Reconsider Sikkimese History in School Syllabus

by Binod Bhattarai

In a recent speech the Chief Minister of Sikkim announced the introduction of a full subject on Disaster Management as well as Moral Science in school syllabus from the coming session. It is a good step taken by the government to foster educational development in our state.

In addition to the Disaster Management as well as of Moral Science in school syllabus one thing got stuck in my mind that why don’t we include the History of Sikkim in our school syllabus. I am saying (in addition to NCERT Syllabus) to include small booklet of History of Sikkim.

My concern in this regard is that we must know the culture, history, people and place of our region and should also able to tell and teach to others. In today’s world people everywhere define themselves through the place where they live or grew up. School is the ideal place to teach the History and culture of a region. Now a days Cable Television might have replaced books for the young, but school text books still remain the source of much of what Indians grow up learning.

There are many instances when we use to go outside our state and say ‘I am from Sikkim’, People often asked to us, where is Sikkim? Is it in China? Or is it in Arunachal Pradesh? Giving explanations on such silly statements is really embarrassing for all of us. Such ignorance is being construed as an insult to the people of Sikkim and the northeast. It renders the state polemics of unity into a hollow rhetoric founded on the basis of ignorance, incompetency and territorial obsession. It is true that people living in one part of the country sometimes are totally unaware of other parts and giving the vastness of India; this is a natural thought process to have ignorance and false beliefs about other parts of the same country.

We need to seriously note that there is encapsulation of the notion of cultural otherness by the dominant ‘others’ who incorporate it into the policy of discrimination and dominance. This tendency disturbs status quo and collective growth. It plays off plurality. It exasperates social relation and contributes towards the vicious cycle of assertions and counter-assertions centered on the sense of alienation and the idea of recovery from the presumed subjection.How do we overcome ignorance and incompetency to defend plurality? Anyone who believes in ‘unity in diversity’ has to seriously think about it. There cannot be unity when there is discrimination.

Media projections dominantly articulate the northeast as the ‘sick man’ of India. Its contribution in the fields of sports, culture, defense service, resources and politics is not adequately conveyed to the media consumers. Their democratic assertions against the backdrop social discrimination by the mainland Indians, economic exploitation and deprivation in the name of development and suppression of democratic rights in the name of national security are not being properly addressed.I have not seen any mainstream newspaper or so called News channels covering Gangtok, Itanagar, or Aizwal, leave smaller regions. They do not care what is happening there. Rest part of India does not know about these regions.Just as the North East grows up largely unaware of what cultures, languages of people make up South India, so does the rest of India mature without learning anything about the northeast. And the curriculum is woefully incomplete when it comes to projecting what makes up India.

History, they say is always written by the victor who decides which aspects of the vanquished history suit his greater plans and which bits are best left untold. The same has held true for the history taught in schools in India. The curriculum is embarrassingly North India-centric, so much so that even though students learn by rote the names of all those who made it emperor in the Slave Dynasty, ask them about what the northeast was up to in the meantime and they draw a blank. It is accepted that prior to the advent of the East India Company, there was no concept called India, but the school text books are not of that vintage and should have been compiled to tell stories from all parts of what is now India so that a connect was established early enough in life. The history we study in school is actually the composite histories of the areas which came together to form the Union of India in 1947 and later. Well, that should have been how things were, but that is not the case. The focus is too limited to the areas which were on the ascendant in the 19th century and beyond.

Before progressing further it is important to make clear why we study history at all. The main reason why we study history is to enable us discover how the world evolved. It also contributes to moral understanding and provides identity. History is also considered an essential for good citizenship.History will also make that student a better prepared citizen in society, capable of making informed choices about current issues and being able to follow up on events in near future.It gives us an important background on how our society and way of life was. It helps us to understand where ideas and thoughts originate from, how they have developed over time, and where they are headed toward in the future.A student of medicine cannot become a doctor without studying the history behind the profession, and most legends of Hollywood have studied the history of acting and film before obtaining their star on Hollywood.

There has been much talk about making Sikkim join the mainstream [as also the rest of the northeast] which is why it is not enough to just study Sikkimese history in schools in Sikkim. Sikkim needs to figure in the history books studied elsewhere in the country. In junior school, students learn of what Confucius meant to China even before they are taught when and how Sikkim joined India. Ask a child, even in Sikkim, which dynasty ruled Sikkim and chances are that you will get the wrong answer. One is not suggesting going parochial here, but Sikkim does have a history that’s worth learning. Few dynasties have ruled for the 331 years [two more than even the Mughals] that the Namgyal dynasty has to its credit. The British rule which hogs the history books lasted less than a hundred years and stretched 200 years if we include the East India Company’s presence on Indian shores. Surely the Company’s intrigues with Tibet should make for interesting reading as should the Gorkha misadventures in Sikkim. There are some who might argue that most of what is passed off as Sikkimese history is actually myth. Well, it will remain so till some serious study is conducted on it. It might not be out of place to even suggest here that Sikkim should prepare two chapters on Sikkimese history to fit into text books for schools all over the country and take it to the Centre for whetting by the text book boards for inclusion in the syllabi. In fact this is something that all Northeastern States should do. The recent string of events might even pave the way for these chapters to get included in the national curriculum and this could be the one silver lining that the nation draws from the episode.

(With inputs from Sikkim Now! Editorial: History Lessons)

The writer is a Doctoral Fellow in Department of Sociology of Pondicherry University, Puducherry. He can be contacted at


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