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Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 08:36 GMT
History teaching: a source of political tension?

There is renewed controversy in India over what are seen as attempts by Hindu nationalists to rewrite history by revising the school curriculum.

Textbooks in both India and Pakistan often interpret historical events in the region from a national perspective.

Do these views, passed down to younger generations through the education system, continue to perpetuate hatred of different religions and cultures in the region?

Is a nationalist view of history acceptable? Or should the teaching of history in South Asia be more objective?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

As a university professor, I was amused to read your lead statement that says that India and Pakistan interpret their history from their own nationalist perspective. What do you think historians and textbook writers in the UK, the USA other countries do? Is this not yet another instance of colonial pot calling the colonised kettle black?
Dr. B. Kumar, USA

Historians do and have played an important part in shaping the thought process of today's Indian youth. These people who never witnessed these events in the past have been given a perspective by the writings of the historians. Children should be presented with the facts of the past, however 'unpatriotic', and they themselves should be given the freedom to interpret it as they would, unbiased and unmodulated.
Naveen, USA

A nation's history must be written by her people

Vishnu Mahant, USA
A nation's history must be written by her people. The historical facts do not change, but emphasis on subject and interpretation always does. Americans may see the British as colonists, the British may see themselves as rulers of the world. It is no different for India. A country must write history in light of her people's achievements so that her citizens can take pride.
Vishnu Mahant, USA

History in Pakistan is written to please the Government and many times excludes the religious minorities of that country. Our history is so interesting but historians try to brainwash the students.
Andrew Jilani, USA

History is not supposed to bind a nation but it is supposed to speak the truth. Unfortunately the truth itself got distorted before it was disseminated to the common man. And the greatest controversy is about the partition of India. Apart from those who witnessed the historical event, nobody else knows who is to be blamed for the partition. Nehru or Jinnah? Or was it Gandhi himself?
Sweta Singh, India

A very powerful tool to build a national identity

Pritam Banerjee, India
History is subjective, and it is a very powerful tool to build a national identity. Thus if it is used to foster a sprit of nationalism in a country as fragmented as India, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The 'liberal' interpretation of history is as subjective as the so-called nationalist one. Selective glorifying of events and people was done in Soviet Russia and Gaullist France. The 'world history' taught in most Western universities is still very Eurocentric. It's high time someone realised the benefits of positive propaganda.
Pritam Banerjee, India

The history that is taught in schools in India is vast and expansive. By the time a student finishes his/ her term at high school, he/ she is at ease with the religious, social and political history of all the major civilisations, not to mention a detailed history of Indian civilisation. This in itself is a significant achievement. However, the perspective is still Marxist/ Socialist and despite the protestations against revisionist history, students and the general populace should be given the opportunity to examine alternative perspectives. It will further progressive thought and give the recipients of these alternatives a choice.
Rahul Labh, Taiwan

Sadly, history in the Indian subcontinent is taught by concealing a lot of truths about the past. Acknowledging them is the first step to understand about the past.
L. Suresh Kumar-LSK, Canada

The past leads to and creates the present

Nikhil, Australia
New facts are continually being unearthed and need to be recorded with objectivity in mind. South Asia has a long and exhaustive past that should be taught to its citizens and the world. Correctly understanding this history will explain the present circumstances and issues surrounding South Asia. The past leads to and creates the present.
Nikhil, Australia

Every country has rewritten history depending on time and situation - it is the same with India. But I do believe that if the truth is presented in textbooks it will definitely be good for coming generations. With the internet becoming acceptable in Indian society, the people themselves will find out the truth.
Hemendra, India

For generations Indian students were taught history written by foreigners who may not have been able to discover or analyse some of the historical evidence due to the lack of advanced technology prevalent today or may have projected a biased view. Therefore India should definitely rewrite its history based on modern findings.
Nihar Trivedi, Australia

I wouldn't agree that Pakistan is teaching more fundamentalist history in its schools. I believe the history should be taught as it is. National perceptive is also necessary so major historical events in one's nation should be mentioned.
Ahmad Moatesim Butt, USA/ Pakistan

As Nehru once said, "we cannot change history but we can change the future". We must remember that what we now see as "India" was originally a collection of petty rajas, and kingdoms. It's the invaders who unified the subcontinent into a country called India. So let's be truthful about the facts and teach history as it happened and thank those invaders for the present unity and diversity we enjoy.
Himmat Singh, USA

The affairs of men and nations are constantly in motion

Seema, USA
The affairs of men and nations are constantly in motion. There should be a radical change in the teaching of history. The function of a historian is neither to love the past, nor condemn it but to master it in order to understand its bearing on the present.
Seema, USA

History is where you tend to know about your country or religion. It also reminds you of the mistakes we have made in the past and what led us to what we are right now. So I think there will always be an element of religious conflict when you read history but it is the truth and we have to live with it. It is a reminder to both the oppressed and the oppressor of who came from where.
Rama Rao, India/ USA

No matter who writes history, it will never be accurate as historians will have their personal bias. However, more secular history should be promoted in both countries. This will encourage a more peaceful atmosphere which is required in these nations.
Kabeer, India

A nationalist view of history has the power to really harm a country. Forgetting one's history is the surest way of retaining all the current problems we have and making them worse.
Saira Ali, India/ USA

A child is like putty and can be influenced by what he is taught

Vivek Manchanda, India/ USA
It is important that the school curriculum helps children realise the importance of secularism and tolerance. The order of the day is to be an internationalist and a progressive human being that values individual freedom and champions democracy and upholds secularism. A child is like putty and can be influenced by what he is taught.
Vivek Manchanda, India/ USA

If you scratch the surface of Pakistan, Indian history lies just beneath. It is sad that although we share pretty much the same history before 1947, we can't agree on it. Since Pakistan is 97% Muslim, there will probably be a leaning toward teaching the Muslim era of the subcontinent. However, Pakistan should never forget that it is the home of one of the oldest civilisations in the world, the Indus river valley and its great ancient cities: Mohenjo Daro, Taxila and Harrapa, to name a few.
Wajiha, Boston/ Pakistan

In India the term 'secular-liberal' has been appropriated by the political left, in particular the Marxists. The converse of such a viewpoint does not necessarily need to be nationalist. It is important to teach the truth about history but for so long the version of history taught in India has been so inimical to the traditions of Hinduism that the opposition to such a stance appears to have a 'nationalist' flavour.
Kaushal, USA

History teaching in India should be made interesting, relevant and coherent. It was the most boring subject as taught to us. If taught well it can help us come to grips with tensions that persist and threaten the country even today.
Raju, USA

History books do not always tell the truth

Sikha Datta, USA
History books do not always tell the truth and thorough research should be done before an event gets a place in our textbooks. For example, history books about India written by either Indians or the British could be very different.
Sikha Datta, USA

History should be taught from an objective point of view. This would culminate in the co-existence of various religious groups and at the same time bring out a national agenda of one united country with all faiths.
Chaman Bhardwaj, USA

History is not only the stories of kings and kingdoms, political leaders and nations and of religions and cults. It should not be taught so as to justify the existence of a nation, religion or cult. It should be written to represent facts scientifically and taught in such a way that observation is left to the reader.
Birbal Chungkham, USA

India needs to rewrite "colonial" history to reflect new facts that have been uncovered in recent times. I would prefer such a rendition to be unbiased and factual.
Pulikeshi Singh, USA

Indians have a right and indeed an obligation to investigate and learn their own history

Srinivas Bangarbale, India/ USA
India has a continuous history that predates much else in the world. Successive waves of invasions - both from Arabs and Europeans - have consigned that history to the dungeons in favour of the invaders' versions. It is high time true Indian history was investigated rationally, free from all bias and documented for posterity. Indians have a right and indeed an obligation to investigate and learn their own history.
Srinivas Bangarbale, India/ USA

In reality, India was never a secular country and there was no secular Prime Minister in that country. Both the BJP and Congress parties have disclosed this since the beginning of the 1980's. Teaching history according to their own way is another expression of their ugly communal belief.
Noman, Bangladesh

History books everywhere have a certain degree of ethnocentrism in them and I don't think that India and Pakistan are exceptions. However, I do believe that having more objective history textbooks would be beneficial in reducing the animosity that exists between South Asian neighbours. The problem is that a lot of the distrust built up over the years is due to the respective governments using propaganda to win over public sentiments.
Wasim Choudhury, Bangladeshi residing in the USA

Every country presents history with a nationalistic angle. Then there is the saying: "History is written by the victorious". The way children are taught about history will definitely effect their feelings about other countries, religions and people. However, in India, most schools are secular as children from all religious groups are enrolled together. I'm not sure that's the case in Pakistan where a 99% Muslim population exists with a greater increase in fundamentalist schools.
A. Rastogi, USA

Indians have a definite right to rewrite history if more facts are uncovered and more research is done. Also the fact is that we study the history of medieval India much more than the 2000 year history before that.
Jee, India

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