Unveiling the Balance: Biases in Indian History Textbooks
The biased portrayal of historical events in school textbooks undermines the true essence of history, hindering students' ability to fully appreciate and learn from it. In Indian history textbooks, religious and gender discrimination is a prevalent issue, distorting the contributions of Muslim leaders and downplaying the achievements of women. A balanced and unbiased approach is crucial for fostering critical thinking and cultural inclusivity in history education.
Look at history from a storytelling point of view, and you will enjoy it. But will we be able to enjoy it, if the telling, and retelling, involves the author’s biased points of view? Will we be able to enjoy it if we as readers would not be told the entire story, but only the point of view the authors want to show you?
That is what history textbooks in our school curriculums are all about. Authors add their biased opinions to textbooks, ruining the experience of students learning the subject.
To start with, one of the biggest issues in Indian history textbooks is religious discrimination. In India, where 79.8% of the population follows the Hindu religion, leaders belonging to other religions are repressed and hated, through the medium of textbooks. This bias often leads to a distorted representation of their contributions and downplays their significant role in shaping history. By minimising their achievements, these textbooks perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce negative narratives, hindering efforts to promote cultural understanding and inclusivity.
This prejudice also leads to the inadequate representation of Muslim leaders in the textbooks. Even though they had significant contributions in the past, their narratives are often neglected. This omission perpetuates a distorted view of the past and undermines the rich diversity of historical figures who have shaped societies across the globe. Moreover, it supports stereotypical religiousness.
One of the best examples of this is Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The founder of Pakistan is shown in a negative light in most Indian History textbooks. When addressing Jinnah's role in the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan, many people emphasise his demand for a separate country with a Muslim majority as the only justification for the split. This narrative can minimise Jinnah's reasons for mere religious zeal and paint him as a disruptive character by ignoring the complicated political realities and communal tensions of the time.
Many Indian history textbooks are also notorious for their overemphasis on Mahatma Gandhi, often at the expense of other leaders. Gandhi undoubtedly made an important contribution, but when his role is overemphasised, it overshadows the successes and struggles of other leaders, especially those coming from marginalised populations. Students' comprehension of the various viewpoints that influenced India's independence struggle is inhibited by this restricted focus.
Another issue in history textbooks is gender discrimination. In textbooks, women's contributions to history are usually ignored or minimised. Despite the huge influence and accomplishments of women leaders, their tales are minimised or completely ignored. This erasure not only keeps gender biases alive but also deprives learners of role models who can motivate them to question accepted wisdom and follow their goals.
The most shocking issue was when Bhagat Singh was called a ‘revolutionary terrorist’, in one of the textbooks referred by the Delhi University. Authors seem to demonise him because of his radical views and actions towards challenging British colonial rule. This misinterpretation of his commitment to justice and freedom is just what is leading to portrayal of a wrong character as a whole. If Bhagat Singh is portrayed as a criminal, he will be seen as a criminal by the student. Such demonization undermines the importance of his sacrifices and ideological contributions, depriving students of a comprehensive understanding of India's fight for independence.
To truly enjoy and appreciate history, it is crucial to ensure that textbooks provide a balanced and accurate retelling of events, free from the personal biases of the authors. Students deserve access to diverse perspectives, allowing them to form their own informed opinions and fostering a deeper understanding of the complexities of the past. By addressing these biases, we can work towards creating history textbooks that inspire critical thinking, cultural understanding, and inclusivity.
Written by Aarya Jadhav
This article was written as part of a 3-part series in collaboration with Project Educating the Educators. ProjectETE is a community dedicated to ensuring that curriculum textbooks are fair, accurate, and unbiased. They believe that every student deserves access to high-quality, inclusive education that reflects the diversity of their experiences and the world around them.