Recently when UGC (University Grants Commission), a statutory body for standard maintenance of higher education in the country, revised the history syllabus for undergraduate programs, a debate sparked amongst the teaching fraternity. History Undergraduate curriculum has witnessed a constant struggle across renowned Universities in India. The revision was made in the first week of July under the Learning Outcome-based Curriculum Framework (LOCF). These suggestions were made in February and March 2021. It fuelled row amongst faculty members across universities when the dropping of the Papers from Medieval period of India was speculated.
What bothered the academics?
The draft features papers with reduced emphasis on Mughal India between the period 1206-1707. It even fails to mention Akbar’s administration. Mughal dynasty appears to be positioned in the background of the other regional powers while it ruled a major part of our subcontinent.
Currently, the syllabus consists of 43 papers which have been restricted to 37. Three medieval papers have been reduced to one. Professors of Medieval India criticised this development and expressed their dismay in the portrayal of history schematically through the lens of other ruling powers like Marathas in the Deccan while ignoring the constant past of Northern plains circa, 14th century.
History Reconstruction through expansion or diminution?
LOCF is interlinked with CBCS (Choice Based Credit System), which is practised in Jamia Milia Islamia University and the University of Delhi. Ambedkar University (AU) is yet to affiliate with CBCS. UGC had stated earlier that only a 20% - 30% deviation of the syllabus is allowed for any university though the redesigning should aim to present a national common curriculum.
A common curriculum should give significance to the presence of every possible entity of our past. Removal of papers like "Inequality and Differences", talking about casteism and its origin of prevalence in India and reduction of a paper on "History of women in Ancient India" to a unit of Technology, commercial development and patriarchal roles & women in Ancient India hardly leaves any space for wide reading on women in Indian history.
Kautilya’s Arthasastra- an important Economic Document, Sanskrit Literary charms of Kalidasa and Charak’s Ayurvedic text –Charaksamhita are some of the seminal works which will be dropped. The social contribution of leaders like B.R. Ambedkar have also been restricted to their political roles. Dalit movements across India hardly find any mention in the redesigned curriculum. The addition of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata to study the nuances of history reconstruction amid lack of sources for the ancient period has also garnered criticism that it doesn’t teach students to question the credibility of literary sources. It is rather uncritical.
Politicization or tampering History?
The controversy dragged further on the imposition of the theory of invaders, which paints Babur, who founded the Mughal dynasty in India as an invading dynasty. Scholars claimed that this more or less is an initiative to erase the heritage of the Mughal administration, which was an Indian dynasty with rulers taking birth in the Indian landscape, adopting Indian festivities and rituals like Holi (Nauroz) and Tuladan and serving the land they ruled.
Paper VII of the draft represents Indian history by following James Mill's idea of division of Indian history into three parts : an Ancient Hindu past, a Medieval Muslim time and a Modern British era. The paper gives a comparative study of Hindus and Muslims instead of positioning them all together in a colonial setup. Which is a disappointing primitive move to study Indian history according to history professors. Bengal Partition of 1905 also ceases to hold any relevance in comparison to the present syllabus.
The debate surrounding the first war of independence with Savarkar’s reference to 1857, and ignoring the preceding tribal revolts like the Santhal Rebellion of 1855 as asserted by the Subaltern scholars. Regional rebellions like the Paika rebellion in Odisha, Sanyasi rebellion in Bengal and Polygar rebellion in Tamil Nadu are skipped. Claims of saffronisation and political agendas have also been pointed and disregarded.
Professors have expressed their concern about the draft encouraging the idea of a 'changeless society' that proves to be a stagnant approach contrary to historical studies. History is not a discipline of chronological events but the evolution of society. India today is what it experienced in its past in constant motion of time, contrary to the teleological assumption.
Important scholars like R.S Sharma and Irfan Habib are not mentioned in the reading list. An Assistant Professor from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College pointed her concerns regarding the reading list, “ The reading gives an impression that India has hardly researched in History after 1960."
"If you look at it in European context, you will realise Indian scholarship is heading towards Renaissance-like development glorifying ancient India. I’m sure it would propel debates around such thesis in near future if it gets implicated without any amendments,” says Rahul Meel, a student of History Hons from the University of Delhi (DU).
- UGC’s initiative for an inclusive history is a step towards legitimising the ignored areas of historical importance. Inclusion of North East Indian History and its struggle during colonial days, Dalit movements and role of Women in History need to be given justice by adding recent diverse reading sources to impart critical abilities of analysis to hone rational scholars in future.
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