The Mughals erased, or a storm in a tea cup?


India is now embroiled in a contentious argument over the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s (NCERT) decision to reduce the amount of Mughal history taught in the country’s schools. While some contend that this action is part of a wider plan to remove the Mughal era from Indian history, others think it is an essential step towards relieving student stress and implementing a more balanced method of teaching Indian history.

I believe this argument is a storm in a teacup and tells us more about our contemporary age of easy indignation, unserious debate, and political point-scoring than it does about the state of education in our nation. I say this as an educator and amateur historian. The true discussion we should be having is how to teach our children about 2500 years of Indian history in a way that is interesting, instructive, and respects the depth and breadth of our heritage.

Understanding the demographics, cultures, and practices of the various parts of India throughout the previous two and a half millennia can help us better comprehend who we are and how we got here. This necessitates a thorough examination of all the political systems that have had major historical presences in the subcontinent. One glorious 200-year chunk of Indian history’s medieval era makes up the Mughal era. Aside from that, there are still another two millennia of Indian history to cover, in addition to other significant medieval dynasties like the Rajputs, Vijayanagara Empire, Ahom Kingdom, cholas and the Southern dynasties, all of which have been and still are underrepresented.

In India, after independence, medieval Mughal history has come to be associated with both Indian history and national icons like the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal. This is a logical evolution from the independence struggle when we supported the Mughal Empire as the last great expression of Indian nationhood (remember how the uprising of 1857 came together behind putting Bahadur Shah back on the Delhi throne). We must recognize that there is a lot more to our past that requires attention, even if the Mughals have a significant position in our national consciousness. Can we genuinely claim to be honoring the breadth and depth of our history? I have my doubts.

The NCERT did a fantastic job with its new National Education Policy, which has received high accolades from leading academics and educators of both progressive and conservative persuasions for its scope and vision. This demonstrates that the NCERT is made up of qualified scholars and teachers, as opposed to some rabid revisionists, as they are being described as being.

To lessen the burden on students, the NCERT eliminated overlapping content from grades 6 through 12. In particular, chapters on Central Islamic Lands, the Clash of Cultures, and the Industrial Revolution are included in the 11th-grade curriculum, as is a chapter on Mughal Courts in Kings and Chronicles 2. Grade 12 has been designed around topics from Indian history. It spans a period of more than 2000 years and is separated into three sections. Kings and Chronicles are the subjects of one of the 12 themes. It is centered on important laws that changed the way things were and how people thought. The rationalized syllabus also incorporates Akbar’s policies within this theme. This goes above and beyond the in-depth information, students receive in the middle school curriculum,  to the exclusion of the rest.

The Mughals seem to have been overrepresented in our history textbooks and were a clear candidate for right-sizing. I doubt most people could locate the Vijayanagara or Chola empire on a map, say five intelligible phrases about the Guptas or Mauryas, or identify the key Mughal rulers if I polled my (admittedly elderly) ICSE peers or their kids. This is not how we create a sense of national identity.

To bring out the problem and claim that “Mughal History” has been “eliminated” from NCERT is oversimplified and dishonest. It is only one component of a bigger curriculum reform that has been implemented in Grade 12 to lighten the load on pupils. 

No curriculum can do Indian history justice because it is too rich, lengthy, and complicated. In the Wikipedia era, we need to introduce our kids to the big ideas and broad strokes of history, help them understand where things came from, and give them the skills and desire to study and learn more as they get older. The recent restructuring is a positive start in that direction. 

Those who are arguing over the current reorganization lack both perspectives on the scope of Indian history and comprehension of the difficulties in teaching it. It would be better to pick up a few history books on their own.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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