Intellectual vandalism

Intellectual vandalism

In slow manoeuvres and innocuous moves, the Hindutva brigade is trying to rewrite history that is anathema to its vision of India. The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh recently released a 32-page booklet featuring most of the cultural and heritage sites in the state, including the Gorakhnath temple, of which Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is the chief priest, with a notable exception -- the Taj Mahal.

A little earlier, attempts such as that by the history department of Rajasthan University, at the instance of the Vasundhara Raje government, to include in its syllabus a book claiming Maharana Pratap defeated emperor Akbar in the Battle of Haldighati, or by the Maharashtra education board to revise history textbooks for classes VII and IX, aimed at removing all traces of the rule of the Mughals and the monuments they built, make one feel how vulnerable history is to partial and tendentious reading dictated by what can only be called "thought policing".

The issue becomes more problematic when in some school textbooks V D Savarkar gets pride of place in the freedom struggle, not alongside Gandhi and Nehru but above them; or where Subhash Chandra Bose is considerably marginalised, which points to even sinister stratagems.  

 Christophe Jaffrelot  says that the rewriting of history textbooks is a pet agenda of the Hindutva movement that can be traced back to at least the 1970s, when former Jana Sangh members in the Janata Party and the Morarji Desai government asked for changes in textbooks. In May 1977, Desai was presented a memorandum that sought the 'withdrawal' of four history books from public circulation which served as textbooks.

The books in question were Romila Thapar's Medieval India, Bipan Chandra's Modern India, 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 books were sought to be 'proscribed' for apparently not being harsh enough on the atrocities of certain Muslim rulers - including Aurangzeb - and for allegedly insinuating that freedom struggle leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo were partly responsible for the rise of antagonism between Hindus and Muslims in the late 19th century.  

Now, let's chart out the area of the medieval past that is anathema to the Hindutva version of India. The Mughals' connection to Timur, and through him to the Mongols, was a continuum of bloodlust. Even Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, and the son of Babur's son Humayun, could not at the start of his reign erase from the minds of the people the bitter memories of the invasions of Chengiz and Timur.

But Islamic India is as much a reality as British India, as is the story of Mahmud (AD 1030), ruler of the kingdom of Ghazna, Afghanistan, who, according to many accounts, from 1000 AD onward, invaded India 17 times. His looting of a famous temple in Somnath in Kathiawar in 1026 has earned him the reputation of the quintessential Muslim arch-enemy in Hindutva circles in contemporary India. Firdausi's Shahnama placed Mahmud among the immortals of history but described him as having been cruel to Hindu as well as Muslim heretics.  

Again, in negating India's Islamic past, how can the cabals of the present ruling dispensation turn their back against the huge architectural programmes undertaken not only in Agra but also in Delhi, Lahore, Ajmer and Allahabad that reflected the wealth, artistic talent and administrative acumen available to the Mughal rulers, the chief of which is the Taj Mahal? To erase, or underplay, the Mughal past is to forfeit the Taj Mahal. Let's face it - the Taj Mahal is the epitome of our Islamic past, which is as real as the tales of cruel exploitation during its making.  

The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is perhaps the most polarising of all historical figures, akin to a latter-day Jinnah. There is near consensus among historians that Aurangzeb ended a century of tolerant Mughal policy when in 1679 he re-established the poll tax (jizya) on non-Muslims, which Akbar had abolished in 1564; that he put a stricture on building of Hindu temples; and that he allowed old ones to be destroyed, thereby antagonising many by dint of his exclusionist and ultra-Islamic policies and thus prompted the rise of a strong Hindu nationalism and revolts by Marathas, Rajputs and Sikhs, as well as others farther south.

There is as much truth to the account that Rajput generals like Raja Jai Singh commanded the Mughal army against Shivaji, as to the description of Aurangzeb as the 'greatest' of the Mughal emperors because of his extreme piety, although that came towards the end of his life.

Indian history is too complex is to be pigeonholed into a monochromatic account. The history of the Turks, Afghans and Mughals, and the Western modernities of European colonisers woven together into the rich tapestry that is India's past, to which rich tributes are sung, must not have to necessarily look monolithic.

Therefore, the urge to rename streets or rewrite history textbooks, or to wipe out the history of the Mughals and other Muslim rulers to establish that India was primarily a 'Hindu' nation, or to show our history as a constant battle between Hindus and Muslims is to negate that India's 5,000-year history, or more, is the story of a land in which both indigenous peoples and migrants from many ethnic and religious communities came to live together, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in conflict. Revisionism is also an act of historical vandalism.

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