Censorship of History: Denying Indians Access to their Own Past By Shivangi Gupta from Amity Law School, Delhi
“If you don’t know your history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf who doesn’t know that it is part of a tree.”
History defines who we are and why we are the way we are. Weaving tales of freedom, equality, injustice, struggle, loss, achievement, courage and triumph, it shapes the present world we live in. It nurtures personal identity, enabling us to discover our own place in the stories of our families, communities, and nation. With our sense of belonging so deeply rooted in our past, it is no wonder that our history plays such a pivotal role in our life.
The power that our history has over us is evident from the role that India’s past played during the Freedom Struggle when history was used to encourage Indians to have pride in their heritage and fight for it. The result was awe-inspiring. Forgetting their cultural and religious differences, people from all walks of life stood united behind a shared heritage.
After witnessing the immense impact that history can have on the masses, it is not a surprise that political parties have tried to contort history to serve their own purposes and censoring the facts that don’t support their ideologies. It cannot be denied that banning and censorship of historical data is increasingly becoming a pernicious part of India’s civil and political governance.
Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code has been used to silence academicians under the garb of protecting religious sentiments. In 1988, Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses was banned because some Muslims called it blasphemous. In 2014, amid great uproar Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History was taken out of the market after a long drawn out court battle. Moreover the threat of a ban by political and religious pressure groups have lead textbook publishers to self-censor their works.
Apart from these, rewriting of history textbooks has been an old priority of the Hindu nationalist movement.[i] In 1977, Morarji Desai government sought the withdrawal of certain critically acclaimed history textbooks - Medieval India by Romila Thapar, Modern India by Bipan Chandra, Freedom Struggle by A. Tripathi, Barun De and Bipan Chandra, and Communalism and the Writing of Indian History by Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra. These works were criticized for not condemning forcefully enough certain Muslim rulers and emphasising that freedom struggle leaders such as Bala Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo were partly responsible for the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. This attempt failed but the BJP succeeded in changing parts of textbooks in the state they formed a government in the 1990s and early 2000s.[ii]
A few months ago, Rajasthan State Board revised the History textbooks; Hinduising the freedom struggle. The Class 10 book, describes Hindutva ideologue Veer Savarkar as a great revolutionary, a great patriot, and a great ‘sangathanwaadi’. “The lifelong sacrifices he made for the country’s independence is beyond words,” says the textbook. The textbook reduces Mahatma Gandhi’s historical significance during India’s freedom struggle to a passing mention while the country’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru is missing from class 8 textbooks. Moreover, the textbook describes the first crop of Congress leaders as moderates, adding that they wanted to prolong British rule in India because they felt the latter’s exit will lead to lawlessness in the country.[iii]
Most recently, Maharashtra has also revised its history books confining the Mughals to a single page in the textbook and focusing on the history of the Maratha Empire.[iv] This recasting of history with a view to attaining a specific kind of national identity and cherry-picking certain events might fail in providing an adequate picture to the students owing to numerous lacunae.
By censoring facts, alternative views and criticisms, the government is denying Indians access to their own history. Creating a controversy around historical books eliminates any opportunity for legitimate criticism on the basis of facts. The people deserve to have the choice to learn the facts and form their own perspectives instead of the state safeguarding their religious sentiments or forcing them to adhere to distorted versions that fit in with the ruling party’s political agenda.
History, saved and preserved, serves as the foundation for future generations. Without the preservation of history, future citizens will have no idea about what it means to be an Indian. In the words of George Orwell, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Thus, it is integral to safeguard the true history of our country in order to preserve its ‘unity in diversity’ identity for future generations by explaining them the shared past of the diverse communities that call India home.
[i] Sylvie Guichard, The Construction of History and Nationalism in India: Textbooks, Controversies and PoliticS, 2010, Taylor and Francis Group
[ii]INDIAN EXPRESS, http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-the-bjp-rewrites-history-textbooks-jawaharlal-nehru-aurangzeb-bala-gangadhar-tilak-aurobindo-2838231/
[iii] HINDUSTAN TIMES, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/in-new-rajasthan-textbooks-veer-savarkar-overshadows-gandhi-and-nehru/story-NGzReSVik2uLKCRQDAsQ5I.html
[iv] TIMES NOW NEWS, http://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/maharashtra-textbooks-to-omit-mention-of-mughals-and-muslim-rulers-to-have-larger-chapter-on/71092
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