Indian history and distorted narratives
30th March, 2021 Art & Culture
- The University Grants Commission (UGC) document on Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework (LOCF), 2021 for undergraduate education in history begins with the declaration: “History, as we all know, is a vital source to obtain knowledge about a nation’s soul”.
- The document seeks to create a student body that will compete globally and be aware of its glorious past — one that will reclaim its history as it takes its rightful place in the new global order.
- It argues that a “new narrative” about the nation needs to emerge through a dialogue between the past and the present.
- The document is a policy directive to mould undergraduate history education to these ends. However, a critical examination of the curriculum reveals that it falls short of its own stated goals.
The idea of Bharat:
- The LOCF makes an argument for inculcating “national pride”. The first paper of the course is titled the ‘Idea of Bharat’ and seeks to study the “primitive life and cultural status of the people of ancient India”.
- The five units of the course cover the concept of Bharatvarsha; Indian knowledge traditions, art and culture; dharma, philosophy and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’; science, environment and medical sciences; and Indian economic traditions.
- The course sits separate from the paper on ancient India (from the earliest time to 550 CE) while exploring ancient philosophical, cultural and material traditions under the umbrella of the term Bharat.
- The course presents Bharatvarsha as an “eternal” concept, as an originary moment of the nation that lies in its ancient past.
- If one places this course within the entirety of the curriculum framework, it appears as a period untouched by invasions — be it Kushan or Sunga people of the early historical period, Timur and Babur of the medieval times, or the British in the modern period.
- It suggests an origin to the nation that is in a pristine ancient past.
- In this schema, Bharat is an exclusionary concept with little space for land and people south of the Vindhyas, or from the east and the northeast.
- Further, it communicates no sense that this nation has a history as Bharat, Hindustan, or India, that as a nation it was crafted into being through the struggle of its people.
- Instead, it reads the nation into a deep past and renders it into a narrative stuck in the stasis of an autochthonous origin.
- Colonial Legacy:
- Terms like the ‘Aryan Age’, ‘Hindu society’, and ‘Muslim rulers’ were deployed in colonial historiography to delineate periods as well as causation in Indian history.
- These were used to pose a contrast between the secular, modern Europe and the backward ‘oriental’ states, with their irrational adherence to religion.
- By bringing these terms back into use, the curriculum undoes the work of generations of historians to challenge colonial frames of history-writing and foreground socioeconomic and political processes.
- Focus on North India:
- It presents a history of only north India.
- In contrast, existing history syllabi currently followed in universities across India have been studying the processes of sociocultural, economic and political changes in different regions like Odisha, the peninsular India, and the Rajputana, Gujarat, Malwa, Bengal regions, among others.
- The readings prescribed in the curriculum do not contain a single reference to primary archives for history-writing. Further, the suggested readings are devoid of some of the most important works in different areas of history-writing.
- Readings in history, or any academic discipline for that matter, are central to building the discipline.
- To develop critical thinking, students must be encouraged to read divergent opinions and engage with different ideological hues of historians. A curriculum framework that does not encourage this only provides faulty foundations for disciplinary education.