(WASHINGTON)—This week, at the start of the new school year in India, teachers handed tens of millions of secondary school students in grades 6–12 new history, political science, and sociology textbooks with revisions from India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training, the federal government agency that compiles and issues educational materials. These updated textbooks struck key details from their accounts of India’s past, including chapters on the centuries-long Muslim Mughal dynasty and references to Mahatma Gandhi’s advocacy of unity between Hindus and Muslims; India’s founding as a secular republic; and the anti-Muslim riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002 while current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister.

“The Modi government’s educational censorship via the rewriting of school textbooks is alarming,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs. “Coming on the heels of Modi’s banning of a BBC documentary implicating him in the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat riots, this scrubbing from textbooks of demonstrable facts that the government finds unpalatable bodes poorly for India’s ailing democracy.”

The edits, which were deemed “textbook rationalization” by the Modi government and justified as necessary to reduce the “syllabus burden” on students, have been praised by leaders in Modi’s conservative, Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party for supposedly rectifying historical perspectives long taught to students.

“Bowdlerized accounts of history rob students of the complexity and nuance essential for critically appraising their societies and appreciating their duties of democratic citizenship. PEN America has methodically documented similar legislative efforts here in the United States to use government power to censor the diversity and complexity of our country’s history and to chill free and open intellectual exchange in schools and colleges. Democracies, both at home and abroad, demand an informed citizenry. These actions in India and the United States restrict educational freedom and undermine democracy around the world.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057