The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 28, 2002

Critiques galore!
D.R. Chaudhry

Communalisation of History
edited by Mridula Mukherji and Aditya Mukherji. Delhi Historians’ Group, New Delhi. Pages 70. Price Rs 20.

THE revision of the syllabus of history textbooks prescribed by the NCERT in schools is a hot-bed of controversy. The historians with impeccable academic credentials and international renown like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Bipan Chandra, Satish Chandra and Arjun Dev whose text books have been prescribed in schools for a long time are under virulent attack. The compendium under review is a compulsory treatise for those who want to understand this controversy. Besides the historians under attack, it contains the views of the noted historians like Irfan Habib and Sumit Sarkar and several known figures from the world of journalism, law and educational administration like Veer Sanghvi, Dileep Padgaonkar, Rajeev Dhawan, Anil Bordia and several others. It is rounded off with a scintillating interview of the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.

The editors in their well-argued introductory piece talks of two completely divergent views on the Indian nation — a vision of an open, democratic, secular and civil libertarian state as represented by the authors under attack as opposed to the communal, regressive, and authoritarian world view of the Sangh Parivar. Communalism is essentially an ideology and it is in this ideological sphere that efforts have been focused. Those who are opposed to this ideology are being portrayed as anti-national. They have been branded as purveyors of "intellectual terrorism.... more dangerous than cross-border terrorism" by Murli Manohar Joshi, the HRD Minister.


There can be no objection to the revision of history textbooks. They need constant revision and updating. However, the exercise has been undertaken without consulting the authors concerned. This is a contravention of the agreement with them as correctly pointed out by Romila Thapar. The whole thing has been a hush-hush affair. Things are being done on the sly and a great secrecy is being maintained over the names of text writers who will replace the authors under attack. Almost as if it involves great defence secrets.

Bipan Chandra who has done seminal work on the communal ideology points out that no ideology can succeed if its core is not forcefully implemented. This explains the doggedness with which BJP follows the communal agenda in the field of education, history and research though it may make compromises with its NDA allies in other fields. The fact that Atal Behari Vajpayee gives a freer hand to Murli Manohar Joshi than even L.K. Advani should surprise none.

The essential requirement of history is the pursuit of truth, observes Irfan Habib. However, truth is the first casualty at the hands of the Sangh Parivar that equates myth-making with history. There is an attempt to convert Indus culture into Saraswati civilisation to ward off any non-Aryan pretensions. The horse figures prominently in the Rig Veda and is wholly absent in the Indus valley civilisation. To colour Indus with the Aryan hue, a horse on an Indus seal was flaunted by an ideologue of the Sangh Parivar until this fraud was exposed by two American scholars.

R.S. Sharma rightly claims that the books under attack were neither academically examined, nor were the authors asked to explain the objections raised against them. History is the most important vehicle of indoctrination at the hands of the communalists and their approach, argues Dr Sharma, will destroy the very fabric of secular India. It is a serious threat to national integration.

Sumit Sarkar emphatically points out that history of a particular kind is vital for the Sangh Parivar. It wants to be the sole spokesman of Hindus. Hinduism is presented as a monolith regardless of differences of caste, gender, class, and regional variations. This monolith is pitted against Muslims and Christians. This view of history, so reminiscent of totalitarian states, is an attempt to turn the clock back.

Vir Sanghvi has characterised the whole attempt as ‘Talibanisation’ of our education system. Saba Naqvi Bhaumik, another journalist, finds the move much more sinister. The Taliban were notorious for banning most books, while the RSS runs an extensive education network. Dileep Padgaonkar finds Murli Manohar Joshi’s call for a "second war for the country’s cultural revolution" as part and parcel of the Sangh Parivar’s ideological agenda. Rajeev Dhawan, a legal luminary, does not see mere electoral gains as the motive behind the exercise. There is a deeper quest to subordinate all other faiths to the hegemony of Hinduism.

Amartya Sen in his interview has forcefully argued that the Hindu version of history is sectarian and combative. In his opinion, India was never a Hindu ‘Rashtra’. Rather, the two greatest emperors of India, Ashoka, and Akbar, were non-Hindus — one being a Buddhist and other a Muslim. Hinduism alone cannot be the subject matter of Indian history. Different religious and non-(or anti-) religious ideas must be taken into consideration by a historian.

The charge against the historians under attack is that some of their formulations offend the sensibility of some religious and caste groups and certain paragraphs from their textbooks, thought to be offensive, have been deleted. There is documentary and archaeological evidence to prove that Aryans ate beef in Vedic times. Historians like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and D.N. Jha have been pilloried for stating this. They could be accused of offending Hindus if they suggested that they should eat beef now. However, what is wrong if they point out, on the basis of strong historical evidence, that the ancestors of the modern-day champions of Hinduism had different eating habits in the hoary past? Satish Chandra has been berated for stating that Guru Teg Bahadur resorted to plunder and rapine. It is cleverly concealed that it is only the official explanation for persecuting the Guru and not the opinion of the author. The author has conclusively stated that "the Guru, while being a religious leader, had also been a rallying point for all those fighting against injustice and oppression" and "Aurangzeb’s action was unjustified from any point of view and betrayed a narrow approach". To quote certain lines out of context is a typical device of the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar to pander to the religious sensibility of a particular community. The state in medieval times was in most of the cases rooted in plunder and pillage. Why should Jats feel offended if historical facts reveal that the ancestors of those who founded the Bharatpur state indulged into highway robbery? However, Arjun Dev has been faulted on this ground.

Indian society comprises thousands of religious, caste, and ethnic groups. If a historian has to remain on tenterhooks all the time about the possibility of offending a particular social group, no meaningful history writing is possible. Moreover, the projected policy to seek the approval of the selection and representation of historical facts from religious and caste leaders is fraught with sinister consequences. Does it mean that a mammoth body of sadhus and sants, dharmacharyas and shankracharyas, immams and ulemas, granthis and bishops one the one hand and caste chieftains of Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats, Gujjars, and numberless other caste formations including the Dalits would be there to vet every piece of history writing? One can imagine the consequences emanating from this parliament of religious bigots and ignoramuses.

The demolition of Babri Masjid, the recent communal carnage in Gujarat and the turmoil at Ayodhya, the attack on Christians and the controversy about the history textbooks-all this and similar other things constitute the rubric of the communal agenda of the Sangh Parivar. The compendium under review, a treatise short in length and rich in content, is timely and a must read for those who wish to understand the wider ramifications of the designs of the Sangh Parivar. The editors of this text have rendered a signal service to the cause of the secular and scientific ethos of Indian society by compiling it and writing an overview on the controversy.