In its anxiety to conform to the “Hindutva” view of the past, NCERT seems to have blurred the distinction between myth and history. The history textbooks recently released by it are not only biased but also reminiscent of the out-of-date historical writing of a century ago, say “Marxist” historians, who have analysed these books.
“From the days of Ramayana India had close links with Sri Lanka,” says NCERT’s new class VI textbook India and the World.The incident of Rama’s invasion of Sri Lanka and the killing of its ruler Ravana figures in no history of Sri Lanka; nor, for that matter, is the story recognised as historical even in the textbook under review, points out historian Irfan Habib. “How can then Indo-Sri Lankan relations have begun with the Ramayana?” he asks.
“Hills and mountains are also given sanctity by Hinduism. Mount Kailasa and Vaikuntha (the abode of Siva and Vishnu) and rivers such as Ganga, Saraswati and Kaveri are considered holy,” says the book.”One needs to go to China to revere Kailasa, but how does one go to Mount Vaikuntha (paradise)?” wonders Habib.
According to him, the books try to project the Indian civilisation as having its sole fountainhead in the “Vedic civilisation”, which has been shown to embrace the Indus civilisation as well. In the class XI book Ancient India, the cow is said to be “aghanya” (not to be killed) but no reference is made to “goghna” (the killing of cow for a special person), points out historian Romila Thapar. Similarly, the class VI book says, “Vedas prescribe punishment for injuring or killing the cow by expulsion from the kingdom or by death penalty, as the case may be.”
Where precisely these punishments are mentioned is not stated, points out Habib, adding that the statement occurs not in the Vedas but in the much later sutras/smritis.
The class XI book on ancient India says the glaring evil of the jati system was untouchability. “But untouchability was tied to varna and not to jati. This is another attempt to disallow any tarnishing of the brahmanical systems,” says Thapar.
The same book says that the “nishka” was a coin”; 10 pages later it says there is no evidence of the use of coins in the later Vedic age.”Yet it is also said that money-lending was in vogue. The two statements contradict each other,” observes Thapar.
According to the books, all substantive scientific discoveries — from zero and decimal placement of numerals to heliocentric astronomy — were already made in the “Vedic Civilisation”.
The fact, according to critics, is that when the art of writing was unknown, positional values could not just have been given to the digits. In the Brahmi script, until the 6th century AD there was no symbol for zero.
One of the books says that the Vedic people knew that the earth moves on its own axis and around the sun”. The fact, according to critics, is that Ayrabhatta, who came many centuries later, was the first astronomer in India to present this hypothesis as this textbook itself notes on a subsequent page.
The Class XI book on ancient India says Pushyamitra’s assassination of Brihadratha is the only one in Indian history. It forgets Ajatashatru or the five parricides of that period, says Thapar. The attempt is to show that the crime of regicide was brought in by Muslims, feels Habib.
The class VI book says, “At the time of Alexander’s attack, Indian kings behaved cowardly (sic) and indifferently. This hurt Chanakya deeply and filled him with anger. To defend the country and to get rid of the weak rulers, Chanakya encouraged his students to raise an army…”.
Observes Habib: “Such patriotic sentiments that are attributed to Chanakya do not occur even in the traditional lore (for example in ‘Mudrarakshasa’) and are apparently taken from a TV serial.”