History of the Indian Subcontinent

I’ve read many, many books on the history of the Indian subcontinent by now. In school, every year we had a mandatory subject called Pakistan Studies in which we went through the history of the subcontinent in its gory details. The books were prescribed by the government, and had to be approved by some education committee or the other. Half of them seemed to have been written by blindly patriotic old men, embittered with old age and even those who knew the subject well did not know how to write. On top of that, it seemed that Pakistan Studies was hated by the teachers as well, and assigned to the ones incapable of teaching a ‘real’ subject. There were a few good teachers now and then, but the majority were drones who reduced the fascinating story of the subcontinent into a incomprehensible muddle. In class four, the earliest history class I can remember, the class would consist of reading from the book, then the teacher would ask questions verbatim from the book. Even at that time, I remember thinking that this is no way to go about teaching a subject.

There was not much improvement the rest of my school life though the book selection got better, with a few excellent ones creeping in. Still, a number of them were the “Pakistan good, India bad” sort of books. For more see The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan. [via “Procrastination”:http://www.zackvision.com/weblog/]

It’s not just the history books, but most of the other government proscribed books also. I can understand why the govt. would propagate s

17 thoughts on “History of the Indian Subcontinent”

  1. The curriculum of South Asian history is so severely distorted that you will be shocked. I am an ardent fan and reader of South Asian history and I am disgusted by BOTH Indian and Pakistani curricula.

    About the British authors. South Asians generally consider Britishers to be much more Anti-Muslim than they should be. And after reading a bit I will have to agree with that. I dont know why but there is always a lilt in their tongue against Muslims.

    On the other hand Muslim writers make it too unrealistic. India was not Utopia under their rule and there is not need to justify the same. But they all try to do so.

    I would suggest to anyone serious in this endeavour to read books by Britishers, Pakistanis, Indians, Hindus and Muslims. To get a complete picture. But then again I love this subject. Many of you dont. If you read one book about South Asian history read ‘India wins freedom’ by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

  2. I stopped reading the ‘official’ history a long time back, but yes they are extrememly distorted. I think the government puts pressure on publishers to change certain key points and delete what they feel to be ‘unpatriotic’. All this was done a long time ago, and those same books have been on the proscribed syllabus for so long that nobody really seems concerned. I remember the one good teacher I had telling us not to read certain books on the syllabus becasue they had been ‘revised’ a bit to much.

    Some of the Indian histories which I’ve read have had similar flaws, so as Jalal sats, you do have to read a wide variety to get the true picture.

  3. Salaam,

    I found Ian Talbot’s _Pakistan: A Modern History_ to quite a good read, though he tends to gloss over certain aspects.

    “Surprisingly, all the best books are British.”

    I’d say this is unsurprising.

    You’re right though: “officialisation” of history is nothing more than a distortion. If you see a book by an academic from a “prestigious” institute, be prepared for a honey-coated version of events.

  4. Abez, you hit the nail right on the head.

    Thebit: Most academics are pretty far removed from the world they’re writing about, but a number of the better British authors either lived or spent a lot of time in India. I don’t think it so much honey coating, but ‘subtle distortions’ of some parts as Abez said. Although thats one and the same.

  5. Thats true.. Pakistan Studies was always written in this totally slanted style. but worse, i had this christian teacher who was totally slanted towards the british. lol.

    but you’d be surprised. if you read last months issue of readers digest, they’ve done a piece on how every word you read in an american classroom has been evaluated, assessed and worded for their purposes.

  6. Now that’s something interesting and, to me, obvious comin’ from Readers’ Digest. I had European History in majors and prior to that, Pakistan Studies, thankfully, was taught by two gentlemen one of whom was MPhil in Economics and the other one Gold Medalist in War History. So we got pretty distracted from actual course of Pak. Studies and never had regrets anyway, since the syallbus from 5th to Bachelors is almost the same. But I liked those Pak. Studies classes coz we discussed and explored anything and everything except stupid Pak. Studies and later on reading/studying/preparing for European History wasn’t anything short of something hilarious. Biases and prejudices do also lurk around European Authors and their respective nationalities, but it was still interesting. Having more and diverse studies can give a better understanding but it was the treatment of historical perspective and the need of putting into practice than the factual parodies, to know and to understand, that I took aim at this subject. However, on ground of Pakistani schools’ sylabbus of Pak. Studies or any other, I am happy they gave a good reason why we shouldn’t bow our heads to every Majha, Ghama, sheeda etc. we come across entitling himself as an educationist. Their follies have surely enlightened us more (at least me) than their wisdom could have.

    My instructor read the same chapter in his english class when he was student that he was teaching us years after. And yeah the gap was like 15years or so at least. Islamiat and Pak. Studies in our schools has been such a fun that I wish my children could get something Economics and Music instead beside literature, which would, I think, be there in early classes.

  7. i have read many many books on this topic.i am doing researchon sub-continent education during the British perid this side is best for information please sent meother information on sub-continent education during the British period i will be higly oblige to you thanks

    my best wishes with you

  8. is there a good book about the indian subcontinent ,starting from the indus valley civilization to the split of india and pakistan,want to give a general overview to a friend.

  9. Mr. Nasim Yousaf wrote in his book”…Unfortunately, the history of Pakistan is incomplete and distorted. If people are kept ignorant of [Allama] Mashriqi’s and the Khaksars’ struggle, sufferings, and services, then the history of Pakistan is inadequate. Mashriqi’s role has been twisted, misrepresented, and in many cases misquoted. The crux of the movement has been completely ignored. There are various reasons to keep the role of Mashriqi unknown or to deny him credit for his services toward independence. One reason is so that full credit for independence can be retained by the pro-Muslim Leaguers. For the pro-Muslim Leaguers, naming Mashriqi as a great freedom fighter means taking away their credit or at least having to share credit with Khaksar Tehrik in the creation of Pakistan. Another reason is that because Mashriqi led a simple life, acknowledging this would mean that all those who cherished high profile lifestyles then and now, at the expense of a poor nation, would have to forgo their affluent lifestyles…”

    Source:Pakistan’s Freedom & Allama Mashriqi: Statements, Letters, Chronology of Khaksar Tehrik (Movement), Period: Mashriqi’s Birth to 1947


  10. I have read official indian history books and a few by british and muslim authors. To have an unbiased perception of subject one need to read criticaly and from more than one sources. On indian official version; it may be factualy inaccurate at times but thanks to secular principles of government and muslim representation in country, these have hardly anything against muslims and islam. Presence of left wing marxists in academia has been able to offset rightwing leanings, if any.

    I am not sure but I have heard that history starts after islam in pakistani school-books and earlier period is viewed as dark-age of history. An Arab history and connection is taught more optly than original history of land. Great freedom movement which was faught collectively by our forefathers has not been given its due importance and rather muslim deprivation is taught more extensively.

    Anyway, it’s good to see some voices for rational reading of history. In recent issue of outlook, I read about revision of curriculam in pakistan.

  11. what history news aree given hrer they very intresting and important.I am very intrestet for history . Please send me information about history by sending mail.I have given you my mail adress.

  12. In Indian schools history of the Subcontinent covers all periods right from the Indus Valley Civilization upto present day. Arab conquest of Sindh, establishment of Muslim rule in India and all Muslim dynasties are covered under the heading “Medieval India”. Though Mohammad of Ghazni and Aurangzeb’s anti Hindu actions are presented critically, you can not find any negative remarks on Mohammad bin Qasim, Mohammad of Ghori or any other Muslim ruler. In fact Akbar is regarded as one of the greatest Emperors of India. Balban, Mohammad bin Tughlak, Sher Shah, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Siraj ud Daula, Tipu Sultan and various other Muslim rulers are all positively painted. I wonder why it is not so in Pakisan. Pre-712 history is not taught in Pakistani schools. Even the Agha Khan University which has prepared History syllabi for Karachi schools has also ignored this important part of Pakistan’s past. Why the governments at Islamabad and educationists are keeping their country’s Hindu and Buddhist past away from Pakistani people? What are they afraid of? Are they trying to brainwash young minds of Pakistan to think that they have got nothing to do with Hinduism and India? Can anybody tell me the rationale behind this attitude. I am asking these questions with a sincere desire to know the truth. Please reply to my e mail id.

  13. Prem Shekhar and many others: Do you think the Baloach, the Pathans, those who migrated/moved to sub-continent were “Indians” and Hindus/Budhhists? And, it’s a common knowledge that if there is one group of Muslim people that are mixed with the conquerers, then that are the Sindhis (not all, of course). Also, I can provide you with reference that your own Sardar Patel saying to Malihabadi (the poet) that he is not against those Muslims that moved to norther India, but against those who converted, and many other instances where the Hindus themselves acknowledge that even in northern India, Muslims are not indigenous people of the that land. So, please come out of the fantasy land of thinking all Muslims were Indians. Clearly, history must not be taught properly in India. And, please clear your mind from the India-fed propaganda: We, in Pakistan, studied about older civilzation, Harrappa, Taxila, Mohnjo Daro, Ashoka, etc, etc, and are not afraid of “older history”. In fact, when we read it, we were glad that Muhammad bin Qasim, etc. came and removed idoltry from part of the sub-continent. Yes, Akbar is of course well-liked, for he tried to develop a new religion called Deen-e-Akbar that mixed Islam and Hinduism. So, praising Akbar is not like praising Muhammad bin Qasim.

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