In a move that has sparked controversy, all references to the first prime minister in India and any contributions he had made have been removed from secondary education textbooks in Rajasthan.
Led by the governing conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, the secondary education board in the state of Rajasthan has decided to remove any mention of prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as English poets and Nelson Mandela.
While the new secondary school textbook, which has been posted online, does mention Nehru, it is only in passing and does not discuss any of his contributions such as his role in helping India gain their independence from Great Britain, or his leadership of the country during its early years as a new democracy.
The board had previously removed mention of Western poets including John Keats and T.S. Eliot. In addition, a chapter discussing Nelson Mandela had also been removed, which the board called “meaningless.” The chapter on Mandela was replaced with one on India’s tribal communities because leaders noted a desire to bring the work of Indian authors to the students.
“It is strange and unfortunate Rajasthan students have been reading chapters on Africa and poems by foreign authors while they are ignorant about our own tribals and poets. These textbooks giving undue importance to foreign authors and chapters are meaningless,” a senior committee member.
During the last Hindu nationalist-led government, in 1999-2004, a similar effort to change or rewrite Indian history was made as educational texts were changed to highlight the lives of the Hindu Kings in place of the Mughal emperors. According to Hindu nationalists, most of Indian history had previously been written from a Eurocentric, colonial point of view and should be changed.
At the time, and currently in Rajasthan, the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi, considered to be the father of the nation, had been left out of textbooks. Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the Hindu right wing in 1948 by a man, Nathuram Godse, who was under the assumption that Gandhi’s beliefs placated Muslims, writes Annie Gowen for The Washington Post.
Godse had previously been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu party connected to B.J.P., the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s Congress Party leaders, led by Nehru’s descendants, were unhappy with the decision, as Congress party leader Sachin Pilot sent out a tweet calling the move “petty thinking.”
The move comes at the same time that the central government in the country is preparing to announce a new national education policy that many, including historians and educators, have shared concerns over, believing that it could cause similar changes to be made to curriculum. India’s education minister Smriti Irani has also recently become a source of controversy after discussing plans to require ancient Sanskrit to be taught in engineering and technical universities throughout the country. She has since changed her mind, saying it would be offered as an elective.