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History as the battleground
By Ram Puniyani
|History as an enterprise has gone through different phases. The struggle over different methods has become a major point of debate in our country, especially since the coming to power of BJP led coalition. It has been projected that the present (NCERT) history books are insensitive to the feeling of some communities; they have leftist orientation, they are 'one-sided' and so they need to be changed. Already process has begun and 'Historians' whose identity is being kept a secrete, are already working on new version of History, which is to be introduced in our schools and colleges. Professional history bodies have opposed this move. The tempers have risen to the extent that the PM Mr. Vajpayee (IE 25 Nov.) had to say that 'If History is one sided it should be changed', while President K.R. Narayanan had to caution that, 'We should not change History (Mid-Day 30th Dec. 2001), and the Minister in charge came down scathingly on the Historians who had written these books. Dr.. Murli Manohar Joshi (Hindu 30th Dec.2001) said, "there are two types of terrorism facing the country. One, ``intellectual terrorism'', which, had ``spread like a slow poison'' because of the ``wrong presentation of Indian history'' by Left historians and was ``more dangerous'' than the ``cross-border terrorism''.
Why so much heat over this issue? Why is Dr. Joshi so incensed with the present NCERT History books? Why he could not even wait for the new History books being written by new 'Historians', which will be out in the market soon? Why certain portions from the prevalent books have been deleted in the middle of the year on an emergency basis?
In a way what is going on is shadow boxing. Two views of looking at society are clashing on the battleground of Historiography. J.S.Mill was the first who periodized Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British (not Christian) periods. This kept being taught for long times. In this way of looking at the past Religion is the sole marker of society. It is a communal view as communalism basically stands for looking at social phenomenon through the eyes of religion alone. It is another matter that Mill did not characterize the British colonial period as the Christian period. Here the predominace is given to the Kings and rulers and their motives are derived from their religious faiths. It leaves lot of events unexplained as to how Muslim Kings allied with Hindu nobles and Kings? (eg. Akbar+Mansingh against Rana Pratap+ Hakim Khan Sur, Aurangzeb+Raja Jaising against Shivaji + Siddi Sambal) Why there were battles between Kings of same religions? It also does not explain as to why Muhammad Gazani had Tilak and Sondhi as his Generals and his army which attacked Somnath temple had good number of Hindu soldiers. It also does not explain as to why a Hindu King Raja Harshdev of Kashmir appointed an officer called Devottpatan Nayak(an officer who uproots the images of Gods). It goes without saying that Kings did not take up crusades, Jihads or Dharma Yudhas for the spread of their religions but for the expansion of their empires. Barring post-Kalinga Ashok not many rulers used the state machinery for the spread of their religions.
This view of History glorifies the Kings belonging to the ruling communal outfits and denigrates the Kings of 'other' religions. Like if the King belonging to 'our' religion wins over new territories He is valiant and brave. If the king belonging to 'other religion' comes to 'our ' territory it is projected as an act of cruelty and oppression. This view also cleverly hides the prevalent social hierarchies, the oppression of Shudras, landless peasant and women etc. This view of History goes very well with the colonial policies, which harped, on the divide and rule to prolong their rule here. This way of looking at history goes well with society where status quo is actively promoted by state authorities. In Pakistan, plagued by domination of Mullahs in state policies, more so from the era of Zia Ul Haq, the colonial Historiography principles have not much changed and the History begins with Harappa and then takes a straight jump to the Muslim rule in Sind centuries later, period belonging to Hindu kings has been deleted from the books presumably because it hurts the sentiments of the Mullhas ruling the roost.
In India, post colonial period, attempts were made to change the communal orientation of History. The process of change has not been complete. But the direction was towards introducing Rational view of History as far as possible. In this attempt the best efforts were after the formation of NCERT in 1961. Amongst rational historians, professional historians, the attempt is to look at the history and society from multifaceted angel, religion not being the only determinant of analysis. Here the emphasis is on the sources and the interpretation of sources is done in conjunction with other parallel information's, literature of the time, evolution of language etc. It is not that this science of History has reached its acme, what is important is that the attempt has been in this direction. Many a professional Historians who emerged and earned reputation and name in their disciplines had largely been sympathetic to progressive and left orientation, but surely there are an equal number of non-left rational historians. But as far as their Historiography is concerned their contribution has been a landmark in professional excellence by any standards. Some of these are Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, K.N.Panikkar, Arjun Dev, R.S. Sharma, and Bipan Chandra etc.
So where is the problem. Why Dr. Joshi thinks that these historians are worse than the terrorists? Why he thinks that this Rational History has poisoned the minds of society? The answer to this question lies in Dr. Joshi's commitment to the ideology of Hindutva, which aims at Hindu Rashtra. In contrast to Secular Democratic India, the outcome of our Freedom Struggle and enshrined in our constitution, Hindu Rashtra aims at a society which is inheritor of the social values and social structure of pre-modern times. It is upholder of social relationships outlined in the Holy Hindu books like Manu Smriti etc. Here is the basic conflict. On one side a process of social transformation towards Liberty Equality and Fraternity, a breaking of the birth based hierarchies and on the other the aim to have a society based on birth-based hierarchies of caste and gender as reflected in the Hindu Holy scriptures. A rational view of History as attempted in the NCERT books aims to raise the questions of caste and gender hierarchy, it tries to look at the society beyond the religion of rulers and so promotes a way of thinking which is capable of questioning the social relationships. This view is dangerous to the monolithic projection of religious communities, held by communal view. That's why the history as taught in Pakistan has adopted the communal view, that's why the attempts are on to undo this rational method in India. The effort is to introduce and adopt the 'model' of RSS shakha history to be as THE 'national' view. In this view the pages of Hindu warriors winning and demolishing other's land and kingdoms are Golden pages. In this, the period when caste system was at its peak, the gender injustice was at peak is golden. In this view the society is one homogenous mass and rivers of milk and honey are flowing, the kings are great because they respect the Brahmins and give them generous gifts. The source of King's wealth, the sweat of shudra peasant is not to be registered as it will upset the applecart of status quo. In this view the Nation building has been done by the glorious RSS and Hindu nationalists like Hedgewar, Golwlakar, Savarkar and Godse (the last name is not projected assertively but should be a logical continuation of the Hindu Rashtra politics), here the modernizer of India, (which resulted in breaking of status quo to some extent), Nehru, is a villain as he brought in 'western' values in our society, and here partition of the country took place due to Gandhi's appeasement of Muslims, here the RSS and Hindu Nationalists got us the Freedom while the Indian Nationalists were in jails to enjoy the five star luxuries offered to them by the British. So why wait till the new books on these lines become our new Gita's or Bible's?
We cannot tolerate that the fact that Beef was eaten in Vedic times, is written in the books, as it weakens the emotive appeal of our Hindutva movement. Here we can not tolerate the mention of the fact that caste system was oppressive to Shudras. In this we cannot permit the pages in the books, which mention that around the place of Ram's birth, Ayodhya, there is no evidence of human habitation during the period when he is supposed to have lived. So along with these we have also to tear the pages of books, which mention about the plundering acts of Hindu kings, as Hindu kings can do no wrong, contrary to the fat that plundering other kings territory was a 'normal' operation for kings armies irrespective of their religion.
So this 'Nationalist' exercise has been undertaken. The Rational historians are worse than terrorists. How do we deal with terrorist is too well known. How to 'deal' with these historians, who have 'poisoned' our minds is being articulated by this warrior of Hindu Rashtra politics, who also happens to have obtained a doctorate in the 'Western science' based on 'western' methods! One gets the feeling of de ja vu in the context of looking at Historians as worse than terrorists. Pastor Martin Nimoeller's 'First they cam for Jews' is too well known to be recounted here. Keeping faithfulness to Hitler's 'Race based nationalism' the practitioners of 'Religion based Nationalism' are inventing enemies one by one. After Muslims and Christians, now it is the turn of Communists, the historians. Guru Golwalkar's prescription, Muslims, Christians and Communists are threats to Hindu Nation is being kept in mind by Dr. Joshi when sequencing the order in which they have to be 'dealt with'. And as we by now know that any body talking of Human Rights, liberalism, rationalism can be labeled as communist, the job of 'treating' them as 'terrorist' will be easier. Sangh Parivar the fountain head of Hindu Rashtra politics has to thank Dr. Joshi for 'logically' proving that these rational historians are communists and so there by the search for the 'next' enemy, who is needed for consolidating the Hindu vote bank becomes easier. And this literally will kill more than one birds with single trishul.
(The writer works with EKTA, Committee for Communal Amity, Mumbai) q