No saffronization in NCERT textbooks: NewsBytes RTI
There have been longstanding fears within certain segments of society of the possible saffronization of education by those in the RSS and other Hindu right wing groups since the Modi government came into power. An official response to an RTI petition filed by NewsBytes revealed minor changes made in textbooks, which were far from saffronization. Let us see what else it said!
Does the BJP want to saffronize textbooks?
Education is a major channel for political agenda setting. Successive governments in India have been accused of pushing their political agenda through textbooks. Accusations have been particularly rife under NDA government. A number of officials in the government and bureaucracy have spoken out on the need for re-imagining history in terms of picturing Hindus in a more positive and powerful light, triggering criticism.
Why were the accusations made?
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government introduced changes in NCERT textbooks in 2002, drawing criticism that the changes exaggerated Hindu cultural norms. The version of history propounded by groups such as the RSS, protest mainstream history including the portrayal of Akbar as a great emperor over other Hindu kings. BJP's vocal stance in this case has drawn accusations in the current context.
Who is making the accusations?
Eminent historians associated with the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) including Romila Thapar and Gopinath Ravindran have accused the present regime of trying to rewrite history. Accusations have further been levelled by the Left and Congress parties and segments of foreign and Indian media.
The petition was filed on 13 January 2017, seeking information on a list of "the total number of changes made in the NCERT books under Modi government". The RTI was filed with the NCERT to understand the recent changes made in the NCERT books. The reply received in February revealed that the small changes made had nothing to do with saffronization.
What did the reply say?
The reply noted that NCERT textbooks are periodically updated on the basis of feedback collected from stakeholders and internal review. It added listing down changes between 2014-2017 would "disproportionately divulge the resources of the office" and hence prohibited under Section 7 (9) of the Act.
What changes were made?
The reply listed changes made in English and Mathematics books. No changes were made in social science subjects like history. The reply revealed only minor grammatical and formatting changes were made. For example, in the Marigold-I English text book for first graders, the spelling of 'practice' was replaced with 'practise'. Similarly, in the Maths textbook for second graders, graphics resolution and colours were changed.
What can be inferred from this?
Certain sections within BJP do advocate for an alternative version of history, which are currently unsubstantiated by many standards. As revealed by the RTI reply, these views have not found place in mainstream discourse. Examining BJP's education policy through a saffron lens yields a biased point of view. Such accusations, if made, should be substantiated by facts.