Alex Traub

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Alex Traub

From the six­teenth to the eigh­teenth cen­tury, the Mughal Em­pire did much to cre­ate mod­ern-day In­dia. It con­sol­i­dated the coun­try into a sov­er­eign po­lit­i­cal unit, es­tab­lished a sec­u­lar tra­di­tion in law and ad­min­is­tra­tion, and built mon­u­ments such as the Taj Ma­hal. The Mughals were orig­i­nally from Uzbek­istan, but over time they be­came a sym­bol of the con­tri­bu­tion of Mus­lims to In­dian na­tional his­tory. Their last­ing in­flu­ence is ev­i­dent in some of In­dia’s most fa­mous dishes, such as biryani, and the set­tings of sev­eral of the most beloved Bol­ly­wood movies, in­clud­ing Mughal-e-Azam (1960), by some es­ti­mates the high­est-gross­ing film in In­dian his­tory.

So it was odd, on a visit this spring to a school in the In­dian state of Ra­jasthan, to hear a Mus­lim teacher, Sana Khan, ask her en­tirely Mus­lim eighth­grade so­cial sci­ence class, “Was there any­thing pos­i­tive about Mughals?” Khan was teach­ing at the Englishmedium Saifee Se­nior Se­condary School, whose stu­dents are Da­woodi Bohras, a small Is­lamic sect that has been based in In­dia since the Mughal era, when its lead­ers faced per­se­cu­tion in the Mid­dle East. Like Jews, Par­sis, and Baha’is, the Bohras are a re­li­gious mi­nor­ity that found shel­ter in In­dia’s un­usu­ally tol­er­ant cul­ture.

Yet some of Khan’s stu­dents saw only bar­barism in the time of their own com­mu­nity’s emer­gence in In­dia. “In the me­dieval era, there were wars and all. It was sec­tar­ian,” said a be­spec­ta­cled girl named Rabab Khan. Rabab and an­other of her class­mates, Qut­bud­din Ce­ment, told me that the “glo­ri­ous” pe­riod of In­dian his­tory oc­curred be­fore Mus­lim rule. “In an­cient times, In­dia was called ‘the Golden Bird,’” said Qut­bud­din. “In­dia was a world leader.” Since last year, stu­dents at the Saifee School have been us­ing new text­books pub­lished by the Ra­jasthan govern­ment, which is run by the Hindu na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that dom­i­nates In­dia’s par­lia­ment and state leg­is­la­tures. The new text­books pro­mote the BJP’s po­lit­i­cal pro­gram and ide­ol­ogy. They ar­gue for the ve­rac­ity of Vedic myths, glo­rify an­cient and me­dieval Hindu rulers, re­cast the in­de­pen­dence move­ment as a vi­o­lent bat­tle led largely by Hindu chau­vin­ists, de­mand loy­alty to the state, and praise the poli­cies of the BJP prime min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi. One book re­duces over five cen­turies of rule by a di­verse ar­ray of Mus­lim em­per­ors to a sin­gle “Pe­riod of Strug­gle” and de­mo­nizes many of its lead­ing fig­ures.

These text­books are part of the BJP’s on­go­ing cam­paign to change how In­dian his­tory is taught in mid­dle and high schools. Text­books is­sued last year by two other states un­der BJP rule, Gu­jarat and Ma­ha­rash­tra, re­sem­ble the Ra­jasthan books in their Hindu tri­umphal­ism and Is­lam­o­pho­bia. So, in a sub­tler fash­ion, do up­dates made in May to fed­eral text­books.

Since the BJP came to power in 2014, it has stacked in­sti­tu­tions with Hindu na­tion­al­ist ide­o­logues, presided over an in­crease in Hindu ex­trem­ist vig­i­lan­tism, and re­placed Is­lamic place names with the names of Hindu na­tion­al­ist he­roes. The text­books’ pro­mo­tion of an es­sen­tially Hindu his­tory pro­vides a foun­da­tion for slowly re­mak­ing In­dia into an es­sen­tially Hindu coun­try.

Be­tween the 1960s and the 1990s, In­dia’s text­books were a strong­hold of the coun­try’s left-wing rul­ing class, rep­re­sented by the dom­i­nant Congress Party. Dis­tin­guished schol­ars such as the his­to­ri­ans Romila Tha­par and Satish Chan­dra wrote text­books that were strik­ingly eru­dite, an­a­lyz­ing, for in­stance, the high price of shoes dur­ing the me­dieval era and the man­ner in which In­dian col­ors such as pea­cock blue al­tered the Per­sian style of early Mughal court paint­ing.

These text­books used Mughal em­per­ors as mouth­pieces for twen­ti­eth­cen­tury pol­i­tics. To the Mughal ruler Ak­bar (1542–1605), one book at­trib­uted “the great dream” that “peo­ple should for­get their dif­fer­ences about reli­gion and think of them­selves only as the peo­ple of In­dia.” This was ac­tu­ally the dream of Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment and In­dia’s prime min­is­ter for its first sev­en­teen years of state­hood. In his book The Dis­cov­ery of In­dia, Nehru de­scribed his home­land as “an an­cient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and rev­erie had been in­scribed, and yet no suc­ceed­ing layer had com­pletely hid­den or erased what had been writ­ten pre­vi­ously.” Such a poly­glot his­tory could form the fac­tual ba­sis, Nehru hoped, for each of In­dia’s eth­nic and re­li­gious groups to feel they shared a claim to a com­mon na­tional iden­tity.

When the BJP took over sev­eral state gov­ern­ments in the 1990s, it be­gan pub­lish­ing its own state-level text­books. The party as­sumed ef­fec­tive con­trol of the fed­eral govern­ment for the first time in 1998 and quickly an­nounced that ed­u­ca­tion would be “In­di­anised, na­tion­alised and spir­i­tu­alised.”1 Four 1For a thor­ough and bal­anced ac­count of mod­ern In­dian his­to­ri­og­ra­phy and text­books, see Sylvie Guichard, The Con­struc­tion of His­tory and Na­tion­al­ism in In­dia: Text­books, Con­tro­ver­sies years later, it started re­leas­ing text­books—fore­run­ners to those re­cently is­sued in Ra­jasthan—that glo­ri­fied the Vedic era and vil­i­fied Mus­lim rulers. The change pro­voked an out­cry. One prom­i­nent jour­nal­ist warned that the new fed­eral text­books her­alded “the de­struc­tion of sec­u­lar­ism and plu­ral­ism.” After the BJP lost the next gen­eral elec­tion in 2004, the new rul­ing coali­tion, led by Congress, changed the way text­books were writ­ten in or­der to pre­vent them from be­ing ide­o­log­i­cally slanted. Rather than com­mis­sion in­di­vid­ual au­thors, the govern­ment in­tro­duced Text­book De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tees (TDCs) com­posed of au­thor­i­ties from a va­ri­ety of pro­fes­sions and aca­demic dis­ci­plines. The books pro­duced un­der this sys­tem lack the élan of their Nehru­vian pre­de­ces­sors, but they sig­nify a con­sen­sus of ex­pert opin­ion and deftly nav­i­gate con­tro­ver­sial is­sues. The sev­enth-grade his­tory book, for in­stance, ob­serves that Mah­mud of Ghazni (971–1030), the Is­lamic sul­tan of Afghanistan, sacked In­dian tem­ples—a point of em­pha­sis for Hindu na­tion­al­ists—but ex­plains that this was a com­mon mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal tech­nique also em­ployed by con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous Hindu and Bud­dhist rulers. Though such care­ful dis­tinc­tions re­main in the fed­eral text­books, they are now awk­wardly in­ter­rupted by politi­cized ad­den­dums. The TDCs’ au­thor­ity has ev­i­dently been usurped by the in­creas­ing bu­reau­cratic and po­lit­i­cal power of Hin­dutva (Hin­duness), the BJP’s of­fi­cial ide­ol­ogy. The roots of Hin­dutva lie in the nine­teenth cen­tury, but its mod­ern form can be largely at­trib­uted to Vi­nayak Savarkar, who pop­u­lar­ized the term in his 1928 book Hin­dutva: Who Is a Hindu? Ac­cord­ing to Savarkar, Hin­dutva comes from “Hindu blood,” cul­tural prac­tices and lan­guages with a San­skritic ori­gin, and the be­lief that In­dia is the “Holy­land.” Non-Hindu re­li­gions that orig­i­nated in South Asia, such as Sikhism and Bud­dhism, there­fore meet the re­quire­ments and Pol­i­tics (Rout­ledge, 2010). Wil­liam Dal­rym­ple ad­dressed some of the same is­sues in “In­dia: The War Over His­tory,” The New York Re­view, April 7, 2005. of Hin­dutva, but Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam (whose ad­her­ents col­lec­tively ac­count for over 15 per­cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion) do not. Savarkar rea­soned that con­flict with these other groups might be a nec­es­sary stim­u­lus to a Hin­dutva con­scious­ness: “Noth­ing can weld peo­ples into a na­tion and na­tions into a state as the pres­sure of a com­mon foe. Ha­tred sep­a­rates as well as unites.”

The fact that these text­books are es­sen­tially po­lit­i­cal man­i­festos is made clear by the way they dis­cuss the rul­ing party. Ra­jasthan’s sev­enth-grade book di­rects stu­dents to “pre­pare a chart of the ad­ver­tise­ments pub­lished by the Govern­ment about its dif­fer­ent schemes and with the help of your teacher dis­cuss the ben­e­fits of these schemes.” Swachh Bharat (Clean In­dia), a govern­ment ini­tia­tive to im­prove In­dia’s hy­giene with which Modi has closely aligned him­self, is men­tioned in five of the up­dated fed­eral text­books, ac­cord­ing to a se­ries of re­ports in The In­dian Ex­press.

Be­yond ex­press­ing ap­proval for In­dia’s cur­rent leader, the text­books also make im­plicit sug­ges­tions about what the govern­ment ought to be con­cerned with—namely, strength and unity. Ra­jasthan’s book on mod­ern In­dia em­pha­sizes In­dia’s mil­i­tary ex­cel­lence with a list of weapons and pic­tures of a mis­sile launch and a rum­bling tank. The equiv­a­lent Gu­jarat book silently passes over In­dia’s loss in the 1962 Sino-In­dian War, while the Ra­jasthan book ac­tu­ally im­plies that In­dia won, say­ing that the army “proved its might by re­tal­i­at­ing the at­tacks of en­e­mies in 1962.”

In­dia is in­fal­li­ble; its cit­i­zens, how­ever, must be dis­ci­plined. Gu­jarat’s eighth-grade book in­sists that “aware­ness re­gard­ing co-oper­at­ing with the se­cu­rity agen­cies has to be de­vel­oped.” So­cial har­mony should be pur­sued even at the ex­pense of in­di­vid­ual rights: Ra­jasthan’s sev­enth-grade book rec­om­mends, “We should re­frain from neg­a­tive acts like strikes.” There is a whiff of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in these pro­posed lim­its on au­ton­omy and dis­sent. Ra­jasthan’s of­fi­cial ninth- and ten­th­grade so­cial sci­ence books ap­pear not to be avail­able in English, but a pri­vate com­pany has pub­lished its own edi­tions that fol­low the same syl­labus as the new text­books. These books were be­ing used by the Saifee School, and they were the only edi­tions I could find in the book­stores of Udaipur, the city where the school is lo­cated. The ten­th­grade book is more ex­plicit in list­ing the “de­mer­its of democ­racy,” in­clud­ing that “democ­racy teaches a per­son to be selfish, cun­ning and il­lu­sive,” that democ­ra­cies do not pro­duce eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and that they are weak in times of cri­sis.

One Gu­jarat text­book points to a trou­bling al­ter­na­tive. Amid sur­pris­ingly fre­quent crit­i­cism of the Treaty of Ver­sailles and an enu­mer­a­tion of Mus­solini’s suc­cesses, the new twelfth-grade his­tory book praises Hitler at length:

Hitler made a strong Ger­man or­ga­ni­za­tion with the help of [the]

Nazi party and at­tained great hon­our for this. By favour­ing Ger­man civil­ians and by op­pos­ing Jews and by his new eco­nomic poli­cies, he made Ger­many a pros­per­ous coun­try .... He trans­formed the lives of the peo­ple of Ger­many within a very short pe­riod by tak­ing strict mea­sures. He safe guarded [sic] the coun­try from hard­ships and ac­com­plished many things.

This is not the first Gu­jarat text­book to praise fas­cism: the last one was the ninth-grade so­cial sci­ence book of the mid-2000s, when Modi ran the state govern­ment. The of­fend­ing sec­tion was not re­moved un­til after a visit from the con­sul gen­eral of Is­rael. The episode be­came in­ter­na­tional news and is still fre­quently re­ferred to, yet the treat­ment of Nazism in the new text­book seems to have gone un­re­ported. It is not an ac­ci­dent or ec­cen­tric­ity that the Gu­jarat books keep ex­alt­ing Hitler. A pos­i­tive view of fas­cism en­ables a govern­ment ea­ger for more power to tell its cit­i­zens about the po­ten­tial of “strict mea­sures” to “trans­form” so­ci­ety. It pro­vides a model for Hin­dutva’s em­pha­sis on “hon­our” as a re­ward for the “strong.” More im­por­tantly, it gives his­tor­i­cal prece­dent to Hin­dutva’s wish for a ho­moge­nous cit­i­zenry. The “peo­ple of Ger­many” may stand in for In­dia’s Hin­dus, “the Jews” for Mus­lims. In his 1939 book We, or Our Na­tion­hood De­fined, M. S. Gol­walkar, a per­sonal hero of Modi’s and the for­mer leader of the BJP’s ide­o­log­i­cal par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, wrote that Ger­many’s “purg­ing the coun­try of Semitic races” man­i­fested “na­tional pride at its high­est,” show­ing “how well-nigh im­pos­si­ble it is for races and cul­tures, hav­ing dif­fer­ences go­ing to the root, to be as­sim­i­lated into one united whole, a good les­son for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”2 The main project of Hindu na­tion­al­ist his­tory is jus­ti­fy­ing the claim that Hin­dutva groups de­serve a spe­cial sta­tus as In­dia’s “one united whole.” Its cen­tral premises are that Hin­dus are In­dia’s in­dige­nous group; that the rule of Hin­dutva com­mu­ni­ties was glo­ri­ous; that the rule of non-Hin­dutva com­mu­ni­ties was dis­as­trous; and that Hindu na­tion­al­ists have been re­spon­si­ble for win­ning back In­dia’s free­dom. Re­gard­less of whether these propo­si­tions have any­thing like the moral im­pli­ca­tions Hindu na­tion­al­ists hope for, each of them is fac­tu­ally du­bi­ous.

The word “Hindu” is not in­dige­nous to In­dia. It comes from an Old Per­sian word used by Arabs and Turks to re­fer to the peo­ple who lived around the In­dus River. The re­li­gious sense of the word “Hindu” does not seem to have

2Ex­cerpts from ma­jor works by Savarkar, Gol­walkar, and other in­flu­en­tial Hindu na­tion­al­ists may be found in Hindu Na­tion­al­ism: A Reader, edited by Christophe Jaf­frelot (Prince­ton Univer­sity Press, 2007). ex­isted un­til the sec­ond mil­len­nium AD. Even into the early nine­teenth cen­tury, its mean­ing was vague enough that Euro­peans would re­fer to “Hin­doo Mus­lims.” The peo­ple we now con­sider Hin­dus ap­pear gen­er­ally to have thought of them­selves for mil­len­nia as be­long­ing pri­mar­ily to a caste and to a re­gion, rather than to a reli­gion.

The first ac­counts of Hin­duism lie in the Vedas, a cor­pus of re­li­gious texts whose most an­cient works are con­ven­tion­ally dated to the mid­dle of the sec­ond mil­len­nium BC. That’s pretty old, but it doesn’t make Hin­duism old enough—or Hin­dus na­tive enough— for the pur­poses of Hin­dutva. Ru­ins as­so­ci­ated with the Harap­pan civ­i­liza­tion sug­gest that an ur­ban so­ci­ety with­out any ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion to the pas­toral world de­scribed by the Vedas ex­isted in In­dia as early as the third mil­len­nium BC. Not only do the Vedas seem far re­moved from In­dia’s ear­li­est-known civ­i­liza­tion, but they were also prob­a­bly com­posed by the de­scen­dants of re­cent mi­grants to In­dia who dom­i­nated other longer-stand­ing groups in the form of the caste sys­tem.3

All this is in­con­ve­nient for an ide­ol­ogy that seeks to make In­dian his­tory into Hindu his­tory. The Ra­jasthan books solve this prob­lem by mak­ing the Harap­pan civ­i­liza­tion fully Vedic, re­nam­ing it the “Sindhu-Saraswati” civ­i­liza­tion after the “Saraswati River” of the Vedas. In this way, the Vedas pro­vide a com­mon ori­gin point for Hin­duism, for the di­verse castes within Hin­duism, and for In­dia writ large. “Vedic cul­ture” is trans­formed, as the sixth-grade book says, into “the Sanatan (Peren­nial) cul­ture of In­dia.”

The early Hindu era is de­picted in the Ra­jasthan books as an un­ri­valed Golden Age. The con­di­tion of women was “happy and pro­gres­sive.” In con­trast to the stric­tures of caste, “as per his needs, a per­son could change his pro­fes­sion.” Many rulers fol­lowed a “demo­cratic and con­sti­tu­tional form of ad­min­is­tra­tion” that re­sem­bled the “present day Loksabha,” In­dia’s lower house of par­lia­ment, since “mem­bers were elected by the pub­lic.” At the same time, the Golden Age also boasted re­li­gious pu­rity: “no­body ex­cept chan­dals”—mem­bers of a tra­di­tion­ally un­touch­able caste—“ate meat

3See “The Ge­nomic For­ma­tion of South and Cen­tral Asia,” Vagheesh M. Narasimhan, Nick J. Pat­ter­son, Priya Moor­jani, et al., bioRxiv, 2018. or drank wine,” and rulers were “hard­core fol­low­ers of Hin­duism.”

Gu­jarat’s text­books take a more mod­er­ate line on an­cient In­dia, but still tend to­ward the view that “the most glo­ri­ous and pros­per­ous age of In­dian his­tory” oc­curred be­fore Mus­lim rule. On a visit to a tenth-grade so­cial sci­ence class at the English-medium Asia School of Ahmed­abad, Gu­jarat’s for­mer cap­i­tal, I saw how even such milder pro­mo­tions of an­cient In­dia could en­cour­age chau­vin­ism among teach­ers and stu­dents.

The class lin­gered on vastu shas­tra, the Vedic study of ar­chi­tec­ture, one of many as­pects of an­cient In­dian thought em­pha­sized in the tenth-grade so­cial sci­ence text­book. In her ex­pla­na­tion of the sec­tion, Ar­chana Sharma, the teacher, de­scribed Vedic prac­tices as quintessen­tially In­dian and as­cribed su­perla­tively “aus­pi­cious” pow­ers to them. One stu­dent won­dered about the worldly im­pli­ca­tions of these views. “If we are fol­low­ing vastu shas­tra so well,” he asked, “why are we a de­vel­op­ing na­tion?” This en­abled Sharma to un­lock the next step of the logic of Hin­dutva his­tory: the idea that a lack of pan-Hindu sen­ti­ment per­mit­ted vi­o­lent and im­moral Mus­lims to de­file the coun­try. “Only one thing miss­ing was unity. Oth­er­wise, not pos­si­ble for Mughals to come for so many cen­turies. They stayed here as a for­eign coun­try. We would have wel­comed them as guest. But they did not stay as guest.” In­stead, Mus­lims “looted so much.” In­dia was “ru­ined by a num­ber of in­va­sions.” The class nod­ded along, tak­ing notes.

One cru­cial ques­tion largely ab­sent from Ra­jasthan’s books is how ex­actly the dom­i­nant power of In­dia came to be Mus­lim. Ra­jasthan’s tenth-grade so­cial sci­ence text­book ob­serves that the twelfth-cen­tury ruler of north­west and cen­tral In­dia, Prithvi­raj Chauhan, de­feated Muham­mad of Ghor in sev­eral bat­tles, but passes over Ghor’s ul­ti­mate vic­tory, say­ing sim­ply that “due to cer­tain cir­cum­stances, Mus­lim rule started in In­dia by 1206 CE.”

In their dis­cus­sions of the Mughal era, the Nehru­vian text­books em­pha­sized Ak­bar, who em­pow­ered Hindu gen­er­als, mar­ried Hindu princesses, par­tic­i­pated in Hindu cer­e­monies, abol­ished re­li­gious taxes, and held spir­i­tual dis­cus­sions with Hin­dus, Chris­tians, Jews, and even athe­ists. These de­tails are ne­glected in the new Ra­jasthan and Gu­jarat books, which con­cen­trate in­stead on Au­rangzeb (1618–1707), the em­peror who re­in­stated re­li­gious taxes and de­stroyed some Hindu tem­ples. The books over­state Au­rangzeb’s prej­u­dice—“Au­rangzeb used to hate Hin­dus,” ac­cord­ing to Ra­jasthan’s eighth-grade book—and ex­ag­ger­ate its in­flu­ence, sug­gest­ing, as in Gu­jarat’s sev­enth-grade book, that “Au­rangzeb’s nar­row-minded poli­cies were re­spon­si­ble for the end of the Mughal Em­pire.” The truth is more com­pli­cated: as Au­drey Tr­uschke, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Rut­gers Univer­sity, writes in

her re­cent book, Au­rangzeb: The Life and Legacy of In­dia’s Most Con­tro­ver­sial King, Au­rangzeb “em­ployed more Hin­dus in his ad­min­is­tra­tion than any prior Mughal ruler by a sub­stan­tial mar­gin” and sup­ported Hindu re­li­gious prac­tices in nu­mer­ous ways. As Mus­lim rulers are di­min­ished or vil­i­fied, so Hindu fig­ures of the same pe­riod are in­flated to ma­jes­tic di­men­sions. The up­dates to the fed­eral sev­enth-grade his­tory book in­clude the in­tro­duc­tion of Ma­ha­rana Pratap, a lo­cal ruler who “stood his ground” against the Mughals, and an ex­panded sec­tion on the war­rior king Shivaji’s “ca­reer of con­quest.” Shivaji was from Ma­ha­rash­tra, and though the state’s sev­enth-grade his­tory and civics book claims to de­scribe the “His­tory of Me­dieval In­dia,” it treats this re­gional hero as a fig­ure of such civ­i­liza­tional im­port that his life, like that of Je­sus Christ, or­ga­nizes time it­self. There is “In­dia be­fore the Times of Shivaji Ma­haraj,” “Ma­ha­rash­tra be­fore the Times of Shivaji Ma­haraj,” and then, cli­mac­ti­cally, Shivaji’s own era, that of “An Ideal Ruler.” Whereas the Mughals are de­scribed as “for­eign pow­ers,” Shivaji’s de­scen­dants are “The Pro­tec­tors of the Na­tion,” sug­gest­ing that In­dian na­tional iden­tity be­gan with Hindu self-as­ser­tion.

The Ra­jasthan books use the more pun­gent phrase “for­eign in­vaders” for the Mughals, but there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that most In­di­ans saw them that way. In fact, dur­ing the armed strug­gle against the Bri­tish in 1857, Hindu and Mus­lim rebel sol­diers from all over In­dia came to Delhi and pro­claimed Ba­hadur Shah Za­far, the in­her­i­tor of the much­weak­ened Mughal Em­pire, the leader of their move­ment and the sym­bol of home rule.

The same tac­tics of se­lec­tion and eli­sion char­ac­ter­ize the text­books’ por­trayal of the free­dom move­ment. Mo­han­das Gandhi and Nehru are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the most con­se­quen­tial fig­ures of this pe­riod. Both, how­ever, em­body the “an­cient palimpsest” view of In­dian his­tory that Hin­dutva seeks to erad­i­cate. The Gu­jarat and Ra­jasthan text­books em­pha­size in­stead fig­ures of no­table “man­li­ness,” such as Bha­gat Singh, whose ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the in­de­pen­dence move­ment in­cluded killing a Bri­tish po­lice­man and bomb­ing the Cen­tral Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly of the Bri­tish Em­pire. “The rev­o­lu­tion­ary mar­tyrs wrote the his­tory of In­dian in­de­pen­dence through their blood,” ac­cord­ing to Ra­jasthan’s tenth-grade book—a rather far cry from Gand­hian non­vi­o­lence.

The Ra­jasthan books solve the co­nun­drum of the ide­ol­ogy of the lead­ers of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment by com­pletely wip­ing out Nehru from their eighth-grade mod­ern his­tory sec­tion, and em­pha­siz­ing in­stead none other than Vi­nayak Savarkar—whom they re­fer to as “Veer,” the San­skrit word for “brave.” Savarkar is thought to have rather pre­pos­ter­ously given him­self this name in a pseudony­mous au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, de­spite the as­ser­tion in Ra­jasthan’s tenth-grade book that “the pub­lic adorned” him with it. With­out any men­tion of Savarkar’s writ­ing on Hin­dutva, the books hail him as a “great rev­o­lu­tion­ary, a great na­tion­al­ist and a great or­ga­nizer.” Yet after be­ing im­pris­oned in 1911 for vi­o­lent an­ti­colo­nial ac­tiv­i­ties, Savarkar pledged loy­alty to the Bri­tish Em­pire. When Gandhi called for a civil disobedience cam­paign dur­ing World War II, Savarkar en­cour­aged his fol­low­ers to co­op­er­ate with the Bri­tish war ef­fort. Savarkar’s legacy comes from his the­o­ret­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions to Hindu na­tion­al­ism—not from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the in­de­pen­dence move­ment.

K. S. Gupta, a for­mer pro­fes­sor at the Mo­han­lal Sukha­dia Univer­sity of Udaipur and one of the eight writ­ers of the sixth-to-eighth grade Ra­jasthan text­books, said in an in­ter­view that he was “fully con­vinced that Savarkar’s util­ity is due to his views on Hin­duism.” Gupta de­clined to ex­plain why Savarkar’s ques­tion­able in­volve­ment with the free­dom strug­gle was men­tioned in lieu of these views, but he did ex­pound on Gandhi’s and Nehru’s flaws. “Gandhi was never suc­cess­ful in any of his move­ments,” he said. “Nehru had no in-depth study about In­dia.” Chief among these lead­ers’ mis­takes was be­ing “very soft on Mus­lims,” es­pe­cially dur­ing par­ti­tion with Pak­istan, since “there should have been ex­change of pop­u­la­tion there.”

“What was the need of keep­ing them here?” Gupta asked about In­dia’s Mus­lims. They have a “Pak­istan men­tal­ity,” he ex­plained, and yet “ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party is look­ing after their wel­fare.” “Par­lia­ment may be good for Eng­land,” Gupta con­cluded, “but not for In­dia.”

Though the up­dates to the fed­eral text­books have been mod­er­ate so far, a BJP vic­tory in next year’s gen­eral elec­tion would likely lead to greater changes. Cru­cial pol­icy doc­u­ments of the govern­ment ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment are over ten years old, and their re­place­ments are ex­pected soon. In March, a Reuter’s ar­ti­cle re­vealed that a fed­er­ally ap­pointed com­mit­tee of schol­ars and bu­reau­crats is work­ing on a re­port in­tended as a ba­sis for rewrit­ing text­books along ex­treme Hindu na­tion­al­ist lines. More changes can also be ex­pected at the state level. Arun Ya­dav, a me­dia ad­viser for the BJP govern­ment of the state of Haryana, told me that the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning to change its books to re­sem­ble those of Ra­jasthan.

Some jour­nal­ists and aca­demics will ve­he­mently protest these ef­forts, but TV and print ed­i­tors and univer­sity pres­i­dents are in­creas­ingly govern­ment loy­al­ists. Mean­while, years of bat­tles over text­books have led many In­di­ans to con­clude that there is no such thing as ob­jec­tive his­tory—only power and the sto­ries it finds use­ful. “Ev­ery party has their schol­ars,” Sub­hash Sharma, the deputy di­rec­tor of Ra­jasthan’s State In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search and Train­ing, told me in an in­ter­view. “His­tory writ­ing has al­ways been con­tro­ver­sial, na? His­tory is al­ways writ­ten in fa­vor of the govern­ment.”

Such cyn­i­cism will make his­tory into a prov­ince of pas­sion rather than rea­son. This trans­for­ma­tion has had de­struc­tive con­se­quences be­fore. In 1992, Hindu mobs tore down a mosque be­cause of du­bi­ous claims that it had been con­structed cen­turies ear­lier on the site of a de­mol­ished tem­ple. Ri­ots fol­lowed in which roughly two thou­sand peo­ple, many of them Mus­lim, were killed. It’s not just the na­ture of In­dian iden­tity that de­pends on what In­di­ans be­lieve about their his­tory. It’s also the most ba­sic rights of over two hun­dred mil­lion cit­i­zens who do not iden­tify as Hin­dus.

School­girls in Udaipur, Ra­jasthan, 1999

An il­lus­tra­tion from the Ra­jasthan sev­enth-grade so­cial sci­ence text­book, show­ing the six­teenth-cen­tury Hindu ruler Ma­ha­rana Pratap fight­ing a Mus­lim war­rior in the Bat­tle of Haldighati. Though Pratap re­treated from the bat­tle­field into a nearby moun­tain range, the text­book claims he won and ‘dis­play[ed] his un­matched power.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.