Presence of the Past: Notions of the Indian Nation in Class VI NCERT History Textbooks

Muskan Aggarwal
Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts
Symbiosis International (Deemed University)


In the context of a diverse nation like India, education is an important site where the image of the nation is shaped. In this paper, I have studied the notions of the Indian nation as presented in middle school (class VI) NCERT history textbooks published in 1966, 2002 and 2006, using the method of textual analysis. How history is taught or ‘which’ history is taught, is informed by a particular idea of what the nation is. Therefore, writing history textbooks, particularly in a country like India, has been a site rife with contestations. It is important to explore the ways in which the nation is depicted in these textbooks through a close reading of the text as it informs who is perceived to belong to the nation and who is not. It also has the potential to leave a powerful impact on young minds. I compare and contrast the three textbooks by identifying six broad themes, namely – the importance of the study of history, names used to refer to the region, the use of the categories of country, nation and state as natural entities, understandings of Indian culture, portrayal of the contributions of women and finally, the understanding of Hinduism. My analysis reveals that there are significant differences in the portrayal of the nation in these three textbooks. I categorise the notions of the nation present in the three textbooks into three broad viewpoints based on their descriptions of the nature and ordering of constituents that form the nation. Both the 1966 and 2002 books, albeit in different ways, present one dominant narrative of the nation while the 2006 book attempts to put forth everyday narratives. It can be said that in the 1966 book, the constituents of the nation (its people and their culture) are a diverse group which are brought together by a common national consciousness, while in the 2006 book, the cultural and political identities of the people coincide to form an organic conception of the nation.

 Keywords: Indian textbooks, nation, nationalism, textual analysis, historiography, Hindu nationalism.