Distortion of Indian History and School Textbooks sign now

To :
Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam,
President of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan

12 July 2004

Respected Rashtrapatiji,

We wish to draw your attention to an issue that has the
potential to needlessly divide large sections of Indians, and also to
inflict needless harm on crores of Indian children. Before we
proceed, may we make it clear that what follows is a purely cultural
and educational statement, not a political one.

We are referring to the fresh controversies about textbooks
and education. In the last few weeks, the media has relayed a number
of disquieting statements from various political voices ; we have
heard, for instance, about the need to "detoxify" education,
to "purge" institutions of previous appointees, to withdraw
or "desaffronize" school textbooks, etc. Strong words indeed. Whether
a "Great Purge" а la Stalin is meant, we do not know. What is clearly
implied is not only that the previous regime dangerously dabbled with
school education, but that we ought to return to the previous
condition which, consequently, is assumed to have been near perfect
in every respect.

This picture is misleading, because it conceals serious
issues confronting us, and promotes polemics rather than the healthy
national debate that is urgently needed. The issues we must address
as a mature nation, and not through mud-slinging, are mainly the
following three :

1. Historical distortions

One of the main reproaches heard has been about the
historical distortions allegedly introduced in the recent NCERT
textbooks, in particular. Actually, most of the corrections made in
those textbooks consisted merely in removing passages that were
offensive to Jains and Sikhs, and the current campaign against this
so-called "toxification" has come up with no examples of where it
occurred. Moreover, it is implicitly assumed that the earlier
textbooks, most of them written by historians who have made no bones
about their Marxist propensities, were free from distortions and of a
high standard.

History writing is never easy, especially in India whose
history was first written by our former colonial masters. Also,
historians often disagree and are never free from prejudices. The
Marxist approach to history sees ancient societies as barbaric and
primitive, at social evolution as basically class struggle, and at
India as a sponge that merely absorbed from many waves of invaders,
without evolving or contributing anything specifically her own.

If one is to believe some of the earlier NCERT textbooks
(which were the primary inspiration for most State board textbooks in
circulation), Indian history is worth studying only to learn about
the monstrosity of caste ; the most sublime concepts of Hindu,
Buddhist or Jain scriptures are covered, if at all, in a dry
paragraph or two ; Hindu society is consistently portrayed as
regressive, superstitious or stagnant while Islamic and Christian
inputs receive much praise ; in fact, Islamic rulers are depicted as
generally well-intentioned, progressive, broad-minded and tolerant,
while their millions of victims are denied even the right to be
remembered (contrast this with the way other nations zealously
preserve the memories of such holocausts) ; Guru Tegh Bahadur, one
learned, was a bandit ; some of India's freedom fighters
were "terrorists," while spiritual leaders such as Swami Vivekananda
or Sri Aurobindo were "communal."

This is the legacy of colonial historians, which we are yet
to obliterate. There are many more such unacceptable distortions,
extending from the unscientific and discredited Aryan invasion
theory, which archaeological and literary evidence has disproved, but
is still taught in many textbooks in its crudest racial and divisive
form, to a grotesque overemphasis on caste, as if it were the be-all
and end-all of Indian history, and to serious misportrayals of
India's struggle for independence.

Whatever its worthwhile economic and social studies, the net
result of Marxist historiography is an effective denial of the
spiritual foundations of Indian civilization and of its original,
sustained, varied contributions to the progress of humanity. Why so
many past and present Western thinkers, poets, novelists, scientists
should have been so deeply influenced by India is not explained. How
our spiritual culture has had a great cementing and unifying impact
on the Indian masses is also passed over in silence.

Students who receive this education have no self-respect and
are devoid of pride in their country. The result is that our young
people are at best ignorant and at worst have contempt for their
Indian self.

2. Teaching Indian culture and heritage

This brings us to the second issue, which is the appalling
ignorance the average Indian student has of India's heritage. We hear
more and more of value-oriented education, which more often than not
just repackages traditional Indian values. What is wrong in using a
more open language and calling for Indianizing Indian education? We
hear also of "personality development" and find that yoga is gaining
worldwide acceptance why not accept this scientific method of self-
knowledge and self-fulfilment as a precious tool from our heritage,
which our students can greatly benefit from physically, mentally and

We wish to stress that calling for an intelligent integration
of Indian culture and heritage in education is not a sin ; it is
not "communal" but progressive. The students are taught mathematics,
but not the fact that numerals and their decimal notation originated
in India and paved the way for mathematical discoveries ahead of
Europe. Students are taught science, but know nothing of our ancient
time-scales (which provoked the admiration of astronomer Carl Sagan),
our notions of atomism, evolution, our advances in chemistry,
metallurgy and other technologies. They are not even told that J. C.
Bose's invention of wireless transmission (wrongly attributed to
Marconi) is now officially acknowledged. If they learn about
democracy, they will form an impression that it was brought to India
by the British, as though we did not have long traditions of
democratic workings from the Mahajanapadas to the Chola kingdom. They
now learn a little ecology, but nothing of India's great ecological
heritage. They have no inkling of India's contributions to thought,
science, technology, medicine, literature, art in many regions of the
world. They are told nothing of major discoveries made in the last
fifty years by Indian and foreign scholars in every branch of Indian

Such cultivated ignorance, which even Macaulay would not have
dreamed of, is inexcusable in independent India. Why India should be
presented as a dark hole of ignorance, with all worthwhile knowledge
seen to be coming from the West, is inexplicable. This only reflects
on the ignorance of our educationists and textbook writers. It
certainly does nothing to build the students' self-confidence as
Indians, their pride in being Indian, and their respect for India
values essential to the building of a new India, as you have
yourself, your Excellency, highlighted again and again in your
speeches and books with great force of conviction.

Indian students have a birthright to know about their
heritage, and no one should be allowed to deny this birthright.

3. The quality and modernization of Indian education

This grave defect is, in fact, only one aspect of the crisis
afflicting our educational system. Rather than overhaul it after
Independence, we have somehow continued with the British system,
while making it worse : we have overburdened it with a heavier and
heavier syllabus, more and more examinations (now starting at
kindergarten level in some schools), more and more data to be
mechanically memorized.

Both teaching and learning have become caricatures of what
they should be. The child's inquisitiveness and creative qualities
are smothered and he or she is expected to become an unquestioning
machine. Neither debate nor inquiry are encouraged. Textbooks are of
generally a very poor standard, with irrelevant, undigested and
seriously outdated data, shabby language, unappealing printing.

Moreover, rather than generate an atmosphere of friendship
and team work, cut-throat competition encourages individualism. An
absurd ranking system ensures that one percent this side or that side
determines the child's destiny and sometimes snuffs out a life. The
number of students committing suicide in India, running in many
hundreds every year, is scandalous, yet not thought worthy of notice
by our media and politicians.

In a word, we have created a cruel and hateful system, which
is all that education should not be. A few forward-looking schools,
aware of those tragic failures, have taken the lead in experimenting
with a lighter syllabus, fewer or no exams, and creative methods
helping the child's talents and potentialities to blossom, but the
average schools continue to churn out mental and emotional cripples.

* * *

Those are the real issues facing us, not saffronization or
crimsonization. It is not a healthy sign for the nation that they are
not receiving the attention they deserve. Once again, we wish to
point out that those who have been calling for "purges"
and "detoxification" are working to revive a dying ideology and to
impose it on Indian students in the name of political correctness.
But anyone who intends to regulate public thought, crudely or subtly,
will soon learn that we Indians have matured a good deal and can
often think for ourselves. No thought police is going to be accepted,
however righteous its garb.

What Indian intellectual life and education are yearning for
is not ideology but freedom from ideologies ; not thought police but
stimulation for original, creative thinking. A lighter, fulfilling
and stimulating education, based on innovative pedagogy and promoting
the great human values and achievements of Indian culture, is what
the Indian youth are asking. Let us spare our children the putrid
politics of a few adults who have not been able to move away from
colonial times. Let us feel proud of our Indian culture and heritage,
which alone can save India from further fragmentation, and which
still has much to offer to the world.

We request your Excellency to ensure that :

1. Divisive ideologies, witch hunts or other purges are not
allowed at any cost ;

2. Education does not become the plaything of politics, with
sweeping revisions imposed upon every regime change ; a degree of
continuity in the educational policy is essential, as without it
students are bound to be confused and to suffer ;

3. A task force should be created to modernize Indian education,
so as to make it both Indian and an enriching education.

Together let us take India forward and not backward.

With profound regards,

Swami Dayananda Sarasvati
Founder, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam
Padma Bhushan & Director, Nrithyodaya (Chennai)

Dr. Nanditha Krishna
Director, C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation (Chennai)

Dr. R. Nagaswamy
Former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu, and former Vice-
Chancellor, Kanchipuram University (Deemed)

Shri P. Parameswaran
Padma Shri & President, Vivekananda Kendra (Kanyakumari)

Smt. Tavleen Singh
Senior columnist

Prof. Prema Pandurang
President of Kshetropasana (Chennai)

Shri P. R. Krishnakumar
Managing Director, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (Coimbatore)

Brahmachari Abhayamrita Chaitanya
Chief Operating Officer, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Deemed

Prof. Kapil Kapoor
Professor, Centre of Linguistics and English, and former pro-Vice-
Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Prof. Makarand Paranjape
Professor of English, School of Language, Literature and Culture
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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Latest Signatures

  • 30 December 2015250. Tapas M
    I support this petition
  • 21 November 2015249. D C
    I support this petition
  • 02 October 2015248. Kriishnamohan Davila
    There's no historical distortion in it as such..
  • 16 August 2015247. Ajay Cr
    I support this petition
  • 15 August 2015246. Ramakrishna Day
    I support this petition
  • 24 July 2015245. Hemant Fritz
    I support this petition
  • 24 June 2015244. Madhukara Mp
    This is very urgently required!!!
  • 12 June 2015243. Satish K
    As Indians, we need to undo the damage done. "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, t
  • 08 June 2015242. Sonali R
    I support this petition
  • 06 June 2015241. Sandeep J
    Restructuring of the educational system is extremely essential to keep up with the changing times.
  • 05 June 2015240. Amit S
  • 12 April 2015239. Anand P
    This is very necessary for proper future
  • 13 March 2015238. Secular S
    I support this petition
  • 07 February 2015237. Mingyao P
    I support this petition
  • 06 February 2015236. Rajashekar Dalton
    Hats off to the petitioners. This kind of education will give our young generation the physical, mental and spiritual strength that the current generation lacks.
  • 30 January 2015235. Vijapurapu S
    I sympathize with this petition
  • 25 January 2015234. Sudeep Krause
    I support this petition
  • 13 January 2015233. Rajagopal Si
    Plese spare the children/teacher/parents from further political vendetta. Let facts be presented and not discredited mythologies. As it is the schoolbag weight is too much (around 12-14 kgs)
  • 17 December 2014232. Karine Duncan
    I support this petition
  • 10 November 2014231. Manik A
    I support this petition
  • 04 November 2014230. Sharada Rojas
    I support this petition
  • 14 October 2014229. Praveen Mullins
    I have found "theory of relativity" and "group theory" in our ancient scriptures , and i am sure other path-breaking technologies which will change the world will also find a place. And we are ignorant of them, only bcos we are made to look them down.My 1
  • 04 October 2014228. Bharath G
    I support this petition
  • 02 October 2014227. Manish P
    Its high time that we teach our children the glorious aspects of our traditions and culture without viewing them with a 'myopic' prism of religion
  • 05 September 2014226. Prabhu Craig
    I support this petition
  • 31 August 2014225. Navaja Berry
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Maureen AcostaBy:
Justice, rights and public orderIn:
Petition target:
President of India


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