Modi govt looks to rewrite Indian history to justify Hindu nationalism

A new committee formed by the Modi government seeks to challenge long-held notions about the arrival of Aryans to India, and change the curriculum of textbooks in schools and colleges

Photo courtesy: PTI
Photo courtesy: PTI

Ram Puniyani

With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power, an exercise in rewriting history is being undertaken on the lines parallel to what was done in Pakistan. So far, we were subjected to the communal version of medieval history, where villainous foreigners, the Muslim kings attacked India, spread Islam and destroyed Hindu temples.

The latest example of this new version is the glorification of Rana Pratap as a great Hindu nationalist and freedom fighter. Now, it is even being said that he had defeated Akbar’s army at Haldighati! There already are projections of the theory that Aryans, from whom Hindus are supposed to have derived their lineage, were the ancient natives and that Harappa-Mohenjo-Daro were part of Aryan culture!

To put a seal on the “Hindu first” version of history, the Modi government has appointed a committee, which will come out with a report that will provide guidelines to prepare syllabuses in schools. The panel is referred to, in government documents, as the committee for “holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world.”

Announcing this panel, the culture minister, Mahesh Sharma, said the long-taught version that people from central Asia arrived in India only 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and transformed the population needs to be re-looked at.

The major focus of this panel is ancient Indian history and the origin of Aryans. Many versions of history exist. Jyoti Rao Phule attributed to the Aryans the invasion of the country and he said they instituted the caste system to oppress the masses. Lokmanya Tilak went by the theory that Aryans, the people of superior race had come from Arctic zone. Soon after, RSS’s second Sarsanghchalak, MS Golwalkar, aware that if Hindu superiority and exclusive ownership of this land had to be asserted, Aryans had to be presented as natives, but did not want to contradict Tilak. Yet, he wanted to claim that Aryans were the ‘original natives’. So, he went on to say that Aryans did come from the Arctic zone, but lo and behold, Arctic zone was earlier located in our Bihar and Orissa areas and later shifted to north through the movement of the land mass!

The primary source for theories of Aryans in subcontinent has been the study of Indo-Aryan languages and the current theory has been that there might have been series of waves of migration, as a result of which Aryans came here. The remains of Indus valley, Harappan and Mohanjo-Daro (H-M) civilisations, show that it was an urban culture.

Vedas, the major source for understanding Aryans, reflect on their nomadic village life, which is contrary to the Indus valley culture. Horse seal, the Aryan symbol, has been concocted in this area to show its Aryan origin. According to historians, the horse seal as the identity of the Indus valley civilisation has been very questionable. There are various genetic studies which have showed the migration of people from Western areas.

Now, with a prime mandate of ‘Hindu First’, the committee has been asked to prepare a report. Why this wasteful exercise when there are other pressing problems?

Eric Hobswam has pointed out ‘History is to Nationalism, what poppy is to an opium addict!’ Sectarian nationalism always wants to take its history as back as possible to strengthen its claim of exclusive control over the land.

In Pakistan, the marginalisation of Hindu minority has run parallel with the theory that Pakistan was formed with Mohammad bin Kasim winning over Sind. In their syllabi, all Hindu Kings are missing, the role of Indian National Congress, Gandhi and Nehru are missing. Here, in India, Hindu nationalists began with a political assertion formulated by Savarkar that all those regarding this land as ‘holy land and father land’ are Hindus. So logically the ancient lineage has to begin with Hindus, irrespective of the fact that the word Hindu itself came into vogue in eight century.

It is remarkable that leaders of Indian nationalism, Gandhi (in his book Hind Swaraj) and Nehru (in his Discovery of India), saw the country belonging to people of all religions, the interaction between religions giving rise to a syncretic plural culture, giving rise to aspects of unity in diversity.

All observations and results of this newly constituted panel will be guided by the dictum ‘Hindu first’. The re-construction of past for present political goals is with the aim of giving legitimacy to suppress and marginalise those who do not fit into their definition of Hindu and to force everybody to adopt Hindu norms as defined by them.

Indian Constitution begins with ‘We the People of India’, but they would have it begin with ‘We the Hindus’ and that is what is gradually being made to dominate. It is surely convenient to cherry pick certain aspects of the past to justify sectarian nationalisms. The focus for them is to prove past lineages, which should not matter in a democracy. Sectarian nationalism goes along with sectarian and exclusive mind set; which is the root of divisiveness in the society.

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