November 28, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Mahabharata and Ramayana should be included in school curriculums. We also look at the controversy over afforestation in Jharkhand, among other news.


Should Mahabharata and Ramayana be included in school curriculums?

Was history one of your favourite subjects in school? Or did you find it boring? History is full of people and events that have largely shaped the world we live in today. Perhaps it was social sciences? Both can also be touchy issues or controversial for many. They’ve also become political and ideological battlegrounds.

India is no stranger to this. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently proposed including the Mahabharata and Ramayana in the school curriculum. The panel said it’s to inculcate a sense of patriotism and pride among students. Would teaching these mythological stories really accomplish that? Is this even the right way to go about it?


School curriculums can be a contentious issue for governments. In particular, history is one subject that’s often put under the microscope. Any ideological battles fought on the textbook pages aren’t new. The NCERT was formed in 1961 and assigned a group of academics and historians to present a holistic document of Indian history in school textbooks.

After the ban on the RSS was lifted in the wake of Gandhi’s murder, the organisation, through their schools, the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, focussed on propagating history through their lens.

They spread an alternate view that often demonised Muslims and distorted the freedom struggle. Then, faith and mythology began creeping in. In 1977, they tried to ban NCERT textbooks written by renowned historians like Romila Thapar, RS Sharma, and Bipan Chandra. Protests ensured they were unsuccessful.

The next stint, from 1999 to 2004, saw similar attempts to remove critical sections, citing they hurt religious sentiments. Some textbooks were even replaced, and the Indian History Congress had to release a book in 2003 called History in the New NCERT Textbooks: A Report and an Index of Errors to denounce the new textbooks and call for their withdrawal.

The NCERT isn’t a government organisation. Though one could be forgiven for thinking of it as a political football. Nevertheless, the NCERT is in charge of school curriculums for lakhs of students. That means it revises textbooks from time to time. Over the past six years, there have been three major rounds of revisions – mainly in history, sociology, and political science.

In 2017, the NCERT cited the need to update textbooks to reflect recent changes, including some government schemes like GST. It resulted in over 1,300 revisions across 182 books. The revisions, or textbook rationalisations, from last year, removed references to the 2002 Gujarat riots, reduced content about the Mughal era and the caste system, and dropped chapters on some social movements. The NCERT said, in the aftermath of the pandemic, it wanted to lessen the burden on students, and that’s why some content was dropped.

This obviously didn’t thrill historians, who said they were kept in the dark when the books were being revised. There’s no denying that textbooks need to be revised periodically. Education and our understanding of history evolve. Indian history is a rich tapestry of people and events. There’s so much to discover and learn from.

The most recent fight comes after the NCERT proposed including the Mahabharata and Ramayana in the school curriculum. There’s naturally pushback to this idea on why this is even necessary. Given the NCERT’s past, is this another dubious political and ideological stunt?

VIEW: Nothing wrong with learning the epics

The NCERT’s proposal needs to be seen in a broader context. Its social science committee wants to divide the history syllabus into four periods – classical, medieval, British, and modern India. Previously, the classical period didn’t exist, and this is where the Ramayana and Mahabharata will come in. Given the textbooks are for students from classes 7 to 12, the NCERT feels it’s the right age for students to learn about these influential literary works.

The Mahabharata and Ramayana are historical epics unique to India. Learning even a little about them won’t do students any harm. As an NCERT committee chairperson, Professor CI Issac noted that learning about these epics is part of understanding the roots of Indian history, culture, sciences, etc. For Professor Issac, it’s a way to develop a sense of pride and love for the country.

Opposition to this proposal has been explicitly ideological and political. The argument is that Western thinking has become so pervasive in Indian education that there needs to be some course correction. Why not study about India before moving on to the rest of the world?

COUNTERVIEW: Another attempt at saffronisation

Teaching accurate history and science is essential for any country. Any deviation from established, fact-based truth is dangerous. The latter is exactly what the NCERT has been doing, or attempting to do, over the past several years. It’s what the NCERT is doing now with the Ramayana and Mahabharata proposal. No one’s denying the importance of these literary epics, but are they essential for a school curriculum?

Nothing is stopping interested students from learning the epics on their own time. But having it mandated is problematic. NCERT’s precedents can’t be ignored in this discussion. Ever since the BJP came to power in 2014, there have been repeated attempts to downplay, dilute, and erase certain aspects of India’s history. Replacing certain events with the Ramayana and Mahabharata is basically replacing facts with myths. That’s a recipe for disaster.

The idea that learning the Ramayana and Mahabharata will inculcate a sense of patriotism is faulty, to say the least. Professor Isacc cited people leaving India and getting citizenship abroad as those who are supposedly not patriotic and learning the epics will somehow solve this. They’re myths. Replacing history with myths is a fool’s errand.

Reference Links:

  • India’s School Textbooks Are the Latest Battleground for Hindu Nationalism – Time
  • No selective narratives please – India Today
  • ‘Patriotism and pride…’: Why NCERT panel chief wants Ramayana, Mahabharata in school textbooks – Livemint
  • Rewriting India’s History Through School Textbooks – New Lines Magazine
  • NCERT Panel Recommendation To Include Religious Textbooks In Curriculum Begins Political War – Free Press Journal
  • Modi govt’s two decisions show all-out capture of content — official and unofficial – The Print
  • Students Give Mixed Reactions To NCERT’s Proposal of Including Hindu Epics In School Curriculum – Free Press Journal

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Mahabharata and Ramayana should be included in school curriculums.

b) Mahabharata and Ramayana should not be included in school curriculums.


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