“Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.”
And ask most Indians about their past, you’ll find them discomfited and in the dark. How many people know that the World’s first university was established in India? That India never invaded any country in its 10000 years of recorded history? Or even how the numbers that we use daily, also termed as ‘Arabic numerals’ originate from India? Studies indicate that a mere fraction of 9 percent Indians are actually aware of their history.
While It is easy to blame them, it is not the people who are at fault , but the methodology and content adopted by the education system that acquaints them to history. The problem is that growing up, most students are looking at history from the single point of our school textbooks and the problem is self-evident.
The syllabus is huge and vague, and it is set by university professors, who have little contact with children and have no sense of what a 12-year-old can comprehend or enjoy learning. It doesn’t help that we have more than 5,000 years of recorded history to be covered in mere three years and our educationists want everything from the conquests of Samudragupta to the Minto-Morley Act done in detail. So the textbooks struggle to cover the material and end up reading like instruction manuals.
History, like science can be taught in a dynamic and interactive manner, through creative visualisation and courses of relevance. Instead of rote learning the dates in a serial manner, or simply memorising the administrative reforms of Sher Shah Suri, a wider focus should be on why it has to be studied. Rather than mindlessly learning about wars and rulers, a relevance should be drawn out from them and its applications in present-day.
It is noteworthy at this point that Indian history contains marvels and landmarks that are still evolving from present day conversations, albeit undertone and misunderstood by Indians themselves. Whether it be the dockyard of Lothal, the meticulous planning of Harappa, the birth of Democracy in Vaishali, metallurgy of the Iron pillar at Mehrauli, the architecture of GangaikondaCholapuram, the acoustics Gol Gumbaz, a plethora of reform movements, the scientific advancements of ancient India, or the resilience of freedom fighters, India will always be regarded as the cradle of the oldest civilisation.
A greater thinker once said, “Knowledge of history cannot be acquired in air-tight containers”, and rightly so. Today a severe misunderstanding of historical context has given rise to endless debates, riots, and misguided fervour. Our textbooks till 10th standard are limited to bleak overviews of ruling classes, and political movements. The struggles of women, the marginalised are more or less overlooked. A Eurocentric approach is also applied while chronicling the annals of important periods like the Colonial Era, and the Vedic system. This not only dilutes the credibility offered to Indian authors but also results in wrongful translations which lose out on the meaning or essence or most words.
Preceding the one hundred and fifty years of British rule, India was the richest country in the world, such that it was called by the epithet of ‘Golden Bird’. This was not merely due the vast riches accumulated within the country but also the value systems and principles of learning. This should in no way be interpreted that I promote the various inequalities and discriminations as well as the malafide practices undertaken by people of that era, but the knowledge that has been conveniently repressed to be set free.
India is a free country, and yet it seeks constant approvals from the West to identify its own self. It’s evident in the way a non-english speaker is made fun of in a social gathering, or how binary narratives are thrown out ruling out the possibilities that do not agree to it. In the land of seven major religions, more than 19,500 languages and a history so diverse, it is unfortunate that historical studies find a backseat.
In a world that’s catching up on its pace, rethinking and strategising from the scratch, it has become more important now, to learn from our past. Students must be involved in interactive study sessions, curiosity should be encouraged, interlinking of topics must be done with other subjects, narratives must be introduced as a means to undertsand events and daily occurences.
History, if properly understood underlies the living tribunal of behavioural and consequential patterns. Let’s make history great again.