Indian historians and students of the subject have long loved to mock the omissions and farcical stories that characterize history curricula in Pakistan. The Persian, Hindu, and even Buddhist eras in present-day Pakistan are either absent or grudgingly mentioned as insignificant interruptions to the “real history” which begins in the eighth century with the arrival of Arabs. It really is an insult to history.
Thus the Indus Valley Civilization is discussed, but not with the emphasis it deserves. The Aryan civilization, so crucial to understanding the next stages, is completely omitted.
Never mind that the country was once part of the Persian empire of Cyrus the Great or that in the third century BC it was part of the rule of Asoka, who ruled from Pataliputra (modern Patna) in eastern India.
Well, the joke is now about those Indians laughing at Pakistan. And it’s not funny.
India’s recent textbook purges show a similar disregard for history and fact, with the government seeking to change the way it has traditionally been taught and pick and choose what students want to learn – and what to ignore.
Textbooks have been quietly edited to remove significant pieces of Mughal-era history in India, including the achievements of that Muslim dynasty, even as their legacy lives on in iconic architecture, cultural traditions, and much more. References to India’s first independent education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad – a senior figure in the country’s struggle for liberation from British rule, a close comrade of Mahatma Gandhi and a beacon of Hindu-Muslim unity – have been eliminated.
Yet India’s intelligentsia has barely uttered a cry of protest at this brutal smashing of history. This is no less than lying to students. It harms both serious academic scholarship and access to the most basic facts for future generations.
The medieval historical period is such a pivotal era of India’s past – a period when, among other things, the country’s economic power reached its peak – and to exclude it from the curriculum would amount to gross intellectual dishonesty.
Historical narratives are always open to alternative viewpoints, revision, debate, and healthy discussion, but omitting facts is a non-academic approach.
The current government’s interest in this historical course correction is not new. There has always been a school of thought that is ideologically averse to the conventional understanding of how medieval kings ruled. Supporters of this school of thought question the sources that suggest, for example, that medieval Muslim kings and monarchs often formed alliances with their Hindu counterparts.
But instead of provoking objective debates and discussions, entire chapters have been dropped. History cannot be sacrificed on the altar of political convenience. Both students and scientists should take serious offense to the changes.
This is an infringement of the right to education and, more importantly, to know the truth. But this isn’t just an academic exercise – it has serious implications.
Perhaps more than the damage to historical academic scholarship, these deletions can be understood as a message to Indian minorities. By erasing significant parts of India’s Muslim past from textbooks, the government appears to be pandering to those who believe that the country’s history and future belong only to Hindus.
Such steps can only polarize society; challenge the country’s inclusive growth, peace and unity; and mark a new low for India. As it stands, none of the 301 directly elected MPs from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are Muslim. It does not have a single Muslim among the country’s more than 1,000 state legislators.
We read reports suggesting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led government is keen to reach out to the so-called pasmanda Muslims – a large section of the community made up of socially and economically disadvantaged classes.
But if it takes those efforts seriously, the government should discourage moves that further alienate Muslims. For example, it should pay homage to freedom fighters like Maulana Azad – a fierce critic of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Two-Nation theory, which was the basis for the creation of Pakistan – rather than erasing their legacy.
The BJP cannot hope for a realistic breakthrough in any part of the community if its policies result in patriotic Muslims, deeply proud of their Indian identity, being pushed against the wall.
And the country’s rulers must be careful enough to realize that India’s much-touted growth cannot be achieved if a large proportion of its citizens feel unwelcome and attacked.
When a community is repeatedly told that the precursors of its faith were marauders and detrimental to the land, it is denied the deep historical bonds of love and sacrifice that define the identity of Muslim Indians and their place in the nation.
India is home to 200 million Muslims eager to be a part of the country’s growth and development. Instead of further segregation, they should be assured of their place in India. That can only happen if the government recognizes Islamic history as India’s and embraces the country’s multi-ethnic past.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.