Whose history is it anyway?


History, especially in India in recent times, has become a rather elastic subject, pulled from all directions, and moulded to hold that particular view point. In the process, what are we forcing down young peoples’ throats? asks a concerned Nivedita Louis.

History seems to be the next ‘big thing’, after India’s IT boom. The IT ‘infested’ career consultants have now started to talk about humanities stream, history and colleges that offer epigraphy classes, sudden spurt in heritage excursions and ‘discoveries’ being made left, right and centre, literally. The ‘history’ passion seems to have caught up ever since the change of power at the helm, I should say. Down in Tamil Nadu where I reside, Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram have been soaked, washed, rinsed, wrung and thrown to dry! So much has been written and read about the places, that by now the Gods must be going crazy about whether they belong to Pallava or Chola style.

Everyone wants a fistful of history!
Along comes a movie like Padmavat, and all hell breaks loose. Karni Seva, Kuch nahi Karni Seva…everyone scrambles for their fistful of history. There is a whole bunch of historians turned politicians who ‘rewrite’ history, riding their Pushpaka Vimanas. There were reports of a special ‘high level academicians’ gathering to work on rewriting history. Using archaeological ‘finds’ and DNA mapping, the special task team intends to dig out the ‘untold history’. When the ‘culture’ ministry was formed, there was simmering discontent among the learned, progressives. The website of Ministry of Culture screams of a ‘scheme for Raj Bhasha’, where a first prize of 60,000 is offered to Central Government employees for writing a book in Hindi, on culture. The push towards Hindi is making the southern states wary. The Chief Minister (CM) of Andhra Pradesh, Chandra Babu Naidu, and Karnataka’s CM Siddharamaiya, have raised their concerns on subsidising the North from taxes collected from the South, and are asking for increased resources for welfare, in tandem with the taxes paid by them!

Give them a stack of cash or a page three article in a tabloid, they will fight tooth and nail to prove Malik Kafur invaded South India, ravaging one thousand temples of their riches. Poor guy must have spent hardly a few days here, yet you find his name hanging in thick air in places as remote as Chidambaram or Srirangam. He was a destroyer, they will say.

Talk of the Aryan, Dravidian theories, and words fail me. There are so many research papers sanctifying DNA, study of genetic chronology that has now concluded that availability of Caucasian R1a DNA in the Indian gene pool proves that there was substantial Bronze Age migration, finally, we can say there was indeed patrilineal, sex-skewed migration into the Indian gene pool, settling the “who is older than who” debate. Talk of the Vedas, Puranic texts, Manu Dharma, Vasudaiva Kudumbakam, all that is Greek and Latin to me. “Do you think the Vedas and the Puranas are stories?”, asked one of my friends. Now that is KBC’s ‘crore-worthy’ question! Ram Sethu, Ayodhya Mandir underneath the mosque, the ‘technological marvels’ depicted by Ramayana, is a good story line. Ramayana is said to have ‘happened’ during Treta Yuga millions of years ago, and how the ‘Hindu’ India existed then, makes any rational thinking historian shudder. Any historical evidence beyond 10,000 years is non-existent, and one wonders how the fundamental forces will go beyond their capacity to prove something ‘non-existent’.

History as we see it
Everyone has the right to their religious beliefs and pushing one’s beliefs through the throats of little children, in capsules called ‘history’, is quite annoying. Lord Macaulay’s education system is of course not fool proof, yet it never shoved a bunch of lies down our throats. Here we have a Union Minister for Science who has claimed, “Stephen Hawking said Vedas had a ‘theory’ superior to Einstein’s Relativity Theory”, as I write this. Earliest available literary proof of Vedas is only 11th century, and the tall claims that they existed millions of years ago in oral form is downright unscientific. Well, in that case, all religions defy science, don’t they? When we ply the young minds with this, what are we making? A generation of ‘believers’ akin to their counterparts in Pakistan who believe Pakistan was created as an Islamic State in 712 BC when Sindh was conquered, and not in 1947 after a blood-ridden partition.

History can never be fiction. We need proof, corroborative evidence that point to the course people have travelled with time. Without anything concrete, ‘believing’ in texts that have travelled orally from Iron Age/Bronze Age defies all sane logic. When science and common sense rule, we have a healthy democracy, and when it goes down the window, we are left with a country ridiculed by the world.

People like to talk of heritage – the new age historians vie for attention and money, not in the same order. The sudden spurt of historians has paved the way for lacklustre thesis and hypotheses supporting fringe elements. Give them a stack of cash or a page three article in a tabloid, they will fight tooth and nail to prove Malik Kafur invaded South India, ravaging one thousand temples of their riches. Poor guy must have spent hardly a few days here, yet you find his name hanging in thick air in places as remote as Chidambaram or Srirangam. He was a destroyer, they will say. He slayed priests, emptied temple riches in tanks, broke all the flooring of a 40-acre temple, pulled down pillars. I am beginning to think Malik Kafur was probably Lord Voldemort with his wand, puking ‘destroyal’. What a busy man he must have been, pushing Rajput women into their Sati fire one day, and looting temple tanks in Tamilnadu the next day. Hell, he didn’t justa play a double role, he played multiple!

If there is something that needs immediate relooking and analysis, it must be our social science text books. The CBSE prescribed NCERT text books wax eloquent of Varnasrama, Manu Smriti et al. When Varnasrama is taught to eleven-year-olds, one has to be sensitive in phrasing the history text books. One cannot ask, “Who is the lowest of all castes?” and expect the child to think of equality. Teaching them the prevailing caste system and its effects is a great idea for sensitising them, yet, it has to be done solving the specific purpose of learning, not to sow seeds of differences in young minds.

There is this other school of “English Historians”. The fellow still thinks he was born in Birmingham and raised in Oxford. His everyday routine is filled with scones and English tea, with of course “History of India” by some ‘faarin’ Lord gracing his hands. The person is sure he will be buried in a cask at Windsor Castle. Someone please put him on the next plane to Heathrow. He might rewrite English history. The Brits of course need someone Dalrymplish to tell them there is Indian blood in British Royal lineage and this probably happened in Vedic Period when Manu wed Tanu, their child being George the -325th. Well sire, the sun didn’t rise with British history in India, we had civilisations two thousand years earlier than that!

Any history/historian neglecting the diversity of a country like India, ignoring the marginalised sections of the society and the minorities, will be doing grave injustice to the very fibre of this nation. History of India has never been kind to the Muslim ‘invaders’ and the Christian ‘converts’. Now that fringe forces are gunning for their kill, it is high time for all sections of the society to wrestle back their history from the divisive forces. There can be only one decisive answer to the question, “Whose history is it anyway?”. The answer is, ‘Ours, together’. If we give a section free reign to rewrite it, our future is DOOMED! Period.

Nivedita Louis

Nivedita Louis is a writer, blogger and social activist by choice. Bitten by the travel bug, and smitten by nature, she loves travelling and cooking. She blogs at www.cloudninetalks.blogspot.com.