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Freedom fighters remain ‘terrorists’ in Bengal textbooks

It wasn’t for the first time in early August that the raised the issue of school textbooks in West Bengal referring to freedom fighters like Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki and others as “terrorists”. The issue had created a furore in August 2014, with an image of the same pages from the social studies textbook published in every newspaper and news site. But the Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal is still in the midst of the once-again raging controversy over the content of the state’s Class VIII history textbooks.

Freedom fighters were 'terrorists' according to West Bengal textbooks
A comment dated August 2014 on the Facebook wall of Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta

A history chapter titled “revolutionary terrorism” describes the ideology of freedom fighters like Shahid Khudiram Bose, Jatindranath Mukherjee and Prafulla Chaki as “extremism and terrorism”. Eminent historians in have once again branded the move by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education a gross distortion to India’s freedom struggle.

The historians say the flawed interpretation only reaffirmed the British stance against freedom fighters. “Those who are using such terminology for great freedom fighters like Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki are anti-nationals. Would you call Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose a terrorist too? These people are not only distorting facts but damaging the rich tradition of our freedom movement,” said historian Atish Dasgupta.

Historians on the panel of the state government’s secondary education board, however, defend the move. They say the intention behind the use of such word was purely “factual” to give an impression of the reality of that time.

Experts said the committee should have been chosen the descriptors more diligently and carefully, showing the sensitivity and sensibility due in such chapters from history. The state government said it was open to any academic discussion on the matter on a condition that it would not be politicised.

It’s not that the Banerjee government had changed no curriculum of her predecessors Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). After 10 months in office for the first term, the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led government had decided to abolish chapters on German philosopher Karl Marx from the higher secondary history book.

The state higher secondary syllabus committee had decided to introduce new topics in a view of striking a balanced approach. Avik Majumdar, the head of the state school education syllabus committee, says the old history syllabus for the higher secondary students was quite communism-oriented. Majumder had reportedly said the history syllabus in Bengal gave importance to a particular ideology.

“History is not only about what happened in the past. It is also about how we look at it. If there was an excess of anything, including Marx, it has to be done away with,” Majumder said to reporters.

The committee had felt moreover that instead of Marx, Engels and the Russian Revolution, chapters on MK Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and women’s liberation movement should find a place in the state’s new higher secondary history textbooks.

But none in the government could explain what was taking so long to correct the atrocious description of India’s revered freedom fighters.

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