CHENNAI: Rachel Yengkhom* moved to Chennai from Manipur when she was in class 8. She studied in a private matriculation school but felt out of place during History and Geography classes.
“I was clueless in class for a long time. I found that the history I learned in my school in Manipur barely had any mention in the textbooks here. In fact, I would keep looking for some mention of Manipur in the textbook but could barely find anything. I was shocked that living in the same country, my classmates knew nothing about my home and I knew nothing about their culture and traditions.”
Yengkhom spent her time educating her classmates about her life in Manipur while they taught her about their traditions. “I found that it taught me more than my History classes,” she said. “We recognised that there was so much that we could learn and appreciate about our cultures from each other. Ignorance is what leads to discrimination and the education system is fostering ignorance by not adequately representing the different states and their people.”
This ignorance is what leads to people like Leina Khangrang* being victims of name-calling and discrimination.
“I had a terrible experience when I first shifted from Nagaland to Chennai to pursue my graduate studies,” she recounts. “I found people were insensitive and would call me names like ‘Chinki’ or ‘Chinese,’ and many people asked me if I am an Indian. I found that demeaning, I hated it. When I interacted with others from the Northeast, they too complained about similar discrimination. If people had more awareness about my state, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Textbooks play a key role in national integration. Hence, educationists and academicians are emphasising the need for a ‘holistic’ outlook towards textbook-writing that will help students be more aware of the culture and traditions of other states in the country.
For Anjana Sekaran,* who studied in a school in the city, pursuing Anthropology in Delhi was an eye-opening experience.
“My school textbook did not mention anything about the Northeast beyond the states and their capitals, the ‘Seven Sisters’ and ‘Cherrapunji receiving the highest amount of rainfall.’ Not just the Northeast, but there was hardly any mention of states in central and northern India. It is sad to see that hardly anything has changed since I left school 15 years ago.”
Educationist Prince Gajendra Babu agrees that while certain positive changes have been made in the revised syllabus, there is still a long way to go for textbooks to be ‘holistic.’
“There is barely any mention about the Northeast, Northwest, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand or even Gujarat beyond a stray mention of the Gir forests. The problem is that textbook writers don’t seem to have understood the concept of ‘India.’
They are not looking at the country as a multicultural society, one that is pluralistic in nature. What happens when you promote a single identity, language and one-dimensional history is that it makes the ‘others’ feel neglected. That is exactly what is happening today,” he explains. Names changed on request