Rewriting Indian history in the image of Hindu chauvinists
The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, a right wing Hindu nationalist political party in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, released a Hindu New Year calendar which says that Taj Mahal along with several mosques and monuments from the Mughal era, are “Hindu Temples,” Times of India reported Monday (March 19).
The calendar refers to Taj Mahal as “Tejo Mahalaya temple.” On the other hand, the Kamal Maula Mosque in Madhya Pradesh has been called as “Bhojshala” and Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi has been referred to as “Vishwanath temple.”
The Hindu Mahasabha calendar further termed Qutub Minar as “Vishnu Stambh,” Atala mosque in Jaunpur as “Atla devi temple” and the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya as “Ram Janam Bhoomi.”
Astonishingly, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha’s Hindu New Year calendar referred the Muslim holy Mecca as “Macceshwar Mahadev temple.”
Hindu Mahasabha National Secretary Pooja Shakun Pandey, while speaking to The Times of India, said that the organisation resolves to make this India a Hindu Rashtra (religious Hindu state). She also hopes that the government will accept their demand and declare the country a Hindu nation.
She accused the Muslims of turning Hindu religious heritage sites into mosques and pledged to restore their original names. Pandey also added that all the names that have been mentioned in the New Year calendar have been verified by a retired professor from the history department of Varshney College, Aligarh.
Meanwhile, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahli, who belongs to All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), has termed the claims made by Hindu Mahasabha as baseless. He said that dubbing the holy site of Mecca a Hindu temple is against the spirit of secularism.
The Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP
The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha’s new Hindu calendar coincided with attempts by the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to re-write the history of India. The BJP government has appointed a committee with the task of using finding evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today's Hindus are directly descended from the land's first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures like Mahabharata and Ramayan are fact not myth.
Reuters news agency has published deliberations of the committee which met recently. Government documents refer to the panel as the committee for the “holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world”.
The group of experts, which comprise a geologist, archaeologists, Sanskrit scholars and two bureaucrats, met in January in New Delhi, the Reuters reported. According to the minutes of the meeting, which the news agency said it accessed, the panel aims to use archaeological data and DNA evidence to prove that Hindus descended from the earliest inhabitants of India and that Hindu scriptures were history, not mythology.
“I have been asked to present a report that will help the government rewrite certain aspects of ancient history,” Reuters quoted the committee’s chairperson, KN Dikshit, as saying. Sikshit said it was “essential to establish a correlation” between ancient Hindu scriptures and evidence that Indian civilisation is several thousands of years old. The current view is that people from Central Asia arrived in India 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.
Hindu scholars argue that history books in India try to ignore the dominant Hindu ethos of the country and its history before the Islamic period. India’s greatest historical and cultural document, the Mahabharata, is hardly given any attention in the schools. So too, the Vedas, Ramayana, Puranas, Buddhist Jatakas and other prime historical and cultural documents of the country are ignored because of their religious overtones.
They believe that the real danger in India is not the arising of a chauvinistic nationalism like that of Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy – which are foreign to the mentality and ethos of the country – but a lack of national spirit and historical consciousness that keeps people alienated from their roots and the country divided.
Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma, who the agency said formed the committee, confirmed in an interview that the panel’s work was part of larger plans to revise India’s history. He said he expects the committee’s conclusions to be introduced in the curriculum of schools and academic research.
Santosh Kumar Shukla, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a Sanskrit scholar who is part of the panel, said he believes India’s Hindu culture is millions of years old.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh Spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya told Reuters, that the “true colour of Indian history is saffron, and to bring about cultural changes, we have to rewrite history”.
Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government would take the Culture Ministry’s recommendations on this matter seriously. “Our government is the first government to have the courage to even question the existing version of history that is being taught in schools and colleges,” he said.
First India Prime Minister’s name removed
As the BJP continued efforts to rewrite the Indian history books, references to Jawaharlal Nehruhave been deleted from the new social science textbook for Class VIII. There was no longer any mention of who India’s first prime minister was.
The rewriting of history textbooks is an old priority of the Hindu nationalist movement. In the 1970s, former Jana Sangh members in the Janata Party and the Morarji Desai government had asked for changes in text books, according to Christophe Jaffrelot, professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London,
In May 1977, Desai was presented a memorandum that sought the withdrawal of four history books — of which three were intended for use in teaching — from public circulation. The books in question were Medieval India by Romila Thapar, Modern India by Bipan Chandra, Freedom Struggle by A. Tripathi, Barun De and Bipan Chandra, and Communalism and the Writing of Indian History by Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra.
The memorandum criticized these works above all for not condemning forcefully enough certain Muslim rulers — including Aurangzeb — and emphasizing that freedom struggle leaders such as Bala Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo were partly responsible for the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims.
The main objective of the rewriting of history is to impart certain historical legitimacy to communal politics. It is common knowledge that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), the mother organization of the BJP, hardly had any role in the national movement, except as active collaborators of colonialism.
Yet, the Sangh Parivar is keen on appropriating its legacy, as it would give a much-needed national legitimacy. The history of the national movement is therefore being rewritten to establish that the RSS had indeed played a positive role in the anti-colonial struggle.
This requires the projection of its leaders as freedom fighters on the one hand and the suppression of their actual role, on the other. In such rewritten history incorporated in all textbooks of Vidhya Bharati, the founder of the RSS, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, figures as a great leader of the anti-colonial struggle, much ahead of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
In a textbook prescribed by the Uttar Pradesh government, out of about 20 pages devoted to the Freedom movement, three pages take up the contribution of Hedgewar, who is credited with the leadership of the agitation against the partition of Bengal.
The published volumes of Towards Freedom do not credit the RSS with any role in the anti-colonial struggle. Instead there is evidence in them, in the form of letters and speeches of its leaders, about its active collaboration with the British colonial rule.
The consolidation and mobilization of the Hindus are the main objectives of the communal construction of history of which Savarkar set a worthy example. Towards this political end, a systematic attempt, embracing both the academic and popular histories, has been on the anvil for quite some time, particularly during the last two decades,K.N. Panikkar writes in the politics of rewriting history in India.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.