UGC Drafts New History Syllabus To Include “Idea of Bharat,” Chapters on Religious Texts
The University Grants Commission of India (UGC) has put together a draft history syllabus for undergraduates that focuses on Hindu religious texts and mythology and underplays the narrative and impact of Mughal rule in India.
This is the first time the UGC, India’s higher education regulatory body, has drafted a complete syllabus, as compared to previously issuing general guidelines. “A serious remodeling of medieval period has been done that covers larger portions of India for a better understanding of Nation history,” the Commission notes in the preamble to the proposed draft.
The changes in the curriculum to the Bachelor of Arts (History) degree, which will be taught in private and public universities, are reminiscent of several previous attempts by the current ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to use history education as a means to disseminate Hindu religious ideas about India’s past, critics note.
The Commission maintains that this syllabus is to serve as a guiding factor, but previously, it had suggested that universities and colleges can deviate only around 20-30% from the general guidelines it issues.
Major changes to the syllabus include increased focus on religious texts around Hinduism, with chapters dedicated to topics like “The glory of Indian Literature: Ved, Vedanga, Upanishads, Epics, Jain and Buddhist Literature, Smriti, Puranas, etc.” More religiously neutral, yet pivotal texts like Kautilya’s Arthashastra (concerning state policies, military, and economics in ancient India), have been dropped. The UGC has also removed texts on ancient and medieval India by prominent historians like R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib, replacing them with books from authors who, according to a report from The Telegraph, make strong arguments in favor of Hindutva ideologies.
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The syllabus presumes contested historic accounts and gives them validity: for instance, it refers to the existence of the River Saraswati and the ancient civilization around it as if both are fact, even though both are mentioned only in the Rig Veda, with no other sources confirming their existence.
The language used in the syllabus is also noteworthy: it uses terms like “invasion” to convey the arrival of Mughals in India, but calls the arrival of the East India Company — who colonized India for 200 years — a “territorial expansion.”
Further, Muslim history between the 13th to the 18th century isn’t given as much attention by the draft syllabus as it is in the current curriculum. Under the current syllabus, students are required to take three papers (and examinations) to test their knowledge of this period; the UGC’s draft syllabus recommends students take only one exam that tests their knowledge of the period.
To justify the syllabus skewing towards traditional Hindu perspectives on history, the UGC said, “… Justice to the glorious past and vast canvas of Indian History can only be done by providing the much-needed space at micro and macro levels.” One wonders if the same could also be done via carving space in history for a narrative, which is also much-needed, that owes its allegiance to balance, and not to any one religious party.