A recent Reuters report describes in detail a committee that the central government has appointed, to promote a more “nationalist” narrative of history where Hindu rulers and icons are given their “proper place”.
The committee has been appointed by culture minister Mahesh Sharma. Its chairperson KN Dikshit told Reuters, “I have been asked to present a report that will help the government rewrite certain aspects of ancient history.”
Leaders of the RSS and the BJP, though often found to have a poor grasp on historical facts, have made no secret of their larger historical worldview. The committee, set up “quietly” in 2016, seems to be a brazen attempt to institutionalise what the RSS has so far proclaimed through its books, articles, shakhas and from pulpits – that India belongs to Hindus, and that facts opposing this view can be disregarded.
The allegation that Indian schools teach a deeply Congress-ised version of history is not a charge made by the BJP alone. Many have claimed that history taught in schoolbooks glorifies Congress leaders to the exclusion of others.
Culture minister Mahesh Sharma has said "I worship Ramayana and I think it is a historical document". Photo: Wikimedia Commons
However, what Sharma’s “committee for holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12,000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world” has been tasked with is more than correct a pro-Congress slant in modern Indian history.
They are to go back millennia and change the very idea of the origin of India and Indians.
According to the Reuters report: “Minutes of the meeting, reviewed by Reuters, and interviews with committee members set out its aims: to use evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.”
The report adds that the committee includes a geologist, archaeologists, scholars of the ancient Sanskrit language and two bureaucrats. Nine of the 12 members have confirmed to the website that they have been tasked with matching archaeological and other evidence with ancient Indian scriptures, or establishing that Indian civilisation is much older than is widely known.
A re-look at history through more research is welcome. But what is problematic is that the committee has already been given conclusions, and is to work backwards to find evidence to support them.
Also, the conclusions are divisive, conflate history and mythology, and seek to establish the supremacy of one religious group over all others. The track record of the party that has commissioned the re-look is equally worrisome. Indeed, Sharma, the head of the committee, has said: “I worship Ramayana and I think it is a historical document. People who think it is fiction are absolutely wrong.”
Sharma has also told Reuters that the committee’s final report will be presented to the Parliament and he will “lobby the nation’s Ministry of Human Resource Development to write the findings into school textbooks”.
The HRD minister, Prakash Javadekar, has already said he will take the recommendations “seriously”, and asserted: “Our government is the first government to have the courage to even question the existing version of history that is being taught in schools and colleges.”
The RSS has long sought to project Hindus as the “true” inhabitants of India, and followers of every other religion are either converts or foreigners. Thus, they are either asked to return to the Hindu fold through “ghar wapsi”, or are derided as foreign imports, “Babar ki aulaad”.
This flies in the face of historical facts, but reinforces the RSS claim that Hinduism is the “real” religion of India and Hindus should have more rights than other communities in “their own land”.
The changes that the BJP-ruled states have made to school syllabi over the years are illuminating. Rajasthan recently decided to “change” the outcome of the Haldighati battle by stating that Maharana Pratap, and not Akbar, was the victor. This has two pointers: that facts are dispensable as long as the narrative glorifies Hindus, and that fighting bravely, which every book acknowledged Pratap did, is not enough, the Hindu has to win over the Muslim.
Historian Christophe Jaffrelot, in an article, writes about how in 1995, under Keshubhai Patel, the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks published a Class IX book in which Muslims, Christians and Parsis were presented as foreigners. “A Class VIII social studies textbook also included a highly derogatory description of Christian priests: “The accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of the priests resulted in a perversion of the religion. Some of the priests became pleasure-loving and badly behaved,” Jaffrelot writes.
Introducing propaganda as school syllabi is worrisome. It shows that instead of governance or development, the BJP wants to win elections by creating minds that will automatically choose the saffron party.
Also, through its attempts, the BJP is going not just against the Nehruvian ideals of inclusiveness and secularism, but also scientific temper.
The party is okay with children believing Ganesha was the first beneficiary of plastic surgery as long as it fits its claims of India's grand pre-Muslim past.
Every party cherrypicks historical facts to build a narrative that supports its interests. But the BJP seems ready to manufacture some facts, and totally disregard others.
It is a fact that in India today, Hindus make up 79.80 per cent of the population, Muslims 14.23 per cent, and Christians 2.30 per cent. It is also a fact the Constitution of India guarantees them and all others equal status. Any attempt to establish Hindus as the dominant race infringes on the rights of all other communities.
It is yet to be seen what findings the committee appointed by Sharma comes up with. However, the BJP needs to keep in mind another fact – the government it is part of is the government of all Indians, and working for the interests of one community goes against the Constitution it derives its authority from.