Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My Problem With India's Social Sciences - History

Kandhariya Mahadev Temple at Khajuraho - Little Known Wonder Within India (Rohit Pathania (c))
I am writing this post because I found people I respect immensely being offended by s video that I had shared wherein Jawaharlal Nehru University and its social sciences department, among others, was being joked about. If anyone was offended by the video, I apologize; the intentions were not to hurt anyone. It was shared in good humour. However, that has made me wonder why I have problems with India's social sciences and the way it is studied and taught in India. It has nothing to do with teachers that I necessarily encountered; rather, my problems are related to what I never got to encounter, know and interact with. Let me quote some examples on the same from the history lessons that I can recall immediately to assert my case. It is not an exhaustive list but only a small sample, and I encourage readers to go further on their own.

The subject of history has grave necessity for any civilization country. There is no undermining the importance of history in building national character. However, national character cannot be built if one is going to obsess with World Wars in school with a sanitized version of India's role in both of them. Let us not forget that it was Indian soldiers on both occasions that turned the tide for the British forces and their allies. It is a known fact now that the British held on to the India, Sri Lanka and South East Asian colonies for so long only because it was firm in its conviction of the Indian forces being by its side. The minute the tide turned, as evidenced in the Indian National Army of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the Royal Indian Naval Mutiny of 1946, the colonial masters decided to pack up and leave. In the midst of all this however, the narrative of a peaceful struggle has been superimposed on people, particularly in schools, to believe that certain players and parties were responsible for 1947. By that logic, we should also look at the Partition as a responsibility of the same set of actors. It cannot go both ways for the same set of people. What it clearly demonstrates is that history is shown in monochromatic shades, and the attempt is to create a narrative in the minds of children that there were other people who did nothing at all.

Step back further, and we see there is hagiography about the Mughal rule in India. It is either one way or the other, depending on who you talk to. Good things did happen, but so did bad things. Sanitization of the role played by particular rulers, especially Babar and Aurangzeb, is so deep that academia does not want to believe alternative versions, even if shown the evidence. When faced with logic in fact, these stories fall apart, as was seen in the Babri Masjid judgment of Allahabad High Court. It is divine retribution in a sense that we have oral traditions in India outliving and contradicting the vice-like grip of these eagles of academia, who deserve nothing less than contempt for misrepresenting facts. Half truths are worse than lies, and that is exactly what has happened. Sticking to the same period, we see that we are told people like Ghazni invaded India several times; however, no one ever tells why they went back. Neither is the truth of Muhammad Bin Qasim's invasion, thankfully preserved in Sindh folklore Chachnamah, in public limelight.

School children and most college students are told that Buddhism died in India due to fascist Hindu rulers. Fascinating is the terminology that describes certain kind of people then and now. In any case, nobody points outs the truth on this moot question as well. Hinduism had already started to revive, thanks to the efforts of such intellectual giants as Adi Sankaracarya, Utpaladeva, Ramanuja and Abhinavagupta among others. Violence was not their weapon; rather they were the real Argumentative Indians. They believed in the art of Sastrartha or dialogue, and converted several people back. Beyond that, the Muslim invaders played a major role in killing off Buddhism in India. The word Buut or statue actually is a corruption of Buddha, and was first used by Arabs to  describe Buddhists in Sindh, who were exterminated en masse like cockroaches. Chachnamah and Tibetan texts among others prove that. However, we are told by eminent historians that Hindu kings burnt down universities. And this is entirely absent at school levels. Saying this will bring the wrath of the influential group of historians in India who control what you say and write, being absolutely intolerant towards alternative opinions.The sidelining of B B Lal, archaeologist part excellence, is a prime example of that.

Anotherstep back further, and look at the way Asoka is glorified in Indian history lessons. Despite Upinder Singh's work, no effort has been made to change the narrative. The funny thing is that the evidences that are cited to prove Asoka as a great ruler can be in turn used to reverse the narrative. In fact, Asoka was no better than a fanatic nanny statist ruler, who was responsible for the persecution of Jains in India till his own brother was beheaded, mistaken for a Jain. Regret was not the reason he stopped violence in fact after the Battle of Kalinga, for he even threatens his subjects with violence if they do not heed to Buddhist conduct. Only because Sanjeev Sanyal has busted this bubble can we really now know what charades have been played to date. What is worrisome is that we still have established academics like Nayanjot Lahiri glorifying Asoka all over again along the same tested narrative. This eulogy tends to also deliberately plays down Chanakya and his role in the Mauryan empire.

Now why is it important, one may ask. The fact is that children memorize stuff for answering questions in important exams, and these memories will remember forever. National character can be created or destroyed using history. However, in India's case, we are repeatedly given a narrative that can only make us wonder as to why we study what is instinctively wrong. A lot of revision is needed, but any attempt to it shall be subverted in a massive way. Showing Buddha's teachings over a period of time to be any different from Samkhya philosophy, especially in his lifetime, is just plain lying. Also, such basic facts as Buddha calling himself an avatara of Rama is actually shown the other way round in history lessons. With fundamental flaws of this kind, one can only wonder as to what kind of historical lesson can people really learn. I was appalled to see a Mewari not being proud of being one just because one Rana Pratap's loss has been overblown to tar the entire Mewari Rajputana clan, which had such great victors as Rana Kumbha and Bappa Rawal. A Tamilian never realizes that Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas patronized Tamizh and Sanskrit equally, and a North Indian has no idea of the might of the Cholas in South and South East Asia. A national narrative can not exclude such mighty figures as Abbakka Devi, Rudramadevi and Tarabai, in front of whose toweing personalities all feminist talk pales. I can go on and on, but suffice to say that the time has come to demand an expunge and cleansing of our history books. The recreation of a national narrative that makes us proud of our own selves is essential, but it cannot happen under the current textbook regime and with the vultures of culture who stifle free speech of others so that dissent can just not happen.

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