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EXCLUSIVE: Bakshi’s agenda is to re-designate Harappan civilisation as Sarasvati civilisation, make weak claims of a “Hindu holocaust”

The Maj Gen’s Bakshi’s characterisation of the last 600 to 800 years of subcontinent’s history revivescommunalised understanding, based on assertions rather than substance 

Prof. Kumkum Roy 11 Jun 2020

JNU

 

Many faculty members of the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, were surprised to see the notice about a webinar to be addressed by Major General Bakshi on the ‘Sarasvati civilization’, ostensibly hosted by the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. As this appeared in the midst of a pandemic and a lockdown, and as there were no consultations amongst faculty on the matter, as is the routine practice, we raised the issue with the concerned authorities, but are yet to receive a response. Some colleagues circulated a link to an earlier talk ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gWpeeM_T5c )   delivered by Major General Bakshi on the theme, on which he has also written a book, which was a revelation. 

Major General Bakshi’s presentation had certain remarkable features. One was his recourse to the word ‘bloody’ with a frequency that was baffling and jarring, and abuse and insinuations hurled primarily against his invisible antagonist, Romila Thapar, professor emerita at the Centre for Historical Studies. While arguments and differences have always been part of the Centre’s traditions, abuse has not. Neither is it healthy, to say the least. It intimidates and silences other points of view—precisely what the learned gentleman claims he wants to avoid. 

Further terms of abuse that have been reserved for what the gentleman calls the army of leftist historians include chamchas—they are supposed to be lackeys of scholars in Harvard and Oxford. Thapar and others are accused of not accepting any changes in colonial British ideas of history. This ignores over sixty years of scholarly work produced by her and others, rich in internal debates, as well as in debates with scholars both inside and outside India. It may be useful to remind Major General Bakshi that passion and insinuations are poor substitutes for serious scholarship. 

In this particular talk, scholars were accused of a slavish mentality, of succumbing to nonsense, assertions that were left unsubstantiated but articulated emphatically. The Aryan invasion theory was resurrected by Major General Bakshi and then demolished. This is like setting up a straw figure and knocking it down, as over the decades, the question has been discussed in all its complexity, painstakingly, by a range of scholars. 

Major General Bakshi’s characterisation of the last 600 to 800 years of history in the subcontinent revives an old communalised understanding, based on assertions rather than substance. He describes it as one of rape, plunder, loot, the destruction of temples and the abduction of women who were allegedly sold off to Bukhara and Kabul. He also mentions the “Hindu holocaust”, in which 80 million to 100 million people are supposed to have died—again unsubstantiated. Major General Bakshi seems unaware of the fact that warfare between states within the subcontinent was endemic much before the time of so-called outsiders. 

Incidentally, these are named by him, in a sequence, that ignores chronology, as the Afghans, Arabs, Mughals and Turks. Whether it is deliberate or unintended is not clear. Major General Bakshi, despite his avowed antipathy to all things western, relies on the history of India as reconstructed by James Mill, in the 19th century. This communal periodisation of history, has been critiqued systematically by the very historians whom he decries. One of the assertions made by Major General Bakshi is that the historians opposed to him believe that Indian history began with the time of Akbar. That such an assertion can be made publicly, dismissing and ignoring, or demonstrating a complete lack of awareness of the rich and complex scholarship on ancient, early historical and early medieval Indian history throughout the country, including in CHS/ JNU since its inception, is shocking to say the least. 

Major General Bakshi’s agenda, evidently, is to try and equate the Harappan civilization, which he insists on re-designating as the Sarasvati civilisation, with the evidence of Vedic texts. The flaws and the futility of this line of argument have been demonstrated time and again, but this does not deter him from reiterating these. In his case, the argument seems to rely on invoking earthquakes, in pushing back the date of the civilisation to 8000 or 9000 years ago, and in assuring us that there is continuity between past and present in terms of the use of bindis, sindur, mangal sutra, bangles, yoga, meditation, the Shiva linga, boats, and pots, a random set of material and cultural traits etc. from the past to the present. Such comparisons of traits, without placing them in historical context, is not particularly useful as a historical method, irrespective of one’s ideological predilections. 

Again, given his claimed technical expertise about tanks and chariots, it is surprising that he draws on the evidence of wheeled vehicles, but fails to distinguish between the spoked wheel, mentioned in Vedic texts, and the solid wheel, documented from the terracotta toys found in the Harappan civilization. The evidence for contact between the bronze age Mesopotamian civilization (c. 3000 BCE onwards) and the Harappan civilization, discussed and analysed in almost a century of scholarship, and its chronological implications are not even brought into this discussion on chronology. 

History, fortunately, is much more than about claims to antiquity and continuity— it is also about change, contexts, and developing an understanding from different perspectives. Historians have moved beyond the unqualified glorification of civilizations to trying to reconstruct what lives were like for ordinary people. Unfortunately, pushing the kind of agenda that is dear to Major General Bakshi’s heart does not further this understanding. Nor does it demonstrate any deep insight that he may have to offer. 

(Prof Kumkum Roy teaches at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University) 

EXCLUSIVE: Bakshi’s agenda is to re-designate Harappan civilisation as Sarasvati civilisation, make weak claims of a “Hindu holocaust”

The Maj Gen’s Bakshi’s characterisation of the last 600 to 800 years of subcontinent’s history revivescommunalised understanding, based on assertions rather than substance 

JNU

 

Many faculty members of the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, were surprised to see the notice about a webinar to be addressed by Major General Bakshi on the ‘Sarasvati civilization’, ostensibly hosted by the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. As this appeared in the midst of a pandemic and a lockdown, and as there were no consultations amongst faculty on the matter, as is the routine practice, we raised the issue with the concerned authorities, but are yet to receive a response. Some colleagues circulated a link to an earlier talk ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gWpeeM_T5c )   delivered by Major General Bakshi on the theme, on which he has also written a book, which was a revelation. 

Major General Bakshi’s presentation had certain remarkable features. One was his recourse to the word ‘bloody’ with a frequency that was baffling and jarring, and abuse and insinuations hurled primarily against his invisible antagonist, Romila Thapar, professor emerita at the Centre for Historical Studies. While arguments and differences have always been part of the Centre’s traditions, abuse has not. Neither is it healthy, to say the least. It intimidates and silences other points of view—precisely what the learned gentleman claims he wants to avoid. 

Further terms of abuse that have been reserved for what the gentleman calls the army of leftist historians include chamchas—they are supposed to be lackeys of scholars in Harvard and Oxford. Thapar and others are accused of not accepting any changes in colonial British ideas of history. This ignores over sixty years of scholarly work produced by her and others, rich in internal debates, as well as in debates with scholars both inside and outside India. It may be useful to remind Major General Bakshi that passion and insinuations are poor substitutes for serious scholarship. 

In this particular talk, scholars were accused of a slavish mentality, of succumbing to nonsense, assertions that were left unsubstantiated but articulated emphatically. The Aryan invasion theory was resurrected by Major General Bakshi and then demolished. This is like setting up a straw figure and knocking it down, as over the decades, the question has been discussed in all its complexity, painstakingly, by a range of scholars. 

Major General Bakshi’s characterisation of the last 600 to 800 years of history in the subcontinent revives an old communalised understanding, based on assertions rather than substance. He describes it as one of rape, plunder, loot, the destruction of temples and the abduction of women who were allegedly sold off to Bukhara and Kabul. He also mentions the “Hindu holocaust”, in which 80 million to 100 million people are supposed to have died—again unsubstantiated. Major General Bakshi seems unaware of the fact that warfare between states within the subcontinent was endemic much before the time of so-called outsiders. 

Incidentally, these are named by him, in a sequence, that ignores chronology, as the Afghans, Arabs, Mughals and Turks. Whether it is deliberate or unintended is not clear. Major General Bakshi, despite his avowed antipathy to all things western, relies on the history of India as reconstructed by James Mill, in the 19th century. This communal periodisation of history, has been critiqued systematically by the very historians whom he decries. One of the assertions made by Major General Bakshi is that the historians opposed to him believe that Indian history began with the time of Akbar. That such an assertion can be made publicly, dismissing and ignoring, or demonstrating a complete lack of awareness of the rich and complex scholarship on ancient, early historical and early medieval Indian history throughout the country, including in CHS/ JNU since its inception, is shocking to say the least. 

Major General Bakshi’s agenda, evidently, is to try and equate the Harappan civilization, which he insists on re-designating as the Sarasvati civilisation, with the evidence of Vedic texts. The flaws and the futility of this line of argument have been demonstrated time and again, but this does not deter him from reiterating these. In his case, the argument seems to rely on invoking earthquakes, in pushing back the date of the civilisation to 8000 or 9000 years ago, and in assuring us that there is continuity between past and present in terms of the use of bindis, sindur, mangal sutra, bangles, yoga, meditation, the Shiva linga, boats, and pots, a random set of material and cultural traits etc. from the past to the present. Such comparisons of traits, without placing them in historical context, is not particularly useful as a historical method, irrespective of one’s ideological predilections. 

Again, given his claimed technical expertise about tanks and chariots, it is surprising that he draws on the evidence of wheeled vehicles, but fails to distinguish between the spoked wheel, mentioned in Vedic texts, and the solid wheel, documented from the terracotta toys found in the Harappan civilization. The evidence for contact between the bronze age Mesopotamian civilization (c. 3000 BCE onwards) and the Harappan civilization, discussed and analysed in almost a century of scholarship, and its chronological implications are not even brought into this discussion on chronology. 

History, fortunately, is much more than about claims to antiquity and continuity— it is also about change, contexts, and developing an understanding from different perspectives. Historians have moved beyond the unqualified glorification of civilizations to trying to reconstruct what lives were like for ordinary people. Unfortunately, pushing the kind of agenda that is dear to Major General Bakshi’s heart does not further this understanding. Nor does it demonstrate any deep insight that he may have to offer. 

(Prof Kumkum Roy teaches at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University) 

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