NCERT history textbooks


Ever since the present government has come to power with its agenda of subverting the secular basis of our Constitution, it has conducted a campaign against the NCERT textbooks in History. It needs to be recalled that the RSS was also in the forefront of a campaign during the Janata Party regime of 1977-79 against these very textbooks, but then public opinion was strong enough to thwart it. The Sangh Parivar has now sought to do away with these textbooks by professing to restructure the entire syllabus, in which not only would the content of History be reduced, but such ‘History’ as remains would be used to promote approved ‘religious values’ and to present facts in such a fashion as to inculcate ‘pride in the nation’, that is, in the India of their narrow imagination. It suits them immensely when any attack is launched on the existing NCERT textbooks for reasons howsoever unreasonable and baseless.

For quite some time, the Sangh Parivar’s new appointees in the NCERT have been proclaiming that the textbooks had insulted the religious sentiments of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. It is in the line of that propaganda that all of a sudden an agitation has been built up against Professor Satish Chandra’s textbook Medieval India, which was published by the NCERT in 1978, and has, therefore, been used in schools all over India for the last twenty-two years. Is it credible that for all these years Sikh teachers and students should have felt no feeling of hurt while reading it, and yet now suddenly the same text is being condemned for the insult it supposedly offers to the Sikhs?

In fact, any non-partisan reader will find that there is no reason for such a sense of outrage. As to the two statements objected to, the first about Guru Tegh Bahadur’s alleged alliance with Hafiz Adam is clearly attributed by Professor Chandra to ‘some Persian accounts’. He does not state that this is necessarily true. Professor Satish Chandra goes on to describe what the Sikh tradition has to say. He refers here to the existence of some ‘intrigues against the Guru by some members of his family’. There is not the slightest reason to be affronted by this statement either, for this has long been affirmed in Sikh sources themselves.

Professor J.S. Grewal, eminent Sikh historian, has given the following account of how Guru Tegh Bahadur was opposed by certain members of his family:


‘Tegh Bahadur … started his career as the eighth successor of Guru Nanak at Bakala. However, the opposition of his nephew Dhir Mal, at Kartarpur across the river Beas, and from his other nephew Harji, at Ramdaspur, obliged him to leave the Bari Doab, and to Kiratpur. There too he was not a welcome guest for his brother Suraj Mal. During the very first year of his pontificate, therefore, Guru Tegh Bahadur had to look for a new centre. He chose a place called Makhowal, only a few miles from Kiratpur but in the territory of the chief of Kahlur (Bilaspur). By accepting his nomination as the Guru, Tegh Bahadur gave an affront to Aurangzeb, who had presumed to arbitrate in the matter of succession. Had Guru Tegh Bahadur stayed on in Makhowal, Aurangzeb might have ignored the affront.’ (J.S. Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab, Cambridge, 1990, pp 69-70)

In the Sikh tradition, it is indeed distinctly stated that the Guru’s nephew Dhir Mal had ‘determined to ruin him’ and that he ‘had instigated Ram Rai (the son of Guru Har Rai at Delhi) to complain again to the emperor regarding his supersession’ (Max Arthur Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Oxford, 1909, Vol. IV, p 338).

There is therefore nothing that Professor Satish Chandra has said on his own. Clearly, conscientious historians are obliged to give different contemporary versions of particular events if such exist. Professor Chandra has not said anything which should hurt the sensibilities of anyone.

Going into such detail is necessary in order to assure those who have been misled into joining the campaign against the NCERT History textbooks, including those from the Opposition, that there is nothing in these books which should hurt the Sikh community.

It can, on the other hand, be seen that the agitation against Professor Satish Chandra’s books begun by certain Congressmen has enabled the HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi to put into effect what he had always wanted – the subjection of History textbooks to the censorship of ‘religious leaders’. Such a position is reprehensible for a country committed to secular values, and cannot be accepted by any historian or social scientist worth the name.