Mythologizing History : How to spot a Hindu Ethno-nationalist

Written by Maari Zwick Maitreyi | Published on: November 15, 2017
The Hindu American Foundation, The Hindu Education Foundation, The Uberoi Foundation, Hindupedia, and all the cohorts of the Diasporic Hindu Fundamentalist Complex are serving up their grown-in-India fascist propaganda. They are waging an ongoing battle in California to write their fabrications as history in school textbooks.

Before we even look at their motives in California, let’s look at the strange sense of deja vu hanging in the air.  When the Hindu right came to power in India, in 1998, the first thing they did was establish an organization called the National Curriculum Framework (NCF). The NCF was a government-funded organization whose purpose was a total rewriting of the contents of Indian textbooks. What began from there, was a broad revisionist project that began to axe away the factual historical depictions of the subcontinent, and replace it with a fundamentalist political framing.

Pretend you’re a Hindu ethnonationalist. Where would you start if you were looking to create a Hindu hegemonist history? At the veritable origin of subcontinental civilization: The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). As expected, IVC history is now succumbing to a whole series of strategies, set up to enact Hindu mythology, as history.

The Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization’s very existence is unwieldy to this undertaking.
  • A large portion of the IVC lies not in modern-day India – but in modern day Pakistan. This is already a big predicament for the hyper-patriotic, Indian, Hindu nationalist.
  • The archeological evidence from IVC sites does not provide evidence to support it as a civilization that was linguistically, culturally, or religiously continuous with Vedic civilizations.
  • IVC is dated to more than a millennia and a half, preceding Vedic people.
  • The unearthed geography of the IVC is in contradiction to Vedic geographies.

The ethnonationalist vision for itself is Hindu ownership of the entire subcontinent of South Asia. This is the “reclaim your glorious (imagined) past-owned territory” portion of their fascism. Consider that parts of that imagined past are now trapped in a totally foreign nation – a largely Muslim one at that. This is no doubt, unthinkably disruptive to the vision.

Existing distinctions between the IVC and the Vedic period points to aspects of Vedic life as either having arrived from “outside” the subcontinent or as a civilization that was infused with “outside” ideas and/or people. This means that modern-day Hindu ethnonationalist cannot draw this straight line:  People of the IVC (proto-proto Hindus)—->Vedic People (proto-Hindu)—–>Modern Hindus. It means the modern day upper-Caste Hindu cannot claim indigeneity to the subcontinent. This severely weakens the nativist portion of their fascism.

To “correct” the course of history accordingly, many new projects were undertaken.

The first of these is to force a link between the Vedas and the IVC. But this thrust, results in an anachrony in the dating of the Vedas which now has to be reestablished at over 1500 years before its scholarly verified existence. The artifacts of the IVC were then actively “Hinduized” with overeager interpretations. So images of an IVC person in a meditative pose were labeled the image Hindu God, “Shiva”. Engravings of cows, an animal reared by the people of IVC, were seen as evidence for cow worship and so on. Flimsy evidence, flashy conclusions.

When loose interpretation did not suffice, fraudulent evidence was actively placed. One such controversial event occurred when horse seals were planted at the site by Hindu ethnonationalist “archeologists”.  Historians like Prof. Michael Weitzel and others were quick to spot these as frauds and publicize the occurrence of these insidious attempts to circumvent scholarship.

The idea behind the placing of the horse seals was to fill a gap. No horses have been recorded in IVC archeology, but it is well known that the Vedic civilizations revered and centered horses in their culture. A planted horse seal was meant to bridge this.

Bringing mythological rivers to”life”
The placing of Saraswati river in the IVC period, a mythological river named in the Rig Veda, is the amongst the latest series of attempts to “indigenize Hindus” to the region.

Frantic government-funded archaeological projects began, desperate to find evidence of the Sarasvati not only existed, but having existed 1500 years before the first time it was alluded to in the Vedas. When efforts failed, a modern-day attempt to “recreate” the mythological river began. The Hindu right-ruled government of the state of Haryana began a massive project, using taxpayers money, to “reconstruct” the Saraswati. When no source for the reconstructed river could be conveniently located, they hesitated, then connected it to a local drain. A move that was no doubt, severely minimizing to the river’s mythological grandeur, said to have a source in no less than the mighty Himalaya.

Legitimate scholars who have contested the historical veracity of these actions or called these efforts propaganda have been severely attacked.  They have been intimidated, their lives threatened, public calls for their heads have been issued, and the Hindu ethnonationalists have used their political apparatus to attack both their scholarly work and physical being. Eminent historians, including Romila Thapar, D. Jha, Wendy Doniger, Michael Weitzel, and others with a commitment to truth and process, have persisted regardless. A National Commission of concerned historians condemned these myth-makings as “not different from the periods in time when Nazi Germany attempted to rewrite European history”.

Mythology in History Books
In comparison to peer-reviewed research, false narrativizing is much easier in the textbook processes and especially so when the government is run by your own fundamentalist machine. The same myths of the “Saraswati” are now the proud feature of textbooks in many states, including Gujarat, Prime Minister Modi’s former stronghold state.

These revisionists projects are underway, not only in India but in the diasporas, where they have gained much traction in the last ten years.  In particular, in California where in the past decade, there has been a strengthening of an American Hindu ethnonationalist diasporic base vis-a-vis the American mirror organisation arms of the RSS (HSS) and VHP (VHP-A). Organizations like the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) are an offshoot of these organizations. They feature the same leaders, the same founders, and the same ideology as their more radical arms. But they soften the thrust. They are a muted saffron. They front fascist organizing with performances of pluralism, LGBTQ-friendliness, and feign concern for Bangladeshi Hindus (while expressing no concern for Muslims and Dalits being lynched and killed in India every day).

They co-opt the language of social justice, the borrow victimization performances from Zionist playbooks and front to the California Board of Education as if they were a group whose religious sentiments are being severely wounded. They bring droves of their children to testify. Children who can’t even pronounce words like “Caste” (some even pronouncing it “Keh-ste”) or “Saraswati” and who are handed pre-written testimonies and asked to read. They tell us that their children’s feelings being hurt is sufficient reason to erase history.

But behind their posturing is the truth of their intentions. To erase the rich, diverse, flawed, and fascinating history of the sub-continent, and rewrite it instead with a Hindu fascist plot.
Unfortunately, the California Board of Education has given into the guise of neoliberal pluralism to support the creation of alternative facts. We will be resisting.

Courtesy: Two Circles