In 1977, the past became a casualty in the ideologic battle of the present.
However, the storm blew over owing to the fragile nature of the Janata coalition. With theestablishment of the BJP-led government in February the BJP-RSS combination began its veritable cultural counter revolution, its subversion of the academia through its time tested method of infiltration and rewriting of textbook and ‘fine-tuning’ of curricula. The Janata government’s intervention was feeble; the one now represents a strong body of opinion in the country that subscribes to the view that the ‘Hindus’ have been ‘wronged’, and that their histories have been distorted at the hands of ‘secular fundamentalists’. Exponents of this view say in effect, ‘You have invaded and pillaged our past. You, the inheritors of the Nehruvian legacy, have robbed us of our present.
And you have endangered and perhaps compromised our future.’ This kind of criticism is often accompanied by very harsh, even coarse, language, and has given rise to a new term of abuse ‘intellectual terrorists’. Earlier, the term ‘pseudo- secularists’ was coined to denote liberal and Marxist writers. Now, it has been salvaged and turned to a new purpose. The critical assault comes principally from political activists, polemicists, propagandists, and some journalists and, in recent years, from the unwarranted intrusion of expatriates.
Right-wing historians, too, mostly echo the rhetoric of Hindu extremist politics, tracing the misfortunes of Bharat to centuries of tyrannical Muslim rule with the aid of partial, selective and narrow sources. Instead of studying and interpreting other cultures by the same standards as their own, without condescension or prejudice, their scholarship is designed to serve some non-scholarly purpose, whether religious, regional, ideological or any other. What they are saying is that the critical approach is forbidden to us, and that we should accept what is selected, prepared processed, and presented for our instruction. So that even to mention – let alone to discuss or explore — beef eating in ancient India, the destruction of Buddhist stupas and Jain temples by the Hindu kingdoms, or the role of avenerable Sikh guru — is denounced as evidence of unpatriotic and of Christian-Muslim designs.
The same applies to other delicate topics as the fate of the Indus Valley civilisation, the antecedents of the Aryans, the mythical Saraswati River, and the caste system. The range of taboos is very wide. What has changed from the previous decades is that now the historian is not expected to raise embarrassing questions, confront orthodoxy and dogma, and represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug. Today, the issue is between prejudice and propaganda on the one hand, and rational arguments and scholarship on the other. What we have, in other words, is the dialogue of the deaf, with no genuine debate. India is a multicultural and multi-religious society, and yet a single definition of Indian culture and society is projected through educational channels. Notice, for example, the changes announced by the NCERT in the school curricula last month.
The relative importance of our history and their history can be seen in the apportionment of space and attention to ancient and medieval India. In addition, one unit of the social science syllabus that looks at the features, spread and basic values of ‘major religions’ leaves out Islam. The motivation is clearly political and ideological . Sometimes there are other variants. Although the Advent of Islam’ is included in the social science syllabus for the next class, it is put in a unit alongside West Asia. HRD Minister has an explanation for this. Islam, he says, ‘grew out of that area – its history is linked with the history of the Arab civilisation, its spread and emergence.’ Why should we study their history? The NCERT seems to be saying that it is not their business or that it is not relevant – a word with new and sometimes menacing implications – to their needs or concerns or purposes.
Islam is, after all, alien to the Indian environment, even though almost simultaneously with political conquests in die seventh century Islam began to find lodgements in India’s western coast. ‘Muslims and Christians,’ wrote Guru Golwalkar, ‘are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt? Are they grateful towards this land, which has brought them up? Do they feel that they are the children of this land, its traditions and to serve it as their great good fortune? No. Soon after Independence, a nation-wide consensus emerged on promoting rationality and preserving the composite values of this society.
We need to revive that consensus and pay heed to Jawaharlal Nehru’s advice to students in 1950, ‘Keep your windows and doors of your mind always open. Let all winds from the four corners of die earth blow in to refresh your mind, to give you ideas, to strengthen you.’