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.
📰 FEATURE STORY
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.
- 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.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Has Election Commission become a vestigial appendage of ruling BJP?
For the Left:
Despite polls on horizon, Centre is on course to meeting its fiscal deficit target
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Green energy goal (Himachal Pradesh) – Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu announced the state’s goal to become a green energy state by March 2026, focusing on reducing carbon emissions. The initial phase of the ₹680-crore Rajiv Gandhi Swarozgar Start-up Yojana, offering a 50% subsidy for e-taxi purchases, has received a positive response. A future scheme is planned for the agricultural sector.
Why it matters: This initiative is significant for promoting sustainable energy and reducing environmental impact in Himachal Pradesh. The focus on green energy aligns with global efforts to combat climate change. The subsidy for e-taxis and the upcoming agricultural scheme indicate a comprehensive approach to eco-friendly development.
Farmers’ protest (Andhra Pradesh) – The Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sanghala Samanvya Samithi initiated a two-day protest in Vijayawada against the Union government’s policies, demanding the repeal of the Electricity Bill 2020 and withdrawal of pre-paid smart electricity metres for agriculture. Convener Vadde Shobhanadreeswara Rao criticized the Central and State governments for agricultural policies leading to farmer suicides and accused the BJP of reneging on its promises, including the implementation of the MS Swaminathan Committee’s recommendations.
Why it matters: The protest is supported by various unions and leaders, emphasising the farmers’ resolve to challenge policies perceived as detrimental to the agricultural sector. The specific demands regarding electricity policies and the broader critique of government actions reflect a deepening rift between agricultural communities and policymakers.
Controversy over afforestation (Jharkhand) – In Jitra Tungri, Ramgarh district of Jharkhand, the forest department’s actions under a Union government afforestation scheme have led to the seizure of land traditionally used by Adivasi communities. The scheme compensates for forest clearing in one area by planting on degraded or non-forest land, often targeting Adivasi lands.
Why it matters: Villagers claim these measures are to compensate for forests cleared for mining, with the department using arbitrary actions like digging pits and planting trees on cultivable land. This has led to the loss of farmland, pushing locals towards poverty. The majority of Jitra Tungri’s population, belonging to scheduled tribes, oppose the project, stating it disrupts their farming, pastoralism, and forest-dependent activities, integral to their tribal identity.
Royal Enfield’s Motoverse 2023 (Goa) – Royal Enfield’s Motoverse 2023, held in Goa, marked its 13th edition as a major motorcycling festival, attracting nearly 15,000 attendees from all over the world. The event featured the launch of the new Himalayan adventure tourer and the custom-inspired Shotgun 650 Motoverse edition. Activities included beer-drinking battles, a custom bike space called Shed Builds, and motorcycling challenges like slide school and trail school.
Why it matters: The Basecamp gave attendees a taste of Himalayan culture with local music and culinary experiences. The festival also showcased emerging talents on the Culture stage, adrenaline-pumping talks at MotoReel, and Royal Enfield’s launch of children’s helmets and Eternity Sunglasses. The event concluded with a celebration of motorcycling culture, marked by performances from various artists and a plethora of experiences for enthusiasts.
Churches seek poll count date change (Mizoram) – In Mizoram, a Christian-majority state in Northeast India, churches have sought divine intervention to reschedule the counting of votes for the assembly elections, currently set for December 3, a Sunday. This appeal for a date change is driven by the significance of Sunday as a day of worship for Christians. The Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee (MKHC), representing 15 major churches, and the Mizoram Presbyterian Church, the state’s largest denomination, have called for prayers to facilitate this change.
Why it matters: Despite their appeals, the Election Commission of India (ECI), which typically considers special days in scheduling election dates, has not yet agreed to change the counting date. In contrast, the ECI had previously altered polling dates in Rajasthan to accommodate large-scale wedding ceremonies.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$1.6 billion – Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the company behind iPhone manufacturing, intends to grow its presence in India with an additional investment of NT$50 billion ($1.6 billion) for construction projects.