History Panchayat was held at SIO Hqrs, New Delhi
A comparative study of the account of freedom struggle in class 12th textbooks of India and Pakistan
Advisory Board Member, Centre for Educational Research & Training (CERT)
Our tendency to make our heroes and villains black-and-white cardboard figures has not only distorted history but has created problems for millions on both sides who are inflamed by wrongly created perceptions of each other.
(Akbar S. Ahmed)
History… the very word invokes the forgettable memories of dreary lectures fired upon students trapped in a classroom. Everyone who has attended the school has been there. But history is much more than mere gobbling up names and dates and then omitting them out in the examinations. History is one of the basic reasons of advancement of humankind. And hence without any doubt has remained one of the core subjects to be taught in schools. It shapes the future by retelling the past. History is vital to emulate the successes and steer-clear-of failures of our predecessors. It’s a “two-way process” in words of Romila Thapar, “where, the needs of the present are read into the past, and where the image of the past is sought to be imposed upon the present.” In short, “The image of the past is the historian’s contribution to the future.”
But what if history is contaminated? It corrupts minds and hearts… and cause irreparable losses to the soul! If such history is taught in school, it infects generations to come with a tainted outlook. But isn’t history all about perspectives, gaps, silences and prejudices prompting Will Durant to say, “Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice.”???
The limited scope of this research paper does not allow us to comparatively analyse the Indian and Pakistani textbooks on the basis of all the major events that unfolded during the freedom struggle against the British in the subcontinent. Hence following is an exercise in comparing and analysing two arbitrarily chosen events from the freedom struggle as mentioned in the Textbook in History for Class XII (Themes in Indian History Part III) published by NCERT and Textbook of Pakistan Studies for Class XII published by Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore approved by Ministry of Education, Islamabad. Henceforth, these texts will be simply referred to as ‘NCERT XII’ and ‘PTB XII’ respectively. The paper concentrates on “Khilafat Movement” and “Cabinet Mission Plan” and how these are treated in the Indian and Pakistani school textbooks for class XII.
NCERT XII uses the term Khilafat Movement only twice in the main text in two short sentences which are as follows:
- To further broaden the struggle he [i.e. Gandhi] had joined hands with the Khilafat Movement that sought to restore the Caliphate, a symbol of Pan-Islamism which had recently been abolished by the Turkish ruler Kemal Attaturk. (p. 350)
- Gandhiji hoped that by coupling non-cooperation with Khilafat, India’s two major religious communities, Hindus and Muslims, could collectively bring an end to colonial rule. These movements certainly unleashed a surge of popular action that was altogether unprecedented in colonial India. (p. 350)
The first sentence is historically wrong. It gives the impression that Khilafat Movement was launched after the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished by Kemal Ataturk. The fact is that Khilafat Movement started in 1919 and Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Caliphate on March 3, 1924. The manner in which it is mentioned, Khilafat Movement seems to be secondary and unimportant. It seems that its sole significance lies in the notion that Gandhi graced it with his cooperation. This is indicated by the structure of the sentence “coupling non-cooperation with Khilafat”. Even NCERT X mentions Khilafat movement as, “Gandhiji saw this as an opportunity to bring Muslims under the umbrella of a unified national movement.” (p. 56). NCERT X further mentions that, “The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in January 1921.” (p. 58) The truth, on the contrary, is that Khilafat was ‘coupled’ with non-cooperation movement and not vice versa. Indian National Congress’ official website says: “In November 1919, the All-India Khilafat Conference was held in Delhi where it was decided that a non-cooperation movement against the government would be started unless the demands of the Muslims are met.” (See: http://aicc.org.in/web.php/making of_the_nation/detail/5#.WNSpcIGGPIU accessed on 24 March 2017). This implies that Khilafat Movement had decided to start a non-cooperation movement (i.e. Tehreek e Tark e Mawalat) in November 1919 while the resolution of Non-Cooperation Movement was passed by Indian National Congress at a special session held in Calcutta only on September 8, 1920. Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar’s comments make sense in this context when he says, “Muslims have made the congress, Indian National Congress; before that it was an oratory platform for those in the comfort zone.” This position is also vindicated by B.R. Ambedkar who minces no words in correcting the popular conscience, “The truth is that the non-cooperation has its origin in the Khilafat agitation and not in the Congress Movement for Swaraj: that it was started by the Khilafatists to help Turkey and adopted by the Congress only to help the Khilafatists.”
NCERT XII further mentions Khilafat Movement in a box of “Additional Information”. It must be noted that this is ‘additional’ information and students are not evaluated on its basis. The box tries to answer the question ‘What was Khilafat Movement?’ Ironically, it begins with an unforgivable historical mistake implying that Khilafat Movement existed barely for a year that is 1919-1920. The reality is that the movement was alive and kicking till 1923-24. It gradually declined after Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement in 1922 and only lost its significance in 1924 after
abolition of caliphate in Turkey. Another problem which is never highlighted in Indian textbooks is the fact that when All India Khilafat Committee and Indian National Congress had joined forces for Khilafat Movement and Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi had no moral right to unilaterally call off the movement. The agony and frustration in which this untimely call off resulted not only among Muslims but also others and even among Congressmen is not duly reflected in our textbooks that tend to project Gandhi as some sort of superman and sole protagonist of the freedom struggle.
Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali are not regarded as national leaders of freedom movement but only projected as Muslim leaders (See: NCERT X, p. 56). On page number 350 in NCERT XII, the only page where Khilafat Movement is mentioned, ‘Gandhiji’ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ is mentioned seven times collectively, while name of Mohammed Ali is mentioned once…
in the whole page? No, in the whole textbook! He is not referred to as Maulana, even Jauhar is missing from his name.
PTB XII has a 25 page first chapter on “Establishment of Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. Other chapters on geography or culture of Pakistan etc are beyond the scope of this paper. Among the 25 pages, the textbook discusses Khilafat Movement from page 9 to 12. It discusses in detail the cause and origin of Khilafat Movement, its leaders, its objectives and activities. It has a special side-heading highlighting the “Role of Gandhi” which begins with the sentence, “Gandhi got a golden chance to exploit the Muslim power for his own purposes.” (p. 11)
According to the textbook, Gandhi advised Muslims to
- Surrender the titles awarded by the government
- Resign from government jobs
- Come on the streets against the government by quitting the educational activities
- Present themselves for arrests
- Refrain from paying the taxes
- Refuse to receive financial grants from the governments
- Migrate to Iran, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries
It goes on, “The Muslim leaders could not comprehend the conspiracy of Gandhi and followed his guidelines. It effected [sic] the economy, education and social conditions of the Muslims very badly. Millions of Muslim families migrated to Afghanistan after selling their properties to the Hindus. Afghan government refused entry to them. On their return poverty, helplessness, shortage of food and humiliation troubled them. Now they fully realised the real face of Gandhi, but it was of little use as they were already ruined.” (p. 11) This paragraph twists and turns the facts of history quite audaciously. The teachings of Gandhi and activities during non-cooperation movement could have been more or less harmful to one community or another but to say that Gandhi especially advised Muslims for what is mentioned in above bullet points is not fair. The first six guidelines were the program of non-cooperation and were recommended to all the participants in the movement. They were not specific for Muslims. And nothing is farther from truth than saying that it was Gandhi who
advised Muslims to migrate to Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. I don’t know if he opposed the Migration Movement (i.e. Hijrat Tehreek) but he certainly was not the one who propounded this horrendous scheme. Muslim leaders of the time are themselves to blame for the same. “The Hijrat Movement was a by-product of the Khilafat Movement. In the summer of 1920 suggestions were made by the local bodies representing the Central Khilafat organization that the Muslims should migrate to place where their religion and national image are not jeopardized. However, the idea gained popularity when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Abdul Bari issued a fatwa declaring India as ‘Dar-ul-Harab’ (Home of War). They urged the Muslims migrate to Afghanistan in religious protest against the British policy. The idea was approved by majority of Muslim scholars including Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Maulana Habib-ur-Rahman, Maulana Abdul Rauf Danapuri, Pir Mehr Ali Shah and Hakeem Ajmal Khan.” (See: http://storyofpakistan.com/hijrat-movement accessed on 24 March 2017)
PTB XII further notes that, “The Muslim leaders and masses cooperated with Gandhi and Indian National Congress during World War I. Gandhi exploited them fully but when he was sure of Allied victory, he abruptly and without consulting Muslim leaders, called off the movements. His step greatly disappointed the Muslims.” (p.11) As noted earlier calling off the movement without consulting and taking into confidence other stakeholders was definitely a mistake on the part of Gandhi. However he ended the movement on account of Allied victory is ridiculous. The World War I had ended and allied powers had already won in 1919. Did Gandhi become sure of Allied victory after three years of their actual victory and then called off the movement? That being said, legitimate questions can be raised over the actual reasons of the calling off of the non-cooperation movement because Chauri Chaura incident was neither the first nor the last instance of freedom movement turning violent.
NCERT XII mentions Cabinet Mission Plan twice in the following manner,
- A Cabinet Mission sent in the summer of 1946 failed to get the Congress and the League to agree on a federal system that would keep India together while allowing the provinces a degree of autonomy. (p. 364)
- Initially all the major parties accepted this plan. But the agreement was short-lived because it was based on mutually opposed interpretations of the plan. The League wanted the grouping to be compulsory, with Sections B and C developing into strong entities with the right to secede from the Union in the future. The Congress wanted that provinces be given the right to join a group. It was not satisfied with the Mission’s clarification that grouping would be compulsory at first, but provinces would have the right to opt out after the constitution had been finalised and new elections held in accordance with it. Ultimately, therefore, neither the League nor the Congress agreed to the Cabinet Mission’s proposal. (p.
PTB XII attempts to give a sense that Congress welcomed these proposals and Cabinet Mission Plan was in fact “a defeat of Muslim League” and “party workers were totally disappointed” (p. 20). However it then fails to explain why Jinnah accepted the plan? And then why Congress later refused to accept the plan? It also wrongly attributes a press conference to Gandhi in which he supposedly, “talked about the supremacy of the Parliament and expressed his opinion that Parliament would be empowered to bring changes in the system, introduced by the government on the basis of the Cabinet Mission Plan.” (p. 21) This was Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement in a press conference held in Bombay on July 10, 1946 which, as argued by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, sabotaged the Cabinet Mission Plan and paved way for the partition of India.
Both the textbooks have shied away from narrating the actual events in this regard. The problem with India is that true events vindicate Jinnah of blanket blame for the partition. Nehru and Patel have to share the blame with Jinnah for partition and that’s unwarranted in India. The problem with Pakistan is that true events declare that Jinnah and Muslim League were ready to accept a plan which did not guarantee Pakistan, and how would that sound in a nation about its founder? I recommend here a methodical study of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s India wins freedom especially its two chapters namely “The British Cabinet Mission” and “The Prelude to Partition” to come to a thorough conclusion about one of the most defining moments in the contemporary history of Indian subcontinent.
I would like to end with a few general observations especially about the Indian history textbooks,
Our history textbooks, as they are textbooks of history include various facts and truths but problem is that they also include various untruths and half-truths as we have seen through the treatment meted out to Khilafat Movement and Cabinet Mission Plan. However one of the most fundamental problems is the conspiracy-of-silence. One such silence is contribution of Muslims in the freedom movement. Santimoy Roy’s Freedom Movement and Indian Muslims is an eye-opener in this regard. Santimoy Roy laments that struggles against British waged in 18th and 19th centuries have been blacked out from history texts and thereby collective memory. These include important struggles like that of Fakirs and Sanyasis, Jihad of Syed Ahmad Shaheed and his disciples, struggle of peasants and artisans (for e.g. moplahs), Reshmi Roomal Tehreek, Farazi movement etc. It is important to note that how Muslim revolutionaries aimed for “complete independence” and “quit India” much before Indian National Congress arrived at those stands. The book also summarises the Muslim contribution in so called “revolutionary terrorism” and Indian National Congress”.
Another growing concern in the Indian textbooks that I have noted of late is the treatment meted out to Abul Kalam Azad. In NCERT XII he is mentioned only four times. First, on p. 354 he is mentioned in a list of nine people who have “attached themselves to Gandhiji.” Second, on p. 387 he is mentioned in a bracket. Third, on p. 394 he is mentioned praising Gandhi’s fast unto death for peace after partition. Only once he is mentioned as an “important leader of Congress” and raising a valid critical point on p. 386. We know that that Maulana Azad was youngest president of Indian
National Congress and guided the movement in the tumultuous phase of the World War II. Is this how a leader of his literary, intellectual, and political acumen should be treated in history textbooks?
History is arguably most significant and impactful field of knowledge. Past is a trust. To alter and corrupt the same is breach of this trust. The intellectuals and academicians, of India and Pakistan, need to learn that history is not a place to score political points. While it is possible to have different interpretations of a particular event, students should be encouraged to think critically and creatively. In this age of information explosion and internet, it is also the responsibility of the students to read beyond their syllabus and engage in fruitful dialogues with people of other points of views.
Abul Kalam Azad. India Wins Freedom
Akbar S. Ahmed. “Letting Go of the Past” (Outlook: August 22, 2005)
Bhimrao Ambedkar. Pakistan or Partition of India
Jaswant Singh. Jinnah India-Partition Independence
Jawaharlal Nehru. The Discovery of India
Khan Yasir. History: Philosophical Discourse on the Concept of Past and Future M.K. Gandhi. The story of my experiments with truth
Mohammed Ali Jauhar. Speech (Fourth Plenary Session of the Round Table Conference in London, 19th Nov., 1930) NCERT. India and the Contemporary World – II. Textbook in History for Class X NCERT. Themes in Indian History Part III. Textbook in History for Class XII
Pandit Sunder Lal. “Who was responsible for the partition of India?” (Radiance: August 13, 1967)
PTB. Pakistan Studies. Textbook for Class XII
Romila Thapar. The Past and Prejudice
Santimoy Roy. Freedom Movement and Indian Muslims
Will Durant. The Story of Philosophy