The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) decided to remove three History chapters from class IX syllabus. Some of them include sections on caste and class struggles.
As per the Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar’s curriculum rationalisation exercise aimed at relieving students from “curriculum overload”, the NCERT decided to delete three chapters from the class IX History textbook, ‘India and the Contemporary World – I’. The decision, taken on 18 March, and has been brought into effect from the 2019-20 academic session onwards.
This is the second textbook review undertaken by the incumbent government, as reported by The Indian Express, which also mentioned that even though Javadekar’s recommendation to the NCERT was to cut curriculum by half across all subjects (by 2021), up to 20 per cent reduction was made in social science textbooks while cuts were kept to a minimum in mathematics and sciences. “The changes, they (sources) said, had been made based on over one lakh comments received from parents, students and teachers”, the report said.
The decision was covered widely by the media and invited criticism for the nature of the deletion, for it omitted chapters covering caste-based and other social conflicts.
One of the chapters, ‘Clothing: A Social History’, described various clothing norms to which different sections of the society were subjected and the responses that followed. One section from the chapter that especially stood out, both in media reports as well as in the critiques by academicians was ‘Caste Conflict and Dress Change’. The section described the clothing rules imposed on the Shanars in Travancore, wherein, women could not cover their upper bodies; the conflict over the dress rules that ensued; and the following reformation.
“The Shanars (later known as Nadars), many of whom were considered a ‘subordinate caste’ and so were generally prohibited from using umbrellas and wearing shoes or golden ornaments. Men and women were also expected to follow the local custom of never covering their upper bodies before the dominant castes”, the chapter read while adding, “Under the influence of Christian missionaries, Shanar women converts began in the 1820s to wear tailored blouses and cloths to cover themselves like the dominant castes. Hindu reformers such as Ayya Vaikunder also participated in the dress reform. Soon Nairs, one of the dominant castes of the region, attacked these women in public places and tore off their upper cloths.”
As per the report by The Indian Express, the CBSE had issued a circular in 2016 to its affiliated schools announcing the omission of said section. However, the section remained part of the NCERT textbooks until the curriculum rationalisation exercise.
The 2016 circular came in light of the direction given to the CBSE and the NCERT by the Madras High Court to examine a complaint on the “incorrect information” concerning the Shanar community, as per a public interest petition filed by the Advocates Forum for Social Justice, The Hindu had reported.
Talking about the critique of the decision, Scroll.in wrote, “The Renaissance Protection Committee, a platform of various community organisations under the aegis of Kerala government, said the Union government was attempting to erase the historic struggle of lower-caste women from the record.”
The chapter also described how “women in Victorian England were groomed from childhood to be docile and dutiful, submissive and obedient” and the manner in which “norms of clothing reflected these ideals”.
The other two chapters deleted from the syllabus were named ‘History and Sport: The Story of Cricket’ and ‘Peasants and Farmers’.
The former didn’t really touch upon caste per se except for an excerpt from historian Ramachandra Guha’s ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field’, which mentions how Palwankar Baloo, a Dalit bowler, was not elected to play in the Quadrangular tournament for the Hindus because of his caste identity and how the captainship of his younger brother, Vithal, a few years later and the team’s victory against the Europeans under him was equated to Mahatama Gandhi’s “war on untouchability”. Apart from that, the chapter primarily focused on the English roots of cricket; the organisation of cricket in colonial India on “the principle of race and religion” and its changing character; and the sport’s association with decolonisation.
‘Peasants and Farmers’ on the other hand described the situation of farmers in the capitalist economy and with the coming of modern forms of production. “For the poorer farmers, machines brought misery. Many of them bought these machines imagining that wheat prices would remain high and profits would flow in. If they had no money, the banks offered loans. Those who borrowed found it difficult to pay back their debts. Many of them deserted their farms and looked for jobs elsewhere. But jobs were difficult to find. Mechanisation had reduced the need for labour”, the textbook mentioned regarding the nineteenth and twentieth-century American farmers. It further described the conditions of the opium farmers of Bengal under the colonial dispensation.
Conversely, the new directives of the NCERT also made some modifications: earlier, out of the three chapters – ‘The French Revolution’, ‘Socialism in Europe and the Russian Revolution’ and ‘Nazism and the Rise of Hitler’ – from the first section of the book, only two had to be taught; now teaching all three has been mandated.
Even though much of the media coverage focussed on the explicit section regarding the Shanar clothing revolt, the other deleted chapters also contained social histories of people across class, gender and racial identities. This realisation becomes more pronounced if contemporary situations are considered – farmers are still distressed; morality through clothing is still imposed; casteism is still an ugly reality. Naturally, a class IX textbook couldn’t have gone into considerable depth. However, by completely getting rid of chapters, which can have a bearing on how students learn to understand the realities around them, a major goal of education suffers a setback.
Yet, complications arise when we consider what chapters could have even been deleted. A case can be made that other chapters, ranging from the ones on European revolutions and Nazism to those on forest society under colonialism and pastoralists in the contemporary world, are also equally important and that removal of any chapter would have taken a little away from the academic experience of the students.
Hence, perhaps the “curriculum rationalisation” exercise could itself be reimagined. Yes, the content of the books can be simplified as much as possible without compromising on its quality or scope. But more significant changes might be brought about by altering teaching methods and assessment systems. Chapters don’t become burdensome in and of themselves; they become so when the examinations, for which students are required to prepare these chapters, are structured such that they end up curbing creativity, imposing uniformity and encouraging memorisation over conceptual understanding. Unfortunately, that is yet to change.
Image credits: The Indian Express