INTRODUCTION”Who controls the past controls the future. Whocontrols the present controls the past.” George Orwell in his renowned book,1984, has successfully managed to capture a powerful force within thisstatement. This powerful force is nonetheless the force of history. History hasalways been powerful for it has established and destroyed communities, regimesand nation-states. It is this knowledge of the history that determines ourknowledge of the structure that we belong to and where we stand in thisstructure. Just like a coin has two sides to it, so does history. But little dowe find both the sides making themselves visible and this leaves us with onlyhalf a history- cooked, distorted and disrupted.
This concoction of history iscredited to political and ideological forces that in a desperate attempt toadvance their mobilisation goals take over the discourse of history and imposeone uniform historical narrative on the whole of the society. POLITICS OF REWRITING HISTORYThe emergence of a strong Hindu ideological forcethat has been boosted by the placement of Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), is in nodoubt being watched with an alarm. Equally guilty for distortion of historylike the right is the reductionist attempt of recording Indian history byleftist historians. In a public statement issued by a group of concerned Indian historians,archaeologists and scholars of Indian civilization in November 2015, theleftist historians have been accused of being inherently hypocritical andcondescending towards any other view of history. The statement lashes out against theleftist historians for refusing “to acknowledge the well-documented darkerchapters of Indian history, in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulersand their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslimvictims.
” The Leftist schoolhas severely neglected tribal histories and “has hardly allowed a space toIndia’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal beliefsystems and heritage.” It has dismissed dissenting Indian historians as”Nationalist” or “communal” without academically critiquing them. Because ofthis, many academics have suffered discrimination and loss of professionalopportunities. The statement asserted, “In effect, the Leftist School succeededin projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent andpolarizing the academic community.” Dipesh Chakrabarty in “Radical Histories andQuestion of Enlightenment Rationalism: Some Recent Critiques of “SubalternStudies”” writes, “My contention is that scientific rationalism or thespirit of scientific enquiry, was introduced into colonial India from the verybeginning as an antidote to (Indian)religion, particularly Hinduism, which wasseen, both by missionaries as well as by administrators – and in spite of theOrientalists – as a bundle of ‘superstition’ and ‘magic’.
” Such is the travestyof history in the hands of historians who owe their loyalty to one ideology.The writing ofIndian history has come to be largely seen as various versions to the answer ofthe question – “Whose documentation of history is correct – the left or theright?” William Dalrymple in his article titled, “India: The War Over History”writes that the roots of the current conflict can be traced back to two rivalconceptions of Indian history that began to diverge in the 1930’s, during thefreedom struggle against the British Raj. Dalrymple writes, “While the Indian Congress Party, led by Mahatma Gandhiand Jawaharlal Nehru, tended to emphasise national unity and sought to minimisehistorical differences between Hindus and Muslims in order to form a unitedfront against the British, a rather different line was taken by India’s moreextreme Hindu nationalists, some of whom formed a neo-Fascist paramilitaryorganisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS), the Association ofNational Volunteers.” The independence struggle side-lined the Hindunationalists. This led to the dissemination of Nehruvian view by the Congressparty. As the one-party dominance ended with the Janata Party coming to powerin 1977, the government decided to withdraw several history textbooks that RSSrejected. However, it fell before it could do so.
In the 1980s, the Hindu right began gathering astrong foothold in Indian politics, especially around the Ayodhya’s RamMandir-Babri Masjid controversy and since then there is no looking back. TheRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been spearheading this movement aimed atlegitimising its claims on history by spreading its saffronised textbooks inits “Shishu Mandir” schools. These textbooks paint Muslims as ruthless demonswho have done great damage to Hindu culture and identity, and have thus,highlighted the need for RSS to reclaim the lost pride of Hindus. Variouscommittees in the past have objected on such a perversion of history anddeclared these textbooks as a means of transforming children into bigoted moronin the garb of instilling patriotism in them.The Hindu right has disregarded the left historyfor reducing the element of religion to adjectives like “black magic”. Theyhave vehemently spoken of their long subjugation under foreign invaders andhave made it a point to reclaim their ground on their motherland. And rewritingIndian history is one of the ways to do so.
The rejection of Aryan as invaders,beef being eaten in Vedic period, the far-right historians have outrightlyrejected differing claims. DANGERS OF REWRITING HISTORYIt is no surprise that every government hassometime or the other come forward to push forward the ideological intereststhat it owes allegiance to, be it the Nehruvian view of history by the Congressgovernment or the history that takes pride in Hindu identity and calls fordenigration of other narratives. An ideology legitimises its claims by drawingon history and thus, the task of rewriting history has always been taken up bydiverse political forces. For any ideology to establish itself on a sound level,it is through targeting the most impressionable section of population to havethe greatest of impact. This has been successful enough in keeping theirideologies stable and has helped in gathering a large following of the masses. Amidst this tussle for rightful claims overhistory, the discipline in itself, far from striking the right balance betweenvalues and science, has been left at the mercy of these ideologically orientedgroups. And worse still, the most affected party here is our children.
Childrenas young as ten-year olds are being radicalised to believe that the historythat is presented to them is an article of faith and no other versions of thesame exist. Such a distorted history, be it from left or right,has played a successful role in deepening the already existent social cleavagesin India. The Hindu-Muslim divide being the most claimed success. The statesthat reek of political violence between these diametrically opposite politicalgroups draw the genesis of violence from this history. History is defined as the study of the past. Astudy such as this needs to be free from prejudices and should strike the rightbalance between scientific inquiry and morality.
It is a crucial responsibilityof historians to protect the truth and also exhibit a sense of tolerancetowards the appearance of ‘new truths’. Any critique of a dissenting historicalnarrative should be done so by an appropriate academic inquiry. The governmentsmust ensure that children are not exposed to bias through prejudiced textbooksand must also play a non-interventionist in curriculum. Measures such as thesewill ensure that the history retains itself as the study of past that willequip today’s generation with the best understanding of the social realitiesthat exist today.