14 Aug 2015

Battle for Indian History: How to fight it, and how not (part 1) – Virendra Parekh

1 – A history in service of rulers

Indian history is a battlefield. Hindu nationalists fight off invading colonial canards and Marxist mumbo jumbo of materialistic interpretation of history. Secularists, alarmed by the saffron surge, sound shrill warnings against communalization of history writing. Stalinist activists masquerading as historians girdle up to resist intrusion of sundries (i.e. anyone outside their clique) onto their turf in media, academia and research institutions. Muslim scholars resist attempts to portray Islam and Muslims as villains. Academic historians raise their hands in despair at politicization of the past to serve current needs. And the new generation just wonders why there is so much fuss over an age that is dead and gone.

Indeed, why should it matter who writes history? The short answer is that for India history matters because it extends into the present. India’s history is hoary, chequered and continuous. The link between history writing and actual politics is extraordinarily strong here. Witness the critical role that the myths of Aryan invasion, Brahmanical persecution of Buddhism and Jainism and non-religious motives for temple destruction by Muslim conquerors play in the current political discourse. An unusually large part of India’s history has been disputed for political reasons even when well established e.g. denial of Islam’s utterly destructive role. It is impossible to make sense of the present— its complexities, problems, challenges, opportunities and possible solutions—without a proper understanding of the past.

There is another, deeper reason for Indians to learn and remember their past. India derives her sense of nationhood, her self-image, her identity from her ancient past. That past is kept alive and the sense of national unity sustained through a living tradition: Veda, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, literature of saints, pilgrimages, modes of worships and rituals that are similar in substance though differing in details and a collective memory of foreign invasions and heroic resistance offered by national icons of valour and sacrifice. Unlike histories of Ancient Rome, Egypt or Mesopotamia, which survive only in museums and monuments, Indian history is a living presence in the lives of millions.

Tampering with history can, therefore, undermine India’s self-image. A wrong perception of the past can obscure a clear view of the present. That indeed was the route taken, first by colonial masters, Christian missionaries and in recent decades by Leftists. Each of these groups had a direct political interest in moulding the way Indians looked upon themselves and others. As in several other matters, enemies of Hinduism and Hindu society have a much clearer understanding of the stakes involved than the Hindus. The former, therefore, lead the assault and the latter try to defend themselves—usually in a bumbling, apologetic manner.

It is therefore important for us to remember that great many historians of India had their own reasons for distorting or suppressing facts. British historians, nationalist leaders of freedom struggle, Aligarh school of historians and Marxist activists passing for historians, all had some purpose other than presentation of colourless truth in their treatment of historical material. Their predilections have vastly compounded the complex task of writing an authentic history of an ancient civilization like India stretching over several millennia.

Nobody can say that all British history of India was wrong. While many British historians were prejudiced, some had genuine curiosity about a culture which was very different from their own. They applied modern methods of historiography to India. They collected, collated and compared old manuscripts, deciphered old, forgotten scripts and systematically mapped out historical monuments built over centuries by a variety of rulers and scattered over a large area. With this, they uncovered an important segment of India’s past which even Indians as a people had largely forgotten. Their labours established India as an ancient civilization with a glorious past, wide influence and remarkable continuity, rather than an area of darkness.

For all these positive factors, British historians distorted our history in some very important respects. They could never shed their sense of racial and cultural superiority. As rulers of a fast expanding empire, they had some definite political needs. For example, the subject people should have no higher notion of their past beyond their present status which they should accept without murmur, preferably with gratefulness. The British taught us that India had never been a nation but a conglomeration of miscellaneous people drawn from diverse sources, that its history had always been a history of invaders and conquerors, that Indians were indifferent to self-rule, and so long as their village life remained intact, they did not bother about who ruled at the Centre.

All these lessons were tirelessly taught and dutifully learnt. So much so that even after the British left, they form an important part of our mental make-up. How often do we hear that India is a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural entity trying painfully to acquire some principle of unity! The very phrase ‘Indian sub-continent’ implies a subtle denial of the essential unity of India.

The Britishers’ main interest was to write a history which justified their presence in India. They held India by the right of conquest and had to recognise the legitimacy of this right in the case of their predecessors like the Arabs, Afghans and Mughals. Thus, British historians sought to justify the Muslim rule in India by presenting Mughals as empire builders and themselves as their successors. Hindu resistance to Muslim rule was played down by the British historians as rebellions and revolts by local chieftains against the legitimate central authority. In the process, they conferred on Muslim rulers a legitimacy that the latter had never enjoyed in the eyes of the Hindus. For Hindus, Muslim rule was as much as an alien imposition as the British, to be resisted as much as was permitted by the circumstances.

In a great irony, this view of India’s history came to be endorsed enthusiastically by nationalist leaders during the struggle for freedom against the British. In the vain hope of winning over Muslim support in the struggle for independence, nationalist leaders started rewriting the history of medieval times. Under their inspiration, Muslim rule became indigenous, Muslim rulers became national kings, and those who fought them were suitably downgraded. The great historian R.C Majumdar tells us how, under this motivation, national leaders created an imaginary history with one of them even proclaiming that Hindus were not at all a subject race under Muslim rule, and how “these absurd notions, which would have been laughed at by leaders at the beginning of the 19th century passed current as history at the end of that century.” (Preface to Vol. VI of The History and Culture of Indian People)

The national leaders at the time of independence were quite content with the history written by the colonial rulers. For one, as Ram Swarup remarks, to throw off an intellectual and cultural yoke is far more difficult than to throw off a political yoke. More importantly, the notion that India had never been a nation, that it had not known any freedom or freedom struggle in the past enabled these leaders to exalt their status by claiming that they were the first nation builders, that they had led the first freedom struggle India had ever known and, indeed, India became free for the first time under their aegis.

The whitewashing and indigenization of the Muslim rule received a powerful boost from the “modernist” Muslim historians, particularly from the Aligarh Muslim University. Sired by late Mohammad Habib, this school said that the barbaric atrocities committed by the Turks should not be blamed on Islam. The wars in the medieval India should be treated purely as political wars waged by some states ruled by Muslim sultans against other states ruled by Hindu rajas. The Muslim sultans were interested in building an empire even as Hindu rajas were interested in expanding their kingdoms. It should not be held against Muslim sultans if the peculiar caste structure of Hindu society made them victorious most of the time, we are told.

On the top of all this came in 1970s the communist ‘historians’ who converted history into a powerful assault on Hindu society, Hindu culture and Hindu Dharma. The noted Kannad literateur S L Bhyrappa has given us a firsthand account of the beginning of massive rewriting and falsification of Indian history undertaken by Indira Gandhi government in the garb of national integration.

“During the year 1969-70 the Central Government under Mrs. Indira Gandhi established a committee under the Chairmanship of G Parthasarathy, a diplomat close to Nehru-Gandhi family. Its task was to integrate the nation through education. At that time I [i.e. Bhyrappa] was a reader in Educational Philosophy at NCERT and was selected as one of the five members of the committee. In our first meeting Mr. Parthasarathy, as Chairman of the committee, explained the purpose of our committee in typically diplomatic language: ‘It is our duty not to sow the seeds of thorns in the minds of the growing children which will grow up as barriers to national integration. Such thorns are found mostly in the history courses. Occasionally, we can find them in language and social science courses also. We have to weed them out. We have to include only such thoughts that go towards inculcating the concept of national integration firmly in the minds of our children. This committee carries this great responsibility.’” Mr. Bhyrappa saw through the game and opposed the proposal through cogent arguments. He was promptly dropped from the committee. (Distorting Indian History – I” by S L Bhyrappa) 

This was the genesis of the history books written by leftists, including NCERT text books. Since then, Stalinist activists masquerading as historians have deliberately and systematically distorted every period of our history to fit it into Marxist categories.

Indian history which is intellectually fashionable, politically correct and taught in schools and colleges comprises lies, half truths and distortions emanating from the all these sources. The result is predictable. It cannot stand even elementary scrutiny; it must rely on patronage and power to remain in currency, as we shall see.

Virendra Parekh is the Executive Editor of Corporate India and lives in Mumbai. 

https://bharatabharati.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/battle-for-indian-history-how-to-fight-it-and-how-not-virendra-parekh/

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