INTRODUCTION in particular the brutality of many Muslim

INTRODUCTION

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who
controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell in his renowned book,
1984, has successfully managed to capture a powerful force within this
statement. This powerful force is nonetheless the force of history. History has
always been powerful for it has established and destroyed communities, regimes
and nation-states. It is this knowledge of the history that determines our
knowledge of the structure that we belong to and where we stand in this
structure. Just like a coin has two sides to it, so does history. But little do
we find both the sides making themselves visible and this leaves us with only
half a history- cooked, distorted and disrupted. This concoction of history is
credited to political and ideological forces that in a desperate attempt to
advance their mobilisation goals take over the discourse of history and impose
one uniform historical narrative on the whole of the society.

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POLITICS OF REWRITING HISTORY

The emergence of a strong Hindu ideological force
that has been boosted by the placement of Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), is in no
doubt being watched with an alarm. Equally guilty for distortion of history
like the right is the reductionist attempt of recording Indian history by
leftist historians.

In a public statement issued by a group of concerned Indian historians,
archaeologists and scholars of Indian civilization in November 2015, the
leftist historians have been accused of being inherently hypocritical and
condescending towards any other view of history. The statement lashes out against the
leftist historians for refusing “to acknowledge the well-documented darker
chapters of Indian history, in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers
and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim
victims.”  The Leftist school
has severely neglected tribal histories and “has hardly allowed a space to
India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief
systems and heritage.” It has dismissed dissenting Indian historians as
“Nationalist” or “communal” without academically critiquing them. Because of
this, many academics have suffered discrimination and loss of professional
opportunities. The statement asserted, “In effect, the Leftist School succeeded
in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and
polarizing the academic community.”

Dipesh Chakrabarty in “Radical Histories and
Question of Enlightenment Rationalism: Some Recent Critiques of “Subaltern
Studies”” writes, “My contention is that scientific rationalism or the
spirit of scientific enquiry, was introduced into colonial India from the very
beginning as an antidote to (Indian)religion, particularly Hinduism, which was
seen, both by missionaries as well as by administrators – and in spite of the
Orientalists – as a bundle of ‘superstition’ and ‘magic’.” Such is the travesty
of history in the hands of historians who owe their loyalty to one ideology.

The writing of
Indian history has come to be largely seen as various versions to the answer of
the question – “Whose documentation of history is correct – the left or the
right?” William Dalrymple in his article titled, “India: The War Over History”
writes that the roots of the current conflict can be traced back to two rival
conceptions of Indian history that began to diverge in the 1930’s, during the
freedom struggle against the British Raj. Dalrymple writes, “While the Indian Congress Party, led by Mahatma Gandhi
and Jawaharlal Nehru, tended to emphasise national unity and sought to minimise
historical differences between Hindus and Muslims in order to form a united
front against the British, a rather different line was taken by India’s more
extreme Hindu nationalists, some of whom formed a neo-Fascist paramilitary
organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS), the Association of
National Volunteers.” The independence struggle side-lined the Hindu
nationalists. This led to the dissemination of Nehruvian view by the Congress
party. As the one-party dominance ended with the Janata Party coming to power
in 1977, the government decided to withdraw several history textbooks that RSS
rejected. However, it fell before it could do so.

In the 1980s, the Hindu right began gathering a
strong foothold in Indian politics, especially around the Ayodhya’s Ram
Mandir-Babri Masjid controversy and since then there is no looking back. The
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been spearheading this movement aimed at
legitimising its claims on history by spreading its saffronised textbooks in
its “Shishu Mandir” schools. These textbooks paint Muslims as ruthless demons
who have done great damage to Hindu culture and identity, and have thus,
highlighted the need for RSS to reclaim the lost pride of Hindus. Various
committees in the past have objected on such a perversion of history and
declared these textbooks as a means of transforming children into bigoted moron
in the garb of instilling patriotism in them.

The Hindu right has disregarded the left history
for reducing the element of religion to adjectives like “black magic”. They
have vehemently spoken of their long subjugation under foreign invaders and
have made it a point to reclaim their ground on their motherland. And rewriting
Indian history is one of the ways to do so. The rejection of Aryan as invaders,
beef being eaten in Vedic period, the far-right historians have outrightly
rejected differing claims.

 

DANGERS OF REWRITING HISTORY

It is no surprise that every government has
sometime or the other come forward to push forward the ideological interests
that it owes allegiance to, be it the Nehruvian view of history by the Congress
government or the history that takes pride in Hindu identity and calls for
denigration of other narratives. An ideology legitimises its claims by drawing
on history and thus, the task of rewriting history has always been taken up by
diverse political forces. For any ideology to establish itself on a sound level,
it is through targeting the most impressionable section of population to have
the greatest of impact. This has been successful enough in keeping their
ideologies stable and has helped in gathering a large following of the masses.

Amidst this tussle for rightful claims over
history, the discipline in itself, far from striking the right balance between
values and science, has been left at the mercy of these ideologically oriented
groups. And worse still, the most affected party here is our children. Children
as young as ten-year olds are being radicalised to believe that the history
that is presented to them is an article of faith and no other versions of the
same exist.

Such a distorted history, be it from left or right,
has played a successful role in deepening the already existent social cleavages
in India. The Hindu-Muslim divide being the most claimed success. The states
that reek of political violence between these diametrically opposite political
groups draw the genesis of violence from this history.

 

History is defined as the study of the past. A
study such as this needs to be free from prejudices and should strike the right
balance between scientific inquiry and morality. It is a crucial responsibility
of historians to protect the truth and also exhibit a sense of tolerance
towards the appearance of ‘new truths’. Any critique of a dissenting historical
narrative should be done so by an appropriate academic inquiry. The governments
must ensure that children are not exposed to bias through prejudiced textbooks
and must also play a non-interventionist in curriculum. Measures such as these
will ensure that the history retains itself as the study of past that will
equip today’s generation with the best understanding of the social realities
that exist today.

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