History in Making and Breaking
History plays a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the world. It explores how studying diverse human experiences helps us appreciate the significance of cultures, ideas, and traditions from different times and places. It's a tool that helps mould today’s generation into a more aware and solution oriented one. But, we can only truly realise the potential of history when it’s taught properly— in an inclusive, historically accurate, and unbiased manner. This article shines a light on the issue of inaccurate portrayals of history in textbooks and the need for a balanced and nuanced approach to creating education material.
Have you ever wondered if what you learn from your history textbook is the complete truth?
The term “History” originates from the word ‘historia’ which means ‘knowledge acquired after investigation’. In India, history is referred as, ‘itihaas’ which stems from what the grammarian Panini classified as “iti ha”, translating in English to “thus indeed”.
Thus indeed, it appears that we’re in the middle of many socioeconomic tempests today. But, we have overcome such storms before. History serves as our guiding light, offering a path out of the chaos and granting us a clear perspective to navigate and tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
History, in its essence, helps us shape our identities – who we are, where we come from, where we belong, and the knowledge necessary to move forward. It helps us comprehend events and problems of the past, it helps us recognize patterns that would otherwise be invisible in the present – thereby offering a vital perspective to understand and solve the current and future challenges! As a history student, it has helped me appreciate cultures, traditions, ideas different from my own – and to recognize them as meaningful expressions shaped by different times and spaces. Perhaps this is why it’s concerning to see how often history textbooks at times inaccurately depict and omit events in the past.
In a conversation with Mr. Eshaan Sharma, the founder of Karwaan Heritage, we gain insights into a student-led movement that goes beyond classroom boundaries. Karwaan Heritage encourages students to explore historical sites, bridging the gap between textbook knowledge and experiential learning. This lends its own value to learning about history, as Eshaan shares:
“We started heritage walks that prompted us to go outside the classrooms and explore heritage sites on our own, understand what we’re learning in textbooks, and collaborate it with actual monuments. It gives you hands-on experience, like you have in science and other subjects. History is also a science, it's a social science, you have to go out there, experience, see the monuments.”
Part of his initiative is also to tackle misinformation about history.
“In India, the problem is that our public has laid-back people who have no idea about history. A lot of them believe in hearsay and WhatsApp, (which share) narratives of the past that are not true at all. So, we decided that through WhatsApp, Instagram, and other social media platforms, we will start posting something about history in easier language and tone, and try to engage the public with history. They might not agree with it, but at least they’ll get to know a new perspective on the past.”
The content of textbooks plays a pivotal role in shaping students’ understanding of the world. For many of us, textbooks are often a credible source of information. Despite this, It’s not uncommon for history to have been tampered with. Recently, NCERT modified the syllabus of grade 12 textbooks – a chapter on the Mughals has been deleted from part-II of the history textbook for Class 12, while two chapters on modern Indian history have been removed from part-III of the history textbook. Here is what Mr. Sharma had to say about the same:
“It is very interesting to see how they’ve removed a very significant part of history – 50 to 200 years of a dynasty, removed completely. This doesn’t remove the Mughals from the past - Past is natural, history is man-made. (That’s why) removing the Mughals from the textbooks would not affect the past at all, it would affect the history and the memory of the citizens. The citizens of young India who won’t study about the Mughal dynasty in school, they would not know for a fact that a lot of cultural renaissances that happened, took place during the Mughal time. Whatever we eat today, wear today, and speak today has roots in the Mughal period – be it your Biryani, be it your Samosa, be it the Urdu language, or the dance form Kathak. So, it gives you context to a lot of current historical affairs, and that context will be missing for the generations to come. My opinion is that it should never happen in any country and if it is happening, if rewriting history is so essential, it should have been done by scholars and historians who have done their work in the field, not by some officers sitting in some government office.”
Mr. Eshaan also emphasized the need to amplify diverse voices in history.
“History is not the property of any one community. The past belongs to all of us - every community and every individual is a part of that past. So, every voice matters in history. History also helps us create identities, this is a very important feature, and the presence of all these voices becomes much more important. So, we should have women's voices, we should have Dalit voices, we should have subaltern voices- farmers, landless laborers, factory workers, etc — all of them have a past, they have a history and hence they also matter. When we write our content, we try to read all these different women's study journals, dalit study journals, and subaltern study journals. So, for our content, what we write on Instagram, historical accuracy comes with reading books that are written by historians, peer-reviewed articles, and journals.”
It is important for us to understand the importance of preserving historical integrity, embrace diversity, and safeguard the collective memory of humanity. A country like India has a 9000 year old rich history, it is important that it is represented in its entirety and in an unbiased manner. It's only if we study comprehensive and accurate historical narratives, that we can ensure that future generations are equipped with the knowledge and wisdom to shape a brighter future.
Written by Nishtha Sehgal