Is ‘Lack of Relevance’ Rendering History Textbooks Redundant in Kashmir?

It took one pressing letter from a magistrate’s office to expose a blasphemous content in a history textbook in Kashmir. But beyond the spur-of-the-moment action, there’s an unaddressed concern among tech-savvy kids of the valley about the “redundant” history taught in classrooms.

By Al-Misda Masoom

BASHIR Khan never cared to check his 13-year-old daughter’s and 15-year-old son’s history books—until Additional District Magistrate (ADM), Srinagar, Hanif Balki flagged a blasphemous content in a Class 7 history textbook.

In a letter to the Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar, Balki recently sought a strict action against a New Delhi-based publisher and a Srinagar-based book distributor for “supplying and stocking” the blasphemous history textbook.

Since then both the publisher and the distributor has tendered public apology, but the act has already alerted and alarmed Bashir.

From last five days now, he’s reviewing the history textbooks of his children to check and spot any grey areas.

“After carefully reading the content, I found nothing blasphemous, but drafting of the books disheartened me,” Bashir, a 42-year-old garment store owner from Srinagar, holding double Masters, says. “Whatever history our children are learning in their classrooms is hyperbole. There’s no rhyme and rhythm, neither there’s any relevance. Our children are mostly taught the redundant past.”

But this anguish coming in the backdrop of the recent controversy is nothing new, says Sehar Nazir, a private school teacher.

“Most of these history textbooks are useless,” Sehar says. “There’s something called teaching relevant history to inculcate scholarly tastes in students. But how can you do that when the academic drafting makes it some distant and unrelated history. There’re no telling events narrated in a gripping manner to create curiosity among students. The whole focus seems on printing words in the name of some obscure past.”

Much of this, Bashir believes, is happening due to the lack of content-checking mechanism in the valley.

“The objective of any study is to develop interest and create engagement for further exploration,” the parent says. “But when you serve dry and dead details in the name of history, it’s bound to make classrooms dull and boring. No wonder Kashmir hasn’t produced historians of repute in years now.”

While both experts and officials are passing the buck over the textbook monitoring mechanism, students are conveying a sense of disappointment.

Mohammad Azaam, a Class 12th Arts student, feels that his history books have done a great injustice with his budding curiosity.

“It’s all about medieval madness,” Azaam says, with a straight face. “You’re being taught events of past without a proper context to one’s situation and reality. I wonder if our history is being taught the same way elsewhere, like we’re being taught about others’ past. If not, then our educational system is a big scam. It keeps us engaged in the name of some foreign history which in the long run only makes us ignorant about our own roots and identity.”

Unlike their predecessors, it’s said, the present generation of Kashmiris raised in the political past of last three decades doesn’t make peace with some obsoleted chapters. Many of them want to understand their own history of origin and their forefathers’ survival during some challenging times in the valley.

“As our history textbooks are mostly silent about our homeland’s history, I’m only getting curious about my roots when lot is being said about us Kashmiris and our harrowing history,” says Mehran Tahir, a class 11 student from Sopore.

The missing Kashmir chapter in history textbooks, some scholars say, is only making Kashmiri students ignorant about their rich cultural and heritage past.

“Even though schools have failed to impart this heritage/history knowledge, the valley’s current situation has motivated the young minds for self-study,” says Sahil Amin, a History scholar from Srinagar.

“Especially after homes became default classrooms for Kashmiri students since 2019 summer, many have started history exploration online.”

One of them is Xairpana Malik, a 16-year-old student from Srinagar. She’s learning about her roots and identity online for last three years now.

“I know a few things about our heritage through internet now,” she says. “But it would be great to include some relevant Kashmiri chapters in the curriculum, so that our history textbooks and lectures cease to become dull and boring.”

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