his Indian citizenship in 2003. He is known for writing The Lost River: On the trail of Sarsvati. Accused of pushing “Hindu sectarian” views and holding “non-scholarly opinion”, Danino has long talked about the lack of Indian Knowledge Systems departments in Indian universities.

“No Indian university, IIT or IIM has a regular, comprehensive course on Indian knowledge systems (IKS) (though IIT Gandhinagar made a beginning a few years ago). There are, no doubt, a few scattered courses on systems of ancient science (IIT Bombay and Kharagpur), and a few universities teach courses on Indian philosophical systems or even ‘Indology’, whatever that means. By and large, however, indifference, neglect, or hostility to IKS is the rule,” Danino had written in the New Indian Express in 2018.

Casteism and the ‘West effect’

Danino himself is a visiting professor at the Indian Knowledge Systems department at IIT Gandhinagar. He claims that many Indian academics ignored Indian knowledge and “implicitly or explicitly accepted that knowledge from the West is the real thing”. He also laments that the psychology courses in India do not cover “yogic systems”.

“Our philosophy courses cover mostly European philosophy; the same goes with psychology (from which yogic systems of self-knowledge are generally excluded),” he wrote in 2018. He also said that “students of Ayurveda are compelled to devote much time to modern medicine, but not vice versa”.

Danino, in an article in 2018, also claimed that casteism did not have the concept of “superior and inferior races” and that inequality and discrimination in casteism was due to “other considerations”.

“Whatever abuses casteism may have produced, attempts to equate them with racism are misguided, as the concept of race, and therefore superior and inferior races, has been alien to Indian belief and social systems (inequality and discrimination stemmed from other considerations),” he had written in the New Indian Express article.

NCERT History Books: ‘Left domination’

Another member of the NCERT panel is Sanjeev Sanyal, economist and principal economic advisor to the Government of India. Sanyal has said that the mainstream narrative about history as shown in our textbooks are “blatantly false” and that students are being fed “ideologically-driven nonsense”.

“Indians — both young and old — are very interested in their history. Students can see that they are being fed ideologically-driven nonsense and therefore they stay away,” Sanyal had said in a 2019 interview to DNA.

Sanyal also said that Indian academia is “entirely dominated by the Left” and that the Left has “ethnically cleansed almost all dissenting views”. He has also called the Aryan Invasion Theory, a widely-accepted theory of historical migration, “blatantly racist” and lacking evidence.

“The problem is that the official history in our textbooks simply does not ring true to most Indians. First of all, it is quite amazing the extent to which colonial-era prejudices have been perpetuated to this day. More overt biases such the blatantly racist Aryan Invasion Theory have been challenged, but many others remain embedded,” Sanyal had said in an article in Mint in 2015.

‘Indian history needs to be rewritten’

Sanyal, writing in 2015, was adamant that Indian history books need to be rewritten despite arguments that this will create an opportunity to insert right-wing biases.

“Opponents will argue that the current government will use this opportunity to insert ‘right-wing biases’ but this is no excuse for perpetuating outdated scholarship and the biases of colonial and Marxist historians,” he said.

Sanyal also claimed that the legend about emperor Ashoka was “built up” to provide a lineage to Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist project.

“After independence, academic historians were encouraged to further build up the legend of Ashoka the Great in order to provide a lineage to Nehru’s socialist project and inconvenient evidence about him was simply swept under the carpet,” he wrote in 2015.

AMU and Jamia Millia ‘control’

Another member, Saumya Dey, professor at the private Rishihood University, has argued that Indian textbooks have completely buried “cultural oppression, large scale slaughters of Hindus, destruction of temples” from the textbooks. He also claimed that much of history is written using Persian sources which are “controlled by a certain group of scholars located in AMU and Jamia Millia”.

“There is no Hindu voice in the proper sense in the historiography of medieval India. The… sources it is based on are entirely in Persian. Access to these sources is actually controlled by a certain group of scholars. These are widely available but their interpretation is dominated by a certain group of scholars located in AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia,” said Dey in a Twitter (now X) space hosted by Rishihood University in July 2022 titled How do we correct our history textbooks?

NCERT books and ‘Marxist historiography’

Dey also alleged that modern Indian textbooks were “practically a biography” of the Indian National Congress and that “all historical personages who fell outside Congress politics were completely obfuscated or very little was mentioned about them”.

He alleged that “Marxist historiography represents Indian history as a running theme of exploitation” and that there was nothing in the textbooks about Indian achievements in maths and science. Dey also said that the Left historians were “attacking the sanctity of the cow and Brahmins” by claiming that beef was a staple in ancient India for which he said there was no evidence.

Another member of the NCERT panel, Meenakshi Jain, who is a historian and former history professor at Gargi College, Delhi University, was one of the contributors of the NCERT textbooks released during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. The textbooks were later pulled when the UPA government came to power in 2005.

Jain is also a staunch critic of the “Marxist historiography” in textbooks. She has also alleged that these historians “carried out a campaign against the Archeological Survey of India” during the Babri-Masjid verdict.

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