Taj Mahal or Tejo-Mahalaya?

Modi has said that genetic science existed in ancient India

Faisal Kutty July 21, 2016
The writer is counsel to KSM Law, an associate professor at Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana and an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He tweets @faisalkutty

Did you know that a Hindu named Samudragupta built the Qutub Minar, originally known as Vishnu Sthambh? That the Red Fort in Delhi was a Brahmin palace? Or that Vatican City, Westminster Abbey and the Taj Mahal were once Hindu temples to Shiva?

No, these are not the views of a lunatic few. Students attending more than 20,000 religious schools run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India have been taught these ‘facts’ for years. Given that the RSS, which advocates Hindutva (Hindu supremacy), is essentially the farm team for the BJP, the ruling party in India, it’s no surprise that history has now become a battleground for the identity and future of the nation.

This has been an old priority of the BJP. In fact, within four days of its federal election victory in 2014, the Hindu right-wing government announced plans to rewrite public school textbooks on a larger scale. States where it has its strongest foothold have already seen drastic changes. Gujarat, for example, has so far introduced nine new textbooks for grades one to twelve, authored by Hindu ideologues. Among the pearls of wisdom imparted, for instance, is the ‘fact’ that the first airplane was invented in India when Hindu god Ram flew from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya. Eight of the books are authored by Dina Batra, founder of a group that had three publishers withdraw books deemed “hurtful to Hindu religious sentiments.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi (then chief minister of Gujarat), for whom history is clearly not a forte, wrote forewords for Batra’s books. Modi has, for instance, said that genetic science existed in ancient India.

The magnitude of the project can only be appreciated when one notes that prominent historians have resigned or been terminated from state agencies, protesters are being arrested, people have been attacked and the changes have significant support from outside the country.

In fact, last month, in Rajasthan, 10 students from the National Student Union were injured and 12 arrested for protesting changes including the deletion of references to former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi from history books. Last year, other groups protested in Karnataka, against textbook changes it deemed as marginalising women and lower castes and reinforced stereotypes against Christians and Muslims. The saffron brigade is using history as a tool for myth-making and Hindu nationalism.

Earlier this year the saffron brigade launched a campaign to remove the Mughal Empire from Indian history books. In fact, #RemoveMughalsFromBooks trended for some time. And a few weeks ago, the union human resources minister said Hindu-centric rewriting of history will take place because it “is for the benefit of the country and whatever is good for the country… will be done.”

Disturbingly, the project has significant support from outside. In fact, according to The Times of India, the movement survives in part thanks to wealthy and well-placed Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Indeed, glowing book reviews of these revisionist texts have been written by prominent NRI academics in Western universities. Moreover, some of the most vocal advocates are Westerners.

Hindutva supporters and marginalised people battled over the curriculum and state textbooks even in California last month, reports Salon. Lower caste Hindus and other religious minorities oppose changes proposed by upper caste Hindus. Salon notes: “Hindutva’s political ideology calls for an exclusively Hindu nation with Dalits, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, and Muslims either being assimilated or expelled. A key part of this project is the construction of India as a historically Hindu nation, disenfranchising Dalits, making Sikhs and Buddhists invisible, and identifying Christians and Muslims as ‘foreigners’.”

Even closer to home, a few years back, I was rudely awakened to the extent of the saffron influence when I stumbled upon an article in the Toronto Star. Ajit Adhopia, a regular columnist on Hinduism at the time, was promoting the work of P N Oak, the head of the Institute for Rewriting Indian History. Adhopia was praising Oak’s “historical research”, which includes items such as those in the opening of this article and much more.

Oak, who has written a number of books, including Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research, 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 Marxists, Secularists and Muslims. According to this view, the intelligentsia, led by Gandhi and Nehru, set out to erase from history the persecution and subjugation of Hindus by Muslims. Why? The Marxists wanted to win the favour of Arabs and Secularists wanted to nurture Hindu-Muslim unity. Muslims, obviously, had a vested interest in covering up.

Oak is joined by others 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, all portray Muslims as having contributed nothing to India other than death, destruction and subjugation. Gautier, for instance, who is political correspondent for the French daily Le Figaro, writes that the massacres perpetrated by Muslims in India were worse than the Holocaust.

In addition to working at the grass roots by changing school curriculum, the BJP has also been busy stacking the once-respected Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) with Hindutva supporters. Dozens of leading historians, including Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and secretary of the ICHR, Gopinath Ravindran, have spoken out. In fact, Professor Ravindran resigned last year after a Hindutva ideologue was appointed chair and seven RSS supporters (with questionable or non-existent credentials) were appointed to fill eight vacancies on the 18-member Council. “The simplification and dumbing down of history in order to support many of the unfortunate stereotypes that circulate in society is something to be worried about,” he said.

Additionally, critics contend that various other educational bodies, including the prestigious Indian Historical Review and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the body responsible for school curriculum, are being infiltrated by Hindutva advocates. “Until now, the Hindu system of education was running parallel to the regular NCERT curriculum,” explained Professor Gaurang Jani of Gujarat University. “The Sangh ideology is now becoming the state ideology.”

The fact that historical evidence does not back many of their claims does not seem make these ‘historians’ think twice. After all, what does evidence have to do with anything when ‘facts’ can be created and more rigorous historians can be dismissed as anti-Hindu or ignorant of the caste system. The not-so-hidden Hindutva agenda appears to be the minimisation and mischaracterisation of minority contribution and the whitewashing of the treatment of the lower-caste Hindus. Obviously, marginalised communities are easier to alienate or cleanse.

Rutgers and Stanford-based history professor Audrey Truschke, who researches and writes extensively on Indian Muslim history, warns “It is high time we discarded the pernicious myth of India’s medieval Muslim villains. This poisonous notion imperils the tolerant foundations of modern India.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2016.

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Humza | 5 years ago | Reply @Dipak: The author of this article may be in the West but his family are from South India. He has every right to discuss topics of interest in his former homeland and pass critique about the state of affairs there. I see a lot of Indians who refuse to accept that the Sitar came from Persia, or that samosas are Middle Eastern or that clothing such as Shalwar Kameez comes from Central Asia. If Indians want to reclaim a mythical culture they had before the Muslims arrived and ruled for centuries, they will have to discard a lot of the things they do, eat, wear now. Better for Indians to accept the real history of the region and forget about the myths.
Xman | 5 years ago | Reply Probably we need to have more of these articulate mainstream perspectives, which have been missing previously from the Pakistani side buried under the noise of "war on terror", western propaganda, and stereotyping. Both sides of the border have their fairy tales, and both sides have exploiters whose bread and butter relies on how much they sell at the cost of human suffering.
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