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Do you remember your history text books? I do. They were always a big bore, with random mentions of dates and events, never providing any insight about the historical times and the cultures. This was more so evident when it came to Indian history. The sections about Egypt and Roman civilizations seemed at least palatable compared to those about Indian civilization. I often asked myself why our history text books couldn’t be at least a bit interesting and insightful, and make the students inquisitive about our past.

So recently when I heard the text books for Karnataka state board were updated and available on the web, I was curious to see how the history books of today are, and if there was any improvement from my schooling days. To my horror, I found the updated high school texts very shoddily produced, full of factual, grammatical and typographic errors. I won’t bore you with all those – like those text books do – but will limit to one or two tidbits only. It suffices to state that if you open a random page, the probability of finding more than 3 errors (grammatical/ factual/ typographic) is almost 75%! And the probability of finding at least one error is very close to 100%. Very sad state of affairs in this time and age!

I started reading the 9th grade History text book. Just like you check one grain of rice to know if the entire pot is cooked or not, I will provide you with a sample ‘grain’ from this book. This short paragraph is about the new religious thinkers such as Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, their philosophical thoughts and the genesis of new cults/ religions (or whatever you want to call them).


ettana

According to this textbook, “new religions came in because there was a change in agriculture modes and what people ate. Buddhism and Jainism rose because eastern UP and Bihar came under new methods of agriculture not seen before, using iron ploughs. These ploughs needed oxen to pull them. There was a scarcity of oxen, because they were sacrificed in religious practices. Hence people were attracted to these new religions that opposed sacrifice of animals, and taught non-violence as a principle. This is why these religions became popular”.

I have read many a history book, but this was the first time I came across such an explanation. Of course, no citations for this conclusion are given in the book. The book is entirely devoid of any source citation. Neither does it make any distinction among fact, hypothesis, theory and inference. Everything is written as though it is crystal clear. I wonder what impression the teachers and students studying these ill-written text books will be getting about history in general, and of Indian history in particular.

When I shared the above section from the Karnataka text book on social media, I got a pointer from someone as to the source of such content in proof of its ‘supposed authenticity’ – A page from a book of 9th grade CBSE book written by R. S. Sharma. He is often cited as a source of reputable history by the secular circles in India.

DEBLv8DU0AEFrt5

Now, since this was presented as an authentic source, I read through that page. It can be readily inferred that the Kannada text book draws material from this text. This book too does not say how such conclusions were drawn. So not much help there. This book of R. S. Sharma is prescribed as a text for 11th grade students. Incidentally looks like the same book is being used from times long before I was in 11th grade! Nevertheless, I hoped there have been revisions in tune with current research. So I just thought of doing some additional fact checking, and took a random paragraph from the book – this one dealing with the coming of Aryans to India.

dasyuhatyA

This short paragraph is verily overloaded with facts, semi-facts, pseudo-facts, white lies, masked-lies, and blatant lies as you will discover below:
  • Aryans came to India in several waves (May be true, may be not, but the text does not tell why or how that inference was made)
  • Earliest wave was Rigvedic people who came to India around 1500 BC (Again, no indication how this date was arrived at, if there is any tangible proof etc)
  • They came in contact with other tribes such as dasyus & dasas who were original inhabitants (Absolutely no evidence given about how/if these tribes were thought to be original inhabitants)
  • They were a also a branch of ancient Iranians since their literature also mentions dAsa (This is the statement somewhat close to truth and supported by facts – that Rig Vedic people and ancient Iranians had something in common). But again if dasas were native Indians, did Iranians go from India (after Rig Vedic people came to India) ? The text remains mum about this.
  • After stating They (Rig Vedic Aryans) came into conflict with the indigenous inhabitants called the dasyus, dasas, three sentences later the author says “Rig Veda mentions the defeat of Sambara by Divodasa, of the bharata clan” – Isn’t it logical Divodasa be a dasa?
  • Now the author states “Possibly the dasyus in the Rig Veda represent the original inhabitants of the country, and an Aryan chief who overpowered them was called Trasadasyu’ – So within three lines another shift of the presentation! My only question to the author:“What were you smoking when you wrote this paragraph?”
  • Next he says “The term dasyu-hatya, slaughter of the dasyus, is repeatedly mentioned in the Rig Veda.

When I saw the last bullet, I saw a good opportunity test it quantitatively. All the previous bullets were inferences, opinions, hearsay, and not quantitatively measurable. But talking about “repeated mention of a word or a phrase in a text” is a *very* measurable quantity.

Back when I was in high school there was no Internet, or no access to a Rig Vedic scholar. Or even if I had, I do not know if he knew the entire 1028 suktas (i.e. 10600 verses, 21200 lines to be very accurate), or if he would answer my questions about the Veda. Thankfully, now there is Internet, and the whole searchable Rig Veda is available at:

http://www.meluhha.com/rv/

A search for the word ‘dasyu’ reveals that the word occurs exactly 51 times in all of the 21200 lines. Even assuming an average 5 words per line, this translates to 51 times in 106000 words. A whopping 480 parts per million! What an unbelievably high rate to be called a “repeated mention”!

Searching for the word ‘dasyu’ reveals that the word occurs exactly 51 times in all of the 21200 lines. Assuming an average 5 words per line, this translates to 51 times in 106000 words. A whopping 480 parts per million! What an unbelievably high rate to be called a “repeated mention”!

dasyu

Oops. Sorry. Spoke too soon. What R. S. Sharma claims is that the phrase ‘dasyu-hatya’ is a frequent occurrence. Not the word dasyu. Let me look for it, for I want to stick with facts.

hatya

The term dasyu-hatya (or something related) occurs a total 7 times in the 21200 lines of Rig Veda. This translates to 66 parts per million. *VERY VERY HIGH OCCURRENCE*. Really!

Moral of the story: Text book writers may be under a rock for decades. We need not be. Not in today’s information age. This research was to be done by the text book writers. But surely they have not done it. If we care about the next generation of kids, I think we need to do our bit so that they don’t live under the rock forever.

-neelanjana

 

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ಜುಲೈ 2017
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