Much discussion and debate have taken place about the textbooks brought out by the Gujarat State Board. But, as is evident from the examples given above, litigation and complaints have done little to change the content of these books.

At the Centre, the National Curriculum Framework, a blueprint for textbooks across the country, has famously done away with all kinds of stereotypes to create a democratic and innovative system of learning. But none of this seems to have percolated down to the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks.

In today's Gujarat, the textbook continues to be a medium that is subversively used to mould children's minds according to the ideology of the Narendra Modi Government, whose complicity in the communal violence of 2002 that killed over 1,000 people – a majority of them Muslims – has been established in inquiries made by various non-government agencies. Even a cursory glance of the textbooks suffices to confirm that it is full of anti-minority statements, slants that idolise freedom fighters who used violent methods to fight imperialism, and crude suggestions about population control and terrorism, both of which are, incidentally, pet topics of the Modi regime.

Even question papers are used as arenas from where communal bias can be taught.

 •  Textbooks for change
 •  History as politics

An ongoing study of textbooks in four states in the country, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamilnadu and West Bengal, conducted by the Delhi-based non-government organisation (NGO) Nirantar, a resource centre for gender and education, highlights the stereotypes and biases in the Gujarat textbooks. The study is expected to be released in April this year, but initial findings, among other things, suggest that Indian tradition and culture is "depicted as Hindu in essence and practice" in the state's textbooks. An abstract of the Gujarat leg of the study says, "Present-day anxieties about identity, culture and the threats to these posed by modernity and global cultural influences surface repeatedly, and traditional practices, values and 'the wisdom of our ancient sages are emphasised as bulwark against, and antidote to, the ills of unchecked modernity."

Consider this: the Social Studies textbook for standard five has nine stories on mythology masquerading as history. One such lesson is about Appala, the well-behaved and obedient daughter of a sage whose married life suffers as the result of a skin ailment. The tale describes how the Sun God, pleased with her devotion, heals her. At the end of the chapter are suggested exercises for children that include: ‘like Appala, name five daughters of sages' and a discussion about how ‘the sun is not just a ball of fire but has special powers'. Later in the book, the children are encouraged to dramatise scenes from the Hindu epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The abstract of the Gujarat section of Nirantar's study also notes that in "recent editions of Social Studies books, a close association is made between terrorism and Muslim identity". In history textbooks, Muslims are first identified as "outsiders", adds the abstract. Aurangzeb, for instance, is consistently depicted as a Muslim ruler who was intolerant of other faiths. As a teacher at an Urdu school in Ahmedabad's Old City area, who requested anonymity, points out, "Whenever Aurangzeb is mentioned, he is always portrayed as an intolerant Muslim ruler, and his faith is directly linked to his intolerance." For good measure, the textbook also has the story of Hindu soldiers who derived special powers while fighting Aurangzeb with the help of sacred Ganga jal (water).

Even question papers are used as arenas from where communal bias can be taught. As recently as in August last year, a question paper in the Gujarat Public Service Commission examination for Ayurvedic medical officers had queries that included ones such as the following: "Which day is observed as ‘Black day' by minorities and ‘Victory day' by the Sangh Parivar?" The choice given is: "September 11, January 26, July 2 and December 6." The last option was the day the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished, an event that was followed by communal violence in several parts of the country.

No place for the Mahatma

Apart from concentrating on Hindu stories and customs, the textbooks also reflect the government's preferences in the way it idolises revolutionaries who fought for India's freedom. Nirantar's abstract has this to say about the subject: "While Gandhi emerges as the moral educator of the nation, embodying religious/moral virtue and spiritual strength, his role in positing a viable alternative to that of power and violence is not emphasised… Overall, aggressive nationalism is promoted as a model of anti-colonial resistance, as well as against terrorism in recent times."

If revolutionaries earn considerable column space in the textbooks, it is merely a reflection of the way the majority community perceives the Mahatma in his own home state. Achyut Yagnik, activist and co-author of the book The Shaping of Modern Gujarat (Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond), points out that an anti-Gandhi sentiment is being whipped up across Gujarat. Sects such as Swaminarayan, which hold considerable influence over the Hindu Gujarati society, are against Gandhi because of his philosophy of non-violence, explains Yagnik.

Little wonder then that the standard eight Social Science textbook has a sub-head that describes the "negative aspect" of Gandhi's non-cooperation movement. The textbook says, "A large number of students left schools and colleges, teachers resigned their jobs in large numbers. Well-known lawyers like Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel, Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and many others left their legal practice and devoted the remaining years of their lives to the service of the nation." For the textbook board, all this apparently added up to make a negative impact.

Population, terrorism and other issues

The textbooks echo ‘concerns' that the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has publically voiced. For instance, Modi has called population growth a "national crisis", and suggested that newly married couples take a pledge not to have children before they are 25 and after they are 30. Faithfully depicting his viewpoint, textbooks in various standards devote paragraphs on the problem of population explosion, calling better healthcare and widow remarriages as reasons for this. The standard nine Social Science textbook, for instance, has a chapter on population, which goes thus: "The birth rate has gone higher during three decades due to several reasons, such as high level of illiteracy, child marriage, encouragement for widow remarriage, agrarian economy, ineffective attempts to reduce birth-rate, social taboos, and poverty etc."

Clip from Social Science textbook, standard nine.

In a chapter in the standard eight Social Science textbook, under a sub-head about the rational usage of resources, there is another explanation: "Man has reached pinnacle of achievements through proper use of science and technology. In medical field also, man has gained extraordinary achievements. Child birth has become safe, so the birth-rate has increased. Longevity is also raised. Growth of population has become faster. As a result, the reserves of natural resources are getting exhausted. This affects adversely on progress."

The social science textbooks also focus on a perceived terrorist threat, which is yet another ploy that the Modi government uses to create insecurity among its Hindu voters. As Yagnik explains, "There is a deep insecurity in both sides [Hindus and Muslims]. You can understand why Muslims feel afraid – after what happened in 2002, they feel distressed, deprived and humiliated. For Hindus, the propaganda created by the Sangh Parivar is that Gujarat is a border state. Every three-four months, the police will say they have arrested a terrorist, a Pakistani terrorist. Thus insecurity is created, not just among the minorities but also in the Hindu middle class." The textbooks back such self-serving misconceptions spread by the government. The standard eight Social Science textbook, for instance, advises children thus: "While buying toys, eatables etc, they should be checked properly before using them… keep away from suspects."

Caught in a book-bind

Despite a number of complaints, very little has been done to change the textbooks. The only noticeable difference has been the removal of references to Hitler, who was described in glowing terms in the standard nine and ten Social Science textbooks. A few of those references were removed after a series of objections by activists such as Fr Cedric Prakash of the NGO Prashant, who, along with others, filed cases and organised online petitions against the distortion of history and vilification of minorities in the textbooks. However, most of the content of the books remains the same, says Fr Prakash.

In August 2005, Prashant pointed out to the textbook board that the standard nine Social Science textbook had 300 errors, comprising "historical distortions and omissions, factual inaccuracies, value judgements, biases against minorities, women and youth", not to mention the use of "atrocious language" throughout the book. However, the High Court dismissed a petition against the textbook in September 2005. In their judgement, Chief Justice Bhawani Singh and Justice H K Rathod said that they would not interfere in the matter because the board had stated in the textbook that it had taken sufficient care to make it error free. Besides, as the board had welcomed suggestions to improve the quality of textbooks, "the petitioners should communicate their grievances to the competent authority", the judgement said.

The textbook board director responded to Prashant's complaints in October 2005 in a letter. It says, "We discussed with experts, authors and translators and submitted before them details of mistakes pointed you. But it is regrated to say that no serious mistakes have been detected by them. The Board has taken sufficient care to prepare a fault-free textbook… We are of the opinion that question does not arise to withdraw textbook. However if there are some minor mistakes in the textbook, they will be rectified in future when it will be reprinted."

Given the situation, there seems to be little hope that Gujarat's textbooks will not serve as weapons for indoctrination. Teachers at Urdu and Muslim-majority schools begin their classes by telling students that the textbooks are wrong. A teacher from a Muslim-trust run school in Ahmedabad's Old City area says, "Our students are Muslims, so they understand when we tell them that what is there in the textbook is untrue." Ironically, the children still have no recourse but to learn from these poorly written, distorted texts.

Fr Prakash sums up the grave dangers of the misrepresentations. "Political parties and governments have consistently tampered with education," he says. "It creates in the minds of children who are in their formative years a tremendous amount of prejudice, bias and hatred – it creates a sense of divisiveness, it divides people on religious lines. When you prevent children from looking at history impartially and objectively, it's positively serious."