History Minus Hinduism

Nanditha Krishna is a historian, author and environmentalist, and director of the CPR Institute of Indological Research in Chennai

THE LEFT MAY be down, but it’s still not out. The most visible presence of the Left is in the media and in the textbooks of Indian history which, for some reason, the BJP Government hesitates to change.

Soon after the completion of the tenure of the previous Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the reconstitution of the Council, Leftist historians voiced their alarm and protested against attempts to impose ‘legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others….’ followed by an ‘open letter from overseas historians and social scientists’ warning against ‘a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry’ and ‘a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history’. An eminent historian immediately announced publicly that none of the members of the new Council had ever published a paper or a book. This merely showed the limitations of her own academic knowledge and reading habits. Statements denigrating the new members appeared in so-called intellectual circles both in India and abroad, alleging that the Right was trying to produce a nationalist history. These condemnations were neither intellectual nor academic in substance, but ideological and political. From time to time, such statements are made by a politico- ideological apparatus which has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country—including the Indian History Congress and the ICHR—and imposed its blinkered view of India’s past. This school is a result of Marxist historiography and Leftist ideology, borrowing heavily from the Annales School, Subaltern and other studies, many of which are irrelevant to Indian history and were developed for Europe.

Leftist historians viewed the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasising its mechanisms of exclusion, while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago. Brahmins became the villains of everything that had gone wrong in India. The fact that caste was very fluid even till the British period, with people changing their caste upon migration or switching professions, was never mentioned.

History textbooks, written by eminent Leftist writers, still talk about the Aryan ‘invasion’ of India. On being challenged, they mask it as an Aryan ‘migration’ into India. That too has no proof, as anyone who has read the Rig Veda (which I have) will assert. Their history is divisive: Aryans versus Dravidians, north versus south, and so on. Nobody has identified Aryans and Dravidians. The British defined them as racial groups and the British missionaries identified Dravidians as suppressed ‘Dasas’. This suited the Leftists till they were told that all Indians came from a common gene pool, so there was no question of race. Now the two have been identified as linguistic groups, which is equally stupid: language is mobile. I speak and write English without a drop of Anglo-Saxon blood. South Indian children living in Delhi speak Hindi at home. The British created divisions in Indian society which the Leftists were happy to inherit, possibly with the hope that it would lead to class upheavals. But there are classes and castes within each division, which leaves no space for disruption.

The most objectionable aspect of Leftist historiography has been the denial of the originality and continuity of India’s Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage to generations of Indian students, in spite of the work of Indian and Western Indologists who have classified India’s achievements. Leftists have damned Hinduism as irrational, superstitious, regressive and barbaric. Needless to say, as they are mostly atheists, it suits them to run down the Hindu heritage of India. This includes the denial of India’s knowledge systems produced in an age of Sanskrit and Vedic learning—the philosophies, languages, literature, science, medicine, technology and arts—which would emphasise the greatness of India’s Hindu past.

The most objectionable aspect of Leftist historiography has been the denial of the originality and continuity of India’s Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage to generations of Indian students, in spite of the work of Indian and Western Indologists who have classified India’s achievements

I do not know why there is so much anti-Hinduism in the Left, but it is certainly there. Secularism is an essential part of Hinduism. There is no single book or god to be followed, unlike both Christianity and Islam which reiterate that their god is the only true god and their religion was revealed by that god. But none of this is taught in history books. Rather, Hinduism is reviled for many reasons.

Further, Leftist have also refused to document the darker chapters of Indian history, particularly the brutality of Muslim rulers and their Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and even Christian victims. How many history students know that the library at Nalanda burned for nearly two months, so extensive was its collection of manuscripts? How many know that the Catholic Church held inquisitions in Goa and Kerala, burning to death local Hindus who refused to convert in autos-de-f’e common in Portugal? In Kerala, even Syrian Christians were forced to convert to Catholicism. Hindus were forced to convert to Islam, with beef pushed into their mouths. North Indians come from this violent past, which is why cow slaughter is still such an emotive issue in the north. All over the world, history has tried to remember its nameless victims, but in India the Leftists have pushed them to oblivion. That is why the Hindu-Muslim problem will never die down. If Jawaharlal Nehru, immediately after Independence in 1947, had established a National Reconciliation Council as did Nelson Mandela, it may have calmed the storm of anger of people who had gone through 800 years of suppression and oppression and the horrors of Partition.

Similarly, they tried to under-emphasis the contributions of India’s tribes to Indian culture and civilisation. They do not appear in history books. While Leftists have spoken of the subaltern, they have neglected India’s tribes and tribal systems, heritage and history. We forget that Rama was helped by his close friend Guha, a Nishada, and fed by Sabari, a Sabara (or Saora). The Leftists still portray the Rama versus Ravana war as an Aryan versus Dravidian battle, ignoring the fact that Ravana was a Brahmin and an Arya and a profound devotee of Shiva. Hindu culture and faith are presented as antithetical to tribal culture, without acknowledging that right through the epics there has been so much interaction with tribal societies and so much harmony between them. The Mahabharata records the marriages of kings—Shantanu, Bhima, Arjuna, to name a few—with tribals and the so-called lower castes.

I am not glorifying India’s past as a perfect golden age. Nor do I want a ‘Rightist’ view of Indian history. However, I condemn the pernicious imposition by the Leftist school of a history which has presented an inaccurate self-image, promoting contempt for their civilisation and heritage

THE LEFTISTS HAVE also used texts selectively to fit preconceived theories. To start with, many eminent Leftist historians writing on Indian history do not know Sanskrit, Pali or Tamil. Unless you know at least two of the classical languages, it is very difficult to understand the history of ancient India. This is shocking. Literary, archaeological and epigraphical sources are used in a very cavalier manner. Advances of Indological research in recent years have been ignored. They are still dating Indian history based on Max Mueller, who had a very simple method of calculation since he believed in the Biblical theory that the world was created in 4444 BC. He calculated forwards from that date, giving the Rig Veda a date of 1500 to 1200 BC. This is ridiculous. There has been no attempt to see whether there could be any relationship between the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Vedic. On the one hand, you have a scientifically dateable civilisation with only material culture. On the other, you have an undateable Vedic Civilisation with a vast literature and no evidence of material culture. How is this possible? Since both were situated in the same area of the Indus and its tributaries, some attempt should have been made to correlate the two. Further, the river Sarasvati was dismissed as a mythical river. Now, when a book is so correct in its geography and positioning of every river, why was the Sarasvati alone mythical? After the discovery that at least 80 per cent of the Indus Valley sites are along the Ghaggar-Hakra river, now acknowledged as the ancient Sarasvati which once flowed through northwest India and Pakistan, it is even more plausible that two civilisations are related. Recent excavations of fire altars and other examples of Vedic culture in Harappan sites by eminent archaeologists are not even mentioned by these Leftist historians. Why not? What have they got against the Vedic period?

The Leftists have not critiqued dissenting Indian historians in academic terms, preferring to dismiss them as ‘nationalist’ or ‘communal’. As a result, many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line enforced through government support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The ICHR was an arena of political and financial manipulation and the Indian History Congress continues to be so. The Leftist School has succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarising the academic community.

I am not glorifying India’s past as a perfect golden age. There is good and bad in every period and a little more in some. Nor do I want a ‘Rightist’ view of Indian history. That would be equally terrible. However, I condemn the pernicious imposition by the Leftist school of a history which has presented an inaccurate self-image to generations of Indian students, promoting contempt for their civilisation and heritage. They claim to promote plurality. Unfortunately, the Leftists have never practised it.

Indian history was a part of the British plan to subdue the numerically superior Hindus with feelings of inferiority, a subjugation which has continued under successive governments over 70 years. It is time for India to rewrite history textbooks in an unbiased manner.

Source: openthemagazine.com