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Are Indian history text books really biased?

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Many people have pointed out that the history taught in our schools are heavily biased towards Mughal and British history.We examine how true this claim is

The study of history is very important. It gives us valuable lessons in human development. It tells us who we are, how we reached here, and why we do the things we do. In other words, it teaches us our context. But our schools have sadly reduced history to memorizing dates and names. And that too of a very narrow portion of our history!

The school system in India is governed by many different school boards. There are the two big central boards – the CBSE and the ICSE. There is NIOS, the National Open School system. Some schools follow the IB system, and then there are the different state boards. Each board devises its own curriculum. The national boards particularly the CBSE focuses on Mughal and British histories, with some fleeting references to some of the other dispensations. Each state board focuses on its regional history plus the British and Moghul period. If you compare the history textbooks of two different states, you will wonder whether they are of the same country!

The truth is that the British and the Mughals ruled India for a significant portion of its recorded history. Nor did they rule all of our geography. The British era is a maximum of 190 years and the Mughal period is 331 years. The two together lasts just 421 years. And our history textbooks literally jump from the Indus valley civilisation that ended around 1300 BC to the Mughal era that started in 1526! If you go by our text books, it is as if Mauryas, Cholas, Cheras, Ahoms, Pallavas, Peshwas, Marathas, Sikhs, Vijayanagara or the Kakatyas, to name a few, did not exist; or if they existed, their influence on our history was insignificant! 

Table below lists the reigning periods of some of the empires and kingdoms that ruled different parts of India.

NameReign (years)Comments
Indus valley civilisation4200Approximate
Pandya1800not continuous
Chola1580
Travancore1127Approximate
Early Chera980
Chero Dynasty660Approximate
Western Ganga(Karnataka)650
Pallava622
Chalukya613Intermittent
Ahom598
Wodeyar548
Eastern Ganga (Orissa)454
Pala 400Approximate
Mughal331
Hoysala317
Second Chera (Kulashekhara)302
Somavamshi (Orissa)300Approximate
Kalabhra250Approximate
Rashtrakuta247
Vijayanagar229
Gupta220
British rule190
Bahmani180
Maratha169
Sena160
Ghazni154
Deva142
Sikh Empire139Not continuous
Kushan136
Maurya Dynasty136
Peshwa110
Gajapathi107
Lodhi105
Tuglaq94
Slave84
Khilji30
Table: Duration of reign of some of the dynasties and kingdom of pre – Independence India (not an exhaustive list)

Here is another way of looking at the same data. I have plotted each kingdom against the time that they were in power. The Y axis records time from 300 BC to Independence.

Timeline of the reign of some of the empires and kingdoms of pre-independence India.

As we look at the chart above, one thing becomes clear. Our history textbooks cover only a very narrow portion of our rich history. Starting with the Indus valley civilisation, we have a recorded history of 7000 plus years. And our history textbooks cover only a very narrow part of this from recent history. Even for those years, they do not cover the many other regimes that ruled this vast country, and their contributions.

It is also not as if the Mughals and the British were the largest empires and that is why they are being extensively covered.

To give an example, “The zenith of Kushān power was reached in the 2nd century ce under King Kaniska, whose empire stretched from Mathura in north-central India beyond Bactria as far as the frontiers of China in Central Asia”. notes the Encyclopaedia Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/place/Afghanistan/Historical-beginnings-to-the-7th-century-ce#ref109911)

Here is another example, this time from the south,

“…Rajendracola Deva I (reigned 1014–44) outdid Rajaraja’s achievements. He placed a son on the throne at Madurai, completed the conquest of Sri Lanka, overran the Deccan (c. 1021), and in 1023 sent an expedition to the north that penetrated to the Ganges”(Ganga) River and brought Ganges water to the new capital, Gangaikondacolapuram. He conquered portions of the Malay Peninsula and the Malay Archipelago”. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chola-dynasty)

An important role of history is to build pride in ourselves and in our nationhood. A nation needs its citizens to have pride in being citizens. This pride comes as much from current achievement as it does from past glories. We also have to learn from the mistakes of our forefathers. Our history books have to cover the past from all regions and eras of the country. And we have many. Be it the architecture of Vijayanagara, the administrative systems of the Marathas, the stepwells of Gujarat, the exploits of Lachit Borphukan, the literature of the Sangam period, or the part played by the Sikh Gurus, Onake Obbava or Rani Chinnamma. We have a rich history. By skipping all of these, our textbooks are doing a great injustice to us and to future generations.

Don’t get it wrong. The Mughals and the British are very much a part of our history. The argument is not that they must not be taught. The argument is that it is not the only part to be taught, to the exclusion of others. They need to be taught in proportion to what they are of our history. Not more, not less.

The coverage of post-independence history is also narrow. It is more or less limited to political history. There is no place in our history textbooks for our achievements in science, engineering, space research and medicine. There is no place either for the stories of CQMH Abdul Hamid, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Shekhon, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla and the many soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the country remains. There is almost no mention of the contributions of Mokshagundam Vishweshwaraiya to the building of a modern India.

The end result of all this is that children come out of school with a very narrow and biased sense of India. It would not at all be surprising if our children grow up not fully grasping what the contributions of our forefathers have been.

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