Know Here: What is saffronisation of History books?

Ram Puniyani

Our sub continent, which has a common past; shares its history, there are diverse ways of looking at the same history by groups belonging to different political ideologies. With the change of Government in Delhi, the leading institutions are having a major policy shift, organizations like Indian Council of Historical Research, National Council for Education, Research and Training amongst others, as they have got heads whose qualification is not excellence in their disciplines but their proximity to ideology of ruling dispensation. These are the institutions which delve in to history, education and most of the disciplines related to social sciences. The change of the policy seems to be guided by BJP’s parent organization, RSS whose political ideology is Hindu nationalism in contrast to the values of Indian Constitution, the one of Indian Nationalism. To give an indication of the same RSS Chief (Sarsanghchalak) stated (March 3, 2015) that Indian history should be saffronised. To back him up BJP leader and ex Minister of MHRD Murli Manohar Joshi said that the call to saffronise Indian history is necessary and the concerned Minister should feel proud in saffronising the history books.

What is saffronisation of History books? This term was coined by the progressive rational historians and intellectuals to criticize the move of same Dr. Joshi when he was minister of Human Resource Development, the ministry which also deals with education, in Vajpayee led NDA Government (1998) and had brought serious changes in the curriculum, education and social science-history books. The books which were introduced during his tenure had statements like, it is because we are the children of Manu that we are known as manushya or manav (human), scientists consider plants as inanimate, while the Hindus consider them as animate and to have life, on refusing to accept Islam Banda Bairagi had the heart of his son thrust down his throat, Sati is presented as a Rajput tradition that we should be proud of, etc. Similar distortions in medieval period were; Qutub Minar was built by emperor Samudragupta and its real name was Vishnu Stambha. At another level the battles for power between Shivaji and Afzal Khan, the battle between Akbar and Maharana Pratap, Guru Govind Singh and Aurangzeb was given religious color.

These changes came under scholarly criticism from the professional, progressive, secular historians. They coined the term ‘Saffronisation of education’ for this presentation of history. In the face of the criticism the same Murali Manohar Joshi said that the changes in the history books are not saffronisation, its mere correcting the distortions in the history (April 2003) Now turning around due to newer political equations; he is owning the same term, saffronisation, as a matter of pride.

It was British who introduced the Communal historiography in India. This historiography is a way of looking at the historical phenomenon through the lens of religion. The same history in a modified way was picked up by the Hindu and Muslim communalists. In sum and substance, Hindu communalists, Hindu Nationalists presented that India was a Hindu nation from times immemorial and Muslims and Christians and Muslims are foreigners here. The Muslim communal history began from the invasion of Sindh by Mohammad bin Kasim bin in 8th century and claimed that Muslims were the rulers of this land so British should hand over power to them once they leave. A version of this prevails in Pakistan History books today.

In contrast; those identifying with secular, democratic Indian national movement presented a view of history where religion of King was not the main determining factor of his policies. This view was also presented by the leader of freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi. In his book Hind Swaraj he writes, “The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognized that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent quarrels recommenced… Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mohammedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause of quarreling?”

After getting independence, in India while the British introduced pattern continued for some time, gradually serious historical research and rational approach started entering the history books. Along with formation of NCERT, the books with rational viewpoint did replace the ones’ with communal interpretation, in schools, which were having NCERT curriculum. With the coming to power of BJP led National Democratic Alliance from 1998, Dr. Joshi brought in the communalization of curriculum and saffronisation of education. With NDA’s defeat in 2004, the Congress led UPA came to power and it gradually and to some extent, restored the spirit of scientific temper and rational thought in education and to some extent scrapped communal version of history in books. The communal version of history in a way is a fiction suiting the political agenda of ‘Religious nationalism’, whether in Pakistan or India. So Here in India a Taj Mahal becomes Tejo Mahalay, a Shiv Temple and the freedom struggle is presented as a religious was against Muslims, Muslim kings are blamed for destruction of temples and spreading Islam by sword. The divisive mind set is promoted for political goals. In books in Pakistan Muslim Kings are Heroes and Hindu kings nobody!

Apart from the official school text books as such RSS has been running a chain of schools, Sarswati Shishu Mandirs, Ekal Vidyalayas and Vidya Bharati, which are using the version of History. It is this version form RSS stable schools, which they are proposing for the state run institutions. This is what will be a very divisive move for our plural country with immense diversity.

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