Content warning: This article discusses Islamophobia and mentions genocide. 

India is a democracy. That is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi will tell you. When he said “India is the mother of democracy” in an address to the US Congress this past summer, the attendees burst into a clatter of applause. He accompanied this statement with three broad definitions of democracy: “the spirit that supports equality and dignity,” “the idea that welcomes debate and discourse,” and “the culture that gives wings to thought and expression.” 

This might appear to be a sensible outlook toward democracy from a person leading the largest democracy in the world. Unfortunately, while Modi’s words exhibit the charmer that the Indian prime minister is, I believe his policies depict the calculated and divisive mindset with which he governs India. 

Modi’s hypocrisy is glaringly evident in the recent restructuring of the nationwide course curriculum by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Under the leadership of Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in April of this year, the NCERT struck some chapters out of grade 12 history textbooks which discussed the Mughal era in India. The Muslim Mughal dynasty ruled large parts of India for nearly two centuries until the mid-eighteenth century and is credited for bringing almost the entire Indian subcontinent under one rule. 

The remaining content about the Mughal era in the NCERT textbooks vilifies the dynasty’s rulers while removing any mention of their historical achievements. The NCERT erased centuries of history in one go because they considered the information an “unnecessary burden” on students that “can be removed.” 

The attempt to erase and rewrite Muslim history in India is in line with several other actions the BJP has undertaken to antagonize Muslims. For instance, the government and its spokespersons have continuously propagated an Islamophobic conspiracy theory called ‘love jihad,’ which baselessly claims that Muslim men entrap Hindu women romantically to convert them to Islam. 

It is ironic to me that while equality remains a hopelessly distant dream for India’s Muslims, the prime minister discusses democracy as “the spirit that supports equality and dignity,” grinning ear to ear. 

Additionally, under the same decision, political science textbooks will no longer carry mentions of the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat where Hindu extremists killed over 2,000 Muslims under the eye of Modi, the then-chief minister. Modi was accused of perpetrating genocide by several news outlets and was even banned by the federal government from entering the US for over a decade due to his actions — or, rather, his inactions. 

There was and still is considerable debate regarding Modi’s involvement in Gujarat, and I assume that removing the event from textbooks is likely an attempt by the BJP to gradually put an end to this debate, because the people can’t debate what they don’t know about. It is bizarre to think that political science students will graduate without studying one of the darkest periods in Indian communal history, while people still continue to suffer from its aftershocks

The most absurd of the NCERT’s syllabus changes is the removal of Darwin’s theory of evolution from science textbooks up until grade 10. Under this change, only when a student decides to study biology in grades 11 and 12 will they learn about how human beings came to be. The decision comes five years after a BJP minister claimed that Darwin’s theory was unscientific because no one had actually seen apes turn into human beings. 

Such is the sorry state of the BJP. Such is the state of democracy that, according to Modi, is “giving wings to thought and expression.” 

I spent nine years in the Indian education system, and although I struggled through most of it, I was pleased with the knowledge I gained during my time there. I studied the Mughal era as an important period in Indian history, and learned of their architectural, cultural, economic, political, and traditional contributions to the rich tapestry of Indian history. I was taught that evolution explains how we came to exist through an enduring and complicated process that spanned over millions of years. 

I am therefore concerned at the thought of the polity that the government hopes to create through this new curriculum. Educational brainwashes have formed a key part of fascist authoritarian regimes in several parts of the world, like in Hitler’s Germany, where anti-Jewish propaganda was ingrained in school propaganda to radicalize German youth. Thus, I believe the government engaging in similar propaganda meant to advance its political goals shows that India is headed in a problematic direction.

However, while researchers continue to draw attention to India’s severe democratic backsliding, the BJP sings of its democratic prowess in a choir led by the effervescent Prime Minister Modi. “India is the mother of democracy,” he sings with his chest thumped and his hair neatly parted to the side, and the members of the US Congress, like children admiring a magician at a birthday party, burst into a clatter of applause.

Nidhil Vohra is a fourth-year student at St. Michael’s College studying peace, conflict and justice and political science. He is an International Affairs columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.