Did you know that Jesus Christ wandered the Himalayas and drew his inspiration from Hinduism? That a Hindu named Samundragupta built the Qutb Minar, originally known as Vishnu Sthambha? That the Taj Mahal was really a Hindu Temple known as Tejo-Mahalaya (Shiva’s Palace)? That the Red Fort in Delhi was a Brahmin palace? Or that the largest Holocaust in history was perpetrated by Muslims against Hindus in India?
This is news to me. Probably is to most people. No, these are not extracts from a child’s fable nor the impression of a lunatic few. These “historical truths” have been taught for many years at more than 22,000 Vidya Bharati schools operated by the Hindutva movement composed of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) also known as the World Hindu Council, Shiv Sena (Shiva’s army) and the Bajrang Dal (brigade of the monkey god).
Now thanks to a recent decision, these distortions and falsifications are not only being disseminated by these right wing Hindu-chauvinists organizations but by leading educational bodies in the India. Despite widespread opposition, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the body responsible for developing school curriculum in India, decided in November 2002 to rewrite Indian history texts. “It is not a question of revivalism,” says the center’s director, Physicist J. S. Rajput, in an interview published by the Washington Post late last year. “Every country should write its history from its own point of view. Our history books have been written from a Euro-centric view because we were a colony for so long. History books should instill a sense of pride in the young mind and should be rooted in our culture.”
Critics contend that the saffron brigade is using history as a tool for mythmaking and patriotism. Historical research and teaching has become a battleground for the identify and future of the nation. The situation is so grave that the Indian History Congress (IHC), the largest membership- based association of academic historians, passed a unanimous resolution setting up a committees to examine NCERT’s new history textbook at its 63rd annual conference in Amritsar. The IHC concluded its conference on December 30, 2002 on a note of caution stressing that it would remain vigilant in the face of subversive activities of the communal forces in its mission to safronise history.
Interestingly, even before the BJP embarked on its project to rewrite history, there were complaints about bias in history textbooks. In fact, as early as the Fifties and Sixties there were suggestions that textbooks in Gujarat and Maharashtra were inaccurate. A Parliamentary committee, which included Professors K. G. Saiyidin, J. P. Naik and Gopinath Aman appointed to look into these charges, found that historical events were “presented in a manner as to arouse and perpetuate prejudice against certain religious groups.” The committee concluded that “the books were overweighed with Hindu mythologyéHindu beliefs are presented in a manner as if they were universally held by all Indians.” As is the case with most commission reports, the findings were shelved by the authorities.
With the BJP’s victory in four states in 1991, the issue surfaced again as the newly elected governments started rewriting history to promote the political ideology of Hindutva. The governments even directed college libraries to stock titles with clear communal overtones such as Why Hindu Rashtra? Hum Mandir Wohin Banayenge (We Would Build the Temple There Only), Shilanyas se Shikhar ki Ore (From Laying the Foundation Stone to Attaining the Peak), etc. Now, the BJP’s landslide victory in Gujarat last month even after the massacre of more than a 1,000 Muslims in the wake of the murder of 59 Hindu pilgrims in Godhra, appears to have emboldened the saffron brigade even more.
Anyone following the developments in India would have at least heard of the attempts to rewrite history, but not many are fully aware of the magnitude and scope of the endeavor. I was rudely awakened to extent of the project when I stumbled upon an article in Canada’s largest daily, The Toronto Star, a couple of years ago. Ajit Adhopia, a regular columnist in the religion section at the time, was promoting the work of P. N. Oak, the head of the Institute for Rewriting Indian History. Adhopia was praising the “historical research” of Oak in the Saturday edition of the paper, which has a circulation of close to one million. Oak, who has written a number of books, including Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research and Islamic Havoc in Indian History, is one of the main proponents of the view that Indian history, as it is taught today, is developed out of myths planted by British historians and adopted and promoted by Indians of the Marxist, Secularist and Islamic persuasions. According to Hindutva theorists the intelligentsia, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, set out to erase from Hindu memory the history of their persecution and subjugation by Muslims. Another foreign proponent of Hindutva history, Francois Gautier, claims that “Hindu-bashing became a popular pastime.” Why would they do this? Oak, Gautier and those of their ilk have a number of absurd theories. The Marxists wanted to win favor with Arabs who were fertile ground for Marxism and Secularists wanted to nurture Hindu-Muslim unity. Muslims, obviously, had a vested interest in not exposing the fact that they had nothing to contribute to Indian history or culture or that they destroyed thousands of temples and perpetrated the largest Holocaust in history.
Disturbingly, historical revisionism has significant support among Non Resident Indians (NRI) particularly among the wealthy and educated expatriate communities in the West. According to a Times of India editorial the movement survives in part thanks to funding and involvement from NRIs. I was particularly perturbed to read glowing book reviews of these revisionist history texts by prominent NRI academics at Western universities. Consider, for instance, what Professor C.J.S. Wallia of the University of California (Berkley) wrote in his glowing review of Arun Shourie’s Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud, a book critiquing secular historians in India: “During the past fifty years, `this bunch of Marxist historians have been suppressing facts, inventing lies, perverting discourse, and derailing public policy’ by seizing control of institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the National Council of Educational Research Training (NCERT), large parts of Indian academia, and nearly all of the English-media newspapers and publishing houses.” Shourie, who holds a Ph.D. from Syracuse University and served as the editor of the leading Indian newsmagazine India Today is a prominent scribe of the Hindutva ideology and has written numerous books attacking secular historians and Christian missionaries, among others.
Interestingly, such views are not that new. In fact, the first major endeavor to research Indian history was financed by Nehru (yes, the same Nehru who the revisionists claim is one of the main propagators of false history and whitewasher of Muslim faults) in 1951. This project carried out by a leading Brahmin (an upper caste) historian by the name of R. C. Majumdar concluded that Muslims had distorted Indian history. It also found that Muslims had persecuted the masses of non-Muslims during their reign. A group of upper caste historians set out to make the “corrections” in 1964. This group produced a number of works that forms the basis of the recent efforts to rewrite Indian history.
In addition to working at the grass roots by changing school curriculum the BJP is also working at higher levels. In 1998, India’s Minister for Human Resources and Development, Murali Manohar Joshi, an ardent Hindutva supporter, reconstituted the once respected Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR] by appointing Hindutva leaning members. In fact, of the eighteen new members appointed at the time, four where members of the World Hindu Council’s panel that worked to promote the idea of a temple at the site of the Babri Mosque and five others were closely associated with the movement. In February 2000, the ICHR stopped the publication of two volumes of Towards Freedom, a projected multi-volume history research project. Despite widespread protest and opposition from historians both within and outside India, the 1940 volume edited by Professor P.N. Panikkar of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the 1946 volume edited by Professor Sumit Sarkat of Delhi University were scrapped. The current head of the ICHR is none other than B. R. Grover, an open supporter of the extremist VHP with a well-documented history of communalistic politics, including openly supporting the razing of the 400-year old Babri Mosque in 1992.
In what has been termed by some observers as the BJP’s “Long March Through Institutions,” in addition to reconstituting the ICHR and NCERT, the Hindu- nationalist government has appointed Hindutva supporters to fill posts within the University Grants Commission, the secondary school board, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, the councils of social sciences and historical research, etc. Fortunately, the membership-based Indian History Congress has so far been able to fight off the Hindutva tide. There was a close call back in 1991 when an attempt by 360 Hindutva historians to take over the group was defeated by the membership.
The Hindutva scholars are joined by foreign scholars such as Koenraad Elst and Francois Gautier. Elsts’s work Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam and Francois Gautier’s Rewriting Indian History is part of the growing literature attacking Indian history textbooks. Their version of history portrays Muslims as having contributed nothing to India other than death, destruction and subjugation. Gautier, for instance, who is political correspondent for the leading French daily Le Figaro and the Swiss daily Le Nouveau Quotidien, writes: “Let it be said right away: the massacres perpetrated by Muslims in India are unparalleled in history, bigger than the holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis; or the massacre of Armenians by the Turks; more extensive even than the slaughter of the South American native populations by the invading Spanish and Portuguese.”
Nothing appears sacred to these writers. In fact, even the father of Indian independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is not spared. Hindutva historians sideline his role and attempt to justify and excuse his assassination by the Hindu extremist (a fact conspicuously left out from Hindutva textbooks) Nathuram Godse. Gautier, for instance, claims that Gandhi bears a great deal of responsibility for whitewashing the alleged atrocities and selfishness of Muslims and for aiding the British goal of divide-and-rule. “Gandhi did enormous harm to India,” writes Gautier, “é for ultimately no one contributed more to the partition of India, by his obsession to always give in to the Muslims; by his indulgence of [Mohamed Ali] Jinnah, going as far as proposing to make him the prime minister of India.”
The fact that the bulk of historical evidence does not back these claims appears not to stand in the way of these “historians.” After all what does evidence have to do with anything when “facts” can be created and more rigorous historians can be dismissed as Marxists, secularists, anti-Hindu or ignorant of the caste system. For instance, in a glowing review of Elst’s work Negationism in India, A. Ghosh writes that the view advocated by many Indian historians, including the Marxist M. N. Roy, that Islam was welcomed into India because it brought equality and respect to lower classes, is based on an incorrect understanding of the caste system. Not surprisingly, the main proponents of the new history are upper caste Hindus.
“They want to omit any uncomfortable references to Hindus and merely glorify Hindu culture in the name of Indian culture,” says Professor Arjun Dev, a prominent historian. “This version of the past is crucial to their political and religious ideology of Hindu supremacy. They will go to any lengths to achieve this, even put forth a fake, invented past.”
And it is not only proponents of the Hindutva movement that have been guilty of adding and deleting from history. Indeed, as some historians such as Professor Partha S. Gosh have pointed out even some of India’s secular “historians have, in their enthusiasm to show that Muslim rulers were secular-minded, bent over backwards to prove that those rulers were not communal.” There is no denying that many crimes were perpetrated by Muslims, some perhaps even in the name of Islam, but to paint Islam and Muslims with the broad brush used by the saffron brigade is unjustified, baseless and bigoted. At the same time history should not be whitewashed for the sake of political correctness. As the Bombay High Court ruled in a 1967 case (Anant Janardan v. State): “History is not to serve as a handmaid of a particular school of thought. History must be impartial and objective. To rewrite history according to the views which are popular or which are necessary for bolstering up nationalistic egoism or jingoism, is perversion of history.”
It is worth noting that the IHC also set up a second committee to review history texts used in states that will not be accepting NCERT texts as a protest to the BJP led revisions. The IHC pointed out that there were errors in these texts that needed to be corrected as well. But the academic body drew attention to a clear distinction: While the NCERT books contain ideological slants and factual errors; the texts not influenced by the Hindutva movement did not suffer from these handicaps. In the latter case, the mistakes were more in the process of translation or inadvertent errors.
The Hindutva agenda is clearly driven by an agenda other than objective research. “[Communal history] is not motivated by genuine concerns of the progress of the discipline though changing interpretations which are integral to the advance in the discipline,” notes a Times of India editorial, “it is a religious approach based on falsification and fabrication of evidence.”
Their ultimate goal is nothing other than to marginalize the contribution of Indian Muslims. Obviously, a marginalized community is easier to alienate and cleanse. However, it seems that the ease and speed with which they have been able to propagate their revisionist theorists suggests that there is not enough resistance and challenge to the Hindutva mythmaking.
The international community, particularly the West, justifiably expressed its shock and opposition to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban but our silence on the safronisation of Indian history is deafening. Clearly, the secular and liberal forces in India cannot fight this battle alone.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and writer. He is also a columnist for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).