Leading Indian historians on Monday slammed former school teacher and activist Dina Nath Batra's books which have been recommended as secondary reading in Gujarat schools, saying they were nothing but works of “fantasy”.
Academics say the 85-year-old Batra's books seeking to Indianise education are often factually incorrect. According to media reports, the books contain several moral and political prescriptions such as a proposal to redraw the map of India in line with the right-wing idea of an Akhand Bharat.
They also suggest that birthdays should not be celebrated by blowing candles on the grounds that it is Western culture. Instead, they should be marked by wearing swadeshi clothes, having havans, reciting mantras such as the Gayatri mantra and feeding cows.
Read: Dina Nath Batra’s plan: ban teaching of foreign languages in schools
Batra uses stories of saints and demons to interpret history and includes historically inaccurate, and sometimes politically incorrect, anecdotes such as a story about a royal couple being blessed with children only after devoted cow-worship.
Romila Thapar, one of the leading scholars of ancient Indian history, told HT this is “not history, but fantasy”.
“This is absurd. If education is about training children how to think, this approach will not work," she said, adding that it was important to equip students with skills to ask critical questions instead of telling them all was well in ancient India.
Irfan Habib, another leading historian and Professor Emeritus at Aligarh Muslim University, was also scathing in his criticism.
Read: It is high time that NCERT text books are revised, says Batra
“The contents are so absurd that any reaction would seem superfluous … I don't know what they will teach students when they have turned geography into fantasy,” he said over the phone from Aligarh, adding that it was an insult to the people of Gujarat that their children were being exposed to this “nonsense”.
A Delhi-based historian of science and modern political history, S Irfan Habib, described Batra's books as “hilarious but scary” on Twitter.
He told HT the core problem was that textbooks were being introduced in Gujarat without any vetting process but as a part of a political programme. “Young minds are being exposed to misinterpretations of the past and even the present.”
Habib said the issue should not be reduced to a debate of left versus right. “The point here is whether the person has any semblance of scholarship, any track record.”
Read: I have no connection with the PM, says controversial teacher Dina Nath Batra