Knowledge is power and the government controls it

Highlighted portions deleted from new textbook. (source: Indian Express)

By Saundarya Verma

India is a country so vast that even after inhabiting the worlds’ largest population, we have space for more people. We make babies, build schools, hospitals, airports, cultural centres that Zendaya and Gigi come to visit. We have space for the Himalayas and eight huge rivers, we have space for art galleries, museums, and we make more space for our friends across borders and overseas like we always make space for friends in our homes. There’s always space because there’s always the spirit of accommodation, of harmony. It’s sometimes hard to acknowledge when we focus too much on things we experience on a daily basis but if we look at the larger picture, with all of the centuries of drama, pain, growth, evolution, learning and persevering, it’s right there.

Support TwoCircles

This huge country of all of its many people needs a massive institution of representative, organised governance with checks, balances, distribution of authority, and synchronisation. There’s a lot of us with a lot of space and we are an aware and active bunch who fought and sent away colonisers with no formal government, constitution, or internet back in the 20th century. Therefore, the political parties we elect must be at least all this and more.

As of today, India has more than 2500 recognised and unrecognised political parties, all built with the belief that they can administer the government effectively. There are at least 500 recognised Parties in this country at any given point and yet the ones that have made it in charge do not speak for me. There is sensibility in making peace with the fact that a majority of us voted these people into “power” and no harm in giving them their chance but now that they have had it, I’m deeply unsettled with the order of things on too many fronts.

Little schoolgirls in the country cannot exercise their Right to Education if they wear a Hijab. Dissenting students are jailed as terrorists; protesters hit, murdered. Disagreement is ignored. Alleged criminals are voted as leaders. The fight is just too hard for the opposition. All women feel unsafe everywhere with all men. We’re a country with an inclusive, growing younger population but the average MP is a Man above 50. This state of affairs is not necessarily because of the current government but it is definitely despite of them.

The list of unfortunate affairs is too long. However, a direct action of the government that is of grave concern is their recent meddling with the curriculum of schools and colleges. This is the curriculum our kids pick up from school, then study for entrance exams, the course our under graduates’ study for a degree, and everyone who prepares for government exams studies which alone is around 10 crores every year. It’s immaterial whether the changes that they have already made alter the narrative or distort the information in a serious way or not. Of concern is the fact that knowledge as it flows in our country is being meddled with to further influential people’s political agenda. Are we to tolerate it?

Education in India is largely managed by two government agencies: NCERT for school education, and UGC for University Education. The curriculum, syllabus, etc. comes from these bodies. This year, both these bodies introduced changes to their curriculum which alter the syllabus that will be taught to students starting from batches 2023–24. This is not new. Syllabus is revised often and many times it has made it to news due to its controversial nature, like it did this time which is important because these changes have largely always been done in furtherance of political agenda of the one of the three ruling political parties. Yes, politics is an inalienable part of administration but to look at them as one and the same would be a mistake.

I’d like to believe that when we first started out with an education body in 1961, we would’ve had lesser ulterior motives. We were newly independent and just building ourselves. The first curriculum built can be considered a fair accumulation of the knowledge of the scholars, thinkers, researchers and academicians of the time.

The first efforts at manipulation of education in attempt of soft indoctrination would be when the first changes in curriculum were introduced when the Janata Party came into power in the 1970s and started calling NCERTs by Bipin Chandra and Romilla Thapar (relevant even today) ‘anti-nationalist’ and tried to introduce new things pertaining to their ideology.

When BJP entered the scene, it started deleting portions on Marxist influence, changing portrayal of Muslim rule to show savage invasion and Islamic domination (which were reversed by the UPA government) and when they came into power again they added more portions on the latest Schemes of the Government, New Policies; more about the Marathas, Bose, and other things which is amazing, all of it great updating.

Since 2019, they have been on a spree. To list out a few serious amendments —

  1. Deleted a mention of the Gujrat 2002 riotsfrom Sociology class 11 book;
  2. removed the portions claiming Gandhi’s assassins were Hindu extremists and that after his death RSS was banned.
  3. shortened portions on Mughal history, and the history of the Delhi Sultanate (that includes everyone — Turks, Khaljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids, Lodhis);
  4. deleted a chapter on violent Caste conflict;
  5. deleted chapter on nationalism in Indo-China;
  6. removed poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz from a chapter on Religion, communalism and politics;
  7. removed quotes by Nehru and Ambedkar;
  8. further shortened the history of Naxalism;
  9. deleted a chapter on Central Islamic Lands,

And these are only a few of the changes made by the NCERT for school students.

This year the UGC also took out a new draft for the syllabus of History Undergraduate students and they’ve made some heave changes. It’s also the first time the syllabus for university students has been made so detailed. A few changes are—

  1. New chapters have been introduced, like,‘Concept of Bharatvarsha’, ‘Eternity of synonyms Bharat’ and ‘The glory of Indian Literature: Ved, Epics, etc., ‘Ethics of Indian valour’ (in a history course);
  2. new chapters added about Indian Science, Indian Maths, Indian Time, which is really great but also
  3. historically debated stuff like ‘Indus-Sararwasti Civilization’instead of Indus valley civilization (Saraswati is a mythological river from Vedic literature),
  4. a new chapter‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam : Man, family, society and world’.
  5. Another disturbing change is that study of ‘Society and Economy’ in Medieval India is divided under ‘Hindu society’and ‘Muslim society’ forcing students to read the societies as separate from each other and drawing comparison, forgetting themes of unity;
  6. other changes like using the term ‘invasion’for Babur when till now it has not been used for the Mughal Empire in India.
  7. Works of Bipin Chandra have been dropped, Dalit politicsreferences deleted,
  8. ‘War of independence’ term (used by Savarkarfor revolt of 1857) is used

And many more changes that are pretty effective steps in right direction if you want to alter perspectives to favour your motives. The nature of all changes seems to be supporting a Homogenous Hindu narrative of the history and society of India. Fabricating such a narrative seems to aid a divisive agenda being carried out by the current government.

What we need going ahead as the human race is to look at the world, at all its people, at nations, their complex pasts, the civilisations, discoveries, theories, ideologies, thoughts, beliefs, then study them objectively, and then to develop into individuals with calculated ideas of their own. Instead, we have for us a large political party with control of the country, loads of funding, weak opposition, that is now introducing changes to what is taught to students nationally in an attempt to enable disunifying sentiments for securing power which it holds on to like its own, forgetting who gave it to them. What should we do? Should we sit on a hunger strike, or at least, vote them out of power next year?


Author Bio: Saundarya Verma is an Advocate at the Rajasthan High Court. She can be contacted at [email protected]