Another rewrite for India's history books

India's new government is poised to rewrite the history taught to the nation's schoolchildren after a panel of eminent historians recommended scrapping textbooks written by scholars hand-picked by the revious Hindu nationalist administration. Hundreds of thousands of textbooks are likely to be scrapped by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the central government body that sets the national curriculum for students up to 18. The move, one of the first made by the new Congress led government, will strongly signal a departure from the programme of its predecessor. The "saffronisation" of history, say critics of the last government, depicted India's Muslim rulers as barbarous invaders and the medieval period as a dark age of Islamic colonial rule which snuffed out the glories of the Hindu empire that preceded it. Memorably, one textbook claimed that the Taj Mahal, the Qu'tb Minar and the Red Fort, three of India's outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, were designed and commissioned by Hindus. Most controversial was the book History of India, by the country's foremost historian, Romila Thapar. This concluded that the "Aryans", venerated by the Hindu right as indigenous geniuses who created the Indus Valley civilisation, were nomadic tribes who spread from the Middle East. Ms Thapar was removed from the Indian Council for Historical Research less than three months after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) took power in 1999. There has also been much criticism of the way that the pernicious effects of the caste system had been downplayed and that practices now considered anathema to religious Hindus but once widespread, such as beef eating, had simply been erased from history books. The three-member panel of historians examining the "inadequacies" of history textbooks recommended the "discontinuation" of their use in the national syllabus. After submitting a report to India's education minister, Professor S Settar, a distinguished historian of ancient India, told reporters: "We found it not advisable to continue (with these books)." The government will decide early next month to what extent it will accept the academics' verdict, but as it has stressed that it will seek to reach out to minorities, it is expected to implement Prof Settar's report in full. Hindu nationalists have long sought to overturn the conventional view of Indian culture - that it developed through mass migrations and trade links with neighbouring empires. Instead, religious revivalists wanted to emphasise the uniqueness of Hinduism and its resilience to "foreign" invasion. Many on the Hindu right are furious that their revisionist interpretation of history is now being revised, blaming the influence of "leftists and Marxists". "If highlighting only Muslim rule in India as a gift to humanity, and dismissing the pre-Muslim period as a dark age, amounts to history, we are against that sort of history," said Seshadri Chari, former editor of Organizer, house organ of the BJP. However, more traditional academics are scathing about the previous government's acts, saying they amounted to little more than vandalism. Professor Arjun Dev, author of a textbook "updated" by the last government, said the changes were belated. "The government did not need experts to tell them history had been rendered false. It was so clumsily done that awkward facts, like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, were simply left out of some textbooks."

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