Frontline Volume 18 - Issue 01, Jan. 06 - 19, 2001
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


Table of Contents

ANALYSIS

Outsider as enemy

The politics of rewriting history in India.

K.N. PANIKKAR

This is the text of a presentation made at a round table on the topic of 'The Rewriting of History: Intellectual Freedom and Contemporary Politics in South Asia', organised as a part of the International Conference of North African and Asian Scholars (ICANAS) in Montreal held from August 27 to September 1.

REWRITING of history is a continuous process into which the historian brings to bear new methodological or ideological insights or employs a new analytical frame drawn upon hitherto unknown facts. The historians' craft, the French historian, Marc Bloch, whose work on feudal society is considered a classic, has reminded us, is rooted in a method specific to history as a discipline, most of which has evolved through philosophical engagements and empirical investigations during the last several centuries. No methodology which the historian invokes in pursuit of the knowledge of the past is really valid unless it respects the method of the discipline. Even when methodologies fundamentally differ, they share certain common grounds, which constitute the fiel d of the historian's craft. Notwithstanding the present scepticism about the possible engagement with history, a strict adherence to the method of the discipline is observed in all generally accepted forms of reconstruction of the past. A departure from such norms of the discipline tends to erase the distinction between myth and history, which the forces of the Hindu rightwing, actively supported by the present government, are seeking to achieve.

K. PICHUMANI
The makeshift temple that was erected at Ayodhya after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The organising principle of the politics of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple was not only the privileging of faith over reason, but also the ident ification of an enemy who acted against the religious interests of Hindus.

The distinction is important, despite the undeniable connection between history and myth. Although elements which constitute myth are not verifiable like historical facts, myths do represent reality even if symbolically and metaphorically. Myths are esse ntially illusory representations of phenomena and as such do not help discover the historicity of events and by the very nature of representation they tend to mask the reality. Yet, there are no myths in which reality is not embedded in some form, be the y origin, explanatory or legitimatory myths.1 This integral connection between myth and history facilitates the transmutation of the latter into the former and through that change, the existing historical consciousness in society. The rewritin g of history the Sangh Parivar has undertaken with the connivance and collaboration of the government is essentially an attempt at communal mythification, which lends ideological support and legitimacy to the politics of cultural nationalism.

History as communal ideology

The communal interpretation of history has a fairly long tradition, at least going back to the colonial times. The history of the subjected that the colonial administrators and ideologues wrote, either as a part of their intellectual curiosity or as a po litical mission, essentially took a religious view of the past. Although James Mill's periodisation of Indian history into Hindu and Muslim periods is generally pointed out as an example of this colonial view, almost every aspect of the social, cultural and political life was incorporated into this religious schema. This view has had an abiding influence on Indian historiography, with a large number of Indian historians of vastly different ideological persuasions rather uncritically internalising this i nterpretation. Thus the history of India is seen through a series of stereotypes rooted in religious identity. No aspect of society or polity has escaped this religious view, be it social tensions, political battles or cultural differences. Such an inter pretation of history has been a part of the textbooks, both of school and college, for a long time, moulding the historical consciousness of society and in turn the social perspectives and behaviour of several generations. This divisive notion of history was one of the several ideological weapons that colonialism invoked to construct its legitimacy.

In the Hindu communal worldview and politics, the religious interpretation of history has an entirely different import, even if it shares much of the colonial assumptions. Unlike the colonial history which mainly emphasises social divisions, despite invo king the tyranny of the Yavanas and the Muslims, its focus is more on social antagonism and political hostility, which differentiates the Hindu communal from the colonial communal. The antagonism and hostility encoded in the interpretative structure of t he former, which identifies the 'outsider' as enemy, turn history into an ideology of communalism. The politics of Ramjanmabhoomi temple is a good example of the mediation of such history in the making of popular historical consciousness. The organising principle of this politics was not only the privileging of faith over reason, but also the identification of an enemy who acted against the religious interests of the Hindus.

Among the variety of factors that define the relationship between communalism and revivalism in India, history plays a central role. The revivalist ideas were inherent in the social and religious reform movements of the 19th century, circumscribed as the y were within the boundaries of caste and religious communities. Yet, revivalism as an influential tendency emerged only during the second half of the 19th century. Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Dayananda Saraswathi and Swami Vivekananda are generally consid ered the early protagonists of this tendency. Inward looking in their intellectual orientation and engaged in revitalising Hinduism and Hindu community, they tried to privilege many ideas and institutions from the ancient past. However, their perspective was communitarian rather than communal. Antagonism against other religions and communities was not a part of their perspective. Even when they were critical of other religions as in the case of Dayanand, their attempt was to explore religious truth thro ugh a comparative understanding of different religions. Dayanand after all was as trenchant a critique of the practices of Sanatani Hinduism as of other religions. So were Bankim and Vivekananda. These early articulations of revivalist tendencies were no t rooted in relation to the 'other' in terms of a community within society.2 It was more in the nature of internal revitalisation and consolidation in the context of colonial domination. Communalism, on the other hand, though it subsumed several elements of revivalism, is firmly anchored on a hatred of the 'outsider' who, it is held, is mainly responsible for the distortions and eventual loss of the indigenous civilisational achievements. Notwithstanding this distinction, revivalism transformed itself into communalism which, among other things, was made possible by the m ediation of communal history, which cast the 'outsider' in the role of the enemy. The inward looking communitarian perspective, which mainly characterised revivalism, merged with a suspicion andhostility of 'the other'. This process is facilitated by a r eligious interpretation of history which by locating the 'outsider' as the cause of the decline in the fortunes of the community forms the ideology of communalism.

The concept of the 'outsider', variously described as the Mleccha, Yavana and Turuska, has been part of the social consciousness for a long time. They were communities from both within and outside India and their defining elements were primarily social a nd cultural. The language, food habits, dress and a variety of other practices underlined the otherness. The Aryans considered the indigenous population as Mleccha and at a later stage those who came from outside, like the Huns and the Muslims, were inco rporated into this category. Although the otherness was often a source of conflict, both inter and intra-community, the relationship with the other was not characterised by continuous hostility and conflict.3 That the relationship with the out sider in the past was based on irreconcilable political interests is a construction of communalism influenced more by political interests rather than by social reality.

Outsider as enemy

The demographic composition of India which reflects the coming together of a variety of groups - racial, linguistic and ethnic - during the course of the last two millennia raises the question who the 'outsider' is in Indian society. According to the Ant hropological Survey of India there are 4,635 identifiable communities, diverse in biological traits, dress, language, forms of worship, occupation, food habits and kinship patterns. Most of these communities have a mixed ancestry and it is now almost imp ossible to identify their roots. They could be traced to Proto-Austroloid, Palio-Mediterranean, Caucasian, Negroid and Mongoloid. The racial component is also quite varied, drawing from almost every stock in the world. This plurality is also reflected in the number of languages in use. Apart from thousands of dialects there are as many as 325 languages and 25 scripts derived from various linguistic families - Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Andamese, Semitic, Indo-Iranian, Sino-Tib etan, Indo-European and so on. The Indian society, as a consequence, is a social and cultural amalgam with many of its constitutive elements loosing their specific identity, at any rate none existing in its initial pure form.4

The Hindu communal view of history strives to negate this historical process by making a distinction between the original inhabitants of the land and those who settled later. According to this view, all those who migrated to India and their descendants a re foreigners and therefore not part of the nation. Thus the Muslims, Christians and Parsis, who are not indigenous to India and hence outsiders should either 'Indianise' themselves or live like 'second class citizens without any rights or privileges'.5 This naturally raises the question who the original inhabitants were. Were the Aryans, to whom the upper caste Hindus trace their lineage, indigenous to India? The opinion of scholars of ancient history, based on archaeological and linguistic evid ence, has been that Aryans had migrated to India, in all probability in small groups, over a period of time.6 If this view is correct, the assumption that the non-Hindu is the only 'outsider' becomes untenable and the historical rationale for the Hindu nation basedon Vedic lineage also becomes suspect. The present attempt to invent the indigenous origins of Aryans, which is supported more by speculation rather than tangible evidence, is rooted in an anxiety to overcome this paradox. That the Hindutva historians are not hesitant to fabricate evidence to prove their contention has been ably demonstrated by Professor Michael Witzel and Professor Steve Farmer in their recent article on the Harappan seal.7

The distinction between the indigenous and the 'outsider' is also sought on the basis of the pure and the impure. The claim to purity, traced to the idyllic past uncontaminated by the intrusion of the 'outsider', is an essential ideology of religious fun damentalism. One among the various indicators of this distinction is food habit: those who ate flesh and those who did not. It is now claimed by the ideologues of the Sangh Parivar that the Aryans did not partake of beef, although copious evidence exists , both literary and archaeological, to the contrary. After a survey of the evidence from various excavations since 1921, the doyen of Indian archaeologists, H.D. Sankalia, has opined that "the attitude towards cow slaughter shows that until the beginning of the Christian era the cow/ox were regularly slaughtered for food and for the sacrifice etc., in spite of the preaching of Ahimsa by Mahavira and the Buddha. Beef eating, however, did decrease owing to these preachings, but never died out completely". 8 The literary evidence from the Vedic and later periods are also plenty. Panini, for instance, calls a guest a Goghna, which means one for whom a cow is killed.9 Even Vivekananda refers to instances of Rama and Krishna drinking wine and eating meat and Sita offering meat, rice and wine to the river goddess Ganga in Ramayana and Mahabharata. In fact, he considered the meat-eating habits of the Aryans a virtue and attributed the decline of the Hindus in modern times to the departure from it!10 Yet, the slaughter of cow and eating beef are now invoked as signs of otherness in a bid to distinguish the indigenous from the 'outsider'.

Apart from defiling the sacredness and purity of indigenous life, the communal history also attributes to the 'outsider' a politically disruptive role. The political history of India, in the account given by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the progenitor of th e concept of Hindutva, is a story of foreign invasions and Hindu resistance. According to him, there were six major invasions of India, which were successfully met by the Hindus. He characterises them as six 'glorious epochs' in which the valour and brav ery of the Hindus overcame the external threat. These 'glorious epochs' are the periods of Chandragupta and Pushyamitra when the Greek invasions were repelled, followed by those of Vikramaditya and Yashodharma who defeated the Shakas and the Huns respect ively. In imagining the Hindu nation as a historically constituted political entity, this religious view of the conflict with the 'outsider' is a major factor.11

The consolidation and mobilisation 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. The main thrust of this effort has been to further the communal consciousness of history. Whenever the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its earlier incarnation, the Jan S angh, was able to gain access to power they have not spared any effort to promote Hinduised history at the expense of secular history. In 1977, at the instance of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) the government of the Janata Party, of which the Jan S angh was a partner, tried to withdraw the history books published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on the ground that they were not sufficiently Hindu in their orientation. In more recent times, the BJP governments in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have revised their textbooks to introduce a communal view of the past, highlighting the achievements and contribution of the Hindus and undermining or misrepresenting the role of others. The present gov ernment at the Centre, led by the BJP, has tried to lend support to this effort by saffronising research institutions such as the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), Centre for Advanced Studi es (CAS) and so on. Given the tradition of secular historical writing, these state interventions to further the influence of communal history have elicited strong resistance from the fraternity of professional historians, as they have realised the danger the communal mythification poses to the discipline of history.

Simultaneously, several initiatives have been taken to transform the popular historical consciousness in favour of the communal. Among them the setting up of Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti, with four hundred branches all over the country, is particular ly significant. Its brief is to prepare the history of all districts keeping as the ideal the history written by P.N. Oak, whose main contribution is the identification of every medieval monument as a Hindu structure. Incidentally, Oak recently approache d the Supreme Court of India with a request to declare the Taj Mahal a Hindu building. The Supreme Court has indeed dismissed the plea stating that Oak seems to have 'a bee in his bonnet'. But it has not deterred the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), under the influence of the Sangh Parivar, to look for a Hindu temple under every medieval monument! The latest excavation is at Fatehpur Sikri, a monument constructed by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, from the vicinity of which Jain idols have been unearthed and promptly identified as disfigured by Akbar. The present chairman of the ICHR, B.R. Grover, who has distinguished himself by the statement that the Babri Masjid had collapsed and not destroyed, saw even the hand of Auragazeb in this disfigurement! Th e archaeologists of the Sangh Parivar who are eager to excavate the site of every medieval monument are totally indifferent to the danger the excavations might spell to these heritage sites.

The Sangh Parivar, with the support of the government if possible and without it if necessary, has been engaged in the construction and dissemination of mythified histories which would help further its religious politics. Among the innumerable examples o f such mythification, the 'histories' of Ayodhya circulated during the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign through political and religious networks, using audio, video and print materials, are the most instructive. In fact, mythified histories of Ayodhya considerabl y helped to propel the campaign. The mythification mainly served two objectives. Firstly, to prove the deliberate and hostile acts of the 'outsider' and secondly, to invoke the tradition of resistance and struggle the Hindus had waged since the 16th cent ury in defence of their faith. These histories foregrounded many a myth as established 'facts' of history which later found their way into the textbooks in schools in BJP-ruled States and those run by the RSS.

In these 'histories' the desecration and demolition of temples by the medieval Muslim rulers form a central theme, substantiating thereby the iconoclastic beliefs as well as the religious fanaticism of the followers of Islam. Such an interpretation, howe ver, overlooks two significant facts of medieval history. First, as Richard Eaton has shown in a recent essay, well before the coming of the Muslims to India temples had been the sites for the contestation of kingly authority. The early medieval history abounds in instances of desecration and destruction of temples of their political adversaries by Hindu rulers. The Cholas, the Pallavas, the Chalukyas, the Palas and many others had indulged in this 'irreligious' act.12 Secondly, most of the desecration and destruction took place when "Indo-Muslim States expanded into the domains of non-Muslim rulers". Once the territory was conquered and integrated into the kingdom, such expression of 'fanaticism' rarely occurred. Tipu Sultan, for instance, desecrated temples during his invasion of Malabar, but after the conquest he gave generous land grants to several of them. Also he is not known to have desecrated temples in his own kingdom. On the contrary, when a Hindu religious institution like the Sringeri Mat was plundered and destroyed by a Maratha chieftain, Tipu Sultan had met the expenses for its reconstruction. Similarly the Mughal rulers generally 'treated the temples lying within their sovereign domain as state propert y' and 'undertook to protect both the physical structures and their Brahmin functionaries'.13 Such an attitude informs even the policy of Aurangazeb, as evident from his orders to his officials to protect the Brahmins of Benares. The departure from this general policy, however, occurred either at the time of war or rebellion as in the case of th e desecration of temples in Orcha by Shajahan and in Mathura and Benares by Aurangazeb. Thus political exigencies rather than a 'theology of iconoclasm' were the driving force behind the destruction and desecration of temples. Yet, the communal interpret ation of history adopts a purely religious view to stigmatise the present-day Muslims - described as Baber ke Santan (children of Baber) - as enemy.

The stigmatisation of the 'outsider' as enemy is not an end in itself. Its purpose is mainly political: to recall to memory a heroic tradition of resistance against the 'outsider' and thus to stir the Hindus out of their lethargy and, in the provocative words of Sadhvi Ritambara, from their impotence, so that they consolidate and realise their power. The communal 'histories' of Ayodhya have, therefore, invented the myth of the heroic resistance to the demolition of the temple in the birth place of Shri Ramachandra and the later efforts to reclaim it. A pamphlet entitled, "Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Ka Rakt Ranjit Itihas" (The Blood Stained History of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi), published by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) claimed that at the time of the de molition of the temple, 1,74,000 Hindus sacrificed their lives fighting against the Muslims. The pamphlet then goes on to record the 77 battles fought thereafter to reclaim the temple in which 3,50,000 Hindus had laid down their lives. The reference to t he exact numbers involved gives certain historical veracity, which though imaginary facilitates the social acceptance of myth as history.14

This is not to argue that myths, though lacking historicity, are 'hollow tales' without any element of historical truth.15 The origin of the myth of 77 battles, for instance, can be traced to an actual historical incident, even if it was not l inked with the Ramjanmabhoomi temple: a fight between the Muslims and the Hindus in 1855 over a temple located near the Babri Masjid and dedicated to Hanuman.16 Interestingly, this battle was waged by a Muslim faqir who claimed the existence o f a mosque below this temple. During the course of the inquiry into this incident, conducted by an official of the Nawab of Awad and the British Resident, the local inhabitants did not refer either to the existence of the Ramjanmabhoomi temple or conflic ts in the past between the Hindus and the Muslims over the possession of the mosque.17 The myths about the Mandir was therefore a later construction, in all probability an outcome of property disputes and political interests.

Larger Context

The rewriting of history in which the Sangh Parivar is currently engaged is not internal to the movements within the discipline of history. It is integral to a larger and long-term project aimed at reordering the secular character that informed the educa tional and cultural policies of independent India. Towards this end, the Sangh Parivar has already undertaken several initiatives. Prominent among them are the changes in the content of education, the organisation of a parallel school system and the cont rol over cultural institutions.

In the field of education the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the NCERT appear to be pursuing a communal agenda. The UGC is reportedly working on a uniform syllabus for the country and as a part of it is preparing to introduce courses on Vedic stu dies, astrology, palmistry and Hindu rituals. A band of Hindu pandits armed with university certificates will soon be available, particularly to non-resident Indians, to conduct the rituals at the time of birth, marriage and death! The only consolation i s that the Chairman of the UGC promises to provide such academic service to non-Hindus also. It appears that the concept of university is undergoing revolutionary changes inspired by the swadeshi ideas advocated by the Minister for Human Resource Development. The UGC also insists that all universities and institutions under them be subjected to the recognition of the National Accreditation Council. It is feared that such a standardisation will undermine the autonomy of universities and thus facil itate the introduction of a 'national' curriculum.

The preparation of a 'national' curriculum framework for school education is also the urgent task undertaken by the NCERT. The discussion document released by the NCERT clearly underlines a change from secular to religious education. Most of the suggesti ons in this report have a revivalist and chauvinistic ring about them. It advocates an indigenous curriculum which would 'celebrate the ideas of native thinkers' among whom non-Hindus are conspicuous by absence. One of the aims of the new curriculum is ' to inculcate and maintain a sense of pride in being an Indian through a conscious understanding of the growth of Indian civilisation and also contributions of India to the world civilisations in its thoughts, actions and deeds'. The external influences o n the shaping of the Indian civilisation are completely overlooked. The concept of secularism itself is sought to be given a religious meaning by suggesting that sarvadharma samabhava would facilitate 'the view that religion in its basic form (dev oid of dogma, myth and ritual) would draw younger generations to basic moral and spiritual values'.18

Both the UGC and the NCERT appear to draw inspiration from the scheme prepared by an RSS education outfit, Vidhya Bharati, and presented by the Human Resource Development Minister to the conference of State Ministers of Education in 1998. In the name of 'Indianising, nationalising and spiritualising' education, the attempt then was to replace secular education with an indigenous system rooted in Hindu knowledge. To achieve that end, Sanskrit was proposed as a compulsory subject in schools and the induct ion of the valuable heritage of the Vedas and Upanishads in the curriculum from the primary to the higher level, including the vocational stream. Besides these, Indian culture, conceived in Hindu religious terms, was to form an integral part of all cours es.19 The incorporation of Sanskrit and Indian culture into the curriculum is in itself not an undesirable step, but that it privileged the Hindu system of knowledge to the exclusion of others amounts to an infringement of the tenets of a secular state. Althou gh this scheme had to be abandoned due to secular opposition, it gave a foretaste of the future, if and when the Sangh Parivar gained sufficient political clout.

The attempt to Hinduise the system of education had, however, begun much before the BJP gained access to government power. As early as 1942 the RSS had initiated steps to organise its own educational network. Since then the number of schools run by the P arivar has steadily increased. It is estimated that now there are about 70,000 schools under its management. And the VHP has recently announced its intention to further expand its educational activities, particularly in tribal areas. With the financial a nd administrative assistance proffered by the present government, a parallel system of Hindu education is being brought into existence, under the guidance of an all-India organisation called the Vidya Bharati Shiksha Sanstan, set up in 1978. It was to he lp this system that the Minister for Human Resource Development recently mooted the idea of extending the educational privileges so far enjoyed by the minorities under the Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution to all others.20 The rather well-organised attacks on Christians, who own a fairly large number of educational institutions, are also rooted, at least partially, in this interest, as it is not possible to capture the educational sector without eliminating the Christians.

The curriculum of these schools is unambiguously Hindu and militantly communal, be it related to history, politics or literature. The textbooks, particularly of history, prescribed in these schools are so oriented to lend legitimacy to communal politics by stigmatising the 'outsider' and valorising the Hindu. In the process, history is turned into myth which tends to inculcate in the young minds a false sense of religious pride and hostility to the members of other denominations. Not only the entire cul tural tradition is appropriated as Hindu, the past is represented as a saga of Hindu valour and bravery. In fact, the defeat of almost every Hindu ruler at the hands of an 'outsider' is reinterpreted as a victory. A good example of such mythification is an account of the war between Muhammad Ghori and Prithviraj Chauhan. In the second battle of Tarain, which Prithviraj lost, he was captured and executed by Ghori. This historical event is described in one of the textbooks as follows: "Muhammad Ghori kill ed lakhs of people and converted Vishwnath temple and Bhagawan Krishna's birthplace into mosques. He took Prithviraj to Gazni, but Prithviraj killed him there with one arrow and Muhammad Ghori's corpse lay on the feet of Prithviraj as if narrating the ta le of his sins."21

The main objective of the rewriting of history is to impart certain historical legitimacy to communal politics. The way the Indian national movement is represented in the textbooks used in RSS-administered schools and the desperate attempt of the ICHR to suppress the volumes of Towards Freedom are among the several ongoing efforts in this direction. It is common knowledge that the RSS hardly had any role in the national movement, except as active collaborators of colonialism. Yet, the Sangh Pariv ar 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.22 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.23

The successful projection of such a positive image of the RSS and its leaders would depend upon the suppression or elimination of counter factual evidence. That appears to be the brief of the ICHR, as evident from the attempt to withdraw the volumes of < I>Towards Freedom. 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 collaboratio n with the British colonial rule. The ICHR, now firmly under the control of the RSS, is understandably eager to prevent the publication of further volumes and withdraw the existing ones, as they, being documentary histories, would expose the claims of th e RSS. The knowledge about the role of the RSS, to which the public will have access through these volumes, is likely to undermine the nationalist credentials of the Sangh Parivar. It is this fear of history, which has prompted the ICHR to make the rathe r desperate move to withdraw the volumes from the Press. In the process all institutional procedures have been violated and the academic freedom of the authors has been infringed.

What the ICHR has tried to do rather clumsily and secretly - the authors who were commissioned to edit the volumes were not even informed, let alone consulted - is not an isolated incident, but part of an anti-secular, anti-democratic rightwing agenda wh ich the present government with the active participation of various arms of the Sangh Parivar has been pursuing. Towards this end, secular opinion has been systematically eliminated from all research institutions and cultural organisations funded by the government and replaced by the activists or loyalists of the RSS. There is also well-planned and systematic vilification of secular intelligentsia, as evident from the false and malicious accusations recently levelled against historians by Arun Shourie, an RSS ideologue and a Minister in the present government.

The freedom of expression is particularly under surveillance in the cultural field. No effort is spared to suppress the long cherished and historically evolved plural and secular traditions. The artists and cultural activists who follow such traditions h ave been under severe strain, often faced with threats and even physical attacks. Some time back a panel on Ramayana, based on Jataka tales, displayed in an exhibition on Ayodhya mounted by a cultural organisation, SAHMAT, was destroyed by the members of the Sangh Parivar. M.F. Husain's paintings and Deepa Mehta's films have also aroused the ire of the Sangh Parivar for alleged disrespect to Indian tradition. On the whole, there is a tendency to control the intellectual and cultural life in conformity w ith a fundamentalist view. In the way such a view is implemented, irrationally and aggressively, there are unmistakable signs of fascist tendencies.

The instrumentalist role of the rewriting of history currently being promoted by the government and the Sangh Parivar for defining and demarcating the nation as Hindu, imparts to it an essentially political character. The stigmatisation of the 'outsider' as enemy validated by historical experience lends the rationale for the communal programme of marginalising, if not externalising, the members of other denominations. Derivatively, it also legitimises the claim of the 'indigenous' to the nation. The oth erness of 'outsider' therefore serves as a signifier for internal consolidation and homogenisation. To the early ideologues of communalism, such as V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, the religious interpretation of history was the necessary ideological gr oundwork for recovering the Hindu nation. The present engagement of the communal forces with history is with no other intent which, if succeeds, would unsettle the secular character of the nation. Therefore the current debate about history in India is as much about the integrity of the discipline as about the future well-being of the country.

K.N. Panikkar is Professor of Modern History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


1. Maurice Godellier, Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology, Cambridge,1977, pp.207-09.

2. Tapan Roy Choudhry, Perceptions, Emotions, Sensibilities, New Delhi, 1999 and John Zavos, The Emergence of Hindu Nationalism in India, New Delhi, 2000.

3. Romila Thapar, 'The Image of the Barbarian in Early India' in Ancient Indian Social History, New Delhi, 1998, pp.152-192; Aloka Parasher, Mlecchas in Early India, New Delhi,1991 and Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims, New Delhi, 1998.

4. K.S.Singh, People of India: An Introduction, New Delhi, 1995.

5. M.S.Golwalkar, We or our Nationhood Defined, Nagpur, 1947.

6. Romila Thapar, 'The Rgveda: Encapsulating Social Change' in K.N.Panikkar et.al. (ed) The Making of History, New Delhi, 2000, pp.11-40; R.S. Sharma, Advent of the Aryans in India, New Delhi, 1999 Shereen Ratnagar, End of the Great Har appan Tradition, New Delhi, 2000.

7. An advocate of this theory is a computer scientist based in North America, N.S. Rajaram, who has authored two books, Aryan Invasion of India (1993) and The Politics of History (1995). The arguments and interpretations in these two books are found to be fictional and historically unfounded. See Shereen Ratnagar, Revisionist at work: A chauvinistic Inversion of the Aryan Invasion Theory, Frontline, February 9,1996. More grievously Rajaram has been found faking evidence by Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University. For his findings and criticism see website, https://www.Safarmer.com/horseseal/update.html (The authoritative version of Witzel and Farmer's collaborative work on Rajaram's supposed findings has b een published as a cover story in Frontline, October 13, 2000.)

8. H.D. Sankalia, 'In History', Seminar, No. 93, May 1967, pp.12-16. Also see Alan Heston, 'An Approach to the Sacred Cow of India', Current Anthropology, Vol.12, No.2, April 1971 and Marvin Harris, 'The Cultural Ecology of India's Sacred Cattle', Cultural Anthropology, Vol.7, No. 1, February 1966.

9. P.V.Kane, History of the Dharma Shastras, Pune, 1975, Vol.ii, pp.772-76.

10. Complete Works of Vivekananda, Vol.V, Calcutta, 1966, pp.477-498.

11. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, Bombay, 1966.

12. Richard M. Eaton, 'Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States' in Essays on Islam and Indian History, New Delhi, 2000.

13. Ibid.

14. K.N. Panikkar (ed.), The Concerned Indian's Guide to Communalism, 'Introduction', New Delhi, 1999, p.xiii.

15. Paul Veyne, Did the Greeks Believe in the Myth?, Chicago,1983.

16. K.N. Panikkar, 'An Overview' in S. Gopal (ed.) Anatomy of a Confrontation: Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi Issue, New Delhi, 1991.

17. The details of this incident and the report of the enquiry are available in Foreign Political Consultation, No.34, 28 December 1855, National Archives of India, New Delhi.

18. National Curriculum Framework for School Education - A Discussion Document, NCERT, New Delhi, 2000, p.24.

19. 'Conference of State Education Ministers and Education Secretaries, October 22-24, Agenda Papers, Annexure.

20. Ibid.

21. National Steering Committee on Textbook Evaluation: Recommendations and Report, NCERT, p. 6, New Delhi, 1998.

22. See Sanskar Saurab Series published by the Bharatiya Shiksha Samiti, Rajasthan.

23. National Steering Committee on Textbook Evaluation: Recommendations and Report, NCERT, p.14


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