‘Narrow and biased’: Experts decry ICHR move to 'rewrite history' of India

Experts said that a project launched by the Indian Council of Historical Research aimed at carrying forward the right-wing agenda of demeaning the contribution of the Muslim rulers to India's past

‘Narrow and biased’: Experts decry ICHR move to 'rewrite history' of India

Zenaira Bakhsh

The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) launched a project focusing on “rewriting” India’s history on Monday.

It will use sources available in vernacular languages and scripts with an aim to give “due credit” to dynasties who have been “missed out” and “correct” texts that have been written in a “Euro-centric” way, officials said.

Umesh Kadam, member secretary of ICHR, said that the project titled 'Comprehensive history of India' will have 12-14 volumes and will be completed over the next three to four years while the first volume of the project will be released in March, 2023.

The main focus of the project will be Indian history from the time of Rakhigardi (an archaeological site belonging to the Indus Valley civilisation in northern India) till today, he said.

While explaining the need to initiate the project, Kadam contended that dynasties such as Marathas, a Marathi-speaking warrior group from the western Deccan Plateau or even Ahoms, a late medieval kingdom established in 1228 in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam, were not given “due credit in history”.

“We see the 17th and 18th centuries as the downfall and decline of Mughals and expansion of the British in India. However, these centuries were all about Marathas. Similarly, our present history does not talk about many other dynasties,” he said.

“For instance, the Ahoms ruled for more than 600 years and the Mughals ruled hardly for 180 years. Why is it that the Ahoms have not been given the due representation in history so far?” he asked.

The Mughal rule, which started in India in 1526 after the invasion of the Delhi Sultanate by Babur, a Chagatai Turkic Prince, and established the Mughal dynasty after defeating Ibrahim Lodi, the last Sultan, is a deeply judged part of India’s history. It is celebrated for its rich culture by a section of Indians but vilified by the ascendant Hindu right-wing as symbolic of enslavement and oppression of the Hindus by Muslim invaders. 

The project, as per many experts, is yet another manoeuvre to exacerbate the same narrative.

Sarthak Malhotra, a doctoral research student in the department of social anthropology at the University of Cambridge, said that while reviving history is not a problem, the quality of history writing and historical scholarship that is coming out is.

“When it is all about retribution and rewriting, there is no scope for original and creative work because there is no funding for it and everyone does it bound under the heavy bureaucracy of the university. So historical scholarships won’t flourish properly,” he said. 

Malhotra said that rewriting history would mean reinventing what has happened and can only be done correctly by using an updated methodology or archival resources.

“This should be done by people who are trained to do this and not by bureaucrats appointed by thegovernment having lack of awareness,” he said, suggesting that the curriculums should be developed by expert educators who then work with experts on field.

Over the years, open calls to rewrite the history of India have been given. In 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah requested historians to rewrite history from “India’s point of view”.

This, however, was not the first time. Many academicians including former Minister for Human Resource Development Murli Manohar Joshi had tried something similar around two decades ago.

While initiating the project, Kadam said that the “colonial history has tried to separate the minds of people and nurtured ‘separatist’ tendencies among the people”.

“The contradiction of Hindutva trope is that they want to 'decolonize' Indians and not be like the great oppressors by doing what the great oppressors did, when they classified Indian history as per the religion in which they said that Hindu period was the golden period and Muslim period was the period of oppression,” Malhotra added.

He said that there will always be many pasts that co-exist and there should be nothing wrong with having different ways of looking at the past but that shouldn’t change what actually has happened.

“That is the role of academia to try write from a position of awareness and objectivity. School textbook is a way of rebuilding history,” he said.

Mridula Mukherjee, former professor of Modern Indian History and chairperson of the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) agrees. She said that the very concept of rewriting history is not a correct one.

“History writing is a continuous process but what’s worrying here is that perhaps the motivation of relooking at some aspects is not prompted by academic considerations but by political ones. Otherwise you wouldn’t use the term ‘rewriting history’,” she said. 

“A move like this will give a biased view to the future generations. You want to only highlight some aspect of past because you have a Hindutva way of looking at history and you only want to talk about the greatness of Hindu civilisation,” she said. “It makes the whole thing narrow and biased.”

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