Telling a new story

Telling a new story

Correcting falsehood and bigotry in school textbooks should be a priority in Rajasthan

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Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot at Albert Hall. (File/Express photo by Rohit Jain Paras)

In the bureaucratic reshuffle that was carried out by the Ashok Gehlot government last week, were those in charge of education touched? Rajasthan has, over the last four years, become a symbol of “New India’’, both in its changes in school curriculum and in the number of lynching incidents it has seen (seven since 2015).

In May 2016, when Jawaharlal Nehru’s name was dropped from Class VIII textbooks in the state, both as our first prime minister and as a prominent leader of our freedom struggle, Gehlot and Sachin Pilot were quick to lash out at Vasundhara Raje’s government.

But criticising is easy. Actually undoing what you decry while in the Opposition, requires political will and hard work. Add to that the Congress’ apathy towards ideological issues such as the content of school education. So, in 2004, then HRD minister, Arjun Singh, took his own sweet time to change the NCERT texts introduced by his predecessor Murli Manohar Joshi, an RSS member.

These texts taught impressionable teenagers that Muslims sided with the British and barely contributed to the freedom struggle. However, in one CBSE school in Mumbai, the history teacher actually contradicted the text to tell her students that all communities contributed to the freedom struggle. But there may not be too many such teachers in Rajasthan. A recent report in the New York Review of Books quotes a Bohra Muslim teacher in Udaipur dismissing the Mughal-era in class, going along with the new history textbook.


Hopefully, it will not take Gehlot and Pilot that long to withdraw these texts. The inconvenience caused by changing textbooks in the middle of the academic year would be far less damaging to students than the lies they are being forced to study. Even one more term to let school children learn that Maharana Pratap defeated Akbar at Haldighati; pre-Independence Congress leaders had no connect with the people; and how Nehru was just a footnote in our history, is one term too long.

In 2004, it was at the end of the academic year that the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA defeated the Vajpayee-led NDA, presenting the ideal opportunity to change school texts. Yet, Arjun Singh used the excuse that sufficient stocks of current texts were already there, to not effect an immediate change.

The same lethargy towards righting what is obviously wrong with Rajasthan’s police, was on display in l’affaire Naseeruddin Shah. The organisers of the Ajmer Lit Fest said they had alerted the police. Yet, goons could enter the venue and throw ink on the actor’s picture. Instead of caving in after that and telling Shah not to come, why couldn’t the organisers have delayed the proceedings till the cops removed these vandals from the venue and provided security for the rest of the day? In this Twitter age, surely the CM and deputy CM could have been alerted immediately?

We don’t know the entire story. What we do know is that the Hindutva goons had their way, with the knowledge of the police. The change in regime didn’t seem to matter to either them or the police. Mumbaikars are familiar with this behaviour: Whoever rules Maharashtra, no policeman touches the Thackerays. The next day, five BJP workers were arrested in Ajmer, but under preventive detention, a law normally used before someone commits a crime.
This year, Rajasthan was ranked number three by Amnesty International in their state-wise hate crime list. The lynching of dairy farmer Pehlu Khan and the hacking of Bengali labourer Muhammad Afrazul — incidents which shook us all — took place in Rajasthan. The police exonerated all six named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration, and booked his two companions for cow smuggling. Did any of this matter when the new government transferred 17 IPS officers last week, including its senior most police officer?

Two days after being appointed Deputy CM, Pilot told a news portal that the “atmosphere of mob lynching and cow vigilantism has to be curbed immediately… (it’s) important to give people a semblance of normalcy and brotherhood in society that we have always had.’’ To achieve this, changing the police is important; but equally important is changing textbooks.