Governance · Politics · Public Policy

Saffronizing History

Historical revisionism seems to be the call of the day with the BJP government in the centre. Concerted efforts are being made throughout the country to fabricate historical  facts to show that the Hindus are the true inheritors of the land and all others are foreigners or invaders.

Smriti Irani, after her appointment as the HRD minister, declared that Hindu texts should be included in the curriculum. Dinnanath Battra, the man behind Penguin’s withdrawal of Wendi Donigers book ‘The Hindus’, sent proposals to Irani  to revamp the school curriculum so that “values and nationalism” could be inculcated in students.[1]

Academic institutions are being filled with people who triumph through rhetoric rather than with professionally capable arguments. The appointment of Yellapragada Sudershan Rao as the chairperson of Indian Council of Historical Research has not gone down well with the academic circles of the country. The eminent historian, Romila Thapar, has written an article questioning the academic credentials of Yellapragada Sudershan Rao. A retired history professor, Rao has penned several articles arguing that stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are truthful accounts of history!  Rao’s elevation is the first of the many NDA decisions that will determine who will lead India’s top research, educational and cultural institutions.

But, it is not for the first time that a government, headed by a Hindu nationalist party, has resorted to revisionism with a Hindu nationalist propaganda. Such attempts were also made under the Janata Party government during 1977 – 1980 and under the Bhartiya Janata Party government during 1998 – 2004.

During the rule of Janata Party, R.S Sharma’s ‘Ancient India’ published in 1977 was withdrawn from the CBSE syllabus in 1978. The most hotly debated issue of the late 1970s controversy was the depiction of Mughal India and the role of Islam in India. The book ‘Medieval India’ written by Romila Thapar was criticized for being sympathetic towards the Muslim viewpoint and showing little enthusiasm towards Hindu heritage.

In 2002, the NDA government made an attempt to change the NCERT school textbooks under the National Curriculum Framework. Marxist historians raised the objections to the new curriculum by alleging that the Hindu norms, values and personalities have been glorified in the school textbooks. The NDA government claimed that their motive was to overhaul stagnant institutions like NCERT and free them from the dynastic control and hegemony of the Indian National Congress.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a hospital in Mumbai told a gathering of doctors :”We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgery in ancient times to get an elephant’s head on the body of a human being!”[2] No one in the audience challenged him.

Romila Thapar, in a recent lecture raised the issue of the silence of academicians in the light of recent events. She said that these parties (BJP and RSS) carry out hate campaigns based on absurd fantasies about specific religions and nobody has the audacity to confront them.[3]

India is a land of amazing diversities, and its survival hinges on respecting these diversities rather than deprecating them. The festival of Navratri celebrates the killing of Ravana by Rama and also  the killing of Mahisasura by Durga. The stories depict Rama and Durga as “good” and Ravana and Mahisasura as “evil”.

There are three hundred versions of the mythological epic Ramayana and as many interpretations of which character in the story stands for what. While upper-caste Hindus pray Rama and Durga, several communities, including the backward classes, certain tribes and certain Brahmin sub-sects, consider themselves to be the descendants of Mahisasura and Ravana and worship them. Children in thousands of homes of India are told stories of Mahisasura’s valor.

The burning of effigies of Ravana has been carried out in public for many years in a celebratory fashion, but the followers of Ravana spend the day in mourning by not stepping outside their houses.

For the past many years now, Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU) in Delhi has been holding a public meeting on this day, calling it Mahisasura Martyrdom Day and inviting speakers to share their views. Last year, in October, the student’s wing of BJP, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, disrupted the meeting and attacked those present, injuring students who had formed a human chain in order to ward off the goons.

The Hindu nationalist agenda of the present government has to be encountered.  As one looks at  history, one has to be objective and rational and guard against lending  communal color to the past.


About the Author

IMG_0603Diva Choudhary 

Diva is presently pursuing first year, B.A.LL.B at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She is an avid reader and a dog lover. She loves photography, travelling and creative writing. She is also a staunch feminist.







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