The CBSE has also removed from the curriculum chapters on 'Democracy and Diversity' and 'Challenges to Democracy'. (Representational Image/ DC)
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has excluded two excerpts from poems written by the legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz from the curriculum for the academic year 2022-23. The two excerpts were part of the curriculum for over a decade in the section on "Religion, Communalism and Politics" in the Class 10 NCERT textbook Democratic Politics. The reasons for this decision have not been given.
It must be conceded that educational authorities have the right to review school content, and some of this is necessary. It is my opinion that our educational content is still considerably trapped in the colonial legacy, and that much of it is not fully representative of the remarkable historical diversity of our country. There is still too much emphasis on history centered around Delhi, and the North. While the history of the great Mughals needs to be taught, there could also be far greater inclusion of the stalwarts of the south, such as the remarkable achievements of the Chola dynasty, or Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar, the remarkable ruler of the last great Hindu kingdom.
But this being as it may, the question still remains: why axe Faiz? Was he a mediocre poet? Was he hostile to India? Was he an Islamic fanatic? The answer to all three questions is a resounding no. Faiz was one of the greatest poets in Urdu, and his ghazals and nazms are hugely popular both in India and Pakistan and, indeed, worldwide. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature, and was the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize. Who has not been enraptured by the poetical genius of his nazm, mujhse pehlisi mohabbat mere mehboob na maang, beautifully rendered by Noor Jehan. He also wrote extensively in Punjabi. He was against undemocratic regimes, and fought against the military dictatorships in Pakistan, for which he was incarcerated in jail. His revolutionary poems, Bol ke lab azaad hain tere, or the iconic, Hum Dekhenge, have inspired generations of those who seek justice and liberty. He was not against India — in fact he was an internationalist — and had legions of friends and admirers in India, a country which he visited often and was very fond of. And, he was certainly not an Islamic fundamentalist. In fact, far to the contrary, he was a member of the Communist Party in Pakistan, and against the mullahs and their regressive ways.
Was he dropped then because he was from Pakistan? It is true that we have major problems in our political and military relations with Pakistan. We have also had more than one war with our western neighbour. Yet, should such matters hold culture or people to people interactions hostage? We play the most watched cricket matches with them. Our cultural heritage overlaps in myriads of ways. Our films are hugely popular there. My first book, a biography of Mirza Ghalib, published by Penguin, was a bestseller in Pakistan and India. In any case, are such boycotts sustainable? Mohenjodaro and Harappa are in Pakistan. Should we delete the Indus Valley Civilization from our text books? Takshila, the famous ancient university, is in Pakistan. Should we block the profound wisdom and learning it symbolises? The British conquered and looted India, and history cannot be erased. But should, as a retaliation, we should ban Shakespeare?
Culture and creativity transcend political boundaries and historical memory.
Could the powers that be today have an animus against Urdu? Possibly. Recently, a leading BJP MP led a nationwide campaign on social media against an ad campaign because it used Urdu words in the celebration of Diwali. Such usage was considered anti-Hindu. So now, if we say "Diwali Mubarak", we are being anti-Hindu! The attempt to equate Urdu with Islam must surely rank as one of the most dangerously foolish manifestations of the uneducated ultra-Hindu right. Urdu is an Indian language, also spoken in Pakistan. It is the repository of some of the most sublime thought, with a delicacy of expression that has few rivals in any language. To associate it with one religion is so culturally illiterate that one hangs one head in shame. If Faiz became Pakistani after Partition, should we now also send across the border the literary heritage of Mirza Ghalib, Momin, Zauq, Munshi Prem Chand, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, to name just a few, merely because they wrote or write in Urdu? And where will this madness stop?
Some day, very soon, some hothead will say that to celebrate Christmas is anti-Hindu because Jesus was not born in India. The attempt to define Hindu interest in such terms of exclusion and insularity is a reflection of cultural illiteracy, bigotry and narrow mindedness that is an insult to all Hindus. And yet, remember, because of the threat of violence hyphenated with this stunted mindset, the ad campaign using Urdu words was taken off. The hate-filled power of the uncultured and ignorant should never be underestimated. Did Faiz become a victim of this?
The CBSE has also removed from the curriculum chapters on "Democracy and Diversity" and "Challenges to Democracy". Why? Are they no longer relevant? Can democracy survive without respecting diversities? And, should not the young learn about the challenges to democracy, and the need to guard against attempts to subvert it, even by governments that are democratically elected?
Education and culture are derived best in an atmosphere that encourages discussion and debate, freethinking and free choices, and an exposure to great thinkers and writers, irrespective of where they hail from. If this is not done due to the myopic insularity of those who misguidedly believe that educational curriculums should be dictated by their narrow ideological limitations, we will do great damage to the sophisticated, nuanced and profound intellectual heritage that is Indian civilisation. Indian children, as legatees of this heritage, deserve better.