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Respect History, Learn from It Never Distort It

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
23 Aug 2021
Weekly Magazine In India

The New History Textbooks Are Divisive 

What the new history textbooks present looks like a mythical interpretation of India as Akhand Bharat and its inflated Hindu glory, with hardly any space for the Islamic or Buddhist contribution. Muslims in general are presented as “looters and plunderers”. Reforms during the British period are described in terms of insensitive innovations against national resistance. Hardly any attention is given to people South of the Vindhyas, and absolutely no distinction is made between myths, fables, stories, parables and reality. “The future of history seems bleak”, say Navneet and Madhuri Sharma after going through the textbooks. 
The negative presentation of Muslims in the textbooks is faithful to what Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath have been systematically propagating. Such misrepresentations can have ruinous consequences. Only the other day, a crowd of 150 people went around Delhi calling for ‘death to Muslims’ and compelling people to shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Divisive politics can be disastrous. Today we know who the inspirers of violence are. Ruchir Joshi says, “The main threat to the integrity of the Republic now comes from inside the corridors of power in the capital”. They divide that they may rule. 

We Cannot Ignore What True History Tells Us

To begin with, let us be humble enough to admit that the Indian sense of history is weak. That is why we are so dependent on foreign visitors like Fahien, Megasthenes and Hiuen Tsang. In this respect, Wendy Doniger (The Hindus, Penguin, Noida, 2009) makes a distinction. Buddhists, for instance, were more conscious of chronology (Doniger 19). So were the Jains. The Buranjis of the Ahoms of Assam and the Cheitherols  of the Meitheis of Manipur differed greatly from the mythmaking styles of mainland India. History is history, not tall tales.

For instance, Hindutva scholars are making a mighty effort to deny the violent invasion of India by the Aryans and appropriate the Harappan civilization for themselves. Evidences prove the contrary. The very Vedas are witnesses to the violence that the advancing Aryan forces inflicted on the natives, whom they called dasas, dasyus, rakshasas, kiratas, mlechhas or vanaras. Today they call them vanvasis without any embarrassment. The Rig Veda refers to those ‘dark-skinned’ people (7.5.3, 1.130.8, 9.41.1, 9.73.5) and ‘noseless’ people (5.29.10) with hatred and contempt. Unfortunately, this is the violence that the dominant community continues to inflict on the Dalits till today, and on the tribals and minorities. 

Again, the Aryan claim to Harappan civilization cannot be true, as nowhere in Harappa we find images of cows (Doniger 71) or horses (Ibid 98), which would be typical of the cow-loving and horse-riding Aryans. Harappans could possibly be Dravidians or Mundas, according to most scholars. 

Much innocent blood has been shed of late in defence of cows, as though the cow forms the cornerstone of India’s civilization. Cow killing is totally banned, beef as food is strictly forbidden, going against the “fundamental rights” of human beings in their choice of food. In any case, beef-ban was not in our early tradition. For Taittiriya Samhita 5.6.11-20 clearly says, “Cow is food”.  According to Doniger, “The Vedic people sacrificed cattle to the gods and ate cattle themselves…(Indra eats the flesh of twenty bulls)…another (verse) says that a cow should be slaughtered on the occasion of the marriage (10.85.13)” (Ibid 112). Such references are abundant.

The resistance to animal sacrifices that began in the late Vedic period was against Brahminic greed and their wastefulness in animal killing in lavish sacrifices (Doniger 151). Brahmins immediately appropriated this new trend in thinking and made cow-killing sinful. Farmers were happy, since they were highly dependent on cattle. And yet, it remains a fact today that the “Hindus do not always treat cows with respect or kindness; cows are sometimes beaten and frequently half starved” (Ibid 658).

Indian Version of Nonviolence Primarily Promoted Respect for People of Other Faiths

Emperor Ashoka is greatly remembered for his teaching on nonviolence. He did not base his principles on  myths, fables, tales or wonders, as Hindutva pedagogues do. He presented an ethical code with objectivity and clarity. A central message was about the respect due to people of other religious convictions. Ashoka had seen people of different beliefs in serious conflicts.  “Shramanas (Buddhist monks) and Brahmanas were said to fight like snakes and mongooses” (Doniger 186). Ashoka called for respect instead. He totally ignored caste, class, sacrifice, or rituals  (Ibid 256). No wonder Brahmins abhorred him in return and wiped out even his memory, until western scholars discovered him in the 20th century.

When accusing medieval Muslim invaders of excessive violence, one needs to be judicious. The boasting habits of fighting men often make them claim bigger numbers than what is actually true. Occasionally they were the warriors who inflated the number of their victims of another religion to flaunt their religious zeal. At other times, they were the victims that did the same to highlight their opponent’s cruelty. So, Doniger says, when we read that a Hindu king impaled 8000 Jainas, we need not take it literally (Doniger 23). Similarly, when a Muslim source says, a Hindu named Bartuh killed 120,000 Muslims in Awadh around 1220, we need to be cautious (Ibid 457). 

But one thing is certain: royalties took advantage of each other irrespective of religion. For example, we are told, Cholas under Rajendra I plundered Anuradhapura Buddhist monasteries in 1014. Similarly, according to Chalukyan inscriptions, Cholas plundered, killed and raped their own co-religionists at Bijapur (Doniger 349). Sixteenth century Andhra inscriptions speak with pride of Virashaiva leaders beheading the white-robed Jainas (Ibid 365). When Cholas and Pandyas clashed, Shaivas pulled own Shaiva temples, Vaishnavas Vaishnava temples, taking images of deities home to be melted and sold. Warfare was a “political and economic” game, not religious (Ibid 366). The insensitivity that people cultivate against aliens ultimately turns against one’s own people after a while. 

Hindus and Muslims Helped Each Other, at Times against Their Own People

There are many instances of a Hindu king assisting Muslims against a Hindu rival. So we see Hindu Rashtrakutas protecting Muslim merchants against Hindu Gurjara Pratiharas who were the enemies of Muslims in Sind. And interestingly, under Muslim Administration, finances were generally entrusted to experienced Hindus. “Throughout the Delhi Sultanate, Hindus controlled the royal mints and generally ran the economy. Hindu bankers got rich helping Muslims” (Doniger 458). It was often Hindu revenue officers that exploited their own co-religionists. “A Delhi Sultan, ruling in Kashmir from 1355 to 1373, rebuked his Brahmin minister for having suggested that they melt down Hindu and Buddhist images in his kingdom to get the cash” (Ibid 459). 

The Hindu kings of Vijayanagar shared many things with neighbouring Muslim rulers. They had Muslims in their cavalry, as well as Portuguese mercenary gunners (Doniger 467). As Vijayanagar had betrayed the Delhi Sultan by setting up an independent kingdom, Nayakas who were sent against the Cholas betrayed the Vijayanagar king and set up a kingdom at Mysore (Ibid 467). Political betrayals are nothing new. 

Now, turning to the Marathas, it was Malik Ambar, a Muslim Abyssinian slave who became a military commander in Ahmednagar sultanate, who trained the Maharashtrian Hindu cavalry against the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. Shivaji’s troops included Muslims; he never desecrated mosques. A Maharashtrian Brahmin constructed a Kshatriya genealogy for him linking him with the Rajputs (Ibid 545). This is the Hindutva understanding of history: myths are created to suit politics. Take care!

Akbar had Todar Mal, a devotee of Krishna from Oudh, as his general, financier and prime minister (Doniger 534). In fact, Akbar “put Hindus in charge of almost the entire moneylending system, acknowledging competence in matters mathematical and financial”. In return, some Brahminic authorities equated Akbar with Rama (Ibid 535). While much is said against Aurangzeb’s over-zeal for Islam,  he also maintained many temples and matts and made land grant to some (Ibid 538). He had Hindus in court, and ordered officials to protect Brahmins (Ibid 539). During the Mughal period there is no evidence of coercive conversion. 

But as Mughals weakened, there was a period of chaos. Apart from Muslim exaggerations, new forms of Hindu revivals too went to excesses, like Virashaivas mutilating and decapitating Brahmins and Jains (Ibid 470). It was about this time European adventurers also  entered the scene. There was a period when Europeans killed each other, Mughals Mughals, Rajputs Rajputs (Ibid 576). Pointing finger at one community alone is unfair.

Foreign Rule Only Strengthened Brahminism

Some time ago, while lamenting  a millennium of Indian subjugation to foreign rule, Modiji wanted to pose as the saviour. It is for people to judge who has truly been the saviour of the nation. What most people do not recognize is the fact that under foreign regime Brahminism only “strengthened its grip” on society. Earlier, strong Hindu kings were suspicious of Brahminic scheming and confined them strictly to their ritual role. Muslim rulers, newly arriving from central Asia, avidly sought pliant indigenous skills in the field of administration. Those rulers were interested only in political and economic power. This gave many Hindus a chance to make a big fortune, keeping a low profile. 

And the money-makers knew how to flatter their Muslim patrons, legitimizing the ruling class with Hinduized titles: the Ghorids were made to belong to Gauri-kula clan; the name sultan was traced to suratrana; Mahmud to Mahamuda (Doniger 447). “An inscription of 1369 traces the descent of a sultan from the lineage of the Pandavas…” (Ibid 451). A Nath-temple writing at Gorakhpur says, Muhammad was a Nath Yogi; that Mecca was a Shaiva centre to Makheshvara (Mecca-ishvara)!!  Even in our own days, a Hindutva spokesperson was able to identify Taj Mahal as an ancient Shiva Temple with the name Tejo Mahalaya (Ibid 679). This is the height of Hindutva history-construction!

The British, eager to display their cultural sensitivity, sought Brahmin help and adopted an attitude of patronizing their learning. Brahmin memory deliberately marginalized the Buddhist and Jain glories and highlighted the Vedas and the Vedantic texts. British Orientalism went strictly by the texts and interpretation that Brahmins provided, making of Hinduism more Brahminic than it ever was. William Jones’ statue stands in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, with a volume of Manusmriti in hand, as though proclaiming British loyalty to the Indian ethos (Doniger 595). 

According to Doniger, Manu’s text became the basis for British law in India, which unified Hinduism as never before (Ibid 596). This greatly bypassed an infinite number of local interpretations and actual practices (Ibid 34). “…for centuries the text (of Manu) simultaneously mobilized insiders and convinced outsiders that Brahmins really were superior, that their status was more important than political or economic power” (Ibid 315). Hindutva believes in manipulating power from behind the seats than facing bullets or taking responsibility for political decisions. The RSS has adopted this model. Confronting the exploitative colonial power was not in their makeup. The Chinese attribute much of “Indian peacefulness” to a slave-mentality developed during their powerlessness under foreign rule. 

‘Move Ahead, Keeping Close to Power’ Is a Questionable Motto 

It is in this context that the “fearlessness” of Mahatma Gandhi stands out clear. While he was taking on the mightiest Empire in human history, the predecessors of the Hindutva leaders were ready to bend and bow and grovel before British authorities. Their rajahs swore ‘eternal loyalty’ to the Crown on the eve of Independence. Their business community formed a faithful part of the imperial revenue collection and business privileges, thriving and expanding during war and famine, as their colleagues do today during Covid days. 

When Independence came, Hindutva heroes knew how to shift ground, flatter the Congress and prosper in equal measure during the license raj. Their motto ‘Move Ahead, Keeping Close to Power’ has enabled them to move on again and finance BJP elections with unbelievable generosity. BJP income rose 50% during this last year. When a tenfold return is expected, there is no reason to limit generosity! Prices are in their hands to be raised at will! Their politicians too know where luck lies for the coming 5 years. Shedding idealism is their ideology. 

Will Truth Return?

Like power-manipulation, people-manipulation is taken to tribal areas as well. Adivasis are made vanvasis, who are “still to be integrated” with the Hindus. Myths are created, stories are trumped up. Birsa Munda, the Adivasi hero of Jharkhand, is made into an anti-Christian rebel. What is most amazing according to Arkotong Longkumer (Hindutva and the Northeast, Standard University Press, California, 2021) is the legend that is being constructed around the Zeme Naga heroine Gaidinliu as an incarnation of Durga!!! A lengthy tale,  with deities, lion, and horse playing their roles, ends with “The Goddess Mother rode around Gaidinliu’s house and then retreated to a mountain” (Longkumer 220). 

It is impossible to believe that such extensively long tales, and several versions of them, could be constructed around a person who was known to us till the other day. That is the power of myth-creation that Hindutva possesses. RSS Governors and political negotiators have been part of such myth-manufacturing! We have a duty to respect truth, respect history, learn from it; never to distort it. 

Mamata was right is longing for a future of Sachhe Din: an era of Truth. May “Hope 24” that she inaugurated rescue us from this world of Untruth. After the meeting of the Opposition with Rahul Gandhi, some sort of “collective thinking” seems to have emerged.

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