Deleting references to the 2002 Gujarat riots, dropping passages that dealt with Emergency’s draconian impact on people and institutions, removing chapters on protests and social movements, including those spearheaded by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Dalit Panthers and Bharatiya Kisan Union. These are some of the most sweeping changes in social science school textbooks since the NDA government came to power in 2014.
These changes result from a textbook “rationalisation” exercise undertaken by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) six months ago for all subjects. It comes ahead of the proposed revamp of the national school curriculum (National Curriculum Framework or NCF), which will see a further revision in NCERT textbooks.
The Indian Express scrutinised 21 current history, political science and sociology textbooks for Classes 6 to 12 and matched their content with tables circulated within NCERT on the proposed changes. While the textbooks will not be reprinted due to shortage of time, the changes will be communicated to schools formally.
This is the third textbook review since 2014. The first one took place in 2017, in which the NCERT made 1,334 changes, including additions, corrections and data updates, in 182 textbooks. The second review was initiated in 2019 at the then Education Minister Prakash Javadekar’s behest to reduce the burden on students.
The official rationale for the latest exercise is to reduce curriculum load further to help students make a “speedy recovery” in learning, which has been hit by Covid disruptions.
Consider some of the most glaring changes made to the content related to contemporary India:
🔴 References to the 2002 Gujarat riots have been dropped from two textbooks. First, two whole pages on the riots in the last chapter of the current Class 12 political science textbook titled ‘Politics in India Since Independence’ have been deleted. The first page carries a detailed paragraph that lays out the chronology of events — the train full of karsevaks set on fire followed by violence against Muslims — and refers to the National Human Rights Commission’s criticism of the Gujarat government for failing to control the violence. The deleted passage states: “Instances, like in Gujarat, alert us to the dangers involved in using religious sentiments for political purposes. This poses a threat to democratic politics.”
The second page (now deleted) carries a collage of three newspaper reports on the riots along with an excerpt of NHRC’s observation from its Annual Report of 2001-2002 on the Gujarat government’s handling of the riots. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s famous “raj dharma” remark in this section has also been removed: “My one message to the Chief Minister (of Gujarat) is that he should follow ‘raj dharma’. A ruler should not make any discrimination between his subjects on the basis of caste, creed and religion.” Vajpayee had said this at a press conference in Ahmedabad in March 2002 with Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat Chief Minister, sitting by his side.
🔴 The second reference to the Gujarat riots has been deleted from the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Indian Society’. NCERT has dropped a paragraph under the section titled ‘Communalism, Secularism and the Nation-State’ in Chapter 6 that describes how communalism drives people to “kill, rape, and loot members of other communities in order to redeem their pride, to protect their home turf”.
The dropped passage states: “A commonly cited justification is to avenge the deaths or dishonour suffered by their co-religionists elsewhere or even in the distant past. No region has been wholly exempt from communal violence of one kind or another. Every religious community has faced this violence in greater or lesser degree, although the proportionate impact is far more traumatic for minority communities. To the extent that governments can be held responsible for communal riots, no government or ruling party can claim to be blameless in this regard. In fact, the two most traumatic contemporary instances of communal violence occurred under each of the major political parties. The anti-Sikh riots of Delhi in 1984 took place under a Congress regime. The unprecedented scale and spread of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 took place under the BJP government.”
According to the Government’s reply tabled in the Parliament, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, 223 were reported missing and 2,500 injured in the Gujarat riots of 2002.
🔴 The chapter on the Emergency in Class 12 political science textbook ‘Politics in India Since Independence’ has been reduced by five pages. The deleted content in the chapter titled ‘The Crisis of Democratic Order’ pertains to controversies surrounding the decision to impose an internal Emergency and the abuse of power and malpractices committed by the Indira Gandhi government during that time. It lists excesses such as the arrest of political workers, restrictions on the media, torture and custodial deaths, forced sterilisations and large-scale displacement of the poor. This section also mentions the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice J C Shah, set up by the Janata Party government in May 1977 to probe allegations of excesses by the Government during the Emergency.
🔴 Reference to the draconian impact of the Emergency has also been deleted from Chapter 6 (‘The Challenges of Cultural Diversity’) of the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Indian Society’. “The Indian people had a brief experience of authoritarian rule during the ‘Emergency’ enforced between June 1975 and January 1977. Parliament was suspended and new laws were made directly by the government. Civil liberties were revoked and a large number of politically active people were arrested and jailed without trial. Censorship was imposed on the media, and government officials could be dismissed without normal procedures. The government coerced lower level officials to implement its programmes and produce instant results. The most notorious was the forced sterilisation campaign in which large numbers died due to surgical complications. When elections were held unexpectedly in early 1977, the people voted overwhelmingly against the ruling Congress Party,” the now-deleted paragraph states.
🔴 Another reference to curbs placed on all trade union activities during the Emergency has been deleted from Chapter 8 (‘Social Movements’) of the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Social Change and Developing in India’. This reference was made in a section titled ‘Workers’ Movement’.
PROTESTS & SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
🔴 As many as three chapters detailing protests that turned into social movements in contemporary India have been dropped from political science textbooks across Classes 6 to 12. For instance, a chapter on the “rise of popular movements” has been dropped from the Class 12 textbook ‘Politics in India Since Independence’.
This chapter traces the journey of the 1970s chipko movement in Uttarakhand, the growth of the Dalit Panthers in Maharashtra during the seventies, the agrarian struggles of the eighties, especially the one spearheaded by the Bharatiya Kisan Union. It also covers the anti-liquor movement of Andhra Pradesh, the famous Narmada Bachao Andolan that opposed the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river and its tributaries in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, and the movement for Right to Information.
🔴 NCERT has also removed the chapter ‘Struggles for Equality’ from the Class 7 political science textbook that describes how the Tawa Matsya Sangh fought for the rights of displaced forest dwellers of Satpura forest of Madhya Pradesh.
🔴 The third chapter on popular struggles has been deleted from the Class 10 political science textbook ‘Democratic Politics – II’. It looks at indirect ways of influencing politics through pressure groups and movements. Apart from the movement for democracy in Nepal and the protest against privatisation of water in Bolivia, the chapter also talks about the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the non-violent Kittiko-Hachchiko (pluck and plant) protest of Karnataka in 1987, the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation founded by Kanshi Ram and the National Alliance for Peoples’ Movements, which counts Medha Patkar as one of its founders.
🔴 The only chapter on social movements in the sociology curriculum for Classes 11 and 12 has been considerably reduced. Among the several changes made in the chapter titled ‘Social Movements’ in the Class 12 textbook ‘Social Change and Development in India’ is the removal of an exercise box that asks students to discuss the recent farmers’ protests against the three farm laws passed by the Parliament.
🔴 Four chapters about democracy and making of Indian democracy have been deleted on the ground that similar topics have been covered in political science textbooks of other classes. For instance, the chapter titled ‘Key Elements of a Democratic Government’ in the Class 6 political science book has been dropped. This is the first detailed introduction to the concept of democracy in middle school and talks about some of the critical elements that influence the working of a democratic government, including people’s participation, conflict resolution, equality and justice.
The chapter ‘India After Independence’, which talks about the framing of the Constitution and making of linguistic states, has been removed from the Class 8 history textbook ‘Our Pasts III’ for the same reason.
Also dropped are chapters on ‘Democracy and Diversity’ and ‘Challenges to Democracy’ from the Class 10 political science textbook. While the first introduces students to the concept of social divisions and inequalities along the lines of race and caste across the world, the latter talks about reforming democratic politics. These two chapters were first removed from the CBSE curriculum in April, and now it has been permanently dropped from the NCERT textbook.
🔴 Asked about the decision-making process behind these deletions, NCERT director Dinesh Prasad Saklani said: “The entire (textbook rationalisation) exercise was completed before I took charge. So I cannot comment on the nitty gritty of it.”
Saklani was appointed in February this year. His predecessor Sridhar Srivastava said: “This is an NCERT decision and it’s now in the public domain. That’s all I have to say.”
🔴 Former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s quote on Emperor Ashoka deleted from the Chapter ‘Ashoka, The Emperor Who Gave Up War’ in the Class 6 History textbook. The deleted quote states: “His edicts (instructions) still speak to us in a language we can understand and we can still learn much from them.”
🔴 Nehru’s remarks on the Bhakra Nangal Dam dropped from the Chapter ‘Structural Change’ in the Class 12 sociology textbook (Social Change and Development in India). “Our engineers tell us that probably nowhere else in the world is there a dam as high as this. The work bristles with difficulties and complications. As I walked around the site I thought that these days the biggest temple and mosques and gurdwara is the place where man works for the good of mankind. Which place can be greater than this, this Bhakra Nangal, where thousands and lakhs of men have worked, have shed their blood and sweat and laid down their lives as well?”
🔴 A section describing the arbitrariness of colonial law through the example of sedition and how Indian nationalists played a role in developing a legal sphere in India is no longer part of a Chapter ‘Understanding Laws’ in the Class 8 political science book. This deleted section also carries the following exercise for students: “State one reason why you think the Sedition Act of 1870 was arbitrary? In what ways does the Sedition Act of 1870 contradict the rule of law?”
🔴 Almost all references to Naxalism and the Naxalite movement have been deleted from social science textbooks. A full page on the peasant uprising of 1967 along with a box on the Naxalite ideologue Charu Majumdar now stands dropped from Chapter 6 titled ‘Crisis of Democratic Order’ of the Class 12 political science textbook ‘Politics in India Since Independence’.
🔴 The mention of Naxalite movement has been removed from a section on “Peasants Movement” in Chapter 8 of the Class 12 sociology textbook ‘Social Change and Development in India’.
🔴 An imaginary narrative titled ‘A Moral Force in Politics’, inspired by socialist leader Kishan Patnaik, removed from a chapter in the Class 10 political science book. In the narrative, four fictional women, who are members of the people’s movement, debate Kishen ji’s advice to decide whether they should form a political party.
Two years ago, this page had drawn flak from the Nagpur-based anti-naxal organisation Bhumkal Sanghatan, mistaking Kishen Patnaik for the Maoist leader Kishenji, who was killed in an encounter in 2011. Bhumkal Sanghatan’s criticism had prompted former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Raman Singh to demand its removal from the textbook forcing NCERT to clarify that the story was referring to Kishan Patnaik and not Kishen ji.
The latest review of school textbooks started late last year. On December 15, the then NCERT director Sridhar Srivastava wrote to heads of all concerned departments asking them to initiate a textbook review by involving internal and external experts.
Srivastava made a case for the review citing the pandemic: “Though we are in the process of making our National Curriculum Frameworks, the development of new textbooks may take some time to come out. But in view of giving children the opportunity for speedy recovery in their learning continuum, NCERT needs to take a step towards rationalisation of its syllabi and textbooks for the next year across the stages. We have somewhat rationalised the textbooks at the primary stage for the next year. Given its continuity with higher stages, this exercise needs to be done in every subject area and for all the classes from VI to XII also.”
The guiding principle for the rationalisation exercise is overlapping content in the same class or other classes, difficulty level, content that can be covered through self-learning and irrelevant or outdated content. Internal subject experts have conducted the rationalisation exercise with the help of external experts, but NCERT hasn’t disclosed names of those involved from outside.
Tomorrow: Part 2 — Key deletions on caste, minorities in revised school textbooks