The undeciphered script of Indus Valley people holds key to a question with sharp political overtones – were people of Indo-Pak  subcontinent’s earliest recorded civilisation Aryans or Dravidians? Or neither?  In 1946, a India’s archaeological survey team was at one of its favourite digs when it stumbled upon 37 skeletons. Two lay on steps of a well with visible marks of head injury. Five were on steps of another well room.

A few others were hastily buried as if times were so bad dead could not be taken to cemetery. “Men, women, children seemed to have been massacred in streets and left dying or, at best, crudely covered without any last rite,” wrote Mortimer Wheeler, who led the expedition. Continue Reading »

Brahmanbad aka Nepal

The creation of civilization is Brahmanbad. Brahmanbad is guided by intellectualism and culturalism. The origin of human civilization is Himabatkhand of Nepal. The Himabatkhand covers the land of Brahmaputra in east, Hindukush in west, Kailash Mansarobar in north and Ganga River in south. In past, Nepal was greater than what it is today.

This region is the origin of Bedas, Upanishads, Purans and Nitishastra. As the region has been irrigated by Himalaya borne rivers, several saints of different ethnicity have enriched it through spirituality and knowledge. Kasyap Rishi (sage) in Kailash-Mansarobar, Pulatsya Rishi, Biswamitra (Kaushik Rishi ) in shore of Koshi, Bedabyas (Chhetri) in Gorkha, Yagyabalkya in the Kingdom of philosopher king Janak, Gargi (Women), Maitreyi (Women) and Arundhati (the wife of Atri Rishi) were the creators of Bedas. Parashar Rishi and his son Parsu Ram were Chhetries. Besides fame of Balmiki Rishi in Gandak, Bashistha Rishi in Devghat, ‘Ne-muni’ named Rishi in Bagamati and Aakuni Rishi of Kirats is widespread and it is mentioned in Rigbeda. The sage Biswamitra (writer of Bed was Chhetri), The sage Vasista was Besyaputra, The sage Aakuni was Kirati. At present, the Yogi Narahinath is (Chhetri), Swami Prapannacharya is Rai. There were and are many-many Chhetri, Rai, Kirati and others were the creator of Brahmanbad.

Continue Reading »

Empires of the Indus

Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia

Weaving together history and travel, this ambitious and beautifully written book follows the Indus river upstream, from Tibet, through Northern India and south through civilizations, emperors and explorers. Covering more than 2,000 miles and more than 5 millennia of history resonant with contemporary importance because of the tensions in this region today. Already the recipient of a prestigious Jerwood Award for work in progress; Michael Holroyd described it as a masterpiece in the making. It must be something to do with genes, as Albinia is the niece of William Dalrymple.

Empires of the Indus Alice Albinia Price: £18.00 Publisher: JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS Publcation Date : 15/05/2008 Hardback In stock, usually despatched within 24 hours. Guardian Bookshop Notes: Weaving together history and travel, this ambitious and beautifully written book follows the Indus river upstream, from Tibet, through Northern India and south through civilizations, emperors and explorers. Covering more than 2,000 miles and more than 5 millennia of history resonant with contemporary importance because of the tensions in this region today. Already the recipient of a prestigious Jerwood Award for work in progress; Michael Holroyd described it as 'a masterpiece in the making.' It must be something to do with genes, as Albinia is the niece of William Dalrymple.

In a land where it seldom rains, a river is as precious as gold.

Water is potent: it trickles through human dreams, permeates lives, dictates agriculture, religion and warfare. Ever since Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa, the Indus has drawn thirsty conquerors to its banks. Some of the world’s first cities were built here; India’s earliest Sanskrit literature was written about the river; Islam’s holy preachers wandered beside these waters. Pakistan is only the most recent of the Indus valley’s political avatars. I remember the first time I wanted to see the Indus, as distinctly as if a match had been struck in a darkened room. I was twenty-three years old, sitting in the heat of my rooftop flat in Delhi, reading the Rig Veda, and feeling the perspiration running down my back. It was April 2000, almost a year since the war between Pakistan and India over Kargil in Kashmir had ended, and the newspapers which the delivery man threw on to my terrace every morning still portrayed neighbouring Pakistan as a rogue state, governed by military cowboys, inhabited by murderous fundamentalists: the rhetoric had the patina of hysteria. But what was the troubled nation next door really like? As I scanned the three-thousand-year-old hymns, half listening to the call to prayer, the azan, which drifted over the rooftops from the nearby mosque (to the medley of other azans, all slightly out of sync), I read of the river praised by Sanskrit priests, the Indus they called ‘Unconquered Sindhu’, river of rivers. Hinduism’s motherland was not in India but Pakistan, its demonized neighbour.

At the time, I was studying Indian history eclectically, omnivorously and hastily – during bus journeys to work, at weekends, lying under the ceiling fan at night. Even so, it seemed that everywhere I turned, the Indus was present. Its merchants traded with Mesopotamia five thousand years ago. A Persian emperor mapped it in the sixth century BCE. The Buddha lived beside it during previous incarnations. Greek kings and Afghan sultans waded across it with their armies. The founder of Sikhism was enlightened while bathing in a tributary. And the British invaded it by gunboat, colonized it for one hundred years, and then severed it from India. The Indus was part of Indians’ lives – until 1947.

The very name of India comes from the river. The ancient Sanskrit speakers called the Indus ‘Sindhu’; the Persians changed the name to ‘Hindu’; and the Greeks dropped the ‘h’ altogether. Chinese whispers created the Indus and its cognates – India, Hindu, Indies. From the time that Alexander the Great’s historians wrote about the Indus valley, spinning exotic tales of indomitable Indika, India and its river tantalized the Western imagination.

Hundreds of years later, when India was divided, it might have been logical for the new Muslim state in the Indus valley to take the name ‘India’ (or even ‘Industan’, as the valley was called by an eighteenth-century English sailor). But Muhammad Ali Jinnah rejected the colonial appellation and chose the pious neologism Pakistan, ‘Land of the Pure’, instead. He assumed that his coevals in Delhi would do the same, calling their country by the ancient Sanskrit title, ‘Bharat’. When they did not, Jinnah was reported to be furious. He felt that by continuing to use the British name, India had appropriated the past; Pakistan, by contrast, looked as if it had been sliced off and ‘thrown out’.

During the two years that I lived in Delhi, I wondered about these things – the ironies, misnomers and reverberations of history. But perhaps, to my sun-baked imagination, it was the river itself that was most enticing. I dreamt about that river, which begins in Tibet and ends near Karachi in the shimmer of the Arabian Sea; I tried to picture those waters, which emperors had built forts beside, which poets still sang of, the turbulent, gold-bearing abode of snake-goddesses.

When at last I reached Pakistan, it was to map these layers of history and their impress on modern society. During the past sixty years, Pakistanis have been brutalized by the violence of military dictatorships, enraged or deceived by the state’s manipulation of religion, and are now being terrorized by the West’s War on Terror. But Pakistan is more than the sum of its generals and jihadis. The Indus valley has a continuous history of political, religious and literary ferment stretching back thousands of years; a history which Pakistanis share with Tibetans and Indians. The intertwining of those chronicles, memories and myths – that is the inheritance of the people who live in the Indus valley.

This book recounts a journey along the Indus, upstream and back in time, from the sea to the source, from the moment that Pakistan first came into being in Karachi, to the time, millions of years ago in Tibet, when the river itself was born. Along the way, the river has had more names than its people have had dictators. In Sindh it is called ‘Purali’, meaning capricious, an apt description of a river which wanders freely across the land, creating cities and destroying them. Sindhis also know it as ‘Samundar’, ocean, a name evocative of the vastness of the river within their landscape and civilization. For Pashtuns on the frontier with Afghanistan the Indus is simultaneously ‘Nilab’, blue water, ‘Sher Darya’, the Lion River, and ‘Abbasin’, Father of Rivers. Along its upper reaches these names are repeated by people speaking different languages and practicing different religions. Baltis once called the Indus ‘Gemtsuh’, the Great Flood, or ‘Tsuh-Fo’, the Male River; here, as in Ladakh and Tibet, it is known as ‘Senge Tsampo’, the Lion River. Today, in spite of the militarized borders that divide the river’s people from each other, the ancient interconnectedness of the Indus still prevails.

The river gave logic to my own explorations; it lies at the heart of this book because it runs through the lives of its people like a charm. From the deserts of Sindh to the mountains of Tibet, the Indus is worshipped by peasants and honoured by poets; more than priests or politicians, it is the Indus they revere. And yet, it is a diminished river. The mighty Indus of Sanskrit hymns and colonial tracts was heavily dammed during the twentieth century. Beginning with Britain’s profit-driven colonization of the lower Indus valley, and extending through sixty years of army-dominated rule in Pakistan, big dams have shackled the river, transforming the lives of human and non-human species on its banks and in its waters. Now when I think of the Indus I remember the eulogies of Sanskrit priests, Greek soldiers and Sufi saints. Their words come down to us across the centuries, warning of all there is to lose.

· Extract from Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia, published by John Murray

Alice Albinia, guardian.co.uk, August 29 2008

Buy this booknow for a special price

IntroductionOn 5 January, 2004, the renowned Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune was vandalized by some 150 thugs. Priceless manuscripts and artefacts were destroyed. Those responsible declared themselves to be members of the ‘Sambhaji Brigade’, linked to the Maratha Seva Sangh, a regional organization with anti-Brahmin sentiments. They apparently chose this method to protest against allegedly insulting remarks made against their hero, Shivaji, in a recently published book by the American historian James W. Laine.

The link with the Institute was somewhat indirect: Laine had acknowledged the help of several academics at Bhandarkar with the translation of certain manuscripts. The book concerned, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, has been withdrawn by Oxford University Press, and the author has apologized for any offence caused, stressing that it was wholly unintentional. The Bhandarkar Institute is the repository of many manuscripts of great historical significance and an important source of information on the life and times of Shivaji. It was responsible for the preparation of a critical edition of the Mahabharata in 19 volumes, completed in 1966. News of the attack caused widespread shock, and many students and other concerned individuals rushed to the Institute to help with salvaging what they could and clearing up the devastation the vandals had left behind.

Appalling though it was, this attack does not appear to be part of any political plan of national dimensions. It would seem, at least in part, to be an embodiment of regional tensions between the Maratha and Brahmin communities (the scholarly Institute being perceived as a Brahmin entity). But it serves as a reminder of several points relating to history, historiography, and the current Indian situation.

First, it is a reminder of the fundamental role of irreplaceable material evidence in history. This is a situation broadly shared by historical sciences such as geology and astronomy, which cannot resort to experiment, though the nature of evidence in history, given its human provenance, is rather more complex, intractable to general laws, and in some forms particularly vulnerable to multiple interpretations. Hence history’s unique position as a ‘protean discipline’. Nevertheless, evidence remains its bedrock. Some of what was destroyed at Bhandarkar is destroyed forever, access to it now being limited to the frozen interpretations of previous historians, the original no longer available for consultation and re-analysis.

A second point highlighted by this episode is the special significance of history to the concerns of the present, and especially to identity – the sense of heritage. Indian newspaper reports mourn not only the loss of historical records precious in themselves but of important parts of ‘our heritage’. Heritage is a source of pride (and of tourist revenue) to all nations. To those for whom colonial rule is within living memory, elements of heritage, particularly those perceived as part of a freedom struggle against past invaders, have a strong resonance. Shivaji was a Hindu who successfully fought the forces of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, declaring himself king and establishing the powerful Maratha Confederacy. His story has become legendary.

And therein lies another point. The story of the Hindu Maratha hero’s defiance and success against a Muslim king has captured the imagination. It has taken on its own part-mythical life. Perhaps so much so that the actual historical evidence is somewhat troublesome and inconvenient. It can be treated in a cavalier manner because it must be subservient to the myth. The past is dead and can be manipulated or, if necessary, obliterated; the myth must live.

This brings me to my final point concerning Bhandarkar – the extreme, whipped up response against a Western historian. The history of India has for too long been interpreted, written, and thus, as Said pointed out, in some way owned and controlled, by the colonialists. ‘They’, now widened to all modern Westerners, cannot possibly be trusted to understand or interpret ‘our’ history. There is no doubt that the Orientalists of the 19th century framed and periodized Indian history in accordance with certain assumptions concerning the ‘other’, which coloured and constrained their otherwise impressive achievement in building a vast corpus of knowledge about aspects of Indian history and culture. But Indology has moved on since then. The approach of leading Western scholars of Indian history today is far more self-aware and sensitive to such assumptions, while remaining appropriately rigorous and critical in its analysis. Yet in the intensely Hindu nationalist climate currently pervading India and flourishing in sections of the Indian diaspora, even distinguished Indologists such as Wendy Doniger are attacked in a knee-jerk response for daring to critically evaluate Hindu texts. Those Indian historians who question the agenda of Hindutva or ‘Hindu-ness’ fare even worse. Eminent, internationally respected historians such as Romila Thapar have been threatened and vilified. But these courageous individuals refuse to be silenced.

The origins of Hindutva go back to the early part of the 20th century. The term refers to the Hindu chauvinistic nationalist agenda of a number of interconnected organizations, collectively known as the Sangh Parivar, that range from the paramilitary to the ostensibly cultural (even sometimes appropriating the terms ‘secular’ and ‘humanist’). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forms the broad political front. In addition to being the leading party of the ruling coalition, the BJP is in power in several states, including Gujarat, where they were voted back to power in the climate of fear lingering in the wake of the horrific communal massacres of 2002. The other two major bodies are the cultural arm of the movement, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the openly militaristic Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The Sangh Parivar has taken to itself the colour saffron. Once associated with renunciation, it is flaunted now as a symbol of Hindu pride and power.

Within the past 12 years or so, as the hold of Congress has declined, the growth and spread of Hindutva has been remarkable. Aided by a powerful propaganda machine and the wealth pouring in from Indians abroad, especially in the US and UK [1], the ‘saffron brigade’ have sought to replace the secular, pluralist vision of Nehru and other earlier nationalists with their own Hindu chauvinist concept of the nation and its past, and to indoctrinate the young with this conception.

I would suggest that as the Nehruvian dream began to fade, as Congress regimes moved away from the project for independent development and some kind of social justice – notably during the Emergency of course – we get the substitution of those commitments with rhetoric. More and more we are taught to look at the nation as something of a myth, as just a map, a cult or a flag. –Sumit Sarkar [2]

Who Owns the Past?

[The] past needs to make the present unfamiliar to itself. History must acquire the power to surprise the present with its differences. –Pradip Kumar Datta [3]

History is deeply interpretive. The immense richness of any human society, the various facets of any culture, the changes wrought upon it by the operation of socio-economic, political, and religious forces, the impact of interaction with other cultures, forms such a complex tapestry that it is unlikely that we will ever have a full picture of any period in the past, especially the remote past. There is plenty of room for interpretation. But does that then mean that the door is wide open for any interpretation, constrained, as the postmodernists would have it, only by intertextuality? Hardly.

The anchoring role of material evidence becomes particularly important in the case of history because of the way in which present political groups seek to legitimize their agenda by taking control of the past. To argue that this is inevitable, that the past cannot be seen in any objective light, that it is a mere battleground of present ideologies in which the most persistent will win, is not only unwarranted but constitutes a dangerous concession to the extreme right. In a climate of postmodernism, of discourses floating free, Holocaust deniers can thrive with impunity, as Richard Evans has pointed out [4].

History, as conducted by professional historians, is a rigorous and objective field, a social science in which knowledge accumulates over time. Both the evidences and techniques used in the modern discipline justify this statement. Historical evidence, it need hardly be said, continues to grow with time, as more materials come to light. But in addition, the forms of evidence used by the modern historian are far wider ranging than in the past, and frequently involve collaboration with experts from other disciplines. As well as from texts, inscriptions, and artefacts, there is evidence available from archaeology, from linguistics, from indications of climate change and alterations to water courses, and nowadays sometimes from population genetics too. Further, certain elements of supportive evidence may be obtained from the study of myths (used, for example by the late distinguished Marxist historian D. D. Kosambi [5] in the interpretation of aspects of early Indian society), and from anthropological work. Techniques of textual analysis have become more rigorous and faster, with much use of computers, while dating methods too have improved. [6]

This is the nature of the historian’s work today. It is an exercise involving interdisciplinary teams of academics from all over the world. It relies on critical evaluation of evidence, and the tradition of open debate. While interpretations continue to be presented and discussed, they will simply not pass muster if they are not grounded in reason and evidence. History, by the nature of its materials and processes (a non-Markovian system, Peter Atkins once remarked to me) may not be conducive to the vigorous honing by experiment and explanatory structures available to science, but it is nevertheless a progressive and rational discipline.

And what has Hindutva to offer in its place? Little more than assertions and poor scholarship, infused with a lavish helping of mythology. The Sangh’s ‘indigenism’ lacks the fundamental characteristics of any reasoned approach to history:

[Indigenism] attempts to invent a “tradition” and retain it as something essentially different from other cultures and societies, and to build an ideology on such a tradition. But it fails to provide a theory of historical explanation or a method of historical analysis. –Romila Thapar [7]

Ironically for a movement anxious to remove all trace of colonialist perceptions, the vision they espouse is one anchored in the simplistic periodization of the 19th century Orientalists: that of an ancient and glorious Hindu ‘golden age’, followed by a ‘dark’ period of crushingly oppressive Muslim rule, and a modern period of less oppressive British rule. They continue the old British colonial view of India as constituted by two essentially antagonistic religious communities, the Hindus and Muslims, a view that, abetted by both the RSS and the Muslim League, led to partition. Of course one of these communities is seen as forever the outsiders.

The real history of Hindu-Muslim relations in the history of the subcontinent is more complex. As Asghar Ali Engineer has pointed out [8], the relationship of the two has varied not only with ruler, but with the social groups being considered, the particular sects (the Sufis, in particular, became considerably Indianized), and the way in which Islam entered the area. In Kerala, for example, with its strong and ancient trade links with the Mediterranean, the Muslim community grew from Arab traders, and was primarily assimilationist, compared to the undoubted confrontations and military conquest in the north. Yet here, too, cooperation existed, both among the elites, and among the poor of both religions. The situation cannot adequately be described in terms of any simple polarization between two monolithic religions. This is true even during the rule of the notoriously intolerant Aurangzeb, as has been noted in the studies of various Indian historians. K. N. Panikkar has remarked, “Aurangzeb’s chiefs and courtiers were more Hindus than Muslims. And the person who fought against Shivaji was Raja Jaisingh, a Hindu.” [9]

The current sensitivity over this period of Indian history is of course linked to the Sangh’s highly effective campaign to mobilize Hindus under the banner of Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of the god Ram). In the words of the President of Maharashtra VHP, Ashok Chowgule, “The Ram Janmabhoomi issue has revolutionised the politics of the country. A fragmented Hindu samaj has been united to an extent unheard of in recent times.” [10] More than a decade after the Sangh incited mobs to demolish the Babri Masjid, built by Babur over, as they claim, a Hindu temple at the supposed birthplace of Ram, the pressure to allow the building of a temple on the site continues. So far, the courts have not relented.

The way in which Hindutva has been able to exploit and promote the image of the god Ram is interesting in itself. By effectively focusing on a single god, and transforming him into a warrior god, they have given the polytheistic Hinduism the sleekness and muscle of a monotheistic faith. India becomes the land of Ram.

The historicization of Ram, his presumed epiphany in historical as opposed to mythical time, has been the mainstay of the Hindutva project. This brazen mixing of history and mythology to suit political ends runs throughout Sangh ideology. To the masses, the mythological elements are simply asserted as history. To the intellectuals, this unholy ‘interpenetration’ is presented with a suitably postmodern flourish: “The fact is that there is often more history in myths and more myth in history.” [11]

Hinduism is, of course, far from the monolithic belief system projected by Hindtuva as enduring through time immemorial. With no founder, no single canonical text, and no ecclesiastical structure (though it has priests), its historical development has been distinct in pattern from that of Semitic religions:

The evolution of Hinduism is not a linear progression from a founder through an organizational system, with sects branching off. It is rather the mosaic of distinct cults, deities, sects, and ideas and the adjusting, juxtaposing or distancing of these to existing ones, the placement drawing not only on belief and ideas but also on the socio-economic reality. –Romila Thapar [12]

This brings us to the other historical period of high sensitivity to Hindutva: the nature of ancient India and the Hindutva assertion of an indigenous ‘Aryan race’. Where does one even begin? The philologist William Jones identified the connections between Sanskrit and Latin and Greek, and first proposed that they all derived from a single language, Indo-European. What should have remained a linguistic category was altered to that of a race in the obsessively race-conscious late 19th century. European scholars, including even Max Müller for a time, built up the idea of an ‘Aryan race’ that swept into India as invaders from the north-west, bringing their language with them, and establishing superiority over, and hermetic separation from, the indigenous ‘Dravidian race’ through the caste system.

With the growth of archaeological evidence, and supporting evidence from linguistics, the story that is emerging is not one of invasion but of gradual migration and settlement of peoples speaking an Indo-European language, following the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. The subsequent growth of a caste system is also now regarded as having been a rather more complex process than previously thought.

In contrast to this carefully evaluated and maturing view, constantly sensitive to archaeological finds and the implications of detailed linguistic analysis, the assertion of Hindutva is simple: the Sanskrit-speaking Aryans were neither migrants nor invaders, but were indigenous to India. The ancient Harappan civilization is regarded as part of a great Vedic Age, and the dates of the Vedic texts set so far back in time (up to 9000 BCE) as to confirm that India must have been the first centre of human civilization (and even of human origins), with subsequent migration of Aryan peoples into Iran. To stress the Vedic connection, the term ‘Harappan’ is now increasingly replaced with ‘Sarasvati-Sindhu’, a name with a distinctly Vedic flavour. The claim that the Sarasvati, a dried up tributary of the Indus around which many Harappan settlements have been found, was once a mighty river finds no support from the topography and geology of the region.

Needless to say, during this glorious Vedic Age, India was a land of wisdom, peace, and knowledge; a time of the profoundest discoveries in mathematics and science, and boasting a well-knit and harmonious society, with no oppression of women or of lower castes. Irfan Habib comments that

since all later texts are being given exorbitantly earlier dates, and every intellectual and technological achievement pushed to an obscure, sacred past, the later times begin to appear more and more as sheer dark ages. We are being asked to believe that not only did the alleged inventors of writing in the 4th millennium BC forget to write up the Vedic texts, but their descendants too simply forgot writing altogether for a period of 1500 years or so, before the Mauryas came around. We Indians also coolly forgot the great scientific secrets embedded in our texts… [13]

It seems scarcely worth taking the effort to repeat Hindutva’s nonsensical claims, but for the fact that they have been so widely and effectively propagated as Hindu history and culture by the saffron brigade. Astonishing as it may seem, this is the interpretation of the nation’s history that is being perpetrated through the Sangh’s network of sectarian schools and that has even infiltrated in part into the fabric of the country’s national curriculum and textbooks.

The Great RSS Education Project

Modern sectarian Hindu schooling may be said to have begun in 1946, when the RSS leader M. S. Golwalkar set up the Gita Junior Secondary School in Kurukshetra, Haryana. After something of a gap, resulting from the banning of the RSS following Gandhi’s assassination, a Saraswati Shishu Mandir was established in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1952. Since then, RSS schools, run by their education wing, Vidya Bharati, have multiplied and spread into many states. One recent estimate puts the number of RSS-run schools in the country at over 18,000 and further and higher education institutions at over 60. [14] At least several thousand of these are endorsed by state governments in states where the BJP is in power.

The aim of these schools is to ‘evolve an integrated system of education in conformity with the aims of Indian culture and its ideals of life’. [15] For Indian here, read Hindu: the two are used interchangeably in Hindutva-speak. This is apparent from Vidya Bharati’s further stated educational aim to bring up a new generation of Indians ‘fully saturated with the feelings of Hindutva and patriotism’.

What, then, is the educational ethos in these schools, and what do they teach? At first sight, things may not seem so bad. They generally use standard textbooks and cover the standard curriculum. They have to, in order to compete with other schools. No, the Hindutva agenda is spread through aspects of school regimen, through the slant given to the content of the standard curriculum, through the overall ethos and, most explicitly, through a special examined course which forms part of the core curriculum: Sanskriti Gyan (study of culture). An RSS centre and VHP-controlled temple are frequently nearby, and sometimes even directly linked.

The ethos of such schools has been described by Tanika Sarkar:

the walls displayed maps of undivided India as the true shape of the nation, imparting in students a refusal of the historical reality of the Partition and visualising the country as inclusive of the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh… [They] are also festooned with pictures of Hindu heroes like Shivaji and Rana Pratap, visually invoking legends of Muslim tyranny and Hindu royal-heroic resistance.
In school assemblies, principals address students frequently on themes of Hindu patriotism, Babur and his mosque that allegedly destroyed Ram’s temple, the saga of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and its martyrs. [16]

This is aptly complemented by the chanting of the Sarasvati Vandana (a Sanskrit prayer to Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of learning) and the singing of Vande Mataram, a nationalist song that has become the de facto national anthem in these times. With emphasis placed on the study of Sanskrit (the ‘Hindu language’), and yoga a compulsory part of the curriculum, parents are pleased to send their children to these schools, confident in their ability to inculcate Indian culture and values, and maintain discipline and standards. This may sound familiar: equivalent reasons are given by parents in the West for sending children to religious schools, including creationist academies.

And what of the Sanskriti Gyan textbooks? These special textbooks explicitly set out the Hindutva conception of Indian history described above. ‘Facts’ taught for examination include Aryans as an indigenous people, who subsequently spread to Iran, the position of the destroyed Babri Masjid as the birthplace of Ram, and the claim that Homer adapted the Ramayana to create the Iliad. [17] Ancient India, in short, is the origin of all great things, and the invaders – Muslims, Christians – were responsible for the decline from this utopian Ramarajya. The implications for present-day minority communities are clear:

Muslims and Christians are not simply invaders and conquerors of the past, they are fixed in eternal postures of aggression which, today, translates as insidious and covert gestures of hidden expansionism and conquest, carried on through conversion and terrorism. Histories of communities are not just unchanging and repetitive, they are, moreover, singular. History becomes emblematic, congealed into an array of postures, each summing up a whole community across the ages. The past is a museum of a few signs. –Tanika Sarkar [18]

The RSS is a militaristic, cadre-based organization. It is disciplined, focused, ruthless, and pragmatic. It has systematically politicized education and widened its hold across the country, through regular training camps with campaigners sent out especially to rural areas to organize new cadres. Angana Chatterji describes their approach in Orissa:

The RSS holds month long training sessions across Orissa during summer vacations to attract students and young children. From these sessions, the RSS recruits for the Officers Training Camps (OTC). Held twice a year, the OTC provides schooling in self-defense and leadership. Around 500 people attend each year. On completion, approximately100 join the organisation as campaigners. Graduates take an oath, “I will devote my body, mind, and money (tana, mana, bhana) to the motherland.” For about 10 recruits, this develops into a lifelong, intense and full time commitment. Each December, the RSS organises the Sita Shibir, a 7-10 day winter camp. The families of attendees finance the camps. The growth of the RSS testifies to the success of these camps. [19]

The spreading of their message to tribal areas is a particularly cynical ploy. The RSS argues that it is trying to counter missionary activity. The level of missionary activity in many of these districts scarcely fits with such a position, even had it been justified. This reaching out to the ‘vanvasis’ (forest dwellers – the Hindutva version of history does not allow them to use the usual term ‘adivasis’, or indigenous peoples) is trumpeted as social work in uplifting the poor. In reality, the children are provided with limited education (unlike that in regular RSS schools). The prime purpose is not education but indoctrination. A similar approach is used towards slum dwellers. Some commentators have remarked on the unusual involvement of adivasis in the Gujarat massacres of Muslims in 2002, suggesting that this was directly due to the communal hatred perpetrated by Hindutva-driven organizations.

Thus far, we have only considered private RSS-run schools. Where the BJP is in power, elements of the Hindutva agenda have been adopted into the state education system. Even more alarming have been attempts in the past five years to subvert academic and educational bodies and smuggle Hindutva ideology into the national curriculum itself.

Infiltration of Hindutva Elements into National Education

While the British promoted the Macaulay model for a small minority, for the vast majority, they continued to emphasise traditional models like Toles and Madrasas [religious schools]. In fact, it was our Renaissance leaders like Phule, Rammohan Roy and Vidyasagar who led the battle for abolition of religious and obscurantist education and promotion of English, logic, science, humanities and Western philosophy. Inspired by the ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy as found in the French, American and Italian Revolutions, they sought to lay a new foundation for democratic and secular education in India. The classical definition of secularism was not the product of fanciful imagination, but emerged from the historical need to unite a people divided by regional, religious and caste barriers. –Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer [20]

A national system of education which the colonial intellectuals and nationalist leaders tried to evolve was based on a possible synthesis of all that is advanced in the West with all that was abiding in the traditional. In other words the national policy was not lodged in a dichotomy between the indigenous and the western. The impact of such a policy was the internalization of a universal outlook and the location of the indigenous in the wider matrix of human history. The educational policy adumbrated by independent India, even if it faltered on many a count, was informed by an open-ended view… The modern system of education, which they tried to perpetuate, is anathema to the Sangh Parivar, as it is not sufficiently “national” in content. The alternative proposed by the Parivar and now being implemented by the government is an indigenous system, which M.S. Golwalkar had earlier conceived as religious in character, with emphasis on tradition, discipline and military training. Romanticisation of traditional knowledge, celebration of religious beliefs and emphasis on conformism are its chief characteristics. –K. N. Panikkar [21]

Since the late 1990s, national education has become a battleground, drawing in many distinguished historians, scientists, and other academics who have refused to tolerate any move away from a strictly secular education system; who have protested against the mingling of myth alongside history, and pseudoscience alongside science. India has too robust a secular intellectual community to take such measures without a fight. In this, they have been betrayed by postmodernists such as Ashish Nandy [22] and Partha Chatterjee, whose fashionable criticisms of secularism as an elite western conception inflicted on India have helped pave the way for the takeover of academia by the extreme right. “Subalternism,” wrote Aijaz Ahmad, “has had a curious career, starting with invocations of Gramsci and finally coming into its own as an accomplice of the anti-Communist Right.” [23]

The architect of the saffronising of national education has been the BJP Union Human Resource Development Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi. A former professor of physics who sees science within a mystical framework, and a fierce nationalist, he has been associated with the RSS from 1944. Since his arrival at the head of the Ministry in 1998, he has spearheaded the takeover of academic institutions and committees by those sympathetic to Hindutva. He himself is a believer in an extremely ancient indigenous civilization, and justifies any points he makes with what he declares to be scientific evidence: “We have proved by our ocean development scientists that there is enough proof of the existence of human activity in the region of Bay of Cambay in 7500 BC. We have proved it. I am saying let us know whether Indian civilisation is 2,000 years old, 7,000 years old, 10,000 years old. These are the results my scientists have shown, this is the result of carbon dating.” [24] Imagine the excitement in the international archaeological community if the results of ‘his scientists’ were shown to be true! But Joshi’s perception of science as well as history is grossly coloured by his Hindutva beliefs. To quote from one of his speeches:

The question is how can science and spiritually reconcile and contribute to make this planet peaceful. Indian philosophy answered this question centuries ago and it would be my endeavour to place before you how modern science is converging on the philosophy of Gita. [25]

It is not difficult to see how a minister with such a worldview and a supportive government might operate to alter the direction of education at every level across the country. While institutions may be nominally autonomous, their reliance on government funding makes them hostages to political change. The University Grants Commission has dismayed many academics in its new-found insistence on giving equal importance in universities to the study of such ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ as Vedic astrology:

The UGC for its part is promoting certificate courses in Vedic rituals, Vedic astrology and Sanskrit. Its Chairman has said that these courses will serve to promote Hindu culture among NRIs and will improve foreign exchange earnings. This is happening in the context of declining grants to universities for science and humanities courses. In short, bigoted, communal and obscurantist ideas which have nothing to do even with Hindu culture and philosophy are finding their way into education. –Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer [26]

Joshi’s particular concern has been to hound out ‘Marxists’ (a term he seems to apply to any anti-Hindutva historian) and to have their textbooks reviewed by committees appointed by his reshaped institutions. He persistently refers to these scholars as being educated along European lines and therefore unable to grasp Indian realities. The best of Indian historical scholarship has certainly drawn from elements of Marxist theory and in recent decades from the Annales School, applying these broader approaches in the Indian context. The result has been an understanding of the social, cultural, economic, and other aspects of Indian history that has vastly enriched the limited histories of an earlier, colonial period which focused primarily on a narrow reading of the Brahminical texts and on the history of the dynasties (a change in the understanding of history that has occurred everywhere). Ironically, it is the Hindutva movement that has followed colonial tradition by emphasizing Sanskrit, the language of the Brahmin elite, and the great Sanskrit texts such as the Vedas, while ignoring other aspects of Indian history and culture. But the relevant underlying point must be this: both science and history are seeking objective knowledge and understanding. As such, they are fundamentally international efforts. Practitioners, whatever their country of origin, must be open to ideas and approaches from other parts of the world. They must then apply these approaches as appropriate to their particular topic of study. There is no special Indian mindset that sees what others well equipped in the necessary analytical techniques and background cannot see. For the saffron brigade, any inconvenient facts concerning Indian history are the product of Western colonial ‘constructs’. Indian scholars engaged in an objective evaluation of the past thus become labelled ‘traitors’. As in the case of secularism, what began as legitimate postcolonial questioning has been extended beyond all reasonable bounds, to the very nature of objective enquiry itself, a point that has been eloquently argued by Meera Nanda. [27]

Soon after Joshi’s arrival at the Ministry, Sangh sympathisers were quickly appointed to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the Indian Council of Social Science Research. An almost immediate casualty was the ‘Towards Freedom’ project sponsored by the unreconstituted ICHR – a compilation of archival documents from the final period of the freedom struggle, 1937-1947. The General Editor of the volumes was a distinguished historian of international standing, the late Sarvepalli Gopal. The volumes for 1940 and 1946, edited by historians K. N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar respectively, had been approved by the General Editor before his death, and even sent to the publishers, Oxford University Press. But they were declared to be ‘temporarily withheld from publication’ in 2002, and a committee set up to review the supposedly controversial volumes. The move was regarded as unacceptable by the volumes’ editors, who have yet to be told what the problems are, but Sarkar has remarked on the sensitivity of this period for the RSS:

Part of the logic of the volumes, which Prof. Gopal has expounded very well in his general introduction, is that we should bring out the diversities. And the significance of the anti-colonial movement lies not only in the struggle against the British, but in the progressive broadening of the movement – how, in other words, democratic, secular and some kind of federal and social justice aspirations enter the canvas – the background, in short, to the Constitution. [28]

This was a broadening of the independence movement, Sarkar says, in which the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha (a precursor of the BJP) were conspicuous by their absence. The project remains stalled at present.

What, then, of school education? A first attempt to bring elements of the RSS agenda into national education in 1998 was successfully halted under strong protest from a number of State Education Ministers. Joshi’s next move was to appoint J. S. Rajput, his former student and a Hindutva sympathizer, as chairman of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). He did not tarry long in getting to grips with the task of altering the ethos of national education in the country. A new National Curriculum Framework for School Education was drawn up in 2000 to replace the existing 1988 Framework. Secular academics studied its wording with a growing sense of outrage.

Littered among the generalities and lofty pedagogical aspirations that characterize such documents are some disturbing elements. It has been remarked that these portions seem disconnected, as though added later. Whatever their provenance, the overall result is that despite professing recognition of diversity and a commitment to the cultivation of a ‘scientific temper’, the flavour of Hindutva bursts through. Nationalism takes precedence over reason and objectivity; national duty over human rights. In a framework document which establishes the guiding principles for teaching in the state sector (and, in effect, in much of the private sector), this is serious cause for concern.

The second paragraph of the preamble to the document makes explicit that it is framed within the context of belief in a glorious, very ancient Indian (Hindu) tradition and heritage:

India had an advanced system of education and the world’s first universities which presented a consummate example of education based on philosophy and religion and at the same time stressed the study of mathematics, history, astronomy, maritime and even the laws of economics and public administration. The Chandogya Upanishad (Chapter VII, Section 1) mentions eighteen different subjects of study including areas such as natural disaster management, mineralogy, linguistics, science of elements, and science of defence. [29]

Certainly this is not to deny that there were vibrant centres of education in early India, in the form of Jain and Buddhist centres (most famously Nalanda in the north-east) as well as numerous centres of Brahminical learning, ghatikas and later mathas. But the points to note are the selective promotion of positive aspects of ancient India, intended to evoke the sense of a ‘golden age’, and the exaggerated impression given of the knowledge of the ancient Indians. Chauvinism and indigenism are woven throughout the document.

There are many sections worth quoting from the Curriculum Framework, but I shall confine myself to just two or three particular examples. Discussion of history itself is limited in the document, very general, and subsumed under ‘social sciences’. But references to ancient traditions and achievements abound. Under ‘Integrating India’s Indigenous Knowledge and India’s Contribution to Mankind’, we have the following:

Today, even more than ever before, there is a world-wide recognition of India’s indigenous knowledge systems. Ayurveda is being increasingly recognised as a holistic system of health and Indian psychology as a more complete discipline than the western. In this context it may be relevant to point out that there are domains of knowledge which could be called ‘parallel’, ‘indigenous’, ‘traditional’ or ‘civilisational’ knowledge systems. These belong to societies in the developing world that have nurtured and defined the systems of knowledge of their own, relating to such diverse domains as geology, ecology, agriculture, health and the like.
…Paradoxical as it may sound, while our children know about Newton, they do not know about Aryabhatta, they do know about computers but do not know about the advent of the concept of zero or the decimal system. Mention may also have to be made, for instance, of Yoga and Yogic practices as well as the Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM) like the Ayurvedic and Unani systems which are now being recognised and practised all over the world. The country’s curriculum shall have to correct such imbalances.
…Equally importantly we need an indepth analysis of the parallelism of insights between the indigenous knowledge systems, on the one hand, and certain areas of modern science and thought concerned with the basics of life, on the other. Indigenousness, obviously, is not opposed to being receptive to new ideas from different peoples, cultures and cultural contexts.

The whole treatment of science in the document shows an awkward effort to combine ancient, unscientific practices with those arising from modern science in a bid to promote the indigenous while retaining the semblance of a modern outlook:

School curriculum has therefore, to help to generate and promote among the learners: …scientific temper characterised by the spirit of enquiry, problem- solving, courage to question and objectivity leading to elimination of obscurantism, superstition and fatalism, while at the same time, sustaining and emphasising the indigenous knowledge ingrained in the Indian tradition.

Spirituality and ‘value education’ form another significant feature. A number of academics have strongly criticized the approach to value education which, while paying lip service to the possibility that religion may not be the only source of values, proceeds to give religions an important role throughout the taught curriculum (the document is careful to use religions in the plural). For Indian state education, formerly secular in tone, this is a serious retrograde step. It leaves the door open for presenting scientific subjects within a mystical framework. It will also potentially lead to the compromising of factual accounts, for fear of upsetting religious sensibilities (the impact it has already had on textbooks is shown below). Overall, this injection of spirituality will only serve to weaken intellectual rigour and independence of mind.

Sanskrit, as would be expected, is given great importance at secondary level, and should apparently be treated as a living language ‘which is still relevant to the general life needs of the people of India, and which has caught international attention because of the global interest in subjects like yoga, vedic mathematics, astronomy and ayurveda’. And finally, what of mathematics, a field in which there have been many eminent Indians? The section on mathematics identifies study of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the wider applications of mathematics (there is a heavy weighting given throughout to technology – another Hindutva feature [30]), but ends once again with the admixture of pseudoscience:

The history of mathematics with special reference to India and the nature of mathematical thinking should find an important place. The students may be encouraged to enhance their computational skill by the use of Vedic Mathematics.

Meetings, protests, and articles expressed the anger of secular academics and educationalists at this hijacking of educational policy, though NCERT denied any political pressure or the existence of a hidden agenda. The matter was widely reported and discussed by the Indian media. The Hindu newspaper and its associated magazine Frontline have been particularly notable in their consistent, enlightened reporting of threats to secularism. A 3-day National Convention Against the Communalization of Education in India was organized by SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust) in August 2001 to discuss the Framework document and related educational issues. Drawing more than 500 delegates from across the country, including a number of state education ministers and their representatives, and addressed by leading academics from various disciplines, the Convention was a powerful statement of dissent. At its conclusion, a number of state education ministers endorsed a formal statement against the Centre’s education policy. [31]

At the same time, over a hundred leading scientists and mathematicians led by S. G. Dani, Professor of Mathematics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, signed a statement in protest against the efforts to include ‘Vedic mathematics’ in the school curriculum. Entitled ‘Neither Vedic Nor Mathematics’, it points out that the idea of ‘Vedic mathematics’ comes from a book by a swami (religious teacher) published posthumously in 1965 and containing ‘a set of tricks in elementary arithmetic and algebra to be applied in performing computations with numbers and polynomials’, written in the form of cryptic Sanskrit aphorisms (true ancient Indian mathematics, they note, was anything but cryptic). There is no connection with the Vedas, and virtually no mathematical usefulness in these aphorisms. It is worth quoting sections of the statement in full:

In an era when the content of mathematics teaching has to be carefully designed to keep pace with the general explosion of knowledge and the needs of other modern professions that use mathematical techniques, the imposition of “Vedic mathematics” will be nothing short of calamitous.
Nowhere in the world does any school system teach “Vedic mathematics” or any form of ancient mathematics for that matter as an adjunct to modern mathematical teaching. The bulk of such teaching belongs properly to the teaching of history and in particular the teaching of the history of the sciences.
We are concerned that the essential thrust behind the campaign to introduce the so-called `Vedic mathematics’ has more to do with promoting a particular brand of religious majoritarianism and associated obscurantist ideas rather than any serious and meaningful development of mathematics teaching in India. We note that similar concerns have been expressed about other aspects too of the National Curricular Framework for School Education. We re-iterate our firm conviction that all teaching and pedagogy, not just the teaching of mathematics, must be founded on rational, scientific and secular principles.[32]

These efforts make inspiring reading, which is why I have mentioned them in some detail here. But the political climate has not changed, and efforts to declare the Framework legally invalid, through filing a public interest litigation case over communal bias and lack of consultation with the Central Advisory Board of Education, has failed in the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, several history textbooks published by NCERT have been altered (‘corrected’) without consulting their authors and schools told that they should not even discuss the deleted elements. This too has caused consternation among progressive academics, being a move that effectively censors aspects of history, and presents a selective view of the facts.

The elements removed are relatively small, but they are significant. References to the eating of beef by Brahmins in ancient India occurring in textbooks by Romila Thapar and Ram Sharan Sharma have been removed. (The RSS, following Brahminical tradition, gives high status to the cow, describing it in their educational literature as ‘the mother of us all and the abode of gods’.) Another deleted passage from Sharma’s book dealt directly with the historicising of Rama and Krishna:

Archaeological evidence should be considered far more important than long family trees given in the Puranas. The Puranic tradition could be used to date Rama of Ayodhya around 2000 BC but diggings and extensive explorations in Ayodhya do not show any settlement around that date. Similarly, although Krishna plays an important part in the Mahabharata, the earliest inscriptions and sculptural pieces found in Madhura between 200 BC and AD 900 do not attest his presence. Because of such difficulties, the idea of an epic age based on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have to be discarded, although in the past it formed a chapter in most survey books on ancient India. Of course several stages in social evolution in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be detected. This is so because the epics do not belong to a single phase of social evolution: they have undergone several editions, as has been shown earlier in the present chapter. [33]

Further deletions include a paragraph pointing out that the antiquity claimed for the tirthankaras of Jainism does not appear to fit archaeological evidence of settlement in the middle Gangetic plain, and passages discussing Brahmin antipathy towards the Buddhist king Ashoka, and the use of the caste system to oppress and control peasants and servants through inculcating fear of breaking the divine law.

Deletions in Satish Chandra’s book on Medieval India relate to Sikh history, and in particular the reasons for the killing, under Aurangzeb, of Guru Tegh Bahadur, whom Sikhs regard as a martyr. Various reasons given for his killing are mentioned, including the Persian version, in which the execution was to end a plunder spree across Punjab, the Sikh tradition that it was the result of intrigue by members of the family opposed to his succession as Guru, and a third version in which the Guru had angered Aurangzeb by converting some Muslims to Sikhism. Of these, only the third escaped deletion.

A final deletion, from the book on Modern India by Arjun Dev and Indira Arjun Dev, removes a paragraph describing the Jats as being involved in plundering raids and court intrigues in Delhi in the 18th century.

The reason given for the deletions, at least in the case of the material concerning Sikh, Jain, and Jat history, was that they upset the feelings of the communities concerned. (The RSS, it should be noted, has sought to draw in Sikhs and Jains under its Hindu nationalist banner, the better to create a monolithic chauvinistic force ranged in opposition to the Muslim minority.) Curiously, the feelings of Muslims are never mentioned. When religions make truth claims that fall in the realm of science or of history, they can and should be contested. Once begin to compromise on this point, and there is no need to spell out the consequences for subjects grounded in empirical knowledge.

The deletion of these passages was intended as a gagging measure for the NCERT books in circulation until new textbooks could be drawn up that were based on the new Framework. The first new textbooks were released in the autumn of 2002, when the Supreme Court stay on their publication was lifted following the failure of the court case against the Framework. Almost immediately, reports spread of elements of bias in the new texts. Soon after their publication, a meeting of Opposition party leaders was called by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)), at which the leaders rejected both the Curriculum Framework and the new texts, and declared that they would not be adopted in states in which their parties were in power. They would not tolerate a change in educational policy driven by the Centre without state consultation and demanded that the Central Advisory Board for Education be reconvened.

The strong stance of Opposition parties leant vital political support to the consistently firm position that has been taken on this issue by the professional body of Indian historians, the Indian History Congress (IHC). The IHC is a very prestigious body. Founded in 1935, and with over 9,000 members, making it the largest professional forum of its kind in South Asia, its primary aim, as defined by its constitution, is the ‘promotion and encouragement of the scientific study of Indian history’.

The IHC set up a committee to review the new official history texts. Its report was published as History in the New NCERT Textbooks: Report and An Index of Errors in 2003. Among the errors noted by the authors, Professors Irfan Habib, Suvira Jaiswal and Aditya Mukherjee, are the assertion that the Indus Valley Civilization was established as early as 4,600 BC. It is also placed under the section on Vedic Civilization. The text on Medieval India portrays the Mughal rulers as exceptionally cruel and violent, without either putting their actions into the context of common practice of other rulers of the period within India, or mentioning positive aspects such as Akbar’s enlightened policies on the slave trade and on the practice of sati. They found the textbook on modern India and the freedom struggle particularly riddled with misleading emphases and omissions. Again, partition is blamed on Muslim separatists without any mention of Hindu communalist activities. The whole independence struggle is described in narrow terms, without emphasizing its underpinning principles of democracy and secularism, or the central role of Nehru, and the early Hindutva leaders are presented as great patriots. The fact that Gandhi was assassinated by Nadhuram Godse, closely associated with the RSS and a friend and admirer of the Hindu Mahasabha leader V. D. Savarkar (whose portrait was unveiled in the Indian parliament last year) is conveniently forgotten. As the report stressed, the problem is not so much factual error, though key errors exist. It is more the overall impression and slant put on Indian history that is of concern.

Despite the efforts of NCERT and Joshi to present this whole issue as ’hystrionics’ by leftist historians, the controversy has refused to die down and in any case, the firm stance of the IHC, representing a wide spectrum of professional historians, gives the lie to such an interpretation. Moreover, in spite of continuing government moves to manipulate research and education bodies (the chairman of the ICHR was recently dismissed for no stated reason), the IHC raises hope and confidence for the continuance of sound historical study in India.

The 64th session of the IHC was held in Mysore, Karnataka, on 28-30 December 2003. With over 1200 delegates, and the presentation of more than 600 papers, it was one of the biggest sessions ever conducted by the body. The official report declares that it was ‘an assertion of academic vigour and rational approach to Indian history’ [34]. The address of the General President, Professor S. Settar, illustrated well the nature of modern historical research. Entitled ‘Footprints of Artisans in History’, it used evidence from epigraphic sources, linguistics, and palaeography to reconstruct the life of artisans and their role in intercultural exchange at the regional level. This is a far cry from history as merely wanton extrapolation from selected Sanskrit texts of a Brahmin religious elite. The session included a special panel discussion on ‘History in School Education’, attended by a number of schoolteachers as well as academics. The IHC report notes that in secret ballot elections for the 20 Executive Committee members for the next year, the RSS put forward 12 candidates, all of whom were ‘soundly defeated’. This news brings a glimmer of hope to an otherwise darkening scene.


It is in this context of whipped up communal feelings and the encroaching hold on the public of narrow, chauvinistic perceptions of history that we must see the wider implications of the raid on the Bhandarkar Institute. The whole curriculum and textbook controversy is not a battle between ‘leftist’ and ‘rightist’ historians. It is a battle in defence of reason and objectivity, the very basis of all scientific enquiry. It is a battle whose consequences spill out far beyond libraries and classrooms. The ultimate cost of Hindutva’s success is measured in lives. Nearly 2000 Muslims, including children and babies, were hacked and burned to death in Gujarat in the riots of 2002. This is what happens when Golwalkar’s ‘children of the soil’ go on the rampage. And it originates in a mindset moulded in the saffron-infused classroom.

Latha Menon is a freelance writer and editor.

1 See for example http://www.stopfundinghate.org/
2 Interview in Frontline, Vol 17, Issue 5, March 4-17, 2000.
3 Hindutva and its Mhystory, Rewriting History Seminar, 2001.
4 In Defence of History. Granta, 1997.
5 See for example, D. D. Kosambi, Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture. Sangam, 1984.
6 A sense of the varieties of evidence used in the piecing together of the history of the subcontinent can be obtained from the Introduction to the newly revised edition of Romila Thapar’s Early India, Penguin, 2002.
7 Interview with Parvathi Menon in Frontline, 1998.
8 Asghar Ali Engineer, Hindu-Muslim Relations Before and After 1947, in Anatomy of a Confrontation, S. Gopal (ed.), Penguin India, 1990.
9 From interview with Indian portal Rediff, 1999. http://www.rediff.com/news/1999/mar/19panik1.htm
10 History and Politics of Ram Janmabhoomi, Hindu Vivek Kendra. http://www.hvk.org/ram/a3.html
11 K. R. Malkani, quoted in Pradip Kumar Datta, Hindutva and its Mhystory, Rewriting History Seminar, 200.
12 Imagined Religious Communities?, Interpreting Early India, Oxford University Press, 1992.
13 The Rewriting of History by the Sangh Parivar. http://www.www.secularindia.net/article6.html
14 Angana Chatterji, Learning in Saffron: RSS Schools in Orissa, Asian Age, Nov 11, 2003. Available at various places on the net, see e.g. http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/anganaNov2003.html
15 Vidya Bharati official site: http://www.vidyabharati.org/aim.asp
16 Historical Pedagogy of the Sangh Parivar, Rewriting History Seminar, February 2003.
17 A range of such examples are provided by Akhbar magazine under ‘In the Name of History: Examples from Hindutva-Inspired School Textbooks in India’. http://www.ercwilcom.net/indowindow/sad/article.php?child=30&article=31
18 Tanika Sarkar, op. cit.
19 Angana Chatterji, op. cit.
20 Letter from Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, President, All India Save Education Committee, to the Prime Minister, 24 November 2000, in response to proposed changes to the curriculum. Text available in full on http://ncert.nic.in/frame.htm
21 Whither Indian History? Speech delivered at National Convention Against Communalisation of Education in India, New Delhi, August 2001. Text available at http://www.knpanikkar.org/lectures/Whither%20Indian%20Education.html
22 The role of Nandy in easing the takeover of academia by RSS ideologues has been highlighted by many. See for example the comment of social anthropologist Andre Beteille quoted in an article by Neena Vyas in The Hindu, 29 April, 2001: ‘To a large extent, the “ground work had already been prepared by intemperate criticism of modern social theory” by men such as Dr. Ashish Nandy who sought to emphasise indigenous methodologies, rubbishing modern social theory as “western”, Prof. Beteille pointed out. From that emphasis on the indigenous and rubbishing of modern theory, (and thereby identifying all modern theory and thought as of western origin) the next step of eulogising all that was understood or articulated in “ancient India” was an easy step.’
23 Right-Wing Politics and the Cultures of Cruelty, Ved Gupta Memorial Lecture 1998.
24 Rediff interview, 3 November, 2003. http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/nov/03inter.htm
25 Speech at Bharatiya Vichar Kendra function. The full text of the speech is available on Joshi’s official website, which is at any rate worth a look: http://www.drmmjoshi.com/
26Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, Op. Cit.
27 Prophets Facing Backwards: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India, Rutgers University Press, 2003.
28 Sumit Sarkar, Op. Cit.
29 http://ncert.nic.in/frame.htm
30 For a discussion of Hindutva’s devotion to technology, see Meera Nanda, op. cit.
31 The full text of the statement is available online at the CPI(M)’s People’s Democracy site: http://pd.cpim.org/2001/aug12/aug122k1_sahmat.htm
32 The full statement is available at http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/NoVedic.html
33 All the deleted passages can be found on NCERT’s website, http://ncert.nic.in/frame.htm
34 http://members.tripod.com/historycongress3/mysore.htm

Reprinted from Butter Flies and Wheels  Article By Latha Menon, 

By Steve FarmerLast week this article in the Indian magazine Frontline reported that the Hindu Right’s attempts to rewrite California school textbooks on India and Hinduism were meeting with strong resistance from renowned historians and scholars in the U.S. and abroad. Steve Farmer is one of those scholars; he reported on that resistance and the smear campaign against another of them, Michael Witzel, on a listserve last December, and gave B&W permission to publish a slightly updated version. There is recent news here.

Part I: The California Textbook Issue

The smear campaign aimed against Michael Witzel is meant in retaliation for the critical role he has played since early November – in collaboration now with hundreds of Indian and Western researchers and S. Asian minority groups – in helping block massive changes in California 6th-grade textbooks demanded by Hindutva political-religious groups. Some of these groups, as noted below, have long-time connections with rightwing groups in India, whose attempts to project Hindutva political-religious ideology into Indian textbooks have been turned back since 2004 (after the rightwing BJP party lost national power) by India’s National Council of Educational Research & Training (NCERT). (NCERT is the closest thing in India to a national ‘Board of Education’.)

The upshot is that the current US Hindutva moves in California, begun not long after the BJP fell from power, can be tied (along with related moves in Great Britain, involving the BBC) to a much broader international plan to rebuild the declining Hindutva movement in India.

Before November 9th, the Hindutva groups involved in the US had managed to convince the California State Board of of Education and the Department of Education staff – few if any of whom had even heard before of Hindutva (and they say that ignorance is bliss) – that they spoke for what they represented as a homogenous American-Hindu community. In the early months, the Board did not hear from Dalit groups, mainstream Hindu organizations, Tamil Hindus, or any of the many non-religious Hindu groups that have obvious reasons for opposing the Hindutva agenda.

The fictional notion presented to the California Board of Education that the highly fragmented Hindu-American community is homogenous has certainly come as a surprise to the Tamil, Dalit, and other Indian minority groups in the United States with whom we have contacts.

No matter how the final act of the California drama plays out (in March), by now the California Board of Education is acutely aware that the three main groups involved in the California affair – the Vedic Foundation (VF), the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) (on these groups, see Part III) – do not, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, speak for all Hindu-Americans.

While the research community, mainstream Hindus, and Indian minorities were initially caught sleeping by events in California – none of us knew about events there until November 5th, four days before what was to be the final Board of Education meeting on this textbook issue – in the last seven weeks hundreds of non-Hindutva Indian-Americans, a solid base of specialists in South Asian History (one recent letter from such a group has over 130 signatures), and an ever expanding list of South Asian minority groups, including those representing Dalit and tribal groups, have informed the State of California in very clear terms that the three organizations noted above do not represent their interests or opinions.

The role that Michael helped play in awakening non-Hindutva Indian-Americans to events in Sacramento helps explain the vehemence of the attack currently aimed almost exclusively at him personally. The rightwing’s strategy consists in attempting to divert attention from resistance to the Hindutva agenda within the Hindu-American community by representing the setbacks to their California plans as being due to the efforts of one fictional “Aryan Supremicist” Harvard Professor with Nazi roots, etc. – rather than to the efforts of many non-sectarian South Asians and Westerners who have long opposed the Hindutva program.

The first and still most critical battle in California took place on November 8-9th, when a letter endorsed by Michael and approximately four dozen other researchers from India, Pakistan, the United States, Europe, Australia, Taiwan, and Japan (many of them on this List) first alerted the California State Board of Education to the religious-political motivations behind Hindutva attempts to alter history textbooks. The letter was sent out within 48 hours of the time that we first learned of the involvement of Hindutva groups in the textbook affair.

The letter informed the Board about the successful recent NCERT battle over Hindutva alterations of Indian textbooks, which were made when the BJP was in power. It also provided the California Board of Education with links to U.S. State Department papers issued in 2003 and 2004 explicitly warning against the influence of Hindutva groups in education. The importance of the letter and what was going on in California was underlined at the Board of Education meeting in Sacramento on November 9th by James Heitzman, of the University of California at Davis. Heitzman came to the Board meeting armed with an analysis of the full list of proposed edits by the Hindutva groups.

Far from just being the ‘Witzel letter’ (Dr. Heitzman didn’t even know about the letter until after it was submitted) – as the Hindutva organizations like to characterize it – this original letter from the scholarly community to the Board of Education (there have been others since) was endorsed by a long list of mainstream archaeologists, linguists, and historians, including specialists on ancient India from every part of the world.

A few of the international signers whose work is well-known in the field include Patrick Olivelle (who is a native S. Asian), of the University of of Texas; Harry Falk, of Free University, Berlin; Madhav Deshpande of the University of Michigan; Muneo Tokunaga of Kyoto University in Japan; Maurizio Tosi, of the University of Bologna in Italy; Richard Meadow of Harvard University and Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin (Co-Directors of the long-running Harappa Archaeological Research Project); well-known Indian researchers including Romila Thapar, Shereen Ratnagar, D.N. Jha, and others; Hartmut Scharfe and Stanley Wolpert, both emeritus professors of UCLA; Asko Parpola, of Helsinki University; and so on.

The endorsers are a highly diverse international group that represents many opposing research perspectives: but despite these differences, all are uniformly opposed to Hindutva fabrications of history, with which they are all familiar. As a group they don’t have even a faint resemblance to the imaginary group of “Harvard leftists” fantasized in the Hindutva slander campaign directed at Michael Witzel (see Part II, below).

As a result of this first letter, the massive rewrites of the chapters on India submitted to the Board of Education by the Vedic Foundation for the submitted textbooks were rejected in toto by the Board – and have remained off the table ever since.

That was our first victory, and it’s a lasting one.

If it hadn’t been for the November 8th letter sent out by international scholars, things could have turned out very badly at the November 9th meeting. If the Vedic Foundation rewrites had actually made it into the textbooks, the absurdity of their positions would have eventually forced those textbooks to be withdrawn – as was recently the case in India – at an estimated cost in the case of California of several hundred million dollars. (Those figures are not given lightly, and are drawn directly from publishing industry estimates.)

The textbook-issue waters became murkier at a meeting in Sacramento on December 1-2 – held not by the State Board of Education, as misreported in the India press, but by a subsidiary (and totally advisory) body known as the Curriculum Commission (CC). Events at the December 1-2 CC meeting were far more chaotic than at the November 9th State Board of Education meeting, due largely to the fact that the audience was packed to the walls with Hindutva supporters.

The fact that no South Asian opponents of Hindutva were at the meetings involved some miscalculation on our part: no one expected much to happen at the CC meeting, since the Board of Education had explicitly directed the CC (with legal force) on November 9th to judge all proposed edits solely on the basis of historical accuracy, and not on religious grounds. To this end, the Department of Education staff had drawn up a report based on a full review of previously proposed edits (from the VF and HEF) made by Stanley Wolpert, James Heitzman, and Michael Witzel, who were officially appointed as a Content Review Panel (CRP) specifically to fulfill this task. The original expectation was that the CC meeting would end quickly with acceptance of the Department of Education staff report.

Against those expectations, the meeting was chaotic – we’ll publish some funny eye witness accounts at some point – with the result that after much wrangling with the Department of Education staff, several conservative members of the CC took control of the meeting and largely ignored the Department of Education staff report. The result, after hours of arguing and confusion, was that a number of blatantly religious edits were left in the history books and several new edits (breaking all historical precedents and the explicit directive of the Board of Education) were stuck into them ‘on the fly’. The result, as everyone on all sides recognized at the end, was an inconsistent mess that has left everyone involved in a quandary about what to do next.

As one publishing insider puts it: “California is a mess.”

For now, let it be noted that it is clear to everyone (1) that the advisory CC, whose role in the vetting process is finished, violated the Board of Education’s legal directive from November 9th that stated that issues of historical accuracy alone must determine what makes it into the ancient India edits; and (2) that the publishers, the Department of Education, and everyone else involved knows that the current gross mess of inconsistent edits has to be cleaned up before anything goes to press.

But all that said, one key point by now is crystal clear. Recently Hindutva forces have begun to claim publicly (as in the Pioneer article; see below), apparently to rally their sagging troops, that what happened on December 1-2 in the CC meeting was some kind of victory for their side. This is a radical about-face from their reactions at the end of the CC meeting on December 2, when (as on November 9th) they again went away furious that the massive Vedic Foundation rewrites of the publishers’ texts – which are as comical as they are absurd (e.g., placing the Buddha and Asoka in the early 2nd millennium BCE) – didn’t make it into California textbooks.

Those rewrites weren’t accepted by the California Board of Education on November 9th; those rewrites weren’t supported by even the most conservative of the CC members on December 2; and now that academic and anti-Hindutva forces have been awakened by what almost happened in California, no rewrites like this will make it into US textbooks the next time this little drama plays out in some new state with adoption processes. (The next really big battle will not be until Texas, and that won’t occur until the end of the decade.)

Part II: Recent Smears against Michael Witzel

When other things fail, Hindutva groups traditionally try slander. And that’s what they are now trying with Michael Witzel.

The Hindutva misinformation campaign, which started several weeks ago, reached new heights with publication of a grotesquely distorted article on Christmas day in the rightwing New Delhi newspaper, The Pioneer.

Its many inaccuracies will be obvious immediately to those who have read the background materials presented in Part I, above. Other inaccuracies will be noted below.

The timing – and at points even the exact language – of this blatantly defamatory piece overlaps with an Internet petition aimed at Harvard University (my copy arrived on Christmas eve), which among much else calls for the disbanding of Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies (not coincidentally, Michael’s department).

The cover letter of the petition – all of it that many people will probably see before signing it – starts with what appears at first to be a progressive agenda, perfect for Christmas eve:

To defend the best liberal traditions that we all hold dear, I hope you will take a moment to please sign the petition at the url below, to support our effort to get the religious hate groups (you know which ones..) from using Harvard facilities and resources. The Petition is developed by well-wishers of Harvard university, concerned over the increasing intrusion by religious hate groups into our environment. I am sure you will agree with us.

The inside of the petition, which is several clicks away, drops the ‘liberal’ facade. A few highlights:

  • Our Indo-Eurasian Research List is characterized (just as it is in the Pioneer article) as an “Internet hate group”.
  • Harvard is linked with supposed “anti-Semitic Nazi groups”, and Michael is characterized as “Harvard’s Aryan Supremicist Sanskrit Professor.” (The irony of the fact that real historical links existed in its formative years between Hindutva and the Nazis is apparently unknown to the petition’s authors.)
  • I’m characterized as Michael’s “assistant”, apparently working with him at Harvard, despite the fact that I live in California, many of thousands of kilometers away from Harvard, on the opposite side of the United States.
  • One choice quotation from the petition pictures Michael as an “Aryan Supremicist” – the writers apparently have blond blue-eyed Germans in mind – and me as a “Creationist”, which I suspect would please my relatives, who have long suspected that I harbor irreligious evolutionary tendencies:

Witzel’s screeching against the community is often part of his marketing of the ‘Aryan Invasion Theory’ (AIT), now re-packaged as “Aryan Influx Theory”. This marries Farmer’s Creationist dogma, with Witzel’s Aryan Supremacist requirement that all civilization must have emanated from his ‘Aryan’ Caucasian roots. Devoid of intellectual substance, this gang personally abuses anyone who cites the growing scientific evidence debunking ‘AIT’. The evidence points to distributed local evolution of civilization, independent of any Caucasian influx.

Back to the Pioneer piece :

Just a few points on one scientific issue and on various defamatory materials in the text: it would take a book to straighten out all half truths and lies in this hatchet job:

1. The idea that DNA studies support the Hindutva view that there was no movement of Indo-Eurasian speakers in antiquity into India, ascribed in the article to S. Metzenberg (one of the conservative members of the advisory CC, who is not on the Board of Education) is ludicrous. For every study that makes such claims, as another CC member (the physicist C. Munger) accurately pointed out to Metzenberg, others can be cited that ‘prove’ exactly the opposite. As is well known to every researcher in population genetics, such studies are based on modern genetic data back-projected into historical times using very iffy theoretical models of genetic drift. The result is that the error bars are literally thousands of years long in every such study.

2. The idea that Michael has “contempt for Indians who live and work in the US” is ridiculous: he works with them daily, and counts them among his best friends and students. (Obviously many of them have also endorsed the Board of Education letters, and many others are on this List.)

3. Michael is the last person I would ever think of as a ‘racist’. Anyone who knows his immediate family, which is more Asian than Caucasian (!), in fact, would be more than a bit startled to hear such claims.

4. The quotations ascribed to Michael in the Pioneer article are consistently ripped out of context and reformulated to make it appear that they involve hate or ridicule aimed at the S. Asian community. It would take a lot of time to show this quotation by quotation, but to do so would be intellectually trivial. There isn’t an ounce of hate that I’ve ever seen in Michael Witzel, after knowing and collaborating with him on many articles and projects now in the last half decade.

5. Previous idiocies in publisher-submitted textbooks have absolutely nothing to do with Michael and have in fact been sharply criticized by him in discussions with both the publishers and the California Department of Education. Historical inaccuracies arising from corporate ignorance, however, are obviously quite distinct from Hindutva groups trying to stick politically and religiously inspired edits into US kids’ 6th-grade textbooks.

6. The fictionalized account in the Pioneer article that makes it appear that Michael appeared before the Board of Education (which the article confuses with the Curriculum Commission), which subsequently rejected his views as “unscholarly, insensitive, biased and devoid of facts – heaping ridicule on the Harvard brand” never happened. Michael never went to California, never appeared before the Board, and certainly wasn’t at the CC meeting. Far from having his views rejected by the Board of Education, he was specifically charged by the Board of Education (as part of an official ‘Content Review Panel’ with Dr. Wolpert and Dr. Heitzman) with vetting the earlier edits submitted by the VF and HEF.

7. Just as in the petitions aimed at Harvard, the Indo-Eurasian Research list is once again misrepresented in The Pioneer as an “Internet hate group.” Opposing attempts to rewrite history for political and religious purposes does not qualify us or any other group for such a label. These rightwing groups have had a terrible effect on research in premodern fields, and correcting the false image they present of history is an unfortunate (and obviously thankless) part of our job.

Part III

There are three Hindu groups involved closely in the California proceedings. We’ve said a bit about them before, so here I’ll just give the quickest of summaries:

1. The VEDIC FOUNDATION in Texas. Their proposed edits to California textbooks are the most ridiculous of all of them. This is no wonder, given their views of ancient history, which have it (in webpages now largely removed) that Indian civilization reaches back 1,972 million years – over 1.7 billion years before the age of dinosaurs.

From Internet Archives for one of their rapidly disappearing webpages.

(Don’t miss this little gem if you haven’t seen it before!)

For those of you who don’t recognize the political significance of the standard Hindutva claim that ‘Aryans’ are homegrown in India, please pay close attention to the first item on their “Do You Know” list!

2. The HINDU EDUCATION FOUNDATION, in Silicon Valley. This is a much more politically oriented group than the VF. It arose as a “project” of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) (as noted in an HSS webpage now only available to password holders, though as usual a copy lives on in our files). The group was set up specifically for projects like the California campaign. Its “Advisors” include infamous Hindutva propagandists including S. Kalyanaraman and David Frawley – the latter the American adherent of “Vedic Astrology” and the “Out of India” theory who claims in his books that American Indians came from India.

3. The HINDU AMERICAN FOUNDATION. This is the most problematic of the groups, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, since their public persona has it that they are a “Human Rights Organization” representing 2 million (!) Hindu Americans. Please note that according to US census figures this is far more than the total number of Indians (Muslims, Dalits, and Tamils included) living in the US, let alone conservative Hindus.

You won’t find a visible trace of Hindutva anyplace on their webpage, but when you dig beneath the surface, you’ll soon find that the President of HAF, Mihir Meghani, has a long history of links with the rightwing in India. See, e.g., his famous manifesto from 1998 – “Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology” – which is still found (at this minute, anyway) on the official BJP website in India.

Read this one carefully: it is another gem, although not very funny.

Finally, for anyone not acquainted with Michael’s writings on Indology, see this bibliography, where you can download many of his works as PDF files. See also his personal homepage.

  • Besides holding the Wales Chair in Sanskrit at Harvard University, Michael was elected as a Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.
  • He is the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Oriental Series, the oldest continuous Western publication series in the field, which first appeared in 1891.
  • Michael is editor-in-chief of Mother Tongue, one of the most innovative research journals devoted to comparative and historical linguistics. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, which has published a long series of important studies in the past decade.

Michael’s own writings in the past several decades have fundamentally altered the way that all of us, both in Indology and comparative history (my field), have viewed ancient India in particular and ancient history in general. One of the most influential of his studies appeared in a ground-breaking book that he edited in 1997, Inside and Outside the Texts: New Approaches to the Vedas, which contains major essays not only by Michael but by Joel Brereton, George Cardona, Tatyana Elizarenkova, Harry Falk, Hans Henrich Hock, Asko Parpola, Wilhelm Rau, and many others. Michael’s essays in this volume have fundamentally changed the way we picture historical data in Vedic texts, and they have had a long lasting effect on my own research. (The two of us are now extending part of this work in dimensions that reach far beyond India.)

Finally, it should be mentioned that the 1989 workshop that gave rise to Inside and Outside the Texts grew eventually into the increasingly important yearly Harvard Roundtables on the Ethnogenisis of South and Central Asia, which is now entering its 8th year. (This year’s conference was held in Kyoto, Japan, and next year’s will again be held in Asia, at a very exciting location still not publicly announced.)

The Indo-Eurasian Research List is an off-shoot of those Roundable meetings. Certainly no one who works through our archives with any care, starting at the beginning, will end up concluding that we are an “Internet hate List”.

Let me end on a personal note: Michael Witzel is one of the most intelligent, most humanistic, and also one oif the very funniest men I know. He is a wonderful collaborator to boot, and it has been a privilege to work with him.

The smear campaign aimed at him is obscene – it is the first word that comes to mind thinking about it – and I hope and expect that a lot of other people will speak out in his public defense.

LUCKNOW: Saffronisation of education, it seems, has not phased out with the BJP government in UP. With compilation of anti-Islamic references in 31 text books prescribed for from class V to class XII, Deeni Talimi Council— the oldest and largest of madrasa in the state— has petitioned chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav for detoxing school syllabus.

The books identified are duly approved by the Uttar Pradesh Basic/ Higher Secondary Board of Education.

“Insidious attempts to impart a biased and jaundiced information to young impressionable minds needs to be strictly discouraged,” says the petition as it demands setting up of a government text book review committee for the purpose.

Talking to TOI on Thursday, general secretary of the Council, Masoodul Hasan Usmani, said that Yadav was apprised of existing anomalies on July 24 2005.

The Council, he said, had then published a review of school text books carried out by its in house committee. The event was attended by the president of All India Muslim Personal Law Board and head of Nadwatul Ulema Maulana Rabe Hasan Nadwi. who is also the head of the Council, besides other scholars, he added.

But the glaring distortions and derogatory undercurrent he said continue even after one year. For instance the history book “Bharat Ka Vrihat Itihas” for intermediate contains a lesson titled ascendance of Islam.

On page no 266 it says, “When residents of Mecca began to oppose Mohammed Saheb and there was a threat to his life, he ran away to Madina. …Mohammed Saheb propagated Islam on the strength of sheer military power”.

“Instead of an objectionable ‘he ran away to Madina’ (woh Madina bhag gaye) they could have written, he went away to Madina,” corrects Usmani. The same lesson says that the “Muslims had a very low moral character and they did not think twice before humiliating Hindu women”.

Another history book for intermediate, Madhyamik Bharat Ka Itihas, maintains that “Shah Jehan was a fanatic (kattarpanthi Muslim) and greatly intolerant of Hindu religion. He demolished three temples in Gujarat and five temples in Banaras and Allahabad.” There are no details of the temples demolished.

Then page 150 has a reference claiming that “mosques at Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura by their architecture indicate that they were built after demolishing temples”.

The book also accused Emperor Humayun of temple desecration. In fact the list of questions at the end of the lesson also has anti-Muslim undertone like Aurangzeb ke do Hindu virodhi karya bataiye (narrate two anti Hindu measures taken by Auragzeb.)

Similarly, Samajik Vigyan the text book for class X credits Sir Syed Ahmad for political awakening among Muslims but adds “however on the flip side this led to the rise of communalism in India, (Page 168).

The Council has demanded a compulsory screening of all text books by a committee comprising all sects and religions, says HU Azmi, secretary of the council. Justice Rajendra Sachar had taken note of our findings, he declared. “Now we wait for Yadav to prove his secular credentials by washing off the saffron streaks,” he added.

8 Dec 2006, Manjari Mishra,TNN

2005 has been a terrible year for the human rights of African Americans in the United States. Facing assaults on livelihoods, falling incomes, rampant police violence and brutality, cuts in social spending and a generally cruel and undisguised contempt from the reactionary Bush administration, African Americans will remember 2005 as the year that saw the destruction of the great city of New Orleans, first by the hurricane (made possible by years of neglect and siphoning of levee funds to the “war on terror”), followed by the cruel racism of the state, media and mainstream white society as survivors were classified as “looters”, “holdouts” and “thugs”, which opened the way for a full-scale forcible displacement of the African American population of the city. To date, the city’s whiter and affluent residents have received far more generosity and care from the government, corporations and mainstream media than have African Americans. Worse, most of the city’s poorest residents, overwhelmingly African American, are being deliberately kept out of their city, their homes and residences targeted for bulldozing and sale through the use of nefarious means reflective of the worst legacies of racist America. 

This means then that the struggle of African Americans for equality and justice in America is not a historical event lodged in the past but an ongoing and present reality necessitated by institutionalized racism and oppression. This is where the comparison between African Americans and immigrant communities becomes a problematic issue. As bad as any form of racism is, it is a stretch for instance to suggest that the treatment of Indian Americans is comparable to the oppression of African Americans. But it is a bizarre departure from reality when a supremacist movement represented by a well-funded, very affluent section of the immigrant Indian American community claims to be oppressed like African Americans, especially when this claim is couched not in the aftermath of some terrible episode of racial violence or institutionalized brutality, but in the context of an effort to rewrite middle-school history textbooks in California.  

California’s school textbooks come up for review every six years. Recently the State Board of Education has become the center of an intense struggle over the content of middle school history textbooks pertaining to ancient India. [1] It is widely acknowledged by scholars that these textbooks leave much to be desired, some of these problems being factual errors (such as the idea that Hindi is written in the Arabic script with 18 letters) and others glaring displays of text writers’ ignorance and ethnocentrism (such as asking “do you see any monkeys around” after stating that Hindus worship a monkey god). What is needed is a thorough inspection and revision of these textbooks to overcome these problems with the view of advancing knowledge of ancient India consistent with the available historical research on the subject. Sensing an opportunity given the shoddy nature of these textbooks, an alliance of organizations with names such as “Vedic Foundation,” “Hindu Education Foundation” and “Hindu American Foundation” have attempted to radically rewrite these textbooks by proposing various edits that not only fail to address the problems inherent in these textbooks, but actually attempt to promote views that are consistent with Hindu supremacist ideology. 

The edits proposed by these organizations are consistent with the institutional and ideological ties these organizations have with the Hindu supremacist movement (Hindutva) led by the R.S.S. (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in India. What is surprising and disturbing for anybody concerned with the rights of minority communities in the United States, is that these supremacist organizations have cast their efforts to rewrite California’s textbooks as if they were a struggle for minority rights. This claim could hardly be farther from the truth. The HEF and VF have together proposed edits to the textbooks that seek to erase the importance and centrality of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization by asserting without evidence and contrary to the established body of historical evidence, that Indo-Europeans (Aryans) are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. They wish to mask and downplay the oppressive character of the caste system by treating it as if it were a form of social contract between people endowed with different capacities. This is a grievous insult to the historical experience of Dalits (erstwhile “untouchables”) and Sudras (lowest caste, mostly manual laborers and peasants). Additionally these proposed “edits” change references to the unequal rights of women in caste Hindu society into idyllic notions of “different duties” for men and women. 

Take for example the following paragraph from a MacMillan/McGraw Hill published history textbook, and the alternative proposed by the HEF which follows: 

MacMillan/McGraw Hill, page 252 last paragraph: 

“There was one group that did not belong to any varna. Its members were called untouchables. They performed work other Indians thought was too dirty, such as collecting trash, skinning animals, or handling dead bodies.” 

HEF wanted to delete the above paragraph and replace it with: 

“There was one group that did not belong to any varna. Its members were called untouchables because they performed dirty work such as skinning animals or handling dead bodies.”  

What this edit suggests through the subtle use of the word “because” is a causal relationship that inverts the reality of caste society. People are supposedly classified as untouchables because of the “dirty work” they do. In reality the term “untouchable” was part of an imposed social order whereby forms of labor considered impure by the social elites were imposed on those classified as untouchables. Elsewhere the HEF changes references to the mention of the “four castes” in the Rig Veda (an ancient sacred text of the Brahmins) into the “interrelationship and interdependence of the four classes” again with the intention of erasing caste as a system of discrimination and inequality. For a comprehensive account of the proposed edits by the HEF and the VF please see: www.friendsofsouthasia.org/textbook/TextbookEdits.html 

The similarities between racism and the caste-based discrimination prevalent in India has been the subject of vigorous debates, most recently at the 2001 U.N. Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa. [2] Dalit efforts to make the issue of Dalit human rights a part of the conference’s agenda faced stiff opposition from Hindu supremacist organizations in India who objected to this inclusion on the grounds that the abolition of the caste system would constitute a violation of Hindu human rights! The HEF and VF however believe that the oppression of Dalits in contemporary India is nonexistent since in their view such things cannot happen in post-independence India where untouchability is outlawed in the constitution. Such a denial is definitely comparable to the ridiculous notion that racism in the United States is nonexistent since the law forbids it! In fact the erasure of caste based discrimination proposed by these edits is far worse: the HEF and VF want to remove the word Dalit itself from the textbooks. These supremacist organizations are in effect targeting for silencing and erasure from history and the present, the very people who suffered most from millennia of caste-based discrimination.  

The HEF and VF are attempting to foist a view of ancient India that is consistent with the Hindu supremacist movement’s ahistorical assertions that Aryans (i.e. Hindus of the higher castes) are indigenous to India. This claim to indigenousness is inspired by and informs a chauvinist politics that sees all cultural “others” as outsiders and foreigners and thereby less-deserving of full rights. The Indus Valley Civilization has remained a historical problem for Hindutva’s proponents since it clearly proves a pre-Aryan indigenous civilizational complex that some have identified as Dravidian. The ancient Vedas (sacred texts of the upper caste Hindus) is replete with references and praise for light-skinned “gods” (Devas) vanquishing dark-skinned “Dasyus”. The rise of Aryan society in ancient India is therefore simultaneous to the decline and disruption of the Indus Valley civilization, AND the rise of the hegemonic caste system, which placed conquered peoples within lower and subordinate ranks while invading/migrating and lighter skinned Aryans became the upper castes of what then became Hinduism over thousands of years. Those defined by Aryan society as “untouchables” suffered the worst forms of institutionalized barbarism every created by human beings — for thousands of years they have lived condemned to the worst occupations, segregated socially, economically, culturally — and to this day targeted for brutalization by upper caste Hindus throughout India. (“50 Years of Independence , Still Untouchable,” Combat Law – the Human Rights Magazine, Vol. 1 Issue 4). 

By claiming that this effort to Hinduize ancient Indian history and erase the history of untouchability in the process represent the interests of an aggrieved minority, Hindutva activists insult the historical and contemporary legacy of struggles against racism and discrimination. In an article titled “Harvard Professor launches anti-Hindu crusade” that appears on a Hindu right-wing website, S. Kalyanaraman, an advisor to the HEF, and a senior ideologue of the Hindutva movement in the U.S., draws a parallel between white racists who protested against Harvard University for admitting African Americans in 1850, and the activists and scholars including some from Harvard University who intervened to oppose the HEF from having its way in the textbook-rewrite controversy. Casting himself and his allies as “victims” Kalyanaraman reduces the momentous struggles of African Americans in racist 19th century America to the level of the Hindutva movement’s efforts to sneak in supremacist propaganda through textbook edits.  

The human rights struggles of African Americans are now put on the same level as the “rights” claimed by Hindutva supremacists! Yankee Hindutva (i.e. the U.S. based Hindutva movement) is not a movement for minority rights by any stretch of the imagination — it is in truth the equivalent of an Indian Jim Crow movement seeking entry into the classrooms of sixth-graders by disguising itself as a representative of a victimized minority. Hindutva cannot project itself in the United States the way it does in India — arrogantly displaying its chauvinism in the public sphere since there it is a majoritarian movement. Even as recent as the second week of January 2006, the VHP and its affiliates have embarked on a campaign of violence and intimidation of Christians in the Adivasi (indigenous) regions of the Indian state of Orissa. While its U.S. affiliates feign victimhood and demand minority “rights” to write their own prejudices into the textbooks of U.S. sixth graders, the Indian VHP has no need for such antics – it is busy distributing swords and spikes to its cadres with the goal of fanning mayhem and murder for Hindutva. [3] The same advisor of the HEF noted above does not disguise his contempt for Indian Muslims as for instance in his outburst against the ideal of secularism: 

“It is time to attack the ‘secular’. It is a dirty word, a dirty system and should be used as a word of abuse against anyone who does not adhere to Sanatana Dharma . . . I think secularism should be deemed a negation of Dharma, anti-Dharma, a word of abuse and hence rejected altogether.” (“Secularism and Islam are incompatible,” by S. Kalyanaraman)

Notes: Secularism in India generally refers to the idea that there should be no discrimination against anyone on the basis of their religion or community. “Sanatana Dharma” is a term often used by upper caste Hindus to describe their religion as the “eternal law.”


Meet the Hindu supremacist editors of California’s middle school textbooks – the HEF, VF and HAF and the Hindutva movement. 

1. “Vedic Foundation” (VF): (http://vedicfoundation.org) 

The Vedic Foundation may not be institutionally part of the RSS family of organizations but its conflation of India and Hinduism is identical to the RSS view that India and Hinduism are one and the same. It is also the case that the Vedic Foundation, like various new-age cults has a following that consists of people who have no problems with the Foundation’s bizarre claim that its work “describes the history of India and the religion of India (Bharatvarsh) of 155.521972 trillion years.” The close ideological affinity between the VF and the Sangh Parivar is perhaps best exemplified in this current effort to Hindutva-ize American history textbooks. See www.friendsofsouthasia.org/textbook/About_HEF_and_VF.html 

2. “Hindu Education Foundation” (HEF) (http://hindueducation.org) 

HEF was set up and run specifically for the textbook rewrite effort by a team of Hindutva operatives in the United States. The HEF is acknowledged as a “project” of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS, the core RSS affiliate in the US). The HEF consists of 15 members of which almost all are activists, ideologues and leaders in prominent Hindutva organizations throughout the U.S. (www.hindueducation.org/advisors.htm)

Recently an activist of the HSS attending an RSS event in India stated on the Times of India: “Through the Hindu Education Foundation run by the RSS in California, we have succeeded in correcting the misleading information in text books for primary and secondary classes,” said Soni. — RSS ABROAD: ‘We are striving to keep our culture alive,’ TIMES NEWS NETWORK, December 31, 2005, Page 5.”

Also see: www.friendsofsouthasia.org/textbook/About_HEF_and_VF.html  

3. “Hindu American Foundation” (HAF) (http://hinduamericanfoundation.org) 

The HAF provides legal assistance to the VF and HEF in the textbook rewrite effort. Its founder and president Mihir Meghani co-founded the Hindu Students Council (a project of the VHPA, US affiliate of the VHP, itself created by the RSS) more than a decade ago. HAF claims to represent “Hindu Americans” and waxes eloquent about “human rights” but its agenda is in sync with the Hindutva movement and not with any genuine human rights concerns. A few years ago Meghani made the following statement: 

“The future of Bharat is set. Hindutva is here to stay. It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat. It is up to the government and the Muslim leadership whether theywish to increase Hindu furor or work with the Hindu leadership to show that Muslims and the government will consider Hindu sentiments. The era of one-way compromise of Hindus is over, for from now on, secularism must mean that all parties must compromise.”

Meghani wrote this in a piece titled “Hindutva, the Great Nationalist Ideology” which can be read on the website of the BJP.  

To the best of our knowledge Mr. Meghani has neither repudiated this statement nor the sentiments behind it. Threatening Muslims in this disgusting manner disqualifies Meghani’s claims to represent any human rights concerns. If anything the notion that the human rights of one cultural/religious community is expendable and at the mercy of another community is utterly at odds with the universalism that the idea of human rights implies. Meghani’s HAF promotes a sectarian Hindu outlook by appropriating human rights discourse and supports an agenda that is inimical to all minorities in India. 

This same “human rights” outfit condemned the denial of a U.S. visa by the State Department to the Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi (widely held responsible for the organized genocide of Muslims by Hindutva organizations in the state of Gujarat in 2002) as “Hinduphobic,” and expressed “distress” over the arrest (in a murder case) of a prominent religious head of the Kanchi Mutt, an institution that remains fervently pro-caste system and anti-Dalit. Undaunted by such contradictions, the HAF expends resources attacking critics and opponents of Hindutva as anti-Hindus. Why would an organization committed to Hindutva project its cause in terms of a “minority” seeking “human rights?” It is perhaps more likely that the HAF’s organizational effort is to enable the Hindutva agenda to sneak through the backdoor of multiculturalism by deceiving the U.S. public and the CA board of education into thinking that it (the HAF and its allies) represent an aggrieved and marginalized community seeking inclusion and equality. 

Raja Swamy is a writer and activist based in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at: raja.swamy@gmail.com.


* Now, Hindu Nationalists Rewriting California Textbooks by Angana Chatterji


[1] “Speak Out Against the Hindutva Assault on California’s History Textbooks.”

[2] “Fighting Caste Bias, Shefali Srinivas,” Women’s eNews, September 2001.

[3] “Stop VHP reconversion drive, Minorities panel tells Centre,” Indian Express, January 15, 2006.

by Raja Swamy, www.dissidentvoice.org ,January 19, 2006

Michael WitzelProfessor Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University, shot off a letter to the California Board of Education on November 8 after coming to know what he described was US-based Hindu groups’s attempt to have sections of school textbooks relating to information on ancient India, Hindu religion and culture altered to conform to their views.

Professor Witzel warned in the letter, co-signed, among others, by Stanley Wolpert, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles, a pre-eminent American specialist on Indian history, and Romila Thapar, India’s most famous historian on ancient India and a recent Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, that the textbook changes proposed by these groups would lead to an international educational scandal if accepted by California’s Board of Education.

Following the letter, Professor Witzel, who has lived and taught Mimamsa philosophy in Nepal for more than five years and held many positions in the US and Germany, was retained by the Curriculum Commission along with Professor Wolpert to revisit the changes/edits approved by the ad hoc committee.

After the commission, an advisory body, decided by vote to accept only a dozen or so of the 58 recommendations made by the Witzel panel, Professor Witzel spoke to rediff India Abroad Senior Editor Suman Guha Mozumder explaining the reasons for his panel’s opposition to the corrections proposed by the Hindu groups.

Why did you choose to write to the Board of Education almost at the end of the process? What issues were you and other scholars on India uncomfortable with?

It was the whole approach these two Foundations — the Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation — took on the issue of textbooks. As we mentioned, the agenda of these groups proposing these changes is familiar to all specialists on Indian history who have recently won a long battle to prevent exactly these kinds of changes from finding a permanent place in history textbooks in India.

The proposed revisions are not of a scholarly but of a religious-political nature and promoted by Hindutva supporters and non-specialist academics who write on issues outside their areas of expertise.

Could you elaborate?

I must perhaps say that school textbooks are never perfect, and are always behind the curve. But now what these two Foundations have done with their proposed changes is to make the textbooks even worse for the school children of California.

Why do you think so?

The reasons are twofold.

First of all, it is a rewriting of Hinduism. Academics discuss Hinduism, among all religions, keeping in mind that there are so many diverse groups. If you read their edits, it would seem like Hinduism is a monotheistic religion, like Christianity or Judaism, with God spelt with a capital G.

It is a very narrow sectarian approach and that is being inserted into textbooks.

I have no preference, but you see there are tantriks, lingayets and others who too are Hindus, but all of them are missing (in the groups’ opinion of Hinduism) and you get only one particular, sectarian and religiously-motivated point of view.

What is the second reason?

Number two is that history too has also been rewritten seriously. If you had gone to the Vedic Foundation web site, you will be happy to see that Indian civilisation is 1.9 million years old. I wonder who was around that time in India but anyway they say it is that old.

I believe you and your panel objected to as many as 58 proposals approved by the ad hoc committee. What were the main ones?

I do not know (because) there are so many. The main ones are on the side of philosophy and religion. They talk only in terms of God and cut out other gods and goddesses. Then there are many historical inaccuracies. They would say that Hinduism is just Vedic.

If it was just Vedic then many things like the worship of goddess Kali would not be part of present day Hinduism. Or they would say that the ancient sacrifices or jagnas did not involve any animal sacrifice. As if nobody knows what goes on in Kalighat (a temple in Kolkata where goats used to be sacrificed until a few years ago) or Kathmandu (capital of Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom in the world) every day.

They say the same things for the early Vedic period. There are historical inaccuracies all over the place.

I believe your panel had objections about the corrections relating to the caste system.

It is always complicated. First of all, the textbooks authors had confused caste and class although that has been corrected. But they say the caste system developed in the last few centuries or so. But the fact that the caste system was there before the British came to rule India is denied by them.

To come back to our point, what they are doing is misrepresentation of both history and religion.

Your panel also had objections on women’s rights.

Young women would be happy to learn that, as the edits suggest, that their rights were different from the rights of men in India like the slave owners and slaves had. Schools children will learn that, although it contradicts what the ancient Indian texts say.

A very famous quote from Manu says ‘a woman should be guarded at all stages of her life — as a child at home by her father, as a married woman by her husband and as a widow by her son.’ Thank you very much for the protection, but these things are never mentioned. Only that women and men had different rights.

The Shruti says, for example in the Satapatha Brahmana, that in war one should not kill women.

But the next sentence says one should just rob them. It shows the rights of women, but it also shows the position of women, too!

Could this be out of ignorance of history?

You know, I would agree with them as far as the ultimate cause is concerned because Hindus and others living in the US notice that their religion gets misrepresented and there is a need to correct the image. I agree with that.

But the question is how to go about it?

The intention of the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation was good but the way they are doing it, as I said, is sectarian, narrow and historically wrong.

If they had consulted scholars in the US — and most of them are South Asians — then they would have got a balanced proposal.

Of course, scholars would not always agree with the religious people and the religious people would not agree with each other, but at least you would have got a balanced set of proposals.

That has not happened. Instead, you get narrow, sectarian points of views. I am hundred percent in favour of rewriting these books but not in this way.

I believe most of the recommendations made by the ad hoc committee have been upheld despite the suggestions/alterations suggested by you. Does it surprise you, given the fact that you and Professor Wolpert made suggestions?

I have several reports from that meeting from people who were present. The proceedings were incorrect. They did not follow the mandate that they had but made it up themselves. I mean the Curriculum Commission made up their own mandate. The meeting was taken over by one of the commissioners. In simple American language, it was really a mess.

This is something for the Californians to sort out. It was not done properly by this ad hoc committee and it was dominated by one commissioner who pushed for a sectarian, unhistorical narrow approach to corrections. They also did not take into account other Hindu voices, forget about us.

Do you think…

You see the main aim is to present India in the best light which is fine. They are really trying to erase things that are negative. But there are negative things. I just do not understand why does one have to do such things? Just praise what is good. But that is never done.

Why not say we (India) had early development of maths, good surgeons and good philosophy 2000 years ago, things that are factually correct?

I always get misrepresented that I am a Hindu hater, but I am not.

I hate people who misrepresent history.

Do you agree with the perception in certain quarters that it is a victory of sorts for Hindus in America?

That is a very doubtful characterisation (laughs) if you follow this particular issue. You might be angry if you know anything about history and might not be happy.

Rediff Dec 2005

A scathing indictment

in New Delhi

The exoneration of the historians involved with the “Towards Freedom Project” in the interim report of the Bandopadhyay Committee is evidence of the BJP-led government’s communal agenda.




THE interim report submitted by D. Bandopadhyay, a former Secretary to the Government of India inquiring into the affairs of the Indian ICHR of Historical Research (ICHR), has exonerated the General Editor and Editors of the two volumes of the “Towards Freedom Project” of the charge levelled against them by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government. The charge was that the volumes were sent to press without the knowledge of the ICHR. The interim report, based on the evidence unearthed by the one-man committee, is bound to cause some discomfort to the BJP, more specifically to former Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister and senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.

The report, in an obtuse reference to the previous regime, observes: “It is unfortunate that it [the project] got unduly delayed due to various exogenous and endogenous circumstances and attracted criticism from various quarters.”

The committee was appointed on September 6, 2004, by the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. It was given six months to submit a report to the government covering five broad areas: the administrative and financial functioning of the ICHR in relation to the aims and objectives as laid down in the Memorandum of Association; the non-publication/stoppage of volumes of the “Towards the Freedom Project”; and the non-submission of research work by scholars who were given fellowship by the ICHR during 1995-96 – 2000-2001, as highlighted in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General 2002-03. The committee was also mandated to give recommendations and suggest remedial measures to improve the functioning of the ICHR and ensure its autonomy.

One of the controversies that the ICHR got dragged into, and for which the interim inquiry committee was set up, was the tendentious but prestigious “Towards Freedom Project”. During the tenure of the BJP-led government, the HRD Ministry took a serious view of some of the volumes of the project and did not allow them to be published on some procedural pretext. The reasons were far from procedural; they were more ideological, as the interim report has established. The interim report focuses almost entirely on the “Towards Freedom Project” and reflects the meticulous and objective work of the inquiry committee. The final report will be submitted in March.

At the outset, the committee was hamstrung by the non-availability of the main file of the ICHR relating to the “Towards Freedom Project”. It was informed that the file had been requisitioned by Murli Manohar Joshi. It transpired that even before the committee made a request for the main file, former member-secretaries of the ICHR, R.C. Aggarwal and A.K. Ambasht had written, in August 2002 and July 2004 respectively, to Joshi’s personal secrertary Alok Tandon requesting him to trace the file and send it back to the ICHR. Even Bandopadhyay wrote to the Ministry to return the file. “The file remains untraceable in both the personal office of the Minister of HRD and in the Ministry of HRD. Obviously, someone in the previous HRD Minister’s office wilfully removed the file from the public domain with some ulterior motive,” the interim report states. It adds: “Unless these important files were retrieved, much of the materials relating to the non-publication/stoppage of Towards Freedom Project would never be unearthed.”

The Bandopadhyay Committee had to depend on the annual reports of the ICHR, agenda papers and minutes of the ICHR’s meetings, press clippings and articles in magazines regarding the controversy, Parliament questions, status papers and the draft White Paper prepared by the ICHR, and so on. It was evident that the inquiry committee faced considerable difficulty in collecting all the relevant material in the absence of the main file.

The Towards Freedom Project was initially with the National Archives of India (NAI). After the setting up of the ICHR, it was made the executing agency of the project. The primary objective of the unique project was to collect material from official and private sources, news reports and other contemporary sources that dealt with the social and economic dimensions of the Indian National Movement for the decade preceding Independence, that is, from 1937 to 1947. The volumes were meant also to reflect the aspirations of the masses, apart from the struggles and the sacrifices made by people who led the movement against the imperial power.

In 1972-73, the project was reorganised and an editorial board comprising eminent historians was set up, and in 1975 the late Professor S. Gopal was made the Honorary Chief Editor. The project, funded by the Ministry of Education, was to be completed by March 31, 1988. It was restructured in accordance with a decision taken by the ICHR’s Advisory Committee in August 1987. Ten volumes were planned, and one volume was published before the restructuring of the project. Eminent historians were invited to edit them and Prof. Gopal was made the General Editor of the project. It was also decided during the restructuring that the documents would be classified on a thematic basis instead of a chronological order.

As 1988 was fast approaching, the ICHR sought an extension of the deadline . As no progress could be made, the government withdrew the project and gave it to the NIA and later decided to fund it until March 1992. It was decided that all volumes pertaining to the Project should be published by March 31, 1994. The deadline could not be met.

The project became a part of the ICHR’s routine activity and came to be known as “Special Publication Programme”. But the processing work continued, as revealed by the ICHR’s Annual Report for 1995-96. The report states that volumes covering the years 1938, 1940, 1943-44 and 1946 were processed for publication. Two volumes covering the period 1943-44 edited by Professor P.S. Gupta, were sent to the Oxford University Press for publication. This volume was published in 1997.

The Annual Report for 1996-97 states that the volumes edited by Sumit Sarkar (1946) and K.N. Panikkar (1940) would be sent to the press in October 1997. Relying on the information from the Annual Reports for 1996-97 and 1998-99, the inquiry report concluded that the volumes edited by Panikkar and Sarkar were lying in the ICHR’s custody for three and a half years for different stages of processing.

This has been a very crucial finding as it is instrumental in debunking the notion put forth by ICHR officials close to the previous government that the volumes of Panikkar and Sarkar were not looked at by the ICHR at all and sent straightaway for publication. It was on this ground that the two volumes were withdrawn from the press. It was strange, observed the interim report, that the Annual Report for 2000-01 did not mention anything further on the status of the project, which was the most important and direct publication programme of the ICHR. The Annual Reports of the subsequent years until 2003 also failed to mention anything about the project. Stated the inquiry report: “From such silence, it could be inferred that either the project had been completed prior to 2000-01 or it was abandoned. Having spent so much of public funds on the project and involved so many eminent historians and academics, such silence speaks of high degree of academic irresponsibility verging on grave dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities in general and of the then Chairman and Member Secretary in particular.”



K.N. Panikkar

A perusal of the agenda notes and the minutes of the ICHR’s meeting relating to the project by the inquiry committee revealed some interesting facts. The inquiry report has reserved some of the most scathing comments for the ICHR’s demeanour in the case of the volumes edited by Panikkar and Sarkar. In the 43rd meeting of the ICHR on December 28, 1999, when B.R. Grover was the Chairperson, the ICHR decided that the “remaining volumes still to be published should not be sent for publication without having been read and reviewed by the Council/Review Committee”.

In the same meeting, it was also decided that the publication of the two volumes should be stopped temporarily and their manuscripts sent to the ICHR/Review Committee.

The inquiry committee observed: “It was indeed a very strange decision to temporarily stop the publication of these two volumes.” It added that the ICHR had not recorded any adverse remarks regarding the academic quality of the two volumes.

Further, it noted that “if all the proofs were not received by the Council from Oxford University Press, they should have asked for it. Non-receipt of some portion of proof cannot be a legitimate ground for temporary stoppage of publication”. It stated that it was “indeed unusual” that while in the 41st meeting, the ICHR appreciated “the hard work” put in by the editors of the “Towards Freedom Project”, the 43rd meeting of the ICHR decided to stop temporarily the printing of the manuscripts already in the press on some “puerile grounds”. And more specifically, the report observed that “obviously, the Council did not take the decision on its own but did so on the basis of some direction or hint from somewhere else. To cover it up, they gave an inane reason of non-receipt of proof for stopping publication”.



Prof. Sumit Sarkar

After a perusal of the minutes of the 46th meeting of the ICHR, where the temporary suspension of the publication of the volumes was recorded and a review recommended by a committee of experts, the inquiry committee found that Grover had requested Professor Devendra Swaroop to prepare a status report. Swaroop was not a member of the ICHR at any time; neither did the minutes show the reasons for assigning the task to him, especially when he was not associated with the ICHR except as a special project holder.

As the circumstances were intriguing, the inquiry committee concludes that “one can reasonably presume that the Council took this unusual decision on some extraneous consideration unrelated to serious academic issue”. The report also observed that despite the status report never being prepared, secretarial assistance was provided to Swaroop. “Thus the money spent on providing secretarial assistance to Dr. Devendra Swaroop was totally wasted.”

The inquiry report has unearthed enough evidence to establish that both the Chairman (Professor S. Settar) and the ICHR were under outside pressure to sabotage the “Towards Freedom Project”. Settar, in an interview to Frontline in March 2000, had said that “two volumes were sent to the press with my knowledge” and that the matter was duly reported by him to the ICHR (Frontline, March 17, 2000). But a status paper was produced by the ICHR, which was completely contrary to the facts present in the Annual Reports.

The inquiry report has described as a “perfidious lie” the claims in the status paper regarding Prof. P.S. Gupta’s volume that it was sent to the press without the knowledge of the publication section of the ICHR. This claim has been debunked in the Annual Report for 1995-96. “It continued to harp on this deceit when it mentioned `the two volumes prepared by Prof. K.N. Panikkar and Prof. Sumit Sarkar covering 1940 and 1946 respectively had already been sent to the press (OUP) without any scrutiny’.”



B.R. Grover

Relying almost entirely on information present in the Annual Reports, the inquiry committee observes: “Obviously, the authorities of ICHR were deliberately and wilfully fabricating lies after lies, ignoring their own factual statements mentioned in the Annual Reports submitted to Parliament. This was done obviously with an ulterior motive of defaming, maligning and tarnishing the academic image of distinguished historians like Professor Sumit Sarkar, Professor K.N. Panikkar and above all the late Professor S. Gopal and to find out some justification for their utterly unreasonable and unethical action of withdrawing the volumes under print.” A scathing indictment indeed.

The report states that “as the Chairman of the ICHR, [the] late B.R. Grover played a dubious role in the withdrawal of the two volumes from the press”. A typed but unsigned note on “Facts about Toward Freedom Project” was recovered from the cupboard of Grover, in which criticisms were levelled against the work of P.S. Gupta and Basudev Chatterjee. The main points in the note were that Mahatma Gandhi had been reduced to a mere footnote; that the Communist Party, “which had played a traitorous role” in the freedom struggle, had been highlighted out of proportion; that the thematic arrangements allowed for subjectivity with the specific objective of fabricating a past to a purpose of propaganda for a particular ideology; and that the volumes were unusually bulky resulting in a high cost of production and unaffordable prices.

Rejecting all the criticisms made in the note, the inquiry committee found that the charge that the historians attempted to hide “the traitorous role” of the Communist Party of India was untenable and baseless. “As honest historians, they revealed the truth as it appeared in the contemporary documents,” stated the inquiry report, adding that both the volumes by P.S. Gupta and Basudev Chatterjee contained a large number of documents relating to the Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Hindu communalism and the Muslim League. In fact, the eagerness of the Hindu Mahasabha in forging links with the allied powers has been revealed in the volumes. “The volumes of Dr. Basudev Chatterjee (1938) and Professor P.S. Gupta (1942-43) which contain objective documents relating to all political parties, social groups and individuals somehow traced the raw nerves of some people who reacted rather violently to scuttle the whole project. The ICHR should act very fast to complete the project before another assault is mounted to subvert it,” observed the inquiry report.

Sixty-five per cent of the work still remains to be done. The report recommends the immediate revival of the project with a separate fund allocation from the government; completion of the project in the next 24 months; appointment of an eminent historian as general editor; constitution of an editorial board; appointment of volume editors, and so on.

Front Line Magazine, Jan 29 – Feb 11, 2005

Professor Romila Thapar, one of India’s finest historians, is in the news again — for refusing the Padma Bhushan. During the reign of the National Democratic Alliance government, she was in the news for a series of run-ins with the ideologues of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the largest party in the NDA coalition. The BJP was keen to do away with her interpretation of history and present a new version — which was questioned by most historians for its authenticity and interpretation since it sought to glorify the Hindu aspects at the cost of non-Hindu aspects. The United Progressive Alliance government put an end to the ‘rewriting’ of history.

Thapar’s refusal of the Government of India’s award had so many from the media questioning her that she made copies of her reasons for declining the award and distributed them (the statement is reproduced below as the answer to the first question).

She also agreed to give an interview to Deputy Managing Editor Amberish K Diwanji where she dwelt on the study of Indian history in the country today.
Why did you decline the Padma Bhushan?

My declining a State award is an entirely personal decision that I took 13 years ago when I was first offered the same award and which I also declined then. I decided at that time that I would only accept academic and professional awards. And because it is a personal decision, let me emphasise that it does not reflect on others who have accepted the awards, neither is it a gesture of arrogance nor of opposition to the government. I was more than delighted with the election results of 2004.

I also have a sense of unease about these awards. One of the problems is that over the years there has been a degree of slippage where State awards are being seen as government awards, in effect, government patronage. The line dividing them may be thin but has to be maintained.

The procedures for these awards should be systematised and made more transparent. We should know who is consulted when names are considered, what the procedure is in taking a decision, and who decides. If the names of the members of these committees are known, that would add to the prestige of the award. Those listed for awards should be consulted just prior to the finalisation of the list. This would save considerable embarrassment on both sides when awards are declined.

These awards are generally given to those who are already recognised. One would like to see a larger number of awards going to those who are doing valiant work in various fields and who remain unrecognised: those in rural education, health care, urban slums, and areas essential to the well-being of our society as a whole. Awards going to such people would lend far greater weight in society to the work that they are doing.

Politics and lobbying plays a part in all awards, whether academic or even the Nobel Prize. Does that take away from the award or the recipient?

State awards have become increasingly mixed up with government patronage in India. But there is a difference between State awards and professional awards. The latter are strictly for the work one has done and nothing else. Therefore, I prefer taking a professional or an academic award.

The other point I’d like to make is that although many awards do get politicised, including professional awards, nevertheless in a professional context, a smaller group of people is involved, and professionals can critique a judgment. One can say that so-and-so doesn’t deserve the award, but it is very difficult to say that in a State award, which is more extensive, has a lot of people involved in different fields, and so forth.

My decision was the same in 1992 and my reasons then were the same as they are now. I have stayed with these reasons all through my career and I have stayed with the same decision.

Moreover, in societies like ours, there isn’t the same value placed on academic awards as is placed on State awards and one always likes to encourage academic and professional awards.

You had also said that in India awards are usually given to those who have already accomplished rather than to recognise emerging talent as they should. And it has always been pointed out that far too often, the Indian government recognises talent after it is recognised by an international body.

What I was trying to suggest is that awards are given to those who are already recognised. There are a large number of people who are working in unglamorous areas such as rural education, urban slums, etc. Some of them are doing valiant jobs and a lot of their credibility and respect would be increased if they were given a Padma Shri or Padma Bhushan. I think more of these persons need to be brought into the net of awards than they are at the moment. That is what I meant when I said the awards tend to be given to people who are already recognised.

International recognition does seem to be rewarded by national recognition.

You said textbooks are written based on accepted knowledge. So what should be the parameters for changing textbooks? A lot of people might object to, say, the school history textbooks as found in West Bengal. After all, there will always be some who will oppose change.

It depends on where the demand for change comes from. If it suddenly comes from political parties, then there is a suspicion as to why they want to change the textbooks. In the normal course of pedagogy, all knowledge has to be reconsidered from time to time because knowledge advances. The history that was written 20 years ago has to be revised in the light of new advances, whether in source material or interpretation. The objection is not to the fact that the history has to be revised, but to the basis on which that revision takes place.

If a committee of a dozen respected and recognised historians go through the textbooks and tell us where and what should be revised, none of us will have objections to the principle, although we may disagree with the suggested revisions.

But people who represent the Arya Samaj, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), the (Shiromani) Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee or this and that — and none of them historians — when they say that they object to various statements in the history textbooks, then we have to ask for historically based objections. They are not historians and there can be little historical discussion on the objections. Here the purpose comes to be seen as one where ideology, in the political sense, is being brought in.

That seems to be happening worldwide. We now have a situation in the US where there is a demand to study the ‘theory’ of creation alongside the theory of evolution.

Yes, but the point is that there is a debate and there are people fighting the compulsory teaching of creationism. But you are right, this is not an entirely Indian phenomenon. Everywhere there are groups that don’t wish to bring in change and this leads to debates.

The only difference is that debates are generally conducted in a civilised manner, whereas here, when ministers of the Government of India were abusing us publicly by name, day in and day out, this was really not called for. That kind of behaviour doesn’t make for a debate.

There is a complaint that our history is seen from a certain perspective. For instance, Dalits often complain about lacking representation in history.

That is the same as the gender perspective. There is much feminist history that is only now being written. This frequently happens — that as and when groups become empowered, they wish to see their history at least incorporated in or parallel to the existing history. And this will continue a this is one perspective from which history changes. What I wrote about dalits and women in my recent Early India is much more than what I wrote 35 years ago, because there wasn’t that consciousness 35 years ago.

So it does boil down to the fact that history is driven by the political and social changes taking place?

No, it does not boil to that. Not at all! What it boils down to is that the political and social changes may make us conscious of other dimensions that we had missed out earlier. But the change in history is not one that simply reflects contemporary changes since there has to be reliable data for making statements about the past, or ways of looking at existing data that may give us leads that can be tested.

But so often history misses aspects. For example, books on Maratha history took a long time to discover that under the Peshwas, the Dalits suffered terribly. And this didn’t come out till recently.

I don’t know about this particular case. But more generally, one reason is that history, till recent times, has been treated as the history of elite groups, (is) because it was only the elite groups that left written sources, inscriptions and other literary records. If the Dalits had done so, if there were texts written by Dalits in earlier periods, those texts would have been treated as source material.

It is only now that historians have become conscious of the oral tradition and conscious of what (anthropologist) Eric Wolfe has called ‘people without history.’ They were regarded as people without history; but then, everyone has a history, and that is an input.

The awareness of these histories has some influence on our understanding of identities from the past. And when one is talking about looking for identities, it is no longer a single identity that the historian is concerned with, but the recognition of multiple and sometimes overlapping identities.

Are we as a people ready for critical history? So often our books lead to a public outcry.

This is part of the process of getting used to discussion and debate. It doesn’t happen overnight. We were a colony for 200 years in which our entire intellectual debate was focused on not deviating from the given message, not challenging convention and authority.

We challenged it at the political level through nationalism and this had its influence on secular historical writing. Now we have to challenge convention not as an opposition to colonialism alone, but through new ways of understanding the past and this includes accommodating intellectual processes that question conventional knowledge. It will take time to adjust to this, but it is happening.

If you read the history that has been written in the last few decades you will find that it does question conventional views and does so in methodical and precise ways. There is a premium on critical enquiry and this needs encouragement. The attack on critical enquiry, not just in history but in various fields of knowledge under the previous (NDA) government, has done a lot of damage.

But so often opinions are so sharply divided. For instance, you either have versions saying thousands of temples were destroyed or very few were.

There is historical writing investigating which temples were destroyed and for what reason and which declined through other reasons. These are careful analyses and not partisan figures. They are concerned with the why and how of the rise and decline of a temple.

The problem is that much of the general public, and particularly the media, seems to have given up on reading. Today, all that is wanted is not a book but a byte, and a sensational byte at that. So either it is said that ‘Oh they destroyed all the temples’ or that ‘No, no, they did not destroy the temples.’

Temples have a biography and a community history, which explains much of what happens to them. A large range of questions have to be asked and answered. Such questions are being asked and answered by historians. But few are interested in these because it means a little bit of reading, the kind of activity that most television channels set aside.

The media is only interested in sensation! I am sorry but I am convinced about this.

Are you writing another book?

I am writing on something that I have been thinking about for virtually all my working life. There is a widely held theory that Indians never had a sense of history, that Indian civilisation was ‘a-historical.’ I am trying to refute this by pointing out that there is a historical tradition; it is expressed differently but it is there and I am trying to trace it.

How would you assess the study of Indian history at present? Is much research being done?

Oh yes, there is an enormous amount that is being done. The public perception of history generally goes back to books that were written 50 years ago or so, but in fact, in the last half century, much has been done to further the methods of historical writing. The basis of this has become much more specialised, and historical research much more complex.

Now we speak about the historical method, which wasn’t talked about when I was a student. It is a method that requires a historian to assess evidence — and particularly its reliability — to analyse it, to examine as many causes as possible, to argue for a priority of causes, and then to finally to bring the argument together in a historical generalisation. There is a method to the procedures and to specialised research. This is something that the press, the visual media and the politicians don’t understand when they readily pronounce on history.

The point that I have been making all along in the issue that was being discussed during the period of the BJP government about NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) textbooks is the difference between textbooks and research. Textbooks are never at the cutting edge of knowledge because the main purpose of a textbook is to encapsulate the mainstream of accepted knowledge. Those on the frontiers of knowledge, propounding new theories, do not include these in textbooks. Maybe some years from now, when this knowledge becomes part of the mainstream knowledge, it will become part of textbooks.

But many who took part in this debate during the last five years were unfamiliar with the kind of historical research that was being carried out because they didn’t read the books we were writing. They were commenting on us as historians on the basis of what they read in the textbooks, if at all they read the textbooks.

So the attack on me was because I had talked about the eating of beef in the Vedic period in a Class VI textbook. This has been an established fact in historical research for many decades and therefore has found its way into a textbook. And the people who were vilifying me as a historian were people who had certainly not read my other books on history.

But is there a case that ultimately the version of history we accept is determined by ideology?

In the case of the confrontation with the BJP it was not just ideology but also the intention of using history as part of an ideology geared to political mobilisation. It is something that has been slowly boiling up as it were and was used when the opportunity occurred.

A clear example was the Ram Janmabhoomi movement where there was a misuse of history in order to support political mobilisation. In fact, the historical factor should not have come in at all. If people have a belief in their associations with a particular place, and it is an appeal to faith, this has nothing to do with the history of the place. You can’t bring history into faith. But there is the feeling all the time that in order to strengthen the argument, if you can say there is historical proof as well, then it becomes much stronger.

There are various ways of seeing ideology. Where ideology is the driving force of ideas it can lead to shifts in the paradigms of knowledge and to that extent knowledge can be driven by a context that includes ideology. This has been argued even for much of scientific advance. The point here is that knowledge is that which makes advances or overcomes any kind of ideological constraints and goes forward.

But at a more ordinary level, there is the kind of ideology that becomes a mechanism for political mobilisation. This has nothing to do with knowledge. It has to do with a political intention and political agenda. Therefore the attack should not be on the driving force of knowledge but on the intention of using ideology for political gain.

Aren’t you contradicting yourself here? If knowledge is driven by ideology…

(Interrupting) No, I am not saying it is driven by ideology. There is a difference. Ideology may play a role in pushing knowledge in a particular direction, but this is a different kind of ideology as it does not require people to demolish historical monuments. The popular definition of ideology is more a programme for political action.

But wouldn’t it have the tinge of the ideology that drove it?

If the word ideology is used in its widest sense, namely, the manner of thinking of individuals, then everything has a tinge of ideology; the way one speaks, what one eats, how one thinks… that is part of life and in part an explanation of what one is. From this perspective all our attitudes to life are tinged with ideology.

Does that mean there is no such thing as objective history?

There is no absolute objective history but some histories are more objective than others based on how the historical methods are used. There are no absolutes.

Rediff, Feb 2005