FIDDLING WITH HISTORY A DISSERVICE TO
The French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, known for his aerial photographs, includes the Taj Mahal in one of his collections of amazing sights from the skies. The monument is not just India’s pride, qualifying for the 8thWonder of the World, but as much a symbol of India as the Eiffel Tower is of France or the Statue of Liberty is of the USA.
But the government of Maharashtra has simply dropped all references to this monument from the new history textbook for Std VII in the state board-affiliated schools.
The most basic General Knowledge Quiz in India asks who built the Taj Mahal, or, where is it located. What will Maharashtra’s school students answer? JRD Tata? Mumbai?
If the Taj is completely blacked out, Akbar the Great is also dismissed in four sentences in the textbook. Even those lines focus more on the rulers who fought him: two Hindu and one Muslim.
But Akbar married a Hindu, and the son of his Rajput queen succeeded him as ruler of the Mughal Empire. The Hindu Raja Man Singh was Akbar’s trusted general, Birbal was his beloved courtier, and Tansen the brightest jewel of the Navratnas that adorned his court. Indeed, these three and Raja Todar Mal, his finance minister, were the four Hindus in the nine jewels of his court.
But Maharashtra’s students will know this multi-faceted ruler only as a Muslim expansionist. That won’t be their only loss. The students of our state might end up knowing nothing of Birbal, the man whose riddles and wit we have all grown up with.
Some of these students may develop an interest in classical music. Maharashtra is after all, one of the bastions of Hindustani music. Will it be only then that they come across the name Tansen? Imagine their surprise on discovering that the father of Hindustani classical music and the creator of Raag Darbari Kanada, Darbari Todi, and Rageshwari, was a favourite of that very Mughal Emperor, against whom Hindu kings fought.
These changes in the history textbooks which cut Maharashtra’s students off from their rich history, have been brought about in consultation with the Pune-based RSSinspired institute, Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini. Spokesmen of the textbook committee justify these by saying that history texts must be written from a “Maharashtracentric point of view”.
What if every state were to follow that reasoning? If the mass of our school students learn the history of their states alone, what would they know about the history of their nation?
The Mughals ruled India for 300 years and left their imprint across the country, enriching it in a hundred different ways. To erase them from school history is to deprive students of their own heritage not just in the arts and architecture, but also in administration, economy, language. Marathi itself is rich with Persian words. Persian was inextricably linked with the Mughals.Will the language be purged too?
What about the monument from which the Prime Minister addresses the nation every Republic Day? Maharashtra’s students will know it is a red fort, not that it is The Red Fort, for it too finds no mention in the new textbook. And how must Aurangabad’s students regard the replica of the Taj in Aurangabad, Bibi ka Maqbara, built by Aurangzeb, the last real Mughal?
The emperor sought to be dismissed in four sentences in the new textbook, went beyond religious boundaries way back in the 16th Century, and founded a new religion comprising elements of both his own faith and that of the majority of his subjects. Will the words Deen-i-Ilahi mean nothing to Maharashtra’s students?
Ironically, Deen-i-Ilahi is the reason Emperor Akbar is hated in Pakistan, our neighbour whom the BJP loves to project as a nation of fanatics. Does the BJP realise that it is validating by its every action Pakistani poet Fehmida Riaz’s poem on Indians written way back in the 80s:
“Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley voh moorkhta, voh ghaamarpan (ignorance)
jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey arre badhai bohot badhai…
bhaad mein jaaye shiksha viksha ab jaahilpan ke gun gaana…”
Perhaps the only glimmer of hope lies in the shoddy teaching methods found in most of Maharashtra’s schools today. Forget the long-term impact, the distorted history taught in Std VII may not even be remembered by students beyond the semester exam for which it was mugged up.