The NCERT has revised some senior school textbooks. There has been an allegation that some chapters pertaining to the Mughal era have been removed from these. This has caused the usual fuss. The Director of NCERT has said in an interview that this fuss is entirely unwarranted.

He told a news agency that “…the NCERT has not taken this step at the behest of anyone. The decision to reduce the syllabus was not taken to please or offend anyone. We have taken this step to provide immediate relief to students. The changes are based on the opinion of educationists and experts from across the country. The allegations that all the chapters on Mughals have been removed from textbooks are completely baseless, it is not so.”

It is unlikely that opponents of the BJP will let matters rest there. And it is equally likely that, when faced with a choice of what to remove in order to reduce the syllabus, there was a tilt towards reducing the space devoted to the Mughals. The current dispensation thinks of history in religious rather than political terms.

In the final analysis, however, it doesn’t matter as long as the Mughal period, which lasted for nearly 850 years, is not entirely deleted. If the main points are included and, as long as the history of other parts of India which have received short shrift till now are included — remember Mughal history is largely the history of North India — it doesn’t really matter. History taught in schools must be balanced both in extent and coverage.

A far more serious problem is in regard to treatment. There is a tendency in India to equate coverage with extent. If you give a chapter to a topic it is ok, but if you give just two paras it’s not. This is confusing quantity for quality.

Actually since we are talking about impressionable young minds the sort of adjectives that are used, to give just one example of treatment, is very important. Use of terms like cruel, cowardly, brave, etc, should be entirely omitted. But they are used liberally to reflect the textbook preparers’ own prejudices.

There has also been the practice of governments issuing detailed instructions about what should not be mentioned. There is that notorious set of rules set out by the CPM government of West Bengal in the late 1980s which typifies this sort of whitewashing with a view to project a particular view of a community. The current BJP dispensation should avoid this.

I should add here that it is universally true that not only does history belong to the victors, governments the world over avoid uncomfortable topics. The British stopped teaching colonial history in the early 1950s. The Americans, Australians and New Zealanders never mentioned the genocide of the original inhabitants of those regions. And so on in Africa and Latin America.

This ignoring, deleting and airbrushing of history wouldn’t be cause for much concern if it didn’t influence other policies. But that does happen because so much of policy change at any time is a reaction to some policy that was adopted, which itself was a reaction to something that had happened in the past.

Only balanced narration makes for good history. Otherwise we end up with slants that serve society poorly.