Past & Prejudice: IIT Kharagpur's discovery of the Vedas in its calendar for 2022
Set up to produce ‘global leaders in science’, IIT Kharagpur today seems more keen to please the RSS, writes GN Devy. With courses in 'Vaastu', it could be renamed as Indian Institute of Theology
Come new year and one craves to secure a good diary or a calendar. These simple devices give one a sense of control in the days and months ahead.
Various almanacs and panchangs have been in use for over two millennia. Calendars are relatively recent, a tool for industrial society to mark holidays. Calendars world over are known to have promoted gods and goods, cults and cultures, brands and body lines, and visual arts and antiques. Rarely is a calendar designed to destroy the object it seeks to promote.
I was surprised to see one for 2022 that achieves this rare feat. it has come from a premier institute, the first among the IITs. The ‘IIT-Kharagpur’ was created in 1951 with Sir J. C. Ghosh as its first director and a Board of Governors that included, among others, eminent scientists such as B. C. Roy and S. S. Bhatnagar.
Its vision was to ‘produce global leaders in science, technology and management’ and ‘to be a hub of knowledge creation.’ The horizons of knowledge it set for itself were global. Over the last seven decades, the IIT-Kharagur has often ranked among world’s top technology institutes. Alas, now it seems to display the desire to please the RSS at the cost of contradicting its vision statement.
The calendar, dedicated to the Centre of Excellence for Indian Knowledge Systems, inaugurated by Shiksha Mantri very recently, is devoted to ‘recovery of the foundations of Indian knowledge systems’. Its stated aims are: first, recognition of the secret of the Vedas; next, reinterpretation of the Indus valley civilisation; and the last, to prove a rebuttal to the Aryan invasion myth. Towards this end, it offers twelve ‘evidences’ (sic), never mind if the uncountable noun cannot be used in plural unless the context is compelling.
Each part of the ‘evidence’ is tagged to a month from January to December. What it offers as ‘evidence’ is a series of biased claims. It states that the currently accepted chronology of Indian civilisation is dubious and questionable. The chronological gap between the Indus Civilisation and the Vedic period is a calumny of some European scholars, a conspiracy hatched by them in order to ‘downgrade the cosmological and altruistic foundations of the Vedas’. The last four months in the year are used in calendar to show how the Aryan invasion myth resulted from the works of Max Muller, Arthur de Gobineau and H. S. Chamberlain.
It is well established by historians that Adolf Hitler accepted the ideas of Aryan superiority from the works of De-Gobineau, who turned the name of a language (Indo-Aryan) into an ethnographic term (Aryan), and Chamberlain further made the idea accessible for the Germans. Therefore, it is clear beyond doubt that the Aryan invasion of India is not a historical fact. It is also established though that the term Aryan in Sanskrit had been used previously by the speakers of Indo-Iranian in the Mitanni period for referring to a person, just as the term ‘sir’ is used.
How absurd it would be as a scientific observation, if centuries from now a future anthropologist or linguist digs the files in government archives and claims to there being a people called ‘sir’. Something similar has happened in the case of the term ‘Aryan’.
However, that does not take one anywhere when it comes to the question of the five-century gap between the end of the Harappan era (1900 BCE) and the beginning of the Vedic era (1400 BCE). Demonising European scholars of Indian civilisation does in no way prove that the historically non-existent people imagined as Aryans were native of the sub-continent.
To harbour such a belief amounts to committing the same ghastly blunder that Adolf Hitler committed, from an Indian end of the fantasy. The IIT calendar does not forget to mention that Hitler was elected to power. The use of the swastika is quite generous in its graphics. What it provides is not a rebuttal of the ‘Aryan invasion myth’ propounded by the ‘evil’ European scholars but a similar, though inverted, re-framing of the myth.
The calendar refutes the view that the Indus civilisation has a sub-stratum of Dravidic heritage, as if the Dravidic part of India’s collective heritage is not ‘Bharatiya’ enough. What it highlights is the Vedic culture. It also states that the Buddha and Pali heritage, Mahavir and Prakrit heritage just cannot be as important as the Vedic heritage.
The centre piece of the argument is that it is not possible for a language to give rise to philosophical and literary production in a matter of just a millennium from its beginning. All of the known historical evidence related to major languages flies in the face of such an assertion.
I shall not get any further into showing how utterly indifferent the assumptions presented in this calendar are to logic, science and historical truth. If students of IITs go on to graduate believing in the wishful chronology of India’s prehistory, India will have simply destroyed the possibility of matching with the rest of the world in science and technology.
Indians have reason to feel proud of the prehistoric, ancient and medieval achievements in arts, philosophy, literature and science. However, Indians also have pride in being a federal, democratic space. It needs never be forgotten that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who headed the drafting committee of our Constitution had earlier publicly burnt the Manusmriti.
To bring a semblance of it back into the IITs and universities would be an intellectual disaster. In that case, parents would rather do well in asking their children not bother to prepare for the JEE but ask them simply join the RSS shakhas, for all of these utterly non-scientific and absurdities about the past are freely doled out there.
As we enter the new year, let us all wish for the IITs and universities a recovery of their sense of purpose. They were created by tax payers’ money to promote knowledge and not the ideas of the RSS that defy logic and rational thought.
(Literary critic and former Professor G N Devy is a cultural activist and writes in several languages)