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India rewrites history

INDIA

New Congress minister vows to remedy bias in textbooks forced on teachers by Hindu nationalists. Suchitra Behal reports.

The new Congress-led government has announced that it will tackle the widely condemned pro-Hindu bias in history textbooks prescribed by the previous Hindu nationalist administration.

As part of a review of all textbooks, the new education minister, Arjun Singh, said the government would assess the extent to which history books had been tampered with during the Bharatiya Janata party's drive to Hinduise - or "saffronise" - the education system.

During its six years in power, the BJP government rewrote a number of history books to focus on Hindu nationalism, portray Muslims as invaders and play down the contribution of Christians, Parsees and other faiths.

It also interfered in the work of key educational institutions such as the National Council for Education and Research Training (NCERT), which controls the curriculum, to push its political agenda. Professor Arjun Dev, a former head of social sciences with the council, said: "The institution no longer comprises academics but people who implement an ideology."

Mr Singh said he would put his department on a "war footing" to tackle the problem and has received a number of suggestions for textbook revisions.

NCERT's pro-BJP director, JS Rajput, has been asked to resign.

But a major obstacle is the previous government's decision to dismantle the federal government's Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), leaving state education boards in disarray.

Any changes in textbooks - which will affect tens of millions of pupils - normally require ratification by CABE, so the body will have to be reconstituted.

By then the new term will be underway and most schools will have bought and distributed textbooks.

Professor Krishna Kumar of the Central Institute of Education, Delhi university, said: "It is like coming to a town after it has been hit by an earthquake - first the damage done has to be assessed and then steps have to be taken to undo the damage."

Teachers and academics are pressing for an immediate change in some textbooks where they say there has been a gross misrepresentation of facts.

BATTLE FOR A NATION'S SOUL

1998

Textbooks in BJP-ruled states rewritten to extol the virtues of ancient Hindu India. Pupils in state of Uttar Pradesh banned from greeting teachers in English, ordered to use Hindi.

1999

Teaching of Marxism axed from the curriculum even though seven major Indian states had communist governments.

2000

BJP education minister Muri Manohar Joshi, tries to make Sanskrit, the Indian equivalent of Latin, compulsory to the end of secondary school and set up a cell to develop an Indian script for use on computers.

2002

Teachers in Delhi refuse to use new history set texts for 11 to14-year-olds, despite a Supreme Court ruling that schools should not block their use, because of inaccuracies, right-wing imbalance and pro-Hinduism.

The text omits Mahatma Gandhi's assassination by a Hindu fanatic who opposed his tolerance of Muslims. Imbalances included anti-communism; fascism and nazism being described as reactions to Stalin's dictatorship, the Russian revolution as a "coup"; and readers being told the British came to India because "all sea and land trade routes between India and Europe were controlled by the Muslim powers and Europe was restless to have access".

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