An exclusive excerpt from the Book, 'India's Past, its Leanings, its Pedagogies by Dr R S Krishna'
R S Krishna is a school teacher and teacher trainer of some 18 years standing. His educational credentials include a master's degree in modern Indian History from Hyderabad Central University and a doctorate in the sociology of education from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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Excerpt from Chapter 2 of the book: History and Nationalism - Its Varieties, Its Contested Domain.
The contested nature of Indian Nation and Nationhood
The latter idea of nationhood that grounded our freedom struggle was formally incorporated into our constitution where particularly its fundamental rights rendered India into a true democracy which was liberal, sovereign and secular. This was a fruition of a political ideal of modernity which showed that fashioning such a society need not necessarily be an accomplishment of more advanced economies of Europe or North America. Lest it be thought culture has no role to play in mediating such a political vision, Gandhi's politics was basically an inspiration from Hindu ethos or dharma, of inclusiveness, tolerance and co-existence but based not on negation of religion but promotion of what he perceived all religions intrinsically peaceful and life affirming tenets. In adhering to the inherent core of a faith's humanitarian essence and notwithstanding any formal practical differences, according to Gandhi, all faiths ultimately seek similar ends of redemption, salvation and liberation and therefore they are similar. More importantly for him, faiths provide a moralistic and ethical framework of action. Similarly Rabindranath Tagore had a pluralis vision informing his outlook and understanding of India. In its diversity lay India's true uniqueness which went beyond religious identities where each denominational, communitarian and regional cultures contributed to its distinctiveness. The 'true' history of India lay not in the battles of kings and the rise and fall of empires but in this everyday world of popular life whose innate flexibility, untouched by conflicts in the domain of the state, allowed for the coexistence of all religious beliefs.
Historians, sociologists, political scientists however of late have also found such seemingly liberal readings of Indian culture and society problematic. Several scholars have critiqued the reasoning and the kind of pluralistic national cultures often presented as elitist, bourgeois and upper caste and not in the least being Hindu! The knowledge frames, political practices, the socio-economic policies and not in the least popular culture, appearing to be plural, liberal and democratic actually mask the skewed social and economic structure that is intrinsically rigged in the favour of the privileged. Less crude and nuanced critics see the hegemonic nature of dominant ideology and state practices which selectively co-opts certain symbols and aspects of the marginalised - hegemony Hegemony as Antonio Gramsci identified is less overt and coercive control that the ruling classes exercise to win the war of positions' with the disenfranchised. The civil society too is implicated in propping the classes with institutions like schools. markets, media and several other organisations independent of government facilitating the hegemony of the socially endowed and privileged. In such critiques sociological and political insights from thinkers like Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu are also used to peg their criticism and ways in which privilege and inequality are sustained and reproduced in a liberal society.
'Subaltern historiography' has been the main critical school' in the forefront of unearthing what Partha Chatterjee calls fragments' from India's margins. It's in these fragments subaltern scholars look for more democratic, pluralistic, 'secular', attempt in resisting dominant ideologies and culture. Newer or rather unseen instances of power largely at play are unearthed in the cultural practices and in the social domain. Endeavours to homogenise through a discourse of nation, tradition, heritage and inheritance proclaiming sanctity of Hinduism are skewered in such scholarship. They look for 'fragments' that reveal marginalisation, resistance and alternatives. Dalit and gender sociology interrogate this aspect at play and reveal not just a brahmanical, patriarchal culture continuing from the past but even modernity's gift of enlightenment, liberal thought, science and reason too being complicit in power and puissance. The emancipation that it promises brings another kind of control and domination.
Yet in my view, their criticism though idealistic and opening several methodological possibilities to interrogate and understand society which requires much more than 'common sense are problematic. They often border on pathological prejudice, inadequate and misunderstanding (oftes wilful) of many native institutions, valorising victimhood often reeking of cynicism where the scholarship they marshal is also very selective.
Vis education and schooling, the curriculum that India has adopted since independence is premised on the Constitution and its quest equality and liberty. But to render such a lofty aim into a particularly incumbent on history and social science disciplines, becomes extremely challenging for:
i. A critique of 'commonsense' and folk wisdom on society and its mores by modern epistemologies of historical inquiry based empirical evidence, comparison, inference and to be done on massive scale in its schools is unprecedented, new and complex. Further such an understanding, however abstract and challenging, is to emerge in classrooms and schools that are also meant to be democratic spaces. It then implies that the learning and ability to appreciate such a nationalist vision, itself a constructively evolved ideal, should also be realised in a pedagogic process that is subjective and constructivist. Such an exercise as one can see is extremely fragile and can easily derail.
ii. implicitly that India as a nation is basically a modern construct, an invention as it were, militates against yet another critical view (though on the face of it, many argue, it is as common place, misleading and ahistorical as it can get) that the genesis of "Bharat as a genuine cultural and even political entity goes back to India's ancient past.
Nevertheless, the first has been pursued as an agenda and has informed our curriculum since independence.
This contrasts from experience, from my graduate past and importantly what I witnessed in the course of my observations of teachers, whence and where the nature of Indian nationhood was hardly doubted or questioned. The implicit 'taken-for-grantedness' of India, its nationhood' is understood. with emphatic implicitness, to have emerged from times 'immemorial' and hardly open to question. In the public domain, the 'constructivist nation, however rendered explicit in our school curriculum, was barely making much impression in the past and less so today. This despite a new National Education Policy in 1986, a novel National Curriculum Framework introduced in 2005 and finally an 'imaginative' history and political studies textbook in middle and high school introduced towards such a cause by NCERT in 2007.
That India was aspiring for an industrial-technocratic modernity where we could lean on the deep philosophic and cultural traditions from the past which encompassed not just our thoughts, cultural practices, our arts but even aspects of our material life as manifestation of the divine was so foundational to our outlook. It was this synthesis that characterized India and being an Indian. Innocent of notions of class, caste, gender, region and religion which when applied to the more critical and constructivist understanding could undermine the entire discourse was something that came to me much later, during my graduation.
In Marxist/subaltern view and seemingly less ideological liberal view too, India when presented as having an inheritance of heritage mostly more from ancient India than late medieval, is perceived as conservative, upper class, caste and 'Hindu'. Nevertheless under current political dispensation. attempts to rejig our historical understanding to correct such partisan narratives has unfortunately been replete with certain crudity and didacticism. A more 'Hindu interpretation' of the past being attempted (by itself a much-needed move) in school textbooks conceptually and ideologically have been pedagogically flawed and inappropriate. In my view the 'Hindu revivalist' methods and processes often mock contemporary social science scholarship, is intellectually not well grounded and dialogical in ways to engage the discerning and critical leave alone those proclaiming their LMP adherences. But it still merits serious attention and engagement.
Stay tuned for a full in-depth review of the book. Apart from Nationalism and Liberal-Marxist takes on history, the book goes into great depth about various teaching skills, methods (pedagogies) from several years of the author's research.
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