Published: 30th October 2021
This is not History, but Mythology: Historian and Professor Irfan Habib on the NEP and changes to the curriculum
All India Save Education Committee consisting eminent educationists, professors, have been holding conferences and awareness programmes on what the NEP lacks and how it is going to impact
The government is, through the National Education Policy, is going forward with the version of Indian history that supports its narrow position, said Professor Irfan Habib, noted historian and Professor Emeritus at the Aligarh Muslim University. Speaking at a conference held by a group called the All India Save Education Committee, Habib said, "The NEP was published last year and now it is in the course of implementation. It does happen that History is one of the subjects towards which nationalists and fascists use to usually appeal to particular sections and they are marked out for suppression and discouragement. Nazi's Germany is the classic example of this. The present regime is going forward with the version of Indian history in such a way that it will support its narrow and semi-fascist position."
India's National Education Policy 2020 has been in the news for a long time now. In July 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated the completion of one year since the NEP was introduced. While many institutions are in a rush to make changes in the syllabi and consider themselves to be among the firsts to implement the NEP, there has been a whole lot of pushback as well. The All India Save Education Committee which comprises eminent educationists, professors, former bureaucrats and others, has been holding conferences and awareness programmes on what the policy lacks and how it is going to impact the education system. The committee organised the All India Save Education Conference on October 30.
Throwing light on how UGC has approved the History syllabus for current BA courses, he explained, "We must note that the syllabus approved by UGC speaks only about kings, queens, religious figures and doesn't show much concern for the common people, how they lived and what their troubles were. We would like to have details of economic history, development of ideas, technology and women's history these days. The UGC syllabus is manifestly racial because it begins with the concern to prove that Indians were the original Aryans. How does it matter to the youngsters? At the same time, (they are) bringing this racial issue into India by their manifestly anti-Dravidian position in claiming the Indus Civilisation only for the Aryans. That claim is put forward by a simple change of nomenclature, by calling it Saraswathi Sindhu Civilisation, instead of Indus or Harappan Civilisation."
He further added, "There is also a confusion between the myth and facts. Another interesting thing is that the caste system is not at all discussed in ancient India and only comes into the picture in the period of the Muslim rule. On the other hand, Shudras and others are just pushed under the carpet, Rajputs are thought to be important and students are pushed to study their origin. The saddest part is Akbar, who was a Mughal ruler, has been ruled out of the syllabus. His opponents including Rana Pratap Singh, Queen Durgavathi are to be studied by the students. Students who study medieval India don't even get to study Mughal architecture or art. This is not history but bad mythology and totally opposed to the scientific spirit that must motivate our knowledge."
Meanwhile, Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, former Chairman of the UGC and Professor Emeritus at JNU, said, "One of the simple goals of NEP is to improve the quality of education. My reading of the NEP report clearly shows evidence that while access to quality education is being suggested, it will happen at the cost and denial of education to poor and deprived sections of society. At the moment, our enrollment ratio in higher education is close to 1/3rd which is way behind many developing countries including China. There are limitations of this report but the way it is going to affect equity and inclusion is a matter of concern. We have set up government institutions, private aided colleges, public state universities and their fee structure as well. Our aim to set up these institutions is to provide education to the poor. However, the developments have reversed this aim. One of the main reasons is privatisation of higher education hence if you consider the access to education for the poor and marginalised section is too low. "
Prof Thorat also explained some of the drawbacks of this policy which are worrisome for a larger section of our society. He said, "In the NEP, the duration of the bachelor's degree has been increased to 4 years hence the education cost will obviously increase and the poor students can't afford to pay for it. You are also creating a hierarchy among the degree holders by giving a degree to those who study for three years and honours degree after four years. There is also a recommendation to form a unitary university. This concept has been successful in the USA but it can't happen in India. We started with the affiliated university concept, under which different institutions come and people can study there. Colleges are spread across small towns, villages, cities and so on. This will provide easy access to the poor community. But NEP suggests setting up 360 universities in places like bigger districts which will decrease the access of higher education to the students coming from poor and rural communities. This is another aspect which we have to deal with. The policy also suggests the National Test for Admissions. Why do we need a national test for liberal education? Introducing a national test will impact thousands of students like NEET has already done."