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|December 3, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/NCERT Director Jagmohan Singh Rajput
As the debate on the Bharatiya Janata Party's role to alter history in school textbooks gathers momentum, Jagmohan Singh Rajput, director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training, is unruffled by the controversy.
Looked upon as the handmaiden of the BJP in the NCERT, Rajput -- who was taught by Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi [at Allahabad University] and former RSS chief Rajendra Singh aka Rajju Bhaiyya -- says history will no more be taught separately but as part of the social sciences. He also clarifies to Ramesh Menon that he is not a member of the BJP. Excerpts:
How do you assess the controversy you are embroiled in?
As far as I am concerned there is no controversy. We are going ahead with the task of changing the school curriculum. It is a national priority. A couple of people are unhappy. I think they do not understand what we are doing. They have their own prejudices, biases and ideological views. It is a purely professional exercise, being conducted by professionals. Any controversy does not bother me.
By the time we prepare new textbooks, everyone will be convinced about our task. And of our desire to have a dynamic education system, which is committed to progress and prepares citizens for the 21st century.
What is the need for this change?
The syllabus cannot remain constant. You cannot have a book written in 1920 included in the curriculum in 2002. Everyone acknowledges the pace of change. It should actually change every four or five years. We made some changes in 1988. Now, those  books cannot continue forever. We have to make changes. Policies must change.
Why should history change?
Why should history not change?
History is history. How can it change?
Change is applicable to every aspect of life. Perceptions also change. Facts also change. If archaeologists discover something new, the facts we knew before also change.
There is a recommendation in the 1988 curriculum framework that classes 9 and 10 should have social sciences. We have been teaching four subjects: history, geography, civics and economics. We are now taking up social sciences, where we shall see each of these subjects in conjunction with the other subjects.
Our job is to have a curriculum where such changes can take place. Why should changes not be brought about?
Let us get back to history...
In history, truth and facts are not always the same. People interpret facts in their own way. There are many things where interpretations differ. Why must we look at one interpretation and ignore the other? There is a lot that can be done with history.
There are many examples. I am not going to give you a specific example. I have explained the concept. There was an exploration in Lothal. It could change the perception of history. The changes will be done by historians.
The BJP is being charged with censoring history.
Where is it censoring history? No one is interfering with me. In the last two-and-a-half years that I have been here, the government has not interfered. They have not sent me any directive to change history or geography or civics.
If they are doing it somewhere else, it is none of my business. I have nothing to do with the BJP. I am not in touch with them. If the BJP is changing history, they are not doing it in the NCERT.
Have you received any directive from the government?
No directive on teaching history has ever been received.
So you are doing it yourself?
The Government of India decides policies. I take the initiative to implement government policies.
There has been no pressure...
I do not work under pressure.
There have been instances of how the saffron brigade has wanted to delete or add passages in history books.
Do not get into this. My answer is very clear. I am not familiar with any saffron brigade or red brigade or left brigade. These are not professional questions and I am not going to answer them.
You have worked with various governments. What has been your experience?
Wherever I have worked, I have worked in a professional manner within the policies of the government. I never had a problem.
Who are on the new panel of historians meant to write history books?
I am not coming out with names. My people do not want to be disturbed. We have decided not to disclose names. A formal announcement is not necessary.
As an educationist, what is your view about political appointees?
Professional bodies should be headed by professional people. I do not make government policies. Do not ask me questions with political implications. This is a leading question.
Why was historian R S Sharma, for instance, not even informed when changes were to be made in his history book?
We had sent somebody. We had a discussion with him. I had called some historians, but I will not mention names. After that, I decided to have a fresh batch of historians. This is a big country -- just four or five historians cannot keep writing forever. I will be responsible for the outcome.
One editor has written in his editorial that heads must roll, as he is unhappy with what we are doing. If any head has to roll, it is mine. It is my duty to appoint historians. It is my prerogative to appoint whom I want. Nobody can come into the picture.
There was a report quoting you saying you received around 50,000 letters with various objections about several NCERT books.
I did not say 50,000. I got hundreds, maybe thousands, from various communities, experts and historians saying that these facts in your books are wrong, please correct them.
What did you do then?
I sat with my colleagues. I consulted them and decided that we must consult other historians. Writers are bound to defend what they write. So there is no point talking to them. It is not necessary to give out [details of] everything at one stage. It can be given at a later stage to the student.
You have said that some information could be withheld, as students are not old enough to discuss it.
Who is a good teacher? One who knows at which stage what information should be given. It does not mean we are denying information. We need to understand what are the learning needs of a child.
If certain things are creating a conflict in young, sensitive minds, let them be taken up later. What I am saying is, let them be taken up at a higher stage.
I am working within the framework of the national policy of education, which has the spirit of secularism and humanism. I would like to assure everyone that this spirit will be kept in the new textbooks.
We are consulting a much bigger group of historians. We are not interested in party politics.
I am accountable only to the children of this country. There are 50 lakh teachers in this country. They are all looking at the NCERT. We want to reduce the stress on the children, but will maintain standards and levels of learning in this country.
What happens to the historians who wrote books for the NCERT?
Some of them have been with us for more than 30 years. Taking all the factors into consideration, we thought we must give an opportunity to others who were kept away from the NCERT. All these years, they were not allowed to enter the NCERT in connection with history books.
I do not know. NCERT cannot do this. We are an organisation that is in touch with the whole nation. Wisdom does not only reside in Delhi, Lucknow and Patna and Calcutta. We are expanding our network of writers.
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