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Contending "Historical" Identities in India

Deepa Nair

The controversy over rewriting history textbooks in India in 2000 not only revealed the divergent renditions of collective memory but also evoked decades of contention over self-representation and cultural identity. This article explores these "multiple" renderings of a "singular" past and contends the formation of "historical identities" by arguing that divergent use of reason and interpretation leads to a layered and uid Indian identity leaving it open for contestation. By situating the case of the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb within the milieu from which textbook controversies emanate, the article suggests an alternative dimension for looking at the controversy—instead of the usual binary concept of "secular" versus "communal" history. At the root of the controversy is not merely politicization but also divergent perspectives of looking at the past and the resultant rethinking and reworking of dominant notions of it.

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The “Imagined Other”

A Political Contextual Analysis of Secular and Hindu Nationalisms in Indian History Textbooks

Deepa Nair

Abstract

In 2014, the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won the general election with the highest number of seats won by any party since 1984 and went on to win a second term victory in 2019. Since the rise of the BJP, Hindu nationalist interventions into education have increased. Their agenda has been to “indigenise, nationalise and spiritualise” education in India. To this end, textbooks were written to promote a Hindu majoritarian idea of India that sees Hindus as the primary citizens of India and categorizes Muslims as the “other”. This article outlines the political context in which Hindu nationalists have recently attempted to rewrite Indian history by focusing on the period of Muslim rule in India. It looks at textbooks published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and media reports about regional history rewriting in India.

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Textbook Conflicts in South Asia

Politics of Memory and National Identity

Deepa Nair

The aftermath of World War II saw the emergence of many new nation-states on the Asian geopolitical map and a simultaneous attempt by these states to claim the agency of nationhood and to create an aura of a homogenous national identity. Textbooks have been the most potent tools used by nations to inject an idea of a national memory - in many instances with utter disregard for fundamental contradictions within the socio-political milieu. In South Asia, political sensitivity towards transmission of the past is reflected in the attempts of these states to revise or rewrite versions which are most consonant with the ideology of dominant players (political parties, religious organizations, ministries of education, publishing houses, NGOs, etc.) concerning the nature of the state and the identity of its citizens. This paper highlights the fundamental fault lines in the project of nation-building in states in South Asia by locating instances of the revision or rewriting of dominant interpretations of the past. By providing an overview of various revisionist exercises in South Asia, an attempt will be made to highlight important issues that are fundamental to the construction of identities in this diverse continent.