By Sulagna Som
Historians Ranabir Chakraborty and Aditya Mukherjee slammed the New Educational Policy of the present government at the Centre at the 81st session of the Indian History Congress, held at the Madras Christian College, Chennai, between 27 and 29 December 2022. They blasted the on-going saffronisation of history text books that are incompatible with the canons of historiography. The burial of India’s rich tradition secular historiography is to rewrite Indian history with a saffron bias.
The dignified protestation took place synergistically with the Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan announced that the teaching of new and ‘corrected’ version of Indian history would be kicked off on 26 January which is the ‘Vasant Panchami’ day. He stated this at a programme, jointly sponsored by Indian Council of Historical Research and Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana which is an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. ‘The NEP will provide us with many opportunities. Mother’s tongue has been given priority in the NEP. Imparting education without giving priority to the mother tongue is meaningless’ he said. The programme took place when the IHC was in session
At the 81st IHC where more than 1000 papers were presented, the general sentiment was wholesale scrapping of the saffronised NEP. The inaugural speech of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. K. Stalin set the tone. He warned everyone about the current distortion of history and called for adherence to impartial history studies. He said, “We should all strive to create a secular society.” He expressed concern over ‘the danger surrounding the country is the distortion of history” and stressed the imperative for preserving the ideals of the Indian Constitution ‘to protect education, language, culture, power structures, economy, administration, among others. He quoted from a judgment of a nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court 1994: “We should all strive to create a secular society.”
Prof Chakraborty. Professor of history, Jawaharlal Nehru University, in his paper, ‘Illogical and illiberal pedagogy relating to Early Indian history cautioned that the desire to glorify a nation’s past really opens the door for the promotion of its inalienable sibling and the vilification of the perceived “other(s),” who are then made the object of prejudice and intolerance through curricula. Hatred, he noted, is not a mental state; rather, it is an ideology that supports an aggressive and majoritarian nationalism, which is harmful to the prospects for competing, disputing, and confirming explanations of the pasts, which are essential to the calling of the past.
He further stated that, the lack of any critical examination of the varna-jati institution, renowned for its rigid hierarchy and institutionalised inequality that placed (and continues to place) a sizable portion of the population of this nation in subhuman positions, is equally disheartening. The curriculum, as a result, makes little mention of the connections between the varna-jati system, patriarchal society, traditional family, and the growing subjection of women in post-Rig vedic social experiences in the subcontinent. He was shocked to see that the curriculum’s limitations were worse than the poor text lists drafted by the syllabus makers.
Dr Mukherjee sarcastically reminded in the very beginning of his speech online that the NEP was adopted at a time when the Prime Minister of India claimed that ‘the prime minister has an M.A. in “Entire Political Science,” an intriguing subject that is not taught in any university in the entire world. He strongly argued against new education policy which would saffronise the present Indian education system demolishing its pluralist approach and Indian tradition of unity in diversity. The NEP’s aim, he stressed, ‘is to destroy the ‘’secularist, pluralistic culture of our nation.
The mood of participants at the Congress reflected a sense of deep concern against the ‘de-westernisation’ of Indian educational tradition and imposition of Hindu-nationalistic tenor of NEP that will mean return to medieval epistemic roots.
Professor Kesavan Velu that delivered the presidential address at the opening session, taking over from Amiya Kumar Bagchi as general president. The annual session of the IHC was held in a university in Tamil Nadu after a 26-year gap. It was in 1996, when the IHC session was held at the University of Madras..
During these three days, six sections ran simultaneously in different rooms, where sectional presidents presented their papers and other delegates also presented their papers in their respective sections. The Sectional Presidents were: Dr. Malini Adiga, Karnataka (Ancient India); Professor Ishrat Alam, Aligarh (Medieval India); Professor Salil Misra, Delhi (Modern India); Professor Deepak Kumar, Delhi, also chaired the Modern India section in another subsection. Professor Bishnupriya Basak, Kolkata (Archaeology); Professor Margit Koves, Delhi, (Countries Other than India); and Professor Sudha Pai, Delhi (Contemporary India). (IPA Service)