‘Ownership. Every thought. Every memory. Every emotion has a landowner. Things that ‘happened’. Are meant to belong. To you. Or to me. Like a privilege acquired at birth. A litany made up of ‘this is mine, yours, ours’. Often it is nations that appropriate entire histories. Lives. Other nations. People. Writing and the re-writing of things that later become our truth. Yours and mine. Living under the heel of collective ownership can be crippling. To say the least. How does one free the ‘event’ of one’s life from the clutches of a possessive, even dictatorial, memory, and turn it into a literature of resistance?’ —Naveen Kishore
History and history teaching play an important role in establishing mutual understanding and confidence between nations. Worldwide and particularly in Europe, in the recent past, there is considerable work done on the modification of history textbooks to bring in multi perspectives for peace and understanding and to eradicate bias and prejudice.
One major example is the path breaking common history textbook produced by Germany and France spear headed by the governments of the two nations. Non-Governmental organizations are also engaged in publishing books and material that make new up-to-date material available to teachers. This however is not true of some other regions in the world. In the Indian sub-continent for instance the Partition narration has largely been cast in a mould where the perpetrator has always been the other community, and by implication, the other nation.
As a result, the churning of hatred has been on auto-mode for over 60 years simmering hatreds that lead to conflict at the slightest pretext. With the partition generation—the custodian of partition memories—fast fading away, the young today are far removed and unconcerned with the historical event. And yet, it is quite evident that they are picking up and harbouring mindsets that inhibit their ability to understand, accept and respect ‘difference’
Where do these mindsets come from?
“As a psychiatrist, I help people make sense of their history and how it impacts their present. I deeply believe we as humans carry not only our individual history but also our social, political, cultural, the history of our communities and nationalities in us. It is important that we think and question our biases, prejudices, and deeply righteous beliefs of others and their motives and actions, before we embark on the blame game, creating conflicts and making wars.” —Amita Deepak Jha
Does the teaching of History have a role to play?
In Pakistan eminent historian and scholar Dr Mubarak Ali has often called for the rewriting of the subcontinent’s history and correction of what he calls “historical aberrations”, so that the hatred and misunderstanding prevailing between the people come to an end. He says textbooks in the two countries have been systematically distorted and that the time has come to reverse the trend. “The Pakistani establishment taught their children right from the beginning that this state was built on the basis of religion — that’s why they don’t have tolerance for other religions and want to wipe out all of them.”
Nonica Dutta, history teacher at Miranda House, Delhi University says “There have been systematic exclusions from the curriculum in our university, the historian is more important than history itself. Factors that decide our curriculum are not always academic. Decision-making bodies do not realise the need to expose students to different perspectives. There’s constant pressure to police the curriculum. Battle-lines are drawn between who is on which side – at the expense of making the curriculum more enriching for students.”
In Bangladesh every time there is a change in government, historical documents have been destroyed with unemotional efficiency, keeping only those that are helpful for the party in power. Schoolbooks are powerful means by which perceptions are shaped. The purpose and meaning that life holds is largely derived from reflecting upon experience; and the classroom experience forms an integral part in this and in the shaping of identities. There is an urgent need to examine and understand this classroom experience, particularly in the teaching of History, as history is the only social subject that is open to a whole range of human experience through the development of time. There is an urgent need to look at best practices globally, and particularly the recent successful experiment of the common Franco-German history textbook.
• to examine the role that history textbooks play in the shaping of mindsets.
• to study the common history text book projects across Europe and assess the need for a similar initiative in the sub-continent
• to set up a history teachers association in the sub-continent
• to develop resources for responsible history teaching