As the controversy over National Council of Educational Research and Training’s (NCERT) decision to erase certain topics from history books for Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) students, refuses to die down, academicians and historians have raised concerns over the board’s decision.

According to reports, the updated syllabus of the newly printed NCERT textbooks does not include references to agrarian distress, pollution-related death, and class-based killing by the police.

Speaking to The Citizen, Dr. Maya John, member of Academic Council at Delhi University and Labour Historian said that the recent changes are a major cause of concern. “We academicians and historians see this as a concerted effort in recent years, particularly after the ruling regime came back to power.

“They (government) have used the period of lockdown and pandemic to push through a non-transparent manner, without proper consultation or clear review involving academicians and historians who makes these textbooks,” she said, adding that the revisions to drop “an entire time period of the Mughal era and remaining expansion including a lot of details and historical facts” is serious and planned over the last few years.

Reports revealed that NCERT dropped these topics from the Class 11 Sociology textbook, Understanding Society. In Chapter 3, Environment and Society, there is a section titled, 'Why environmental problems are also social problems’, and the NCERT has dropped three pages from this section, including two case studies.

The first case study concerns the increase in the number of amusement centres and water parks in water-starved Vidarbha region in Maharashtra. The second study talks about the killing of five people in Wazirpur, Delhi, by the police.

The Vidarbha case study was written by veteran journalist P. Sainath. It first appeared on June 22, 2005, in ‘The Hindu’, describing how a water park was established in Bazargaon village of Nagpur district on 40-acre land.

The NCERT has also omitted key statistics concerning indoor air pollution-related deaths in India. The omitted lines included: “But we often don't realise that indoor pollution from cooking fires is also a serious source. The World Health Organisation has estimated that almost 600,000 people died due to (cumulative) indoor pollution-related causes in India in 1998, almost 500,000 of them in rural areas."

These deletions have yet to be declared by the NCERT’ state reports.

Meanwhile, reference to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as “a Brahmin from Pune” and “the editor of an extremist Hindu newspaper who had denounced Gandhi as ‘an appeaser of Muslims’” have been deleted from a Class 12 History textbook.

“Expunging details about Hindu extremism in the early 20th centuries is a strategic manoeuvre by the regime to show that for example, there was no conflict between Hindu extremists or extremists of any religion,” Dr. John said on the deletion of Gandhi’s assassination.

She added that a major question of who killed Gandhi would be raised.

“You expunge the information about Godse and that he actually came from Hindu extremist group. This means that they do not want to show that Hindu extremism was in conflict with moderate nationalist Hindu leaders,” she added.

Last year, NCERT had ‘rationalised’ textbooks for all subjects to reduce curriculum load further to help students make a “speedy recovery” in learning, which has been hit by Covid-19 disruptions. The changes were announced via a booklet that was uploaded on the Council’s official website and also formally shared with all schools.

The textbooks (with rationalised content) were not reprinted last year due to shortage of time. The new books, however, have now hit the market and are available for the new academic year 2023-24.

Meanwhile, NCERT director Dinesh Saklani denied allegations that certain portions about Mahatma Gandhi were deleted from Class 12 textbooks, averring that it was a “possible oversight, no ill intention”.

As quoted by ‘The Print’, Saklani said the deletions were left out of the list on account of a possible “oversight”, and there was no intention to hide it from the public. He, however, said there is no chance that the council will restore the deletions because they were made on an expert committee’s opinion.

“It is possible that some of the deleted portions in the new books were not mentioned in the rationalisation list, because they were either very minor to mention or there was some oversight while preparing the document,” he added.

He added that the changes made right now are “temporary” because students will be taught from new books from 2024 onwards. “The changes in the books are temporary, there will be new books in 2024 once the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is released,” he said.

Certain text on the 2002 Gujarat riots has been removed the same way from the Class 11 sociology book. In the class 11 Sociology textbook titled “Understanding Society”, the deleted paragraph talked about how class, religion and ethnicities often lead to segregation of residential areas and it then cites the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 to illustrate how communal violence furthers ghettoisation.

“Where and how people will live in cities is a question that is also filtered through socio-cultural identities. Residential areas in cities all over the world are almost always segregated by class, and often also by race, ethnicity, religion and other such variables. Tensions between such identities both cause these segregation patterns and are also a consequence,” the purged paragraph read.

“For example, in India, communal tensions between religious communities, most commonly Hindus and Muslims, results in the conversion of mixed neighbourhoods into single-community ones. This in turn gives a specific spatial pattern to communal violence whenever it erupts, which again furthers the ‘ghettoisation’ process. This has happened in many cities in India, most recently in Gujarat following the riots of 2002,” it added.

In the class 12 political science textbook, two whole pages on the riots in the chapter titled “Politics in India Since Independence” have been deleted.

The first page carried the chronology of events and referred to the National Human Rights Commission’s criticism of the Gujarat government for failing to control the violence. “Instances, like in Gujarat, alert us to the dangers involved in using religious sentiments for political purposes. This poses a threat to democratic politics,” the deleted portion read.

A group of historians while raising their concerns demanded why they were not consulted. The signatories of the statement include Romila Thapar, Jayati Gosh, Mridula Mukherjee, Apoorvanada, Irfan Habib and Upinder Singh, among 200 others.

“Using the period of the pandemic-cum-lockdowns to argue that there was a need to lighten the load of the curriculum, the NCERT initiated a contentious process of dropping topics like the history of the Mughal courts, the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, the Emergency... from social science, history and political science textbooks of classes 6 to 12,” the historians said in the statement.

Meanwhile, a statement was also issued by the Indian History Congress who called the changes “unacceptable”. “It has, therefore, been greatly alarmed by the changes in the History syllabi and textbooks that have recently been affected by central official agencies, leading to a plainly prejudiced and irrational perception of our past,” it stated.

“The Indian History Congress recalls its own effort twenty years ago when it published a volume assessing critically the History textbooks then published by NCERT, pointing out their various errors and misjudgements. They were subsequently withdrawn,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Sikh bodies, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) condemned the “wrong interpretation of Anandpur Sahib resolution” in NCERT text books. A delegation of the political party also met the union education minister to demand withdrawal of the wrong interpretation besides calling for giving due space to Punjab history in the NCERT books.

Groups including the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), said the Anandpur Sahib resolution adopted by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as its goal in 1973 had been interpreted as a “separatist resolution” in one of the books.

In chapter 7 (Regional aspirations) of the book ‘Swatantra Bharat Mein Rajniti’, it is mentioned that a demand of regional autonomy was raised under the resolution. “There was also a demand for redefining the Centre-state ties. The resolution advocates for strengthening of federalism. However, it can also be read as a demand for a separate Sikh nation,” reads the Hindi text.

Taking note of it, SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami said, “The SGPC raises strong objections over the misinformation being spread about Sikhs. Historical references related to Sikhs have been distorted in NCERT books. Sikhs shouldn’t be presented as separatists. The text must be removed immediately,” he said.

Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Chandigarh, senior SAD leaders Prof Prem Singh Chandumajra and Dr Daljit Singh Cheema demanded the wrong interpretation be withdrawn immediately.

The leaders also said they would demand that due space be given to Punjab history in NCERT books including the role of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Sikh generals like Hari Singh Nalwa.

“By reducing the study of history to such monolithic accounts, the ground is being prepared for pseudo-histories, especially of a communal and casteist variety, to hold sway. In any case, such 'histories' are widely circulated today through WhatsApp and other social media applications," the historians said, alluding to an alleged attempt to insert politics in education.

Kerala has meanwhile refused to accept the changes. Kerala Education Minister V Sivankutty on Saturday said that the state is of the view that the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) should be reconstituted with representatives of all states, and that Kerala “cannot agree” with NCERT’s move to delete certain portions from textbooks “under the guise” of rationalisation.

“Kerala cannot agree with the removal of certain portions of history in the post-Independence period (from textbooks). We will not agree with any decision that is against the academic interest of students,’’ Sivankutty said.

On asking how such deletions would affect the students, Dr. John said that in a time where misinformation is already on the rise due to social media, it would be dangerous to remove the true history of India.

“Young people today have access to a lot of incorrect information and incorrect understanding of the past through whatsapp and social media, and by diluting the content, especially content put together by professional historians, you are basically reducing young people’s mind to India's past and social movements,” she said, adding that erasure of such information is going not going to evolve the society.