This isn’t yet another case-study on the toxification of history, in which both the BJP and Congress dispensations at the Centre have been adept. But the West Bengal government will have to concede that its Class 8 history textbook betrays ignorance, as appalling as it may be contrived. It is hard not to wonder whether the book was crafted without reference to archival data. It redounds to the education department’s credit though that the factual howler was admitted by the education minister, Partha Chatterjee, in the Assembly on Tuesday.
Much as the government concedes that it is a “mistake”, it appears to have reacted only after the matter was raised by the CPI-M MLA, Pradip Saha, who raised a “point of information” in the House. Admittedly, the minister has been suitably gracious to remark: “You are right. A committee has been set up to review the content, facts and language of the textbook. The error will be rectified. The committee has been asked to submit its report within three months.”
The panel ought to have been helmed by a noted historian… and not by a Trinamul MLA. The minister has been candid enough to admit that “there are other mistakes in the book as well.” Horror of horrors, the book refers to Khudiram Bose, the 18-year-old freedom-fighter who died in the gallows (1908), as a terrorist. And it beggars belief that the book was cleared by the Madhyamik board’s syllabus committee.
While the line that demarcates a revolutionary from a terrorist may be thin, the book ought to have been vetted by a committee of historians, not the least because the University of Calcutta boasts one of the country’s finest history faculties. Sad to reflect, the editing of a state sponsored historical text has been appalling. The students deserve better as they graduate from the middle to senior school. For the name of the author and publisher, the reader looks in vain.
For the uninitiated, Khudiram, along with Prafulla Chaki had tried to assassinate the Presidency Magistrate, Kingsford, by throwing bombs at the carriage they suspected he was travelling in. Khudiram and Chaki didn’t notice that there were two British women in the same vehicle.
Both were killed in the bomb attack. Khudiram was arrested and then hanged for the murder of the two women. In Class 8, students must be acquainted with the bare facts of history, and not the facets of “revolutionary terrorism”. More than a century later, a school text that debunks Khudiram as a terrorist denigiates both the man and the discipline of history. EH Carr’s evocative query ~ What is History? ~ indeed the title of his book has been ignored to the detriment of learning. The book urgently deserves to be withdrawn.