| Churchill: Greatest Briton'
London, Dec. 27: Was British rule in India a good thing or bad' Discuss.
This, in essence, is at the heart of a new controversy that has surfaced on teaching the history of British rule in India.
The government’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which is responsible for recommending the content of the history syllabus for schoolchildren, has issued a 13-page document which it says will provide students “a valuable insight into the history of Britain and India”.
The document includes a list of websites containing “factual information for pupils and/or teachers”, the QCA explains.
But the History Curriculum Association, which keeps an eye on how the subject is taught, is unhappy with the new unit for being unsympathetic to the achievements of imperial rule.
The association’s director, Chris McGovern, said: “The general tone of the unit is anti-British, with little about positive consequences of imperial rule. Instead pupils have to work out ‘how the British profited from their Indian empire’ and ‘the relative importance of the various benefits Britain experienced as a result of their Indian empire’.”
He also expressed reservations about one site (www.fordham.edu/halsall/india/indiasbook.html ), which contained a list of links under the heading “Indian genders and sexualities”.
One link takes Internet users to an edition of the Kama Sutra (this turns out to be “Vatsyayana: Kama Sutra, Part 2. Chap 9, 1883 trans. by Richard Burton”).
McGovern commented: “They (the QCA) say, ‘be cautious,’ but nevertheless, it is there, only one click away (for children).”
The controversy over the teaching of history has a familiar note to it for Indians. While the Congress and the Left accuse the BJP of trying to rewrite history books in schools while it was in power, the BJP repays in kind.
History in Britain is, however, a much more exciting subject than it ever has been in India where children are usually taught to cram dates and names by heart. In Britain, history is also brought alive by excellent programmes on television fronted by some of the leading historians in the country.
The dilemma with the British period in India, though, is that the young have been brought up to believe imperial rule is something to be ashamed of — a point which will be reinforced in 2007, the 150th anniversary of the First War of Independence.
Not unnaturally, this infuriates the older generation which venerates Churchill as “the greatest Englishman who ever lived”, forgetting the great wartime leader’s boorish behaviour towards Gandhi, and believes that while imperial rule was not perfect, its legacy was, on the whole, benevolent — especially in India.
The old-timers complain that the QCA is encouraging a biased “anti-Churchill” interpretation of the Empire.
The QCA said that the unit, which is for guidance and is not compulsory, warned teachers to check the Internet resources before using them in class because some sites “may contain materials that could cause offence”.
A QCA spokeswoman said: “There is a health warning. We would always encourage teachers to check any resources before they use them in class. The unit that we have published does not mention the Kama Sutra or any other sexual matters. It looks at the history of India. The Kama Sutra is not something that should be taught in history lessons.”
She rejected the claims that the history unit was biased against Britain.
“It does not denigrate any historical figures,” the spokeswoman said.
Some schools are more forward looking than others in teaching the British period in India. Andrew Robinson, history master at Eton College, keeps a copy of Lagaan handy to acquaint his boys with the scholarship of India’s best-known historians, Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowariker.
Most Britons also take their knowledge of Gandhi from Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning movie.
But while using films to teach history has advantages, there are drawbacks, too. Hollywood has claimed that the Americans broke the German secret code known as “Enigma” during the Second World War. In reality, the code was broken by the British with the help of the Poles.