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A month ago, yet another news item about changing history books created a ruckus. This was in Rajasthan where in the new textbooks, Veer Savarkar overshadows Gandhi and Nehru. Also the class 10 textbook reduces Mahatma Gandhi’s historical significance during India’s freedom struggle to a passing mention while the country’s first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru is missing from class 8 textbooks.

When I read the news report my first reaction was that of bemusement. I thought it was a typical, ham-handed way of shoving a narrative down the throats of impressionable children and the populace at large.

Then I was like – who cares? Which self-respecting child believes what she is told in school? Then I remembered that the Indian schooling system does not account for the child having any respect or even opinion. That meant that they would believe what they studied by rote. After all we have High Court Judges who believe that when a peacock cries, new peacocks are born.

Then I was really angry. I thought that the establishment was playing with the future of the country’s young. Filling their minds with falsehoods. Falsehoods that would affect the way they think all their lives. A few of the more curious kids may question what they learn and even find out things for themselves. But they are always going to be a minority. The majority will believe this rubbish.

When I cooled down a bit, I began thinking.

  • I reflected that this was not something new. ‘Nationalist’ and Communist governments have been doing that all over the world. Maybe brainwashing of the populace and strict thought control are the only two commonalities in the extreme right and extreme left. As Milan Kundera once put it Those who seek power passionately do so not to change the present or the future but the past—to rewrite history.”
  • I felt that when the Congress was in power, it had also promoted their own icons unabashedly. Look at all the schemes named after the Indira Gandhi family. I would like to leave the great Jawaharlal Nehru out of it. He was neither an egotist nor a dynasty builder. It was Mrs Indira Gandhi who started the rot of dynastic and ‘high command’ culture that every other party has adopted because it fits so well in our feudalistic mindsets anyway.
  • Historians of leftist inclination had dominated the discourse for years in India but then they had been subtle about it. Historians leaning to the right, if you excuse the oxymoron, are bullish and more creative since they get their ‘facts’ from mythology and religious texts. Scholarship does not come into play here.
  • One can interpret events of the distant past a bit subjectively; think Ramayan and Mahabharat. However, it requires a special kind of pig-headed, obtuseness to reinterpret things of the recent past; think contributions to Indian freedom struggle.

On the specific case in Rajasthan, well what can one say? The government in Rajasthan has not been covering itself with glory recently. They have demonstrated that they

  • have thick skins to ignore human rights violations & murder by it’s officials (think lynching of Zafar in Pratapgarh),
  • can easily ignore attacks on cattle vendors and transporters belonging to the Muslim community even when they are transporting legally purchased cattle for the Tamilnadu government,
  • are insensitive and uncaring by painting “I am poor and a recipient of government aid” on doors of beneficiaries of government schemes.

In light of all these transgressions, I must say that the history book revision is minor.  Plus does it really matter? Perhaps the old song goes “Sikandar ne Porous se ki thi ladaaijo kee thi ladaai, toh main kyan karoon?” (Alexander fought with Porus; big deal, what does it have to do with me?) is right.

What we write in history books really does not matter beyond a point. Most people don’t remember what they learnt in school and even rarely learn from history anyway. Appalling cynicism? Well, what to do? I studied in the Indian education system.

Last word:

I feel that we, the citizens of this country, should be more worried about what other devices of mind and opinion control governments will try. After all these small revisions are only a way to test the waters. To see how far the people can be pushed. And as a peoples we have demonstrated that we can be pushed easily. We have amongst us many who will roll with the tiniest of nudges and some even without being nudged. Now that is what we should we more worried about. And that we have got the rulers we deserve.