THEMES

How textbooks teach prejudice, 1999
October 1, 1999
How textbooks teach prejudice, 1999
Forget RSS–run Shishu Mandirs and Muslim madrassas. Textbooks prescribed by even ‘secular’ central and state education boards in the country promote religious, caste and gender prejudice
How textbooks teach prejudice


Forget RSS-run Shishu Mandirs and Muslim madrassas. Textbooks prescribed by even ‘secular’ central and state education boards in the country promote religious, caste and gender prejudice

What we learn and teach about history and how the process of this learning has been crafted or developed, shapes our understanding of the events of the past. This understanding of the past influences our ability to grapple with the present and therefore also the future. Such knowledge, if both rich and varied, can also make and break convictions of both the teacher and the taught.

In 1947, India made a historic tryst with destiny. Independent yet partitioned, after extensive and careful deliberation, we opted for a democratic structure outlined in the Indian Constitution. Whether state –
directed or autonomously ensured, education in such a democratic polity should have been committed to free enquiry, fair and equal access to knowledge, both quantitative and qualitative, inculcation of the right to debate and dissent. The only restrictions and limits to when and at what junctures what kind of information could be shared with the child should have been pedagogical.

In short, the equality principle in any democracy simply must extend to education. In quantitative terms, this means the right of every Indian child to primary and secondary education. UNICEF figures shamefully record how we have failed, having as we do 370 million illiterates (1991), half a century after we became independent. 
But qualitatively, too, the equality principle within the Indian education syllabus, especially related to history and social studies teaching, in state and central boards, is sorely wanting. 

Wedded to the equality principle, the democratisation of our history and social studies syllabus should have meant a critical revision of both the periodisation, approach and content of the material taught because, pre-Independence, history writing under the British was infested with colonial biases. This has not happened. As a result, in most of our texts and syllabi we continue to perpetuate the colonial legacy of portraying ancient India as synonymous with the Hindu and the medieval Indian past with the Muslim. We have, over the years, further accentuated the colonial biases with sharp and more recent ideological underpinnings linked with the rapid growth in the political sphere of the Hindu Right. 

Hate language and hate-politics cannot be part of history teaching in a democracy. But, unfortunately, prejudice and division, not a holistic and fair vision, has been the guiding principle for our textbook boards and the authors chosen by them.

Over the years, our history and social studies texts, more and more, emphasise a prejudicial understanding and rendering of history, that is certainly not borne out by historical facts. Crucial inclusions and exclusions that are explored through abstracts from state board texts, ICSE textbooks and college texts as well, quoted extensively in stories accompanying this essay, bear this out. 

What the RSS and other rabid organisations with a clearly political objective would have us believe about history has been succinctly summed up by the accompanying abstract of an NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training) report. The report enumerates instances that clearly reflect the bias of the organisation that has sponsored them.

Hate language and hate-politics cannot be  part  of the history project in a democracy

What is far more worrisome and needs careful and equally studied examination is how the textbooks in use in most of our states under the ambit of the state textbook boards, as well as the texts of prominent national boards, echo the same historical precepts, misconceptions and formulations. Sometimes in a diluted or scattered form, but more often with the same resultant damage.

The dangerous patterns woven through the syllabus in general and the history and social studies curriculum in particular, for the young mind, need to be traced carefully. They reveal how the average Indian text looks at the historical and present question of caste-based discriminations, community-driven stereotypes and, as significantly, what we teach students about the status of women, then and now.

These patterns, distorted and prejudicial as they are, will open our eyes to the process that has actually contributed to mainstream secular space being dominated by the discourse dictated by the Right. We will then begin to understand how certain manipulated discourses and imageries that have been pulled out for public consumption over the past decade–and–a–half find instant and widespread resonance in civil society.

What am I referring to? How come the crude allusions to Muslims as ‘Babar ki aulad’ in the mid–eighties and the charge of ‘forced’ conversions against Christians in the late nineties finds a silent acceptance in the marketplace of popular ideas, and even dominates the media? This is because many of post–Independent India’s textbooks have been unable to offer a clean, holistic, rational and multi–dimensional vision of the past that includes a historically honest portrayal of how different faiths arrived on the shores of this sub-continent. Our textbooks are, similarly and suspiciously, silent on the motives behind thousands of Indians converting to different faiths over generations. Instead, through allusions and exclusions, they strengthen the false claim that in a vast majority of cases these conversions happened under force. 



 

Are we, as citizens, concerned about whether our education system encourages the creative and thought processes, develops the quality of thinking in our young, whether our attitude to learning and teaching engenders the processes of inquiry? If yes, we need to examine whether our school textsbooks tackle the question of free inquiry, dissent and debate.  We need also to pay attention to specific inclusions and exclusions within the content of these texts.

Other crucial questions also need to be raised.  How do Indian texts specifically deal with the fundamental question of race, origin, culture and faith on the sub–continent?

It is surely impossible to speak about apartheid in the world context without linking it to the birth of South Africa under Nelson Mandela as an independent nation. or to understand slavery in the modern context without knowledge of the role of colonial powers in Africa or, equally pertinently, the whole phenomenon of the American War of Independence and Abraham Lincoln. But do Indian textbooks reflect the ability to examine social inequality, specifically the caste system, as it emerged and was legitimised historically and how it continues to exist today, perpetrating an exploitative and unjust social order? 

Can a young student of social studies really seek to understand the caste system without, first of all, being informed of modern–day social and economic apartheid that 16–17 per cent of the Indian population continues to be forced to live under today? There is hardly any Indian text that honestly and candidly sketches out the indignities that continue to be perpetuated on Indian Dalits today.

The life–sketch of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar is restricted to his contribution as the ‘architect’ of the Indian constitution. The serious challenges he posed to the pre–Independence struggle and the Brahmanical order, or his radical conversion to Buddhism as a method of ‘social and political emancipation’ (10 lakh Dalits converted to Buddhism on October 14, 1948) find scant or no mention at all in ‘secular’ Indian textbooks. 

This blinkered vision of Indian social disparity extends to the fashion in which Dr. Ambedkar is portrayed for the young and the struggles that he led are depicted. On December 25, 1925, Ambedkar burnt copies of the Manu Smruti at Mahad village in Maharashtra. This was a strong political statement against the domination suffered by Dalits, epitomised in this Brahmanical text that has laid down the code of a social order which regards ‘shudras’ and ‘women’ together as deserving of no rights. The incident finds no mention at all in any Indian school textbook, revealing a sharp upper caste bias that has excluded real inquiry into these events and movements. There is no attempt at a critical look at texts like the Manu Smruti that have, since their being written several centuries ago, reflected the attitudes of vested interests. In fact this Brahmanical text itself receives favourable mention in Indian school textbooks.

As extension of the same argument, some of our average Indian textbooks continue to label Christians, Muslims and Parsees as ‘foreigners,’ and moreover depict Hindus as “the minority in most states of the country”. They selectively speak about the “immoral behaviour of Catholic priests in the middle ages” while exonerating the Brahmins and the Indian ruling classes. What is the message that we send out to the growing child with these factual misrepresentations and deliberate exclusions of some historical events and modern day social realities when it comes to the conduct of the Brahmanical elite? 

Our textbooks are, similarly and suspiciously, silent on the motives behind thousands of Indians converting to different faiths over generations. Instead, through allusions and exclusions, they strengthen the false claim that in a vast majority of cases these conversions happened under force

The same college textbook in Maharashtra that speaks at length, and with a fair degree of venom, about Islam and its violent nature is silent on what many ancient Indian kings did to Buddhist ‘monasteries’ and bhikus during the ancient period. (King Sashanka of Assam is reputed to have destroyed several monasteries). What then are the conclusions that a critic needs to draw about the motivation behind these selective inclusions and exclusions?
Exclusion is a subtle but potent form of prejudice. If, therefore, the average Indian textbook is silent on the motivations of many a ‘Hindu’ king who employed officials to raid and destroy temples in the ancient and medieval periods, simply because he could be certain to find wealth there (King Harshadev of Kashmir is one such, referred to by Kalhana in his Rajatarini), is there a not–so–subtle attempt to allow the popularly cherished belief that temple breaking was the ‘Muslim’ rulers favoured prerogative, to fester and grow? 

Rabid observations on Islam and Christianity are overtly visible in excerpts of the books conceived by the RSS and used for ‘teaching’ in the Shishu Mandirs. For discerning observers and educationists, this commitment to indoctrination that pre-supposes injecting small yet potent doses of poison against an ‘enemy other’ is not really surprising when we understand the true nature of the ideological project of these outfits. 

The content of RSS texts has invited sharp criticism by the NCERT committee (see accompanying document). To find blatantly damaging statements within the texts of schools run by the RSS is one thing. But to have ‘secular’ Indian textbooks — ranging from those produced by some state textbook boards, to recommended texts for the study of history at the graduation level, as also some ICSE texts — containing discernible strains of the same kind of caste, community and gender prejudice reflects how mainstream Indian thought has not only swallowed a biased and uncritical interpretation of history but is cheerfully allowing this myopic vision to be passed down to future generations.

Take, for instance, a textbook recommended for the final year Bachelor of Arts students in history in Maharashtra. The chapter titled ‘Invasion of Mahmud of Ghaznavi’ is cleverly used by the author to launch a tirade against Islam itself. The content of this textbook could compare favourably, chapter and verse, with sections of Shishu Mandir texts that, are in other parts, far more direct, having nothing positive to say about Islam or Christianity. 

As critically, how do our history and social studies’ textbooks approach the complex question of gender? What is the underpinning of analysis on critical gender issues within these books? How do our textbooks explain notions of ‘pativrata’(worship of the husband), sati (widow burning), child marriage, burning of women at the stake (called ‘witch hunting’ during the medieval ages), polygamy, polyandry etc. to the child?

There could be no more derogatory references to women than those contained in the Manu Smruti, an ancient Indian Brahmanical text. But it receives uncritical and passing mention in most Indian textbooks.

There is no attempt to outline the oppressive ‘Brahmanical Hindu’ code contained within the Manu Smruti. The code outlined in this text has significantly influenced how women have and continue to be treated within the family structure and in society, as also the base fashion in which treatment to ‘shudras’ has manifest itself in Indian society. 

What were the variegated facts, and, therefore, what is the multi-layered truth behind the emergence of different faiths on the sub-continent? The historical account is not an over-simplified one of Babar ki aulad, armed with swords, forcing reluctant victims to convert and smashing down their temples in the bargain. Unfortunately for proponents of a hate-driven history, facts tell a different story. 

The tale of the often-ruthless methods that Portuguese Christians took to effect conversions in Goa may be more recent but it is by no means the whole story of how Christianity arrived on the shores of the sub-continent and found deep and abiding routes. That is an inquiry that is more complex, more varied and far richer in detail. 

In a Maharashtra college level text, he chapter on Mahmud of Ghaznavi is used as ripe occasion to launch  a tirade against Islam itself

The record of persons opting to convert to different faiths, be it Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity Islam or Sikhism, is a worthy exploration in itself. Honestly told, it could offer vital insights on the impulses of ideas and motives as they have driven humankind over the ages. It is, however, a subject that has been significantly ignored except through banal references to ‘syncretism’ and ‘synthesis’ that are left thematically and conceptually unexplored. 

The subject of shifts and changes to different faiths is educative, simply because if fairly approached, the process will throw up different sets of reasons and varying motivations for these actions, these changes of faith that persons opted for. The differences and variety would depend upon the period when the change took place, the region within India that we would be looking at and, finally, the method employed for the conversion itself.

None of the mainline Indian textbooks really do justice to this subject. We often find a single sentence reference to the fact that Islam first came to the shores of the Malabar coast through the regular visits of Arab traders who enjoyed a long-standing relationship of trade and commerce with India. But the next sentence immediately shifts gear to the other way that Islam came to the Indian sub-continent — through the ‘invasions’ in Sind. From thereon our children are told in graphic detail of the numerous ‘invasions’ but nothing of the coming of Islam through trade and the formations of living communities that resulted. 

Many conversions to Islam or Christianity in the modern period of history have also coincided with the passage of emancipatory laws liberating bonded labour. This allowed oppressed sections the freedom to exercise choice in the matter of faith. These sections, then, exercised this choice, rightly or wrongly, perceiving either Islam or Christianity to be more egalitarian than Hinduism’s oppressive system of caste.

There were several instances of conversions during the second half of the 19th century in Travancore, for instance. Educational endeavours of missionaries and the resultant aspirations to equality of status encouraged many persons of ‘low’ caste to change faith and through this to a perceived position of equality. For example, the first ‘low’ caste person to walk the public road near the temple in Tiruvalla in 1851 was a Christian. Around 1859, many thousands converted to Christianity in the midst of emancipatory struggles that were supported by missionaries in the region: for example, the struggle of Nadars on the right of their women to cover the upper part of their body, a practice opposed by the upper castes!

There are so many fascinating examples. Large-scale conversions to Islam took place on the Malabar coast not during the invasions by Tipu Sultan but during the 1843-1890 period. These were directly linked to the fact that in 1843, under the British, slavery was formally abolished in the region. As a result, large numbers from the formerly oppressed castes, bonded in slavery to upper caste Hindus moved over to Islam, which they perceived, rightly or wrongly to preach a message of equality and justice.

Trade and commerce finds dry and peripheral treatment in our texts as do the impact of technological developments through history. Religious interpretations and explanations often pre-dominate, with little attempt to explain how ideas and thought-processes travelled across continents and borders; the means and modes of communication etc. are hardly explored. 

Our secular texts are completely silent on the ideology that killed the Mahatma despite the fact that the RSS was banned by the government of India following his assassination

Within the Indian sub-continent, this century saw the emergence of different streams of thought that contributed significantly to the struggle for independence against the British. It also saw the emergence on the sub-continent of processes, fully encouraged by the British, of exclusivist and sectarian trends within the broader national movement that chose to articulate their worldview in terms of narrow religious identities.

Within a few years of each other, we saw the birth of organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League, as also the Akali Dal and the Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh. This process of the emergence of different communalisms that contributed in no small measure to the final vivisection of the sub-continent, with all its attendant stories of vengeance and horror is extremely selectively dealt with in Indian textbooks.

Put simply, all these texts speak at length about the birth and misdemeanours of the Muslim League, the Muslim communal outfit that contributed significantly to the politics of the period. No mention is at all made to the birth around the same time of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, both Hindu communal outfits that contributed in no small measure to the sharp polarisations and schisms at the time. 



Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination is fleetingly mentioned without the ideology that drove Godse to kill him being mentioned, leave alone explored. The fact that the RSS had to face a ban on the question, too, is blotted out to the young student of modern Indian history.

With these kinds of interpretations and inclusions of historical facts in our regular texts, coupled with the repetitious discourse within civil society that has, in recent times, taken a vicious form—and which selectively heaps the blame for partition squarely on the Muslim— is it any wonder that communities and citizens of the country continue to carry the burden of being dubbed ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-national?’

The young student of history in India, therefore, can without compunction put the entire blame of the partition of the sub-continent on the Muslim League and Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s shoulders. The bias does not end here. While the Muslim League receives detailed treatment in the average Indian text, it does not give a single line to Hindu communal outfits. 

In furtherance of the same theme, there is no attempt to either explain or detail that the Muslim League enjoyed a limited hold over only sections of the Muslim elite and landed gentry; that many hundreds of thousands of Muslims participated actively in the struggle for Independence against the British; that the idea of Partition was backed by a miniscule section of Indian Muslims; that the artisan class which constitutes a large section of Muslims demonstrated actively against Partition.

In short, if you read an average Indian text, be it from the state or central boards, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS bear no part of the historical blame for Partition. The crime is worse compounded by the fact that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination is glossed over, often receiving no more than one sentence in explanation. 
The ICSE History and Civics textbook, Part II for Std. X, devotes a whole chapter to the ‘Formation of the Muslim League’. But there is no mention at all of Hindu communal organisations. 

And to top it all, here is what the same ICSE text has to say about Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination: “Mahatma Gandhi toured the hate-torn land of Bengal, trying to put a stop to the communal frenzy and salvage the people from ruthless communal slaughter. While celebrations and riots were still going on the architect of the nation was shot dead on 30th January by Nathuram Godse”. There is no further comment on the assassination, or the ideology that drove the assassin. Neither is there any mention of the fact that the government of India banned the RSS following Gandhi’s murder because of Godse’s close association both with the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. There is no information on the trial of the assassins of Gandhi, the justification by Godse of his act and so on.

Similarly, the Social Studies text for standard VIII of the Gujarat State Board, has a tiny sub-section titled, “The Murder of Gandhi”. This reads thus: “After Independence there were severe communal riots in India. Gandhiji tried his utmost to suppress it. Many people did not like this. Gandhiji was murdered at the hands of Godsay on 30th January 1948. ”

Again, no words of explanation of the ideology that was responsible for the murder of Gandhi though painstaking efforts are made in this and other texts to explain the ideology that partitioned the sub-continent. 

It appears logical and inevitable for the stated political project of the RSS and its Shishu Mandir-style education to offer such an immutable approach, a series of unquestionable absolutes, to the young mind. How else can the RSS organisation, whether it be at the shakha or the Shishu Mandir level, create a social and political atmosphere where selectively half-truths and blatant falsehoods dominate all discourse? How else does one create an environment where critical questions are never asked, leave alone answered? And, worst of all, prevailing social inequalities, indignities and humiliations are left unaddressed. In short, leave the social and economic hierarchy unchallenged?

But the fact that independent and democratic India’s ‘secular’ texts reflect, with sometimes uncanny similarity, the very same disregard for a growing and inquiring mind, apart from being laced with a series of questionable formulations that hide gender, caste and community–driven bias is what requires urgent and specific attention. And remedy.   

(This article has relied heavily on the research work that the writer has 
undertaken as the Co–ordinator of KHOJ, a secular education project)


Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 1

 

‘Caste is a precious gift’
 
The caste system receives generous treatment in Indian textbooks. Even the section in the text book of the Gujarat state board that seeks to explain the constitutional policy of reservations makes remarks about the continued illiteracy of the ‘scheduled castes and tribes.’

So, for instance, the same textbook pays lip service to political correctness through a fleeting reference to the fact that the varna system later became hierarchical, but in the same chapter, a few paragraphs later, literally extols the virtues of the intent of the varna system itself.

There is also no attempt nor desire, either in this text or the ICSE texts to explain the inhuman concept of ‘untouchability’ (based on the notion, “so impure as to be untouchable”) that Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar made it their life’s mission to challenge, socially and politically. In understanding and teaching about caste, both this text and other ICSE texts display a marked reluctance to admit or link the ancient-day varna system to modern-day Indian social reality.

“The ‘Varna’ System: The Varna system was a precious gift of the Aryans to the mankind. It was a social and economic organisation of the society built on the basis of the principle of division of labour. Learning or education, defence, trade and agriculture and service of the community are inseparable organs of the social fabric. The Aryans divided the society into four classes or ‘varnas’. Those who were engaged in the pursuit of learning and imparted education were called ‘Brahmins or Purohits (the priestly classes). Those who defended the country against the enemy were called the Kshastriyas or the warrior class. Those who were engaged in trade agriculture were called the Vaishyas. And those who acted as servants or slave of the other three classes were called the Shudras. In the beginning, there were no distinction of ‘high’ and low. The varna or class of a person was decided not on the basis of birth but on the basis of his work or karma. Thus a person born of a Shudra father could become a Brahmin by acquiring learning or by joining the teaching profession…In course of time however, the varna system became corrupted and ‘birth’ rather than ‘vocation’ came to be accepted as the distinguishing feature of the varna system. Thus society was permanently divided into a hierarchy of classes. The Brahmins were regarded as the highest class while the Shudras were treated as the lowest. These distinctions have persisted in spite of the attempts made by reformers to remove them. Yet, the importance of the ‘Varna’ system as an ideal system of building the social and economic structure of a society cannot be overlooked”. (Emphasis added).

(Social Studies text, Gujarat State Board, Std. IX)
The only reference in this standard IX text to the indignities of the caste system as it exists today is through an attempt to blame the plight of the untouchables on their own illiteracy and blind faith.
“Problems of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes: Of course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in life. Therefore, there is large-scale illiteracy among them and female illiteracy is a most striking fact. (Emphasis added). ” 

(Social Studies text, Gujarat State Board, Std. IX)
The ICSE texts are similarly non-critical and evasive. 
The New ICSE History and Civics, edited by Hart and Barrow, Part 1 has this to say.
“The Caste System: The division of society into four varnas (classes) had its origin in the Rig Vedic period. Members of the priestly class were called brahmins; those of the warrior class, kshatriyas; agriculturists and traders, vaisyas; and the menials, sudras. It is said that the caste system in the Rig Vedic times was based on occupations of the people and not on birth. Change of caste was common. A Brahmin child could become a kshatriya or a vaisya according to his choice or ability…

“Varna in Sanskrit means the colour of skin and the caste system was probably used to distinguish the fair coloured Aryans from the dark coloured natives. The people of higher castes (brahmins, kshatriyas, and vaisyas) were Aryans. The dark skinned natives were the sudras, the lowest class in society, whose duty was to serve the high class. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 2
Demonising Christianity, Islam

Courtesy: christcov.org

In a chapter titled, ‘ Problems of the Country and Their Solutions’, the Social Studies, Std.IX text of the Gujarat Board has a section with a sub-heading, ‘Minority Community’,that labels Muslims, even Christians and Parsees, as ‘foreigners’. It also states that Hindus are in a minority in most states. It reads:

“But apart from the Muslims, even the Christians, Parsees and other foreigners are also recognised as the minority communities. In most of the states the Hindus are in minority and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are in majority in these respective states”. 

The same text also selectively denigrates the Catholic priesthood of the middle ages which may be legitimate but is suspicious when similar exacting criticism is not accorded to the Brahmin religious hierarchy. Monetary exploitation and persistent sexual harassment by the caste hierarchy in India which was not merely historically legitimised by caste but brutally holds Dalit women to ransom even today. 

“The priests of the Catholic church had accumulated plenty of wealth through unjust taxes, illegal fees, ownership of large tracts of land, selling miracles and indulgences. They spent this money on worldly pleasures and immoral behaviour. (SS, Std.IX).

“The Christian Church was a part and parcel of this integrated feudal system. Almost half of the land and other property belonged to the bishops or the heads of parishes. The Pope who was the head of the Roman Catholic Church was himself a big landlord. The Church received sumptuous gifts of land from the king as well as the lords. Thus the Church had amassed great wealth. The Pope, archbishop, bishops and other priests lost their heads, forgot their duties and lived a life of luxury and sensual pleasures.” (SS, Std. X)

 The following extract is from a recommended third year  B.A. textbook for the student of history in Maharashtra. The chapter on Mahmud of Ghaznavi is used blatantly by the author to launch a tirade against Islam itself.
The opening para reads: “The advent of Islam might have been a boon to the Arabs who got united under its banner, and were enthused by it to carry on conquests in Asia, Africa and Europe but it has been a curse for the people outside Arab world because wherever the Islamic hordes went, they not only conquered the countries, but killed millions of people and plundered their homes and places of worship and destroyed their homes, places of worship and above all their artworks”. 

The author continues: “The general Islamic belief that political power can be claimed by anyone who can wield power goes not only against the legality of inheritance to throne but encourages intrigues, plots rebellions and assassinations of father by his son, brother by his brother, ruler by his military commander or minister and above all master by his servant, nay, even by his slave. There might have been some killings of such a type among the people of other religious faiths like the Hindus or Christians but those were exceptions while in the Islamic people these have occurred as a rule, not as exceptions”. 

The author makes his orientation more and more plain as we read on. The question, however, is how did such a text past muster and how does it continue to be one of the recommended texts at the graduation level in Maharashtra. “The king of the Ghaznavides, Subuktagin, who started raids on India in the last decades of 10th century A.D. was a slave of Alptagin, who himself was a slave of Samanid ruler of Khorasan. So it is the slave of the slave who set in process, the Islamic invasion from 10th century A.D.”This is how the concluding para reads.”Why these atrocities? Because Islam teaches only atrocities. Have not Islamic invaders done so wherever they had gone, be that India or Africa or Europe?” (Emphasis added). Mahmud returned to Ghazni with a large booty.” 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 3
‘Sati was a virtue’


The authors of Indian textbooks retain an extremely ambivalent position when it comes to  describing the status of women in ancient India Gujarat state social studies’ texts have no critical comment on the Manusmruti. “The Manusmruti or Manava Dharma Shastra has helped in the forming of the Hindu code while the Puranas besides being religious books are a treasure of Indian history.” How equitous or inequitous was, or is, the Hindu code? What was the status accorded to women under it? There is a suspicious silence in the text on the issue.

There is, however, clear- cut statement on the ‘low’ position of women in the Ancient civilisations of Greece in the same Std. IX social studies text in Gujarat.  “Women occupied a very low position in Athens and other city-states of Greece. They were denied the right to participate in public life or to get education. Home was considered to be the best place for them. They hardly ever appeared in public places. They were denied the right even to vote. The references to women in the literature of that period can be regarded as derogatory.” 

Students studying the ICSE course are given a novel understanding of how Rajputs translated into practice “their respect for women’’. The text starts by telling us how Rajputs had a deep respect for their women. But a few paras later we are told: “The birth of a female was considered as a bad omen in the family. Very often, such a child was killed immediately after its birth. (Emphasis added). 

In a chapter titled, “Rajput Contribution”, the New ICSE History and Civics, edited by Hart and Barrow, Part 1, accords special place to the Rajput period. The authors state that this period has a special importance in India. Why? “It is noteworthy that the Rajputs were the last Hindu kings in Indian history,” state the authors going on to extol the uniqueness of the period under the heading of “Rajput Custom.” Here we are told of the Rajputs’ “Respect for Women”:

“The Rajputs respected their women. The women too had their self-respect. They would burn themselves in the fire of jauhar rather than fall victims in the hands of their enemies”.

“Position of Women. The Rajput women enjoyed freedom in society. They could choose their husbands in swayamvara. They were educated, they could read and write Sanskrit. They took part in public life. Re-marriage of widows was not allowed. Rajput women were deeply religious. They spent most of their time listening to pious stories from religious books like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata”.

“Polygamy and Female Infanticide: The rich and the ruling class practised polygamy, though one of the wives was treated as the chief wife. The birth of a female was considered as a bad omen in the family. Very often, such a child was killed immediately after its birth”. 

“Child marriage: The daughters of the family were married of at an early age in order to safeguard their honour. Once married, the Rajput women were very devoted to their husbands. They would sacrifice their lives to safeguard their honour.

The same Rajputs we are also told, with no critical comment, abhorred untouchables.
“Caste System: While the Rajputs held the Brahmins in high regard, they despised the untouchables who were even forbidden to live within the town or the village. The Rajputs considered that it was their exclusive right to fight battles and no other person could raise arms in the battlefield. The rigidity of the caste system led to the narrow-minded attitude among the Indians during this period. 

“Sati and Jauhar: It was considered a virtue to perform sati, that is, to immolate oneself at the funeral pyre of one’s husband. The jauhar was performed when the Rajput women burnt themselves to death to escape dishonour at the hands of the Muslim invaders. It is said that Rani Padmini, with 16,000 Rajput women did jauhar in Chittorgarh by walking into fire when their men marched into the battlefield to fight to the finish instead of surrendering themselves to their enemy”.  

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 4
On Fascism and Nazism


The textbooks of the Gujarat State Board, apart from the inherent contradictions mentioned above, commit another grave folly. For the student of Std. X, in the section that deals with the period in world history between the two world wars, we have a section on the “Ideology of Fascism”. 

There is a positive ambivalence in the treatment of this political phenomenon, an ambivalence that stands heightened in later paragraphs that deal with “Nazism”. 

“Ideology of Fascism: The views regarding the State administration adopted by the topmost leader of the Fascist Party, Mussolini, came to be known as the Ideology of Fascism (Principles of Fascism). According to this ideology the State is sovereign. An individual exists for the State. An individual does not have freedom over and above the State. Here, everyone is absorbed within the State. Since the party firmly believed in Militant Nationalism, it opposed Internationalism. National interest and progress were its basic aim. The Party believed that the total power of the nation should be wielded by a leader endowed with Divine power. This party was a staunch opposer of democracy and individual freedom and also of communism. Thus Fascism was totally opposed to Democracy”.
(Gujarat state social studies text for Std. X)

This text-book while attempting an explanation of the political phenomenon of fascism and nazism gives a frighteningly uncritical picture of both. The strong national pride that both these phenomena generated, the efficiency in the bureaucracy and the administration and other ‘achievements’ are detailed, but the violent, uncivilised and uncritical result of the politics of exclusion – of Jews, of trade unionists, of migrant labourers, of any section that did not fit into Mussolini or Hitler’s definition of rightful citizen – just do not find any mention. The systematic extermination of six million Jews in concentration  camps, the Holocaust that is, simply does not figure in these texts.

“Ideology of Nazism: Like Fascism, the principles or ideologies for governing a nation, propounded by Hitler, came to be known as the ideology of Nazism. On assuming power, the Nazi Party gave unlimited total and all embracing and supreme power to the dictator. The dictator was known as the ‘Fuhrer’..Hitler had strongly declared that ‘the Germans were the only pure Aryans in the entire world and they were born to rule the world’. In order to ensure that the German people strictly followed the principles of Nazism, it was included in the curriculum of the educational institutions. The textbooks said, ‘Hitler is our leader and we love him’. 

“Internal Achievements of Nazism: Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time by establishing a strong administrative set up. He created the vast state of Greater Germany. He adopted the policy of opposition towards the Jewish people and advocated the supremacy of the German race. He adopted a new economic policy and brought prosperity to Germany. He began efforts for the eradication of unemployment. He started constructing Public buildings, providing irrigation facilities, building Railways, roads and production of war materials. He made untiring efforts to make Germany self-reliant within one decade. Hitler discarded the Treaty of Versailles by calling it just ‘a piece of paper’ and stopped paying the war penalty. He instilled the spirit of adventure in the common people. 
(Gujarat state social studies text for Std. X)

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 5
Ancient India as Hindu
There is a clear and underlying assumption that the popular faiths and beliefs of the vast majority of people who lived here before the ancient period were ‘Hindu’ as we understand the term today. The conflict or convulsions between the Dravidian and Aryan cultures and beliefs are not merely glossed over, they are presented as non-inimical to each other in the desire to substantiate the claim that  ‘Hinduism’ was able to absorb contradictions and conflicts “peacefully”. By implication or actual assertions the textbooks also state that the real conflicts came with the interaction with other faiths.

 

In this context, it would be educative to look closely at the prescribed textbooks for history and social studies teaching in Gujarat, with virtually no alterations since 1991, many books prescribed by the ICSE national board among others, and even some college level texts that contain these problematic formulations. 

One of the recurring myths about Indian culture, perpetuated ad noseum is that it is one of the most non-violent, peace-loving and tolerant

The state syllabus detailed in the texts being currently used by the Gujarat state board, outlines clearly for the teacher and student of history that when the author(s) of the text-book write about India they use the term for the modern nation as synonymous with “Hindu”. The student is instructed that the idea of studying social studies is to develop a true understanding of ancient India. The political implications of this assumption are significant and dangerous, because, immediately for the history learner paradigms have been drawn. It is only within these that adjustments are subsequently made for ‘synthesis’ or ‘syncretism.’

The syllabus for the standard five social studies text printed by the Gujarat State board, outlines the objective of the syllabus that has been laid out for the ten-year-old child:

‘Towards understanding the Indian Cultural heritage in a proper perspective’. 
This ‘perspective’, as described below in detail, outlines erroneously that the ancient age begins with Vedic times.It becomes clear from this introductory social studies text for the fifth standard child that no perspective of world ancient civilisations is given through the syllabus; that the desire is not just to begin and end with India, but ancient India has been made synonymous with the Vedic; and that values like ‘respectable status of women in Indian culture’ are rooted in the characters depicted through stories taken from the Vedas. There is no attempt to develop any sense of historical enquiry that could lead to a student understanding the quality of life and civilisations that existed pre-Vedas; the exchanges that took place between ancient peoples through river and sea routes etc. 

Not only is this kind of social studies self-limiting and restrictive, it is an approach that is set to stifle free thinking and enquiry. Here is how the objective of the syllabus is outlined: 

Ø  Ancient Age (From Vedic times to  Harshavardhan)

Ø  Is introduced to Vedic literature which is an expression of Indian Culture.

Ø    Knows about the respectable status of women in Indian culture. 

Ø Gets acquainted with the basic truths of life against a backdrop of Indian Culture.

Ø  Learns for himself the truth; that in the context of Indian culture a person acquires a high status not by right of birth but by merit.

Ø   Knows about how in the Indian Cultural context the rules were oriented towards the subjects. 
Ø   Imbibes the basic values of Indian Culture expressed by the narratives of the epics, Ramayana, Mahabharat, and by the main characters in it. 

Ø   For instance, the importance of 1) The purity of domestic life 2) Steadfastness in adhering to truth even at the cost of suffering.

Ø   Moulds the character which makes one abide by ones duty when there is a conflict between personal relationship and a sense of duty. 
(Social Studies text, Gujarat state board, Std. V)

Apart from the stated objective of portraying ancient Indian culture as synonymous with the Vedas, the Gujarat board texts also proceed to depict Indian culture as inherently superior to any other.

In the chapter titled, ‘The Cultural Heritage of Ancient India’, the child is told: “Ancient Indian history covers a period of about four thousand years. It can be divided into the following periods: The Indus valley civilisation period, the Vedic period, the post-Vedic period, the Epic period, the Age of Buddha and Mahavir, the Maurya and the Post-Gupta periods and the Early Muslim period.” The same text goes on to assert that from the beginning of the Indus valley period to the ‘end of Hindu supremacy’ the contribution of Indian civilisation was unique, implying that, thereafter, with the ‘Muslim period’ the contribution could not be measured in a similar fashion. 

“Right from the coming of the Aryans to India (around 2000 B.C.) to the end of the Hindu supremacy (around 1200 A.D.). The Indian civilisation made a unique contribution in many different fields of life, a contribution which includes certain high moral values. It is because of this reason that the ancient civilisation of India has survived today in the form of Indian culture while other ancient civilisation like those of Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and China have disappeared from the world. These countries do not have the continuity of culture, which is found in the Indian culture.”

The same, Std. IX text, that selectively excludes historical details like the Shaivite-Buddhist conflicts, oppression of women and the shudras, the state of Dalits even today, is however emphatic that “the inherent peace and tolerance of Indian culture” is one of its characteristics. This is one of the recurring myths that have been repeated ad nauseum about India and her ancient culture, the fact that it is “the most non-violent, peace-loving and tolerant”, a myth that is essential if the ‘Hindu’ is to be pitted as the quintessential Indian, a myth that sits well with the ‘others’  being labelled both ‘invaders’ and ‘foreigners’. It is also a myth that seeks to justify present-day violence against the country’s minorities, seeking justification for this in ‘the wrongs of yore.’

In a section titled ‘Tolerance and urge for peace’, the fourteen- year- old is told: “Tolerance and a strong desire for peace are two distinct features of Indian culture. Brahminism with its two main functions namely Shaivism and Vishnavism. Buddhism and Jainism were the main faith followed in ancient India. These faiths adopted a policy of tolerance towards one another. For examples the Satwahanas and the Guptas were followers of Brahminism. But they showed tolerance towards Buddhism and Jainism and gave financial grants to their places of worship.          

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 6

Breeding Bigotry
The NCERT’s National Steering Committee on text-book evaluation found that the RSS-run Vidya Bharati schools are being clearly used for the dissemination of blatantly communal ideas
 

We reproduce below extracts from National Steering Committee on Textbook Evaluation, Recommendation and Report II, NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training).
Publications of Vidya Bharati (Section VI of the report): 

The Committee shares the concern expressed in the report over the publication and use of blatantly communal writings in the series entitled, Sanskriti Jnan in the Vidya Bharati Schools which have been set up in different parts of the country. Their number is reported to be 6,000. The Committee agrees with the report that much of the material in the so–called Sanskrit Jnan series is “designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation”.  The Committee is of the view that the Vidya Bharati schools are being clearly used for the dissemination of blatantly communal ideas. In its earlier report (January 1993), the Committee had commented on publications which had been brought out with similar objectives by the Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan and Markazi Maktaba Islami and had recommended that they should not be allowed to be used in schools. The Sanskriti Jnan series are known to be in use in Vidya Bharati schools in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. The Committee recommends that the  educational authorities of Madhya Pradesh and other states should disallow the use of this series in the schools. The state governments may also consider appropriate steps to stop the publication of these materials which foment communal hatred and disallow the examinations which are held by the Vidya Bharati Sansthan on the basis of these materials.

Appendix:
The Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan is stated to have been set up in 1978. It has been producing materials which are used in Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and other schools which have been set up by this Sansthan in different parts of the country. A large number of these schools have been set up in Madhya Pradesh. The Vidya Bharati schools in Madhya Pradesh had earlier been permitted to have their own examinations up to class VIII as well as to have their own teacher training programme. These schools are used for the propagation of blatantly communal ideas. Some of the textbooks used in Saraswati Shishu Mandirs in Uttar Pradesh had been evaluated in 1993.

A series of booklets which is being used in the Vidya Bharati schools has been published under the general title of Sanskriti Jnan Pareeksha and Sanskrit–Jnan Pareeksha Prashn–ottari (Culture–Knowledge Examination and Culture–Knowledge Examination Questions–Answers). These books are in the form of questions and answers which are meant to be taught by teachers and memorized by students. They are also used for assessing children in an all–India examination which is conducted by the Sansthan. The Sansthan claims that during 1993–94, 3,55,282 students appeared in the examination based on this question–answer series. The total number of schools run by the Sansthan is claimed to be 6,000 with 12,00,000 students and 40,000 teachers.

The Vidya Bharati Sansthan claims to be engaged in providing to the young generation education in religion, culture and nationalism. The catechistic series is part of the Sansthan’s effort in this direction.


‘In one booklet, the RSS is given the status of divine power’.


Each booklet in the series comprises questions and answers on geography, politics, personalities, martyrs, morals, Hindu festivals, religious books, general knowledge, etc. Much of the material in these books is designed to promote blatantly communal and chauvinist ideas and popularize RSS and its policies and programmes.
Some examples of the kind of ‘knowledge’ of sanskriti these booklets are disseminating are given below:
1. The booklets include information and questions and answers on the ‘geographical and political boundaries of India’. Besides Pakistan and Bangladesh, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and ‘Brahmadesh or Myanmar’ are all supposed to have been earlier parts of India. There is a question on Sri Lanka which reads, “What is the name of the island in the south which touches the feet of Bharat Mother, and which reminds us of Sri Ramachandra’s victory over Ravana and which was a part of our country at one time?” Arab Sagar, according to these booklets, is supposed to be also known as Sindhu Sagar and Bay of Bengal as Gangasagar. These names are also used in the map of India which is printed as the back cover of many of the booklets under the caption Punyabhoomi Bharat. In this map, Indian Ocean is mentioned as Hindu Mahasagar.

2. India is presented in extreme chauvinist terms as the ‘original home of world civilisation’. One of the booklets (No.IX), for example, says, “India is the most ancient country in the world. When civilisation had not developed in many countries of the world, when people in those countries lived in jungles naked or covering their bodies with the bark of trees or hides of animals, Bharat’s Rishis–Munis brought the light of culture and civilisation to all those countries.” Some of the examples of the “spread of the light of Aryatva by Bharatiya Manishis” given are the following:

(i) “The credit for lighting the lamp of culture in China goes to the ancient Indians,
(ii) India is the mother country of ancient China. Their ancestors were Indian kshatriyas…
(iii) The first people who began to inhabit China were Indians.”

“The first people to settle in Iran were Indians (Aryans)”.
“The popularity of the great work of the Aryans — Valmiki Ramayana — influenced (Yavana) yunan? (Greece) and there also the great poet Homer composed a version of the Ramayana”.

“The Languages of the indigenous people (Red Indians) of the northern part of America were derived from ancient Indian languages”.

3. Many of these booklets have a section each on ‘Sri Ramjanma-bhumi’. They present RSS–VHP propaganda in the form of catechisms to be memorized by the faithful as absolute truths. Some of the questions – answers in these sections are as followers;

Q. Who got the first temple built on the birth place of Shri Ram in Ayodhya?
A. Shri Ram’s son Maharaja Kush.

Q. Who was the first foreign invader who destroyed Sri Ram temple?
A. Menander of Greece (150 B.C.)

Q. Who got the present Rama Temple built?
A. Maharaja Chandragupta Vikramaditya (A.D. 380–413).

Q. Which Muslim plunderer invaded the temples in Ayodhya in A.D. 1033?
A. Mahmud Ghaznavi’s nephew Salar Masud.

Q. Which Mughal invader destroyed the Rama Temple in A.D. 1528?
A. Babur.

Q. Why is Babri Masjid not a mosque?
A. Because Muslims have never till today offered Namaz there.

Q. How many devotees of Rama laid down their life to liberate Rama temple from A.D. 1528 to A.D. 1914?
A. Three lakh fifty thousand.

Q. How many times did the foreigners invade Shri Ramajanma-bhumi?
A. Seventy–seven times.

Q. “Which day was decided by Sri Ram Kar Sewa Samiti to start Kar Sewa?
A. 30 October, 1990.

Q. Why will 2 November 1990 be inscribed in black letters in the history of India?
A. Because on that day, the then Chief Minister by ordering the Police to shoot unarmed Kar Sewaks massacred hundreds of them.

Q. When was the Shilanyas of the temple laid in Sri Ram Janmbhumi?
A. 1 November 1989.

Q. What was the number of the struggle for the liberation of Ram Janmabhumi which was launched on 30 October 1990?
A. 78th struggle.

Some other questions which have been included along with answers are:

“When did Ramabhakta Kar Sewaks unfurl the saffron flag on Shri Ramjanmabhumi?” 
“Mention the names of the young boys who laid down their life while unfurling the saffron flag”.
4. In one of the books in the series (No.12), there is a section on the saints of the world and the sects/faiths founded by them. The statements made in this section are designed to promote contempt and blind hatred against other religions. One statement on the followers of Christianity reads as follows: “It is because of the conspiratorial policies of the followers of this religion that India was partitioned. Even today Christian missionaries are engaged in fostering anti–national tendencies in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Bihar, Kerala, and other regions of our country because of which there is a grave danger to the integrity of present day India”.
About Islam, one of the statements is as follows: “Thousands of opponents of idol worship, the followers of Islam, go to the pilgrimage centre of Islamic community at Kaaba to worship ‘Shivalinga’. In Muslim society, the greatest wish is to have a darshan of that black stone (Shivalinga)”. 

The state governments may also consider appropriate steps to stop the publication of these materials which foment communal hatred and disallow the examinations which are held by the Vidya Bharati Sansthan on the basis of these materials.

In another question, children are asked to fill in the blanks ‘rivers of blood’ as the means by which Prophet Mohammad spread Islam.

5. There are special sections in some of the booklets on RSS, its founder and its other leaders. In one booklet (No. 11), RSS, which is mentioned along with Arya Samaj and Ramakrishna Mission etc. as a social reform organisation, is given the status of divine power. It says, “Some divine power, whether it was Bhagwan Ram or Bhagwan Krishna, has always emerged for the preservation of the greatness of Indian culture. The Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh has arisen to end the present miserable condition and for the defence of the greatness of Bharatiya Sanskriti.”

6. The ‘knowledge’ imparted in the booklets includes such facts as Meghnath Saha, being the author of History of Hindu Science. Punjab University being located in Jalandhar, Jammu–Kashmir University located in Jammu, Annamalai University in Madras, and Andhra University in Hyderabad.

Much of this material is designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young which should be a matter of serious concern. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 7

A historian sans blinkers

The late scholar and historian, Dr. Bishambhar Nath Pande’s research efforts exploded myths on Aurangzeb’s rule. They also offer an excellent example of what history has to teach us if only we  study it dispassionately 

 

The Muslim rule in India lasted for almost 1,000  years. How come then, asked the British historian Sir  Henry Elliot, that Hindus “had not left any account which could enable us to gauge the traumatic impact the Muslim conquest and rule had on them?” Since there was none, Elliot went on to produce his own eight–volume History of India from with contributions from British historians (1867). His history claimed Hindus were slain for disputing with ‘Muhammedans’, generally prohibited from worshipping and taking out religious processions, their idols were mutilated, their temples destroyed, they were forced into conversions and marriages, and were killed and massacred by drunk Muslim tyrants. Thus Sir Henry, and scores of other Empire scholars, went on to produce a synthetic Hindu versus Muslim history of India, and their lies became history.

However, the noted Indian scholar and historian, Dr Bishambhar Nath Pande, who passed away in New Delhi on June 1, 1998, ranked among the very few Indians and fewer still Hindu historians who tried to be a little careful when dealing with such history. He knew that this history was ‘originally compiled by European writers’ whose main objective was to produce a history that would serve their policy of divide and rule.

Lord Curzon (Governor General of India 1895–99 and Viceroy 1899–1904 (d.1925) was told by the Secretary of State for India, George Francis Hamilton, that they should “so plan the educational text books that the differences between community and community are further strengthened”.

Another Viceroy, Lord Dufferin (1884–88), was advised by the Secretary of State in London that the “division of religious feelings is greatly to our advantage”, and that he expected “some good as a result of your committee of inquiry on Indian education and on teaching material”.

“We have maintained our power in India by playing–off one part against the other”, the Secretary of State for India reminded yet another Viceroy, Lord Elgin (1862–63), “and we must continue to do so. Do all you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.”

In his famous Khuda Bakhsh Annual Lecture (1985) Dr Pande said: “Thus under a definite policy the Indian history text–books were so falsified and distorted as to give an impression that the medieval (i.e., Muslim) period of Indian history was full of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects and the Hindus had to suffer terrible indignities under Muslim rule. And there were no common factors (between Hindus and Muslims) in social, political and economic life.”

Therefore, Dr. Pande was extra careful. Whenever he came across a ‘fact’ that looked odd to him, he would try to check and verify rather than adopt it uncritically.

He came across a history textbook taught in the Anglo–Bengali College, Allahabad, which claimed that “three thousand Brahmins had committed suicide as Tipu wanted to convert them forcibly into the fold of Islam”. The author was a very famous scholar, Dr Har Prashad Shastri, head of the department of Sanskrit at Calcutta University. (Tipu Sultan (1750–99), who ruled over the South Indian state of Mysore (1782–99), is one of the most heroic figures in Indian history. He died on the battlefield, fighting the British.)

Was it true? Dr Pande wrote immediately to the author and asked him for the source on which he had based this episode in his text–book. After several reminders, Dr Shastri replied that he had taken this information from the Mysore Gazetteer. So Dr. Pande requested the Mysore University vice–chancellor, Sir Brijendra Nath Seal, to verify for him Dr Shastri’s statement from the Gazetteer. Sir Brijendra referred his letter to Prof. Srikantia who was then working on a new edition of the Gazetteer.

Srikantia wrote to say that the Gazetteer mentioned no such incident and, as a historian himself, he was certain that nothing like this had taken place. Prof Srikantia added that both the prime minister and the commander–in–chief of Tipu Sultan were themselves Brahmins. He also enclosed a list of 136 Hindu temples which used to receive annual grants from the Sultan’s treasury.

‘When Aurangzeb came to know of this, he was very much enraged. He sent his senior officers to search for the Rani. Ultimately they found that statue of Ganesh (the elephant–headed god which was fixed in the wall was a moveable one. When the statue was moved, they saw a flight of stairs that led to the basement. To their horror they found the missing Rani dishonoured and crying deprived of all her ornaments. The basement was just beneath Lord Vishwanath’s seat.’

It transpired that Shastri had lifted this story from Colonel Miles’ History of Mysore which Miles claimed he had taken from a Persian manuscript in the personal library of Queen Victoria. When Dr. Pande checked further, he found that no such manuscript existed in Queen Victoria’s library. Yet Dr. Shastri’s book was being used as a high school history text–book in seven Indian states, Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. So he sent his entire correspondence about the book to the vice–chancellor of Calcutta University, Sir Ashutosh Chaudhary. Sir Ashutosh promptly ordered Shashtri’s book out of the course. Yet years later, in 1972, Dr. Pande was surprised to discover the same suicide story was still being taught as ‘history’ in junior high schools in Uttar Pradesh. The lie had found currency as a fact of history.

The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (born 1618, reigned 1658–1707) is the most reviled of all Muslim rulers in India. He was supposed to be a great destroyer of temples and oppressor of Hindus, and a ‘fundamentalist’ too! As chairman of the Allahabad Municipality (1948–’53), Dr. Pande had to deal with a land dispute between two temple priests. One of them had filed in evidence some firmans (royal orders) to prove that Aurangzeb had, besides cash, gifted the land in question for the maintenance of his temple. Might they not be fake, Dr. Pande thought, in view of Aurangzeb’s fanatically anti–Hindu image? He showed them to his friend, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, a distinguished lawyer as well a great scholar of Arabic and Persian. He was also a Brahmin. Sapru examined the documents and declared they were genuine firmans issued by Aurangzeb.

For Dr. Pande this was a ‘new image of Aurangzeb’; so he wrote to the chief priests of the various important temples, all over the country, requesting photocopies of any firman issued by Aurangzeb that they may have in their possession. The response was overwhelming; he got firmans from several principal Hindu and Jain temples, even from Sikh Gurudwaras in northern India. These firmans, issued between 1659 and 1685, related to grant of jagir (large parcel of agricultural lands) to support regular maintenance of these places of worship.

Dr Pande’s research showed that Aurangzeb was as solicitous of the rights and welfare of his non–Muslim subjects as he was of his Muslim subjects. Hindu plaintiffs received full justice against their Muslims respondents and, if guilty, Muslims were given punishment as necessary.

One of the greatest charges against Aurangzeb is of the demolition of Vishwanath temple in Banaras (Varanasi). That was a fact, but Dr. Pande unravelled the reason for it. “While Aurangzeb was passing near Varanasi on his way to Bengal, the Hindu Rajas in his retinue requested that if the halt was made for a day, their Ranis may go to Varanasi, have a dip in the Ganges and pay their homage to Lord Vishwanath. Aurangzeb readily agreed.

“Army pickets were posted on the five mile route to Varanasi. The Ranis made journey on the palkis (palanquins). They took their dip in the Ganges and went to the Vishwanath temple to pay their homage. After offering puja (worship) all the Ranis returned except one, the Maharani of Kutch. A thorough search was made of the temple precincts but the Rani was to be found nowhere.

“When Aurangzeb came to know of this, he was very much enraged. He sent his senior officers to search for the Rani. Ultimately they found that statue of Ganesh (the elephant–headed god which was fixed in the wall was a moveable one. When the statue was moved, they saw a flight of stairs that led to the basement. To their horror they found the missing Rani dishonoured and crying deprived of all her ornaments. The basement was just beneath Lord Vishwanath’s seat.”

The Rajas demanded salutary action, and “Aurangzeb ordered that as the sacred precincts have been despoiled, Lord Vishwanath may be moved to some other place, the temple be razed to the ground and the Mahant (head priest) be arrested and punished”. (B. N. Pande, Islam and Indian Culture, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, 1987).

Dr. Pande believed in the innate goodness of human nature. Despite all that senseless hate and periodical outbreak of anti–Muslim violence after independence, he remained an optimist. When one of the worst riots took place in 1969 in Ahmedabad, in which more than 2,000 Muslims were killed and 6,000 houses burnt, Dr. Pande travelled there to see whether there was “any humanity still alive”.

Yes, it was in one locality, Mewabhai Chaal, where he found that all the houses had been burnt down. Did they all belong to Muslims? No. Only 35 belonged to Muslims; some 125 belonged to Hindus, he was told. So, it meant, the arsonists came in two different waves; one destroying the Muslim houses and the other the Hindu houses? No, it was only one wave, said Kalyan Singh. That one, there, he pointed out to smoke billowing from what used to be his house and his tyre-shop. He was a Hindu and he had lost property and business worth 200,000 rupees.
The miscreants had asked him to point out the Muslim houses so they could spare the Hindu houses. Kalyan Singh refused, and watched as the mob set fire to all the houses – including his own. How could I betray my Muslim neighbours? he asked Dr. Pande rhetorically.

Dr. Pande also went to the Muslim students’ hostel. One–third of its residents were Hindus. “Come out all you Hindu students,” yelled a murderous mob gathered outside the hostel. No, we won’t, shouted back the Hindu students and locked the gate from inside. In the event, the entire hostel was evacuated by the army and then left to the mob to loot and burn. The Hindu students were told they could take with them their books and research papers. Dr. Pande met a young DSc scholar, named Desai, who had left behind his more than three years’ labour, a ready–for–typing dissertation, to be burnt by the arsonists. Desai said he couldn’t think of saving his thesis while some of his Muslim friends were in similar position with their theses. A noble soul! Dr. Pande who had been looking for humanity found it there as well.




The inhumanity did not lie in the Indian nature, but the nature had fallen victim to the evil heritage of colonial history. Few realised how 1,000 years of their history had been stolen from them. Many tended to buy the fake and doctored version handed down to them as part of their colonial heritage. Some even saw a little political advantage in this trade. Dr. Pande heard a leading Hindu Mahasabha politician and religious leader, Mahant Digvijaynath, telling an election meeting that it is written in the Qur’an that killing a Hindu was an act of goodness (thawab). Dr. Pande called upon the Mahant (High Priest) and told him that he had read the Qur’an a few ti mes but didn’t find such a statement in it, and he had, therefore, brought with him several English, Urdu and Hindi translations of the Qur’an; so would he kindly point to him where exactly did the statement occur in the Qur’an?

Isn’t it written there? said the Mahant. I haven’t found it; if you have, please tell me, replied Dr. Pande. Then what does it say? It speaks about love and brotherhood, about the oneness of mankind. 

What’s jihad then? What is jizyah? How then India got partitioned? The Mahant went on asking, and Dr. Pande kept on explaining, hoping the Mahant would correct himself.

However, the Mahant’s ideas were fixed, in prejudice and in ignorance. Dr. Pande himself had been a senior member of the ruling Congress party which he had joined at a very young age. He was a disciple of Gandhi, a friend of Nehru; he had taken part in each and every non–cooperation movement against the British and gone to jail eight times. The Congress was supposed to be an all–Indian nationalist platform and yet Dr. Pande’s party was hardly free from the bias and ignorance of a cleverly deconstructed history. The rise of militant Hindutva tendency is only recent, but before it all became overt, the Congress itself was doing the same, albeit a little covertly. All the horrific anti–Muslim carnage took place during more than four decades of Congress rule. The doors of the Babri Mosque were opened for Hindu worship during the tenure of Nehru’s grandson, Rajiv Gandhi. The Mosque itself was pulled down during the regime of another Congress Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao.
Dr. Pande was, however, just one individual. That made his work all the more important, not just from the Muslim but from the point of view of the entire country. India’s deconstructed history is like a time bomb; unless it is defused, India cannot survive in one piece. Not for very long.

(Bishambhar Nath Pande born on 23 December 1906 in Madhya Pradesh of Umreth; member UP Legislative Assembly (1952–53); member UP Legislative Council (1972–74); twice member of the Rajya Sabha (1976 and 1982); governor of Orissa state (1983–88); recipient of Padma Shri (1976); author of several books, including The Spirit of India and The Concise History of Congress; died in New Delhi on June 1, 1998).           

(Courtesy: Impact International, London, Vol 28, July 1998). 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 8

Right in action
Hindutva’s large–scale takeover of educational institutions is one of the little–known but major achievements of the Kalyan Singh government in U.P.
 

Kalyan Singh’s bhagwa sarkar in UP was taught a resounding lesson during the recent elections but one 
 issue that did not receive nationwide focus despite persistent efforts by local groups was the systematic infiltration into educational and cultural institutions by ideologues of the RSS.

Exactly a year ago, last September, the Kalyan Singh government introduced a unique policy initiative in the area of state education. The kulp yojana was set into motion, a compulsory initiative that links every single state– run school in the state to the RSS shakha. The brainchild of the  UP state education minister, Narendra Kumar Singh Gaur, this scheme was made compulsory for all primary schools in the state. It was, according to the government circular, aimed at the “moral and physical development of the child.” Through it, schools have been directed, especially in rural areas, to involve the RSS  pracharak in ‘naitik shiksha’ (moral education). 

The aim of the scheme is to orient all state–run schools in UP along the lines of the RSS–run Saraswati Shishu and Bal Vidya mandirs. While announcing the scheme in Uttar Pradesh, the minister said that kulp was being introduced to “enhance the qualitative standard of education” in schools and to ensure that “teachers are an intermediary between school, family and society”. (see Communalism Combat, October 1998).

The same minister, N.K. Gaur, who introduced this scheme that has already been implemented by the UP state government in the rural areas was also responsible for exposing the UP bureaucracy officially to exhortations from the RSS chief, Rajendra Singh. Way back in the 1960s, Rajendra Singh, sarsanghchalak of the RSS, professor of physics at the Allahabad University would often turn up for his lecture clad in the RSS uniform, khaki shorts and white shirt, straight from the morning shakha.

But to imagine that four decades later, on July 25, 1998, the same professor stirred up a controversy by formally meeting some of the top bureaucrats of UP in Lucknow and giving them sermons on “nationalism and honesty.” This meeting was organised by state minister Gaur, and a former RSS pracharak and now an IAS officer, Akhand Pratap Singh. The presence of UP chief secretary, Yogendra Narayan and DGP, K.L. Gupta among the 60–odd officers created ripples across the establishment. 

While Kalyan Singh’s criminal-run raj and even the gross human rights’ violations by the police and the law and order machinery have drawn some national attention, the systematic infiltration or take–over by educational and cultural institutions by ideologues of the Hindu right have been, unfortunately, ignored.

Neither the state nor the country could have forgotten the controversy over the state government’s attempts to impose the singing of Saraswati Vandana and Vande Mataram in schools all over Uttar Pradesh. What is less well–known are the persistent government moves to thrust its ideology in higher education institutions through the appointments of hard core RSS ideologues as vice–chancellors of various universities.

Persons identified clearly with an RSS background have already been put as vice–chancellors for Kumaun, Purvanchal, Lucknow universities, Kashi Vidhyapeeth. Chairman of other educational bodies like SCERT and Higher Education Commission are also RSS men now. The government is also awaiting the completion of the tenures of other vice–chancellors appointed earlier. The non–RSS chancellors are facing various administrative problems including undue political interference in day–to–day affairs.

Dr. Rooprekha Verma,  who remained officiating vice– chancellor in Lucknow for a brief spell from February 1998 to December 1998 recalls how she was repeatedly gheraoed and subjected to unprecedented hooliganism on flimsy grounds by the ABVP — the student wing of the BJP — while the UP police and administration stood as silent spectators. Not only this,  she was openly criticised by the general secretary of the student’s union of the ABVP, not for anything specific, but for her views on academics, culture and politics in the presence of the chief minister, Kalyan Singh, during the swearing–in ceremony of the office bearers of the students’ union. 
The chief minister, at the function, openly sided with the ABVP member’s brow–beating, thereby boosting their morale. Observes Roop Rekha Verma, bitterly, “While the BJP swears by the old Indian traditions where the seat of learning used to be higher than the King’s, under BJP rule in Uttar Pradesh, the institution of the vice–chancellor has been made subservient to bureaucrats and ministers.”

During her tenure, Verma received several phone call and letters from members of Parliament and ministers to pressurise her in the matter of admissions and appointments. Since they were not obliged, the administration took a non–cooperative attitude at the instance of their masters. The height of non–cooperation was that even the district magistrate and the superintendent of police were never available when problems of law and order arose within the campus of the Lucknow University. “The Govt. spent Rs. 12 lakhs in building a ‘Deoras Dwar’ on the campus but despite its pronouncements, did not release funds for academic purposes,” Verma told Communalism Combat. 

The BJP state government’s and its vice–chancellor’s (Verma’s successor) blatant and unethical support to the ABVP was witnessed during the elections to Lucknow University Student Union. The ABVP’s nominee, Daya Shankar Singh, though defeated in the elections, was administered the oath of  president.  A similar event took place in the Christian Degree College associated with the  University. Such moves have given a free hand to the ABVP, which has almost taken over control of the university and is dictating terms to not only the VC but teachers as well. 

The morale of anti–social elements under this kind of political patronage is so high that, just before the elections, a girl student of Kailash Hostel was molested in broad daylight while on a campus bus. The university authorities preferred to turn a blind eye. The professor in–charge of the campus, a staunch proponent of the RSS ideology, made a public statement saying that since teenagers do indulge in such acts, it is not serious enough to invite strong action.

One of the other instances of the open support to the criminals within the universities in Uttar Pradesh is the case of the Hindu Hostel of Allahabad university where the vice– chancellor, who incidentally has not been appointed by  the BJP, wanted to flush out criminals but was vehemently opposed by the state education minister, who is also a teacher in Allahabad University.

The state government also began the process of ‘saffronising’ the state–funded literary and cultural organisations by selectively positioning their own persons at the helm, applying no criterion of merit. Besides, the government has, in a parallel process also begun promoting, funding and patronising their own cultural organisations with a specific political objective.

The post of vice–chairman of the Hindi Sansthan once held by eminent writers like Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Amrit Lal Nagar and Shiv Mangal Singhsuman is currently occupied by one, Saran Behari Goswami whose literary contributions are known only to RSS and BJP! The entire executive and general body of the Sansthan tells the same story. Only recently, the Sansthan excelled itself by conferring an award to P.N. Oak. Oak is notorious for his brazenly communal writings. The hostility of the Hindi Sansthan in its new ideological garb to creative literary work was evident from the fact that in 1998 it refused to give any financial assistance to Katha-kram, an annual literary event organised by writers themselves at a national level.

The position of the Sangeet Natak Academy is no different. The post of the chairman of Sangeet Natak Academy, once held by cultural stalwarts like Jaidev Singh, Amrit Lal Nagar, Birjoo Maharaj is currently occupied by D.P. Sinha, a retired member of the IAS who, of late, has sponsored another cultural organisation. It is a similar tale  with the Urdu Academy, Lalit Kala Academy and Bhartendu Natya Academy.

Despite the existence of so many academic institutions and organisations, the organisation of major cultural events like the conferring of the Avadh Samman to Ali Sardar Jafri and the staging of a National School of Drama production, Quaid–e– Hayat, were left to culture vultures and the bureaucracy!

The next few weeks are going to see hectic parleying between parties on the critical question of law and order following the political debacle of the BJP in UP. What will escape national and media attention, however, is the track record of the Kalyan Singh government on two counts. A dismal human rights’ record that resulted in poor innocents being shot dead by a state police force that was encouraged in their acts by the chief minister himself. Kalyan Singh has also brazenly refused to constitute a human rights’ commission in the state despite repeated enjoinings by the National Human Rights’ Commission. And, as significantly, the systematic infiltration of all educational and cultural institutions by the ideologues of the sangh parivar.    


Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 9

 

Right in action

Hindutva’s large–scale takeover of educational institutions is one of the little–known but major achievements of the Kalyan Singh government in U.P. 

Kalyan Singh’s bhagwa sarkar in UP was taught a resounding lesson during the recent elections but one 
 issue that did not receive nationwide focus despite persistent efforts by local groups was the systematic infiltration into educational and cultural institutions by ideologues of the RSS.

Exactly a year ago, last September, the Kalyan Singh government introduced a unique policy initiative in the area of state education. The kulp yojana was set into motion, a compulsory initiative that links every single state– run school in the state to the RSS shakha. The brainchild of the  UP state education minister, Narendra Kumar Singh Gaur, this scheme was made compulsory for all primary schools in the state. It was, according to the government circular, aimed at the “moral and physical development of the child.” Through it, schools have been directed, especially in rural areas, to involve the RSS  pracharak in ‘naitik shiksha’ (moral education). 

The aim of the scheme is to orient all state–run schools in UP along the lines of the RSS–run Saraswati Shishu and Bal Vidya mandirs. While announcing the scheme in Uttar Pradesh, the minister said that kulp was being introduced to “enhance the qualitative standard of education” in schools and to ensure that “teachers are an intermediary between school, family and society”. (see Communalism Combat, October 1998).

The same minister, N.K. Gaur, who introduced this scheme that has already been implemented by the UP state government in the rural areas was also responsible for exposing the UP bureaucracy officially to exhortations from the RSS chief, Rajendra Singh. Way back in the 1960s, Rajendra Singh, sarsanghchalak of the RSS, professor of physics at the Allahabad University would often turn up for his lecture clad in the RSS uniform, khaki shorts and white shirt, straight from the morning shakha.

But to imagine that four decades later, on July 25, 1998, the same professor stirred up a controversy by formally meeting some of the top bureaucrats of UP in Lucknow and giving them sermons on “nationalism and honesty.” This meeting was organised by state minister Gaur, and a former RSS pracharak and now an IAS officer, Akhand Pratap Singh. The presence of UP chief secretary, Yogendra Narayan and DGP, K.L. Gupta among the 60–odd officers created ripples across the establishment. 

While Kalyan Singh’s criminal-run raj and even the gross human rights’ violations by the police and the law and order machinery have drawn some national attention, the systematic infiltration or take–over by educational and cultural institutions by ideologues of the Hindu right have been, unfortunately, ignored.

Neither the state nor the country could have forgotten the controversy over the state government’s attempts to impose the singing of Saraswati Vandana and Vande Mataram in schools all over Uttar Pradesh. What is less well–known are the persistent government moves to thrust its ideology in higher education institutions through the appointments of hard core RSS ideologues as vice–chancellors of various universities.

Persons identified clearly with an RSS background have already been put as vice–chancellors for Kumaun, Purvanchal, Lucknow universities, Kashi Vidhyapeeth. Chairman of other educational bodies like SCERT and Higher Education Commission are also RSS men now. The government is also awaiting the completion of the tenures of other vice–chancellors appointed earlier. The non–RSS chancellors are facing various administrative problems including undue political interference in day–to–day affairs.

Dr. Rooprekha Verma,  who remained officiating vice– chancellor in Lucknow for a brief spell from February 1998 to December 1998 recalls how she was repeatedly gheraoed and subjected to unprecedented hooliganism on flimsy grounds by the ABVP — the student wing of the BJP — while the UP police and administration stood as silent spectators. Not only this,  she was openly criticised by the general secretary of the student’s union of the ABVP, not for anything specific, but for her views on academics, culture and politics in the presence of the chief minister, Kalyan Singh, during the swearing–in ceremony of the office bearers of the students’ union. 
The chief minister, at the function, openly sided with the ABVP member’s brow–beating, thereby boosting their morale. Observes Roop Rekha Verma, bitterly, “While the BJP swears by the old Indian traditions where the seat of learning used to be higher than the King’s, under BJP rule in Uttar Pradesh, the institution of the vice–chancellor has been made subservient to bureaucrats and ministers.”

During her tenure, Verma received several phone call and letters from members of Parliament and ministers to pressurise her in the matter of admissions and appointments. Since they were not obliged, the administration took a non–cooperative attitude at the instance of their masters. The height of non–cooperation was that even the district magistrate and the superintendent of police were never available when problems of law and order arose within the campus of the Lucknow University. “The Govt. spent Rs. 12 lakhs in building a ‘Deoras Dwar’ on the campus but despite its pronouncements, did not release funds for academic purposes,” Verma told Communalism Combat. 

The BJP state government’s and its vice–chancellor’s (Verma’s successor) blatant and unethical support to the ABVP was witnessed during the elections to Lucknow University Student Union. The ABVP’s nominee, Daya Shankar Singh, though defeated in the elections, was administered the oath of  president.  A similar event took place in the Christian Degree College associated with the  University. Such moves have given a free hand to the ABVP, which has almost taken over control of the university and is dictating terms to not only the VC but teachers as well. 

The morale of anti–social elements under this kind of political patronage is so high that, just before the elections, a girl student of Kailash Hostel was molested in broad daylight while on a campus bus. The university authorities preferred to turn a blind eye. The professor in–charge of the campus, a staunch proponent of the RSS ideology, made a public statement saying that since teenagers do indulge in such acts, it is not serious enough to invite strong action.

One of the other instances of the open support to the criminals within the universities in Uttar Pradesh is the case of the Hindu Hostel of Allahabad university where the vice– chancellor, who incidentally has not been appointed by  the BJP, wanted to flush out criminals but was vehemently opposed by the state education minister, who is also a teacher in Allahabad University.

The state government also began the process of ‘saffronising’ the state–funded literary and cultural organisations by selectively positioning their own persons at the helm, applying no criterion of merit. Besides, the government has, in a parallel process also begun promoting, funding and patronising their own cultural organisations with a specific political objective.

Persons identified clearly with an RSS background have already been put as vice–chancellors for Kumaun, Purvanchal, Lucknow universities, Kashi Vidhyapeeth. Chairman of other educational bodies like SCERT and Higher Education Commission are also RSS men now.

The post of vice–chairman of the Hindi Sansthan once held by eminent writers like Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Amrit Lal Nagar and Shiv Mangal Singhsuman is currently occupied by one, Saran Behari Goswami whose literary contributions are known only to RSS and BJP! The entire executive and general body of the Sansthan tells the same story. Only recently, the Sansthan excelled itself by conferring an award to P.N. Oak. Oak is notorious for his brazenly communal writings. The hostility of the Hindi Sansthan in its new ideological garb to creative literary work was evident from the fact that in 1998 it refused to give any financial assistance to Katha-kram, an annual literary event organised by writers themselves at a national level.

The position of the Sangeet Natak Academy is no different. The post of the chairman of Sangeet Natak Academy, once held by cultural stalwarts like Jaidev Singh, Amrit Lal Nagar, Birjoo Maharaj is currently occupied by D.P. Sinha, a retired member of the IAS who, of late, has sponsored another cultural organisation. It is a similar tale  with the Urdu Academy, Lalit Kala Academy and Bhartendu Natya Academy.

Despite the existence of so many academic institutions and organisations, the organisation of major cultural events like the conferring of the Avadh Samman to Ali Sardar Jafri and the staging of a National School of Drama production, Quaid–e– Hayat, were left to culture vultures and the bureaucracy!

The next few weeks are going to see hectic parleying between parties on the critical question of law and order following the political debacle of the BJP in UP. What will escape national and media attention, however, is the track record of the Kalyan Singh government on two counts. A dismal human rights’ record that resulted in poor innocents being shot dead by a state police force that was encouraged in their acts by the chief minister himself. Kalyan Singh has also brazenly refused to constitute a human rights’ commission in the state despite repeated enjoinings by the National Human Rights’ Commission. And, as significantly, the systematic infiltration of all educational and cultural institutions by the ideologues of the sangh parivar.    


Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 9

 

War of words
The construction and re–construction of the historical past has become in the modern age a method by which nation states and their dominant ideologies control knowledge and influence generations through a one–sided viewpoint
 

War is fought, not only by modern sophisticated weapons but also, most effectively, by ideas. Knowledge has become more powerful than guns and missiles. Therefore, those nations who have despised knowledge are destroyed by knowledge. Powerful groups tend to use knowledge in their favour, especially historical knowledge which is distorted and re-adjusted to strengthen their political position.  We can see how repeatedly historical knowledge is constructed and designed to foster a particular ideology and to further the interest of a particular group.  

Historical myths are also created in order to involve target groups being used for certain goals. Similarly, traditions are invented for political and social domination of selected groups.

The past is constructed again and again in the light of the present. Repeatedly new interpretations make it dynamic and vibrant. One of the patterns of shaping the past has been by the colonial powers. They constructed the past of their colonies  specifically with a view to deny  their capacity to rule: such was the case of India; the British Indian historiography proved that the Indians  were not capable  of understanding state–craft  and the rules of governance. 

Colonial British historiography made out a strong case for justifying that India and Indians, having always been ruled by foreigners. The Indian past was portrayed in such a way that then British rule appeared a blessing for India. Indian historians responded to the challenges thrown up through British historiography  and constructed  their own past with a nationalist approach arguing that  Indian civilisation had reached a zenith in the past. The construction, for nationalist mobilisation, was that it was glorious for political, cultural, social and economic achievements. 

However, it is evident that in the construction of the Indian past, both the colonial as well as the nationalist took extreme points of view; both served the interests of certain groups. It shows that whenever the past is constructed, it serves the interest of a politically–dominant minority  and not the whole of society. That is why it is shaped and re– shaped again and again with changes in the political spectrum.

In another pattern, we see that selective historical facts are manipulated in construction of the past, especially in instances when the land  and countries were occupied by outsiders and the original inhabitants were either decimated or reduced to an insignificant position. The act of elimination of the population is always justified by constructions that suggest ‘they were uncivilised and savage’, and by implication, therefore, had no right to occupy the land. The superior race is thereby given a stamp of legitimacy in possessing their land. Such groups all over the world have justified their claims by arguing that they brought civilisation to the land and made it a cradle of culture. 

Take the case of America where the white settlers accused the so-called ‘red’ Indians as savages and barbarians. Once they were de–humanised thus, it became easy to eliminate them and dispossess them from their land. There was no prick of conscience for the American historians, writing the history of America, who ignored the Indian past and started their history with the advent of Colombus. The use of the word ‘discovery’ implies that it was obscure and lying neglected —  the white settlers brought it to light and subsequently linked it to European civilisation.  

To establish the superiority of the European civilisation, the ancient civilisations of South America were downgraded and their contribution to the human civilisation is, even today, not recognised. This method of construction of the past suited  the white settlers in their political designs to expel the red Indians from their settlements and occupy them  believing, and all along fully justifying these acts. 
A similar pattern has been followed in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Palestine.  The same arguments have been used, that the local people were scattered and had no culture; that the land was empty; that the settlers brought civilisation and linked these lands to western culture which was the most advanced and progressive culture of the world. 

This pattern of construction of the past has been successfully adopted by  Israeli and pro–Israeli historians to justify the occupation of Palestine and depriving the Palestinians of their homeland.

Keith W. Whitelam in The Invention of Ancient Israel (1996), surveys the  historiography of Israel and points out how these historians manipulated the historical facts and after distorting or ignoring the facts which do not fit in their framework, constructed the Israeli past which suits the present state of Israel that also denies the rights of the Palestinians. The existence of Israel, he writes, “has led to the construction of an imagined past, which has monopolised the discourse of Biblical studies, an imagined past  which has come to dominate and deny Palestinian history”. 

In legitimising their existence, the Israelis are not only using history  but also archaeology. Trigger in his book, Approaches to Archaeology (1984), discusses how nations use archaeology in their attempt to construct a past of their liking. He then points out how Israelites are excavating only those sites which help them to strengthen their case of occupying Palestine. The selected archaeological evidence serves their political interest and denies the claim of the Palestinians. The Jewish settlements are justified on the basis that they were ancient Jewish settlements on the same site in the late Bronze and early Iron Age. Thus, the past which is built on archaeological  evidence is used to prove that there is a continuity in Israeli history. 

The attempt is also to prove that the Palestinians have no history and no proof of their existence in the past. The popular image which is created by the new research is that the land of Palestine was barren and deserted, the population was scattered and settled here and there; that they were not capable to use the resources of the land. With the settlement of the Jews, a new civilisation and culture is brought to this land and made it vibrant and full of life.  

This argument echoes the Nazi concept of the Lebensraum which inspired the Germans to conquer its neighbouring countries on the ground that the Germans were superior and competent to use those resources of the conquered countries which were not used by the local people because of their laziness  and incompetency. 
The inferior races could only live a life of subordinates. Whitelam points out how newly excavated sites are used for present political purposes. For example, the  excavation  of Masada, a Jewish city which was besieged and conquered by the Romans, became a national symbol of the Jewish state. Y. Zerubavel in his article, ‘The death of memory and the memory of death’, declares Masada and the holocaust as historical metaphors” (1994) writes: “We will not exaggerate by saying thanks to the heroism of the Masada fighters – like other links in the nation’s chain of heroism, we stand here today, the soldiers of a young ancient people, surrounded by the ruins of the camp of those  who destroyed us. We stand here, no longer helpless in the face of our enemy’s strength, no longer fighting a desperate war, but solid and confident, knowing that our fate is in our hand, in our spiritual strength, the spirit of Israel, the grandfather revived. We, the descendants of these heroes, stand here today and rebuild the ruins of our people.” He  further  writes: “Masada is no longer the historic mountain near the Dead Sea but a mobile mountain which we carry on our back anywhere we go.”

This pattern of construction of the past has been successfully adopted by  Israeli and pro–Israeli historians to justify the occupation of Palestine and depriving the Palestinians of their homeland.

In their first step to de–construct the history of Palestine, the Israeli historians make attempts to obliterate the name of Palestine and replace it with Israel. It is given different names like Land of the Bible, the Holy Land, Eretz Israel, Canaan, The Promised Land, Ancient Israel–Palestine and Old Testament Palestine. 

The argument is that there was no Palestine in history. M Dothan in his article, ‘Terminology for the archaeology of the biblical periods’ (1984) writes: “Thus for nearly 700 years, the name Palestine was hardly used. Only in the nineteenth century, with the awakening of European religious, historical and political  interests did the Latin name Palestina reappear. We may conclude that the chronologically late and inconsistently used term ‘Palestine’ was apparently never accepted by any local national entity. It therefore can hardly serve as a meaningful term for the archaeology of this country.”

By depriving the people of Palestine of the name of their country, their right to live and claim it as their homeland, the newly constructed Israeli past makes them stateless and homeless. The second important step which is taken to divest them from their historical roots is to make the Bible the major source of ancient history because it favours the Israelis. In this history, Israel replaces Palestine and Israelite history supersedes pre–history  and Canaanite history. 

Commenting on it, Whitelam writes: “In the scholarship of the past  and in the reality of the present, Palestine has become the ‘land of Israel’ and the history of ancient Israel is the only legitimate subject of study. All else is subsumed in providing the background and understanding for the history of ancient Israel which has continuity with the present state and provides the roots and impulse of European civilisation.”

 The third step is to have an alliance and close relationship with European civilisation and culture. As the present Israeli state is getting all moral and material support from Europe and America, it is therefore, argued that  in ancient  history, Israel played the part of  the mediator between  Egyptian/Babylonian and Western culture. It makes the Western past a continuity of the Eastern culture, through Greece and Rome, to the Renaissance and Reformation and the universalisation of European civilisation. Thus Europe is indebted to Israel and in return must help her in keeping the torch of European civilisation burning in the Middle East. 

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians shows the contrast of both attitudes and thinking.  The Israelis are using all the media — literature, films, history, archaeology, religion, exhibitions of photographs of the holocaust, gas chambers and the life of the Jewish people in the third Reich — in order to strengthen their case of  a separate homeland. 

The voice of the Palestinians is silenced by propagating the case of Jewish miseries and anti–Semitic movements  within the western nations. The Zionist  movement emerging from the soil of Europe inherited it’s intellectual, scientific and technological culture from the Western civilisation. Therefore, when it came in conflict with Arab culture, it found no problem in surmounting it. Because, on the one side there was order, discipline, knowledge and skill,  while the other side had neither skill, nor knowledge, order or discipline.  

The whole scenario  of this conflict  is vividly  depicted  by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in O Jerusalem! (1972). The battle against the Palestinians was won because of the modern knowledge of the Israelis and the ignorance of the Arabs.

Keeping in view the present situation, it is clear that the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are not responding to the Israeli construction of the past  and the deconstruction of Palestinian history. Therefore, it is evident  that the Palestinians cannot win their battle  unless they build their own system of knowledge and construct their own history. Not by rhetoric but only with knowledge can they win their battle.   

(Excerpted from Pakistani historian Dr. Mubarak Ali’s, History  On Trial, recently published by Fiction House, Lahore, 1999).

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 10