History: An Unending Debate

Prof. Makkhan Lal

 

 

Introduction

In India, for the last couple of decades history has virtually taken over the entire media space available for academics. The endless debates, newspaper articles, talks in seminars, acrimonious television shows, radio talks and publication of books and pamphlets prove this.1 It has been unprecedented and seems totally unbelievable that even court cases were filed and the Human Rights Commission was approached on the subject of curriculum, in general, and social science, including history, in particular, alleging saffronization, communalization, and Talibanization of education and history. This chapter takes a look at all these allegations and provides a glimpse of history of Indian history writing over a period of the last 200 years.

 

However, it must be noted here that history, history writing and history teaching have, indeed, become newsworthy not only in India but also in most other parts of the world. The reasons may be varied – the construction of a National History Curriculum in England and Wales, the design of National History Standards in the USA, the content of history textbooks in Japan, Israel, and Germany, the approach to invasion of Latin American countries by the Europeans, the development of new curricula in the successor states of the former USSR, or even the rewriting of history textbooks in Russia after the collapse of the former USSR. Issues of identities, heritage, and citizenship, all rooted in the past, have become the hot stuff of politics.2

 

The Background

 

The subject of history is not an easy one, as many simple souls may like to believe. In fact, no academic discipline, beyond a certain point (at the level of higher research), is easy. Even scientists working in disciplines like physics and chemistry at the level of hat history f last two hundred years. cation and hsitory  higher research disagree and fiercely debate on the nature of a given problem, the approach, and the conclusions arrived at. But this is much more common in the social sciences, particularly so in history because of the very nature of the subject. To say that history is a science, as many Marxist historians propagate, is nothing but a fallacy. To use David Clarke’s phrase, history is ‘undisciplined discipline’. The writing of history involves not only facts but also the political, social, economic and other kinds of ideological agendas of historians. But the problems begin when the hard facts of history are trimmed, selectively quoted, or presented in a coloured and distorted manner, or even swept under the carpet to suit the historian’s agenda. Such attempts and practices lead to the presentation of not only factually incorrect history but also distorted history, which finally results in the distortion of a nation’s history, its people’s past and their identity. Those involved in such defiling of history do everything to justify their version of history and strive hard to retain their powers, position and privileges by any and all means. This is proved by the facts and the sequence of events that have taken place during the last four years in the context of history textbooks published by the NCERT.

 

For the past forty years the stage of Indian history has been dominated, managed and controlled by those openly professing a Marxist approach to history and proudly flaunting their membership cards of one communist party or another. They have controlled not only institutions of higher learning but also the national research funding agencies like the University Grants Commission, the Indian Council of Social Science Research, the Indian Council of Philosophical Research and the Indian Council of Historical Research. Even the elementary and higher secondary education and educational organisations like the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the State Councils of Educational Research and Training and Boards of Secondary Education could not escape their attention and were forced to function under their thumbs. Through people selectively placed in these organizations, our Marxist activists have implemented their political, social and economic agenda and got their own books, research monographs and textbooks published, prescribed and taught.3

 

Why Study History

 

Questions have often been raised that when there are so many problems and difference of opinions among the historians why should we study history at all. Once I attended a History seminar in Aligarh Muslim University in late 1980s. The seminar was inaugurated by the then Chairman of UGC who happens to be a physicist. He bluntly said that why any money be spent on the discipline of history. It does not generate any employment; it does not contribute anything in terms of technological improvements and finally it does not contribute anything in terms of material development of the nation. Indeed, the former UGC Chairman is not alone who espouses such a view. His august company has been joined by many social activists, politicians and the new class of wisdom holders – the bite-givers and chatterattis. The net result has been that in many states a large number of history departments in the colleges have been closed. The new Universities being established by governments or on private initiatives, do not have any department belonging to Social Science stream, what to say of History alone. It is, therefore, important to discuss why history is important for a people, a society, a country and a nation and why history needs to be given importance it deserves.

 

History is all about the past. In almost every country, city, town and village throughout the world, a large number of existing buildings were built in the past to meet the needs and aspirations of people, now dead.  This is most obvious in existing temples, churches, mosques, fireplaces, houses, public buildings, and so on Most of the ancient societies have now, to a greater or lesser degree, changed or even become extinct.

 

The systems of governments, political ideas, religious beliefs, art, architecture, cultural practices, educational systems, customs and behaviours are all products of the past, recent or remote. The past is all-pervasive which, indeed, means that we cannot escape from it. The past signifies what actually happened – events that have taken place, societies that have risen and fallen, ideas and institutions, eating habits, dressing habits, etc. History is precisely the study of this human past. The past is our heritage; we are part of it and the past is part of us in all aspects: be it culture, behaviour, religious faith and practices, be it rituals, be it tradition of political, social and economic systems. It is reflected in our day-to-day living.

 

History is also about roots. It provides societies and individuals with a dimension of longitudinal meaning over time which outlives the human life span. It connects us with our past. History also allows us to peep into the future by providing precedents for contemporary actions and forewarning against repetition of the past mistakes. From its sense of continuity, history offers the apparent form and purpose to the past, the present and the future. In the words of E.H. Carr: “The past is intelligible to us only in the light of the present; and we can fully understand the present only in the light of the past.” He further said that history is needed “to enable man to understand the society of the past and to increase his mastery over the society of the present.”4 There is a need for history. It has a deeper social value and meaning.

 

We cannot ignore or avoid the past; wherever we go, the past keeps staring at us. The human past has determined much of the built environment, the political boundaries which divide country from country, their forms of government, precise character of social and economic distinctions, the sources of tensions within and between nations. Deep in the past lie beliefs and prejudices, modes of thought, the rise, spread and fission of religious faiths, conquests and atrocities, all still exercising potent influences.

 

The study of history is not a luxury. It is a necessity. This necessity has been best summed up by Arthur Marwick­­. He writes, “Individuals, communities, societies could scarcely exist if all knowledge of the past is wiped out. As memory is to the individual, so history is to the community or the society. Without memory, individuals find great difficulty in relating to others, in finding their bearings, in taking intelligent decisions–– they lose their sense of identity. A society without history would be in a similar condition… A society without knowledge of its past would be like an individual without memory… It is only through a sense of history that communities establish their identity, orientate themselves, understand their relationship to the past and to other communities and societies. Without history (Knowledge of the past), we, and our communities, would be utterly adrift on an endless and featureless sea of time.”5

 

The notion that the past of an individual society and the people can be forgotten or given a go by, and that a world culture can be created simply through improvements in technology, material prosperity and universal education has lost much of its credibility.6 Science may advance, but we all move ahead through the past of our own cultures, and it is this accumulation of ideas and experience, transmitted through education and sheer daily living that gives our thoughts meaning and our actions patterns and purpose.7 It is not that we live in the past but we are defined by it,8 and so the success of even the most forward-looking developments must inevitably rest on their relation to the ideas and practices of the society they are meant to serve. Science may forget its own history, but a society cannot.9

 

Every advanced nation has – apart from its historical profession and related institutes and associations – museums, archives and libraries –  devoted to the preservation of sources and relics from the past out of which history is written. Engraved upon the entrance of the National Archive in Washington are the following inscriptions: ‘What is Past is Prologue’; ‘Study the past’; ‘The glory and romance of our history are here preserved in the chronicles of those who conceived and builded the structure of our nation’, ‘The ties which bind the lives of our people in one indissoluble union are perpetuated in the archives of our government and to their custody this building is dedicated’, ‘This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions.

 

The inscription clearly emphasizes that history is participated in and shared upon by the people and the society. It is not a luxury domain of just a handful of historians and the ruling elite, but the heritage and inheritance of the entire humanity.

 

History as a Discipline and the Question of Rewriting of History

 

One of the most interesting aspects of the recent campaign by the ‘eminent historians’ is their opinion that history cannot be rewritten or revised. They argue that the nature of history is static and there is not enough new evidence that could warrant the rewriting or revision of history and history textbooks. R.S. Sharma, one of the most ‘eminent’ among the ‘eminent historians’ said in a recent article in the newspaper that there should not be any tampering with history, at least in those areas on which there is a general consensus among historians. When asked about the topics on which there is general agreement and the historians among whom this agreement has been arrived at, he preferred to maintain a stony silence. All one could gather is that there is agreement among some of the ‘eminent historians’ and the topics are those that can be used for the blackening of the ancient period of Indian history. Thus, the core of this argument is that whatever has been written by the ‘eminent historians’ on those areas of history is final. No modification, no addition and no deletion could be made under their pronouncements and history written by them was not to be rewritten. Taking an alternative path to history writing, or introducing new history books is being painted as nothing less than sacrilege. In this section, we shall look at precisely this aspect of the eminent historians’ argument.

 

 

That notwithstanding, let us remember that rewriting/revising history textbooks or general books is not viewed as a rare phenomenon anywhere in the world. A survey of literature on the subject the world over shows that history is being written and rewritten not only because of new evidences that come to light but also because of several other factors. Even a cursory perusal of academic journals like History, Journal of Curriculum Studies, History and Theory, etc. prove that there are a variety of factors that warrant the rewriting of history. In the 1990s, history textbooks in Canada were rewritten because: (a) schools did not teach enough Canadian history and students, therefore, did not know it; (b) the history that was taught was no longer sufficiently national; (c) social history had destroyed the old nation building-narrative and dwelt on negative rather than positive aspects of Canada’s past; and (d) child-centered teaching and other pedagogical fashions had led teachers to devalue factual knowledge.4

 

Similarly, there is an intense debate going on regarding the nature of the history of South America and Mexico. The debate is whether it should be viewed as the discovery of a new world and new economic resources for Europe or it should be seen as the destruction of the independently developed native civilisations by technologically more advanced nations that have an unending lust for looting others’ treasures and making other people subservient. In the early 1990s, when the question of celebrating 500 years of the discovery of South America arose in Europe, a simple but historical statement was made by the historians from South America:

 

“It may be a subject of celebrations for Europeans but for us it is a subject of mourning because just in a few years the Europeans destroyed our civilisation developed over several thousands of years!”

 

Most people see history in terms of separate periods like ancient, medieval and modern – each period characterised by a different political, economic and social set up. Further, it is often seen as being solely concerned with the recovery of the facts related to the past. In this way history books are seen as merely the chronicles of the past. But this is a very superficial notion about history. In an absurd vein A.J.P Taylor wrote, “Historians should not be ashamed to admit that history is at the bottom simply a form of story telling… There is no escaping the fact that the original task of a historian is to answer the child’s question: “What happened next?”

 

History is neither a simple chronicle of the past nor a list of rulers and kings and the narratives of their rules. The past is not simply a collage of distinct ages or a hotchpotch of facts. History is an extremely complex discipline and historians disagree on what it is. E.H. Carr, one of the most sophisticated Marxist historians, opined in his famous book What is History?, that history “is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts” (thereby saying that it was changeable). Carr further said that history is “an unending dialogue between the present and the past.”5 He virtually endorsed what R.G. Collingwood had written in his book The Idea of History: “Each age writes its own history”; “each age must reinterpret the past in the light of its own preoccupations.”6

 

Benedetto Croce, the great Italian historian and social theorist, once wrote: “All history is contemporary history.”7 In other words, each generation writes and rewrites history in the light of its own time and experiences. A.C. Danto pointed out that “All historical descriptions are, and must be, temporary and provisional. No complete description of the past can be given till the end of the future––that is, until the sequence of events also came to an end.”8 It must be mentioned here that this is ue ingwood wrote, “eened next ain a story silenceg of History

true not only of historical descriptions but also of historical explanations and interpretations. However, the idea behind suggestions like “each age having to write its own history” is not to produce a root-and-branch new version of history every ten, twenty or fifty years, but to continue refining and revising what has been written before, while also opening up totally new areas. Historians must strike a balance between judging the past by their own standards and entirely stranding the past in its own frozen compartment of history. We must have a proper balance of time, of change and continuity and of similarity and difference which are central to our understanding of the nature of history and the dynamics of social development. We, in our enthusiasm, must not lose sight of the fact that “each age is a unique manifestation of the human spirit with its own culture and values. For one age to understand another, there must be recognition that the passage of time has profoundly altered both, condition of life and the mentality of men and women.”9 History must be written and rewritten observing the long established, though constantly developing, canons of historical profession. History must be as reliable as it is possible to make it. For this, the guarantee lies in the careful observance of the methods and principles of professional history. Eric Hobsbawm, one of the most distinguished Marxist historians once said, “Historians are professionally obliged not to get it wrong– or at least to make an effort not to.”10

 

Another point that needs to be emphasized is that a historian’s job is not that of a cook who prepares dishes as per the liking of his customers and adds spices accordingly. It is not the job of a historian to write politically correct history. His obligation is to write factually correct history. It will be helpful if all historians remember what Sir Jadunath Sarkar wrote about the job of a historian: “I would not care whether the truth is pleasant or unpleasant, and in consonance with, or opposed to, current views. I would not mind in the least whether truth is, or is not, a blow to the glory of my country. If necessary, I shall bear in patience the ridicule and slander of friends and society for the sake of preaching truth. But still, I shall seek truth, understand truth, and accept truth. This should be the firm resolve of a historian.”11

 

This brief discussion on the nature of history as an academic discipline should make it abundantly clear that history is neither a static discipline nor can the writings on and of history be put into a set mould. Each generation views and writes about the past in the light of its own experience. Therefore, all interpretations and explanations are, and must be as temporary and provisional as the descriptions. But in all these endeavours the sanctity of truth and facts should not be forgotten. This phenomenon must be seen not as a weakness but as the strength of the discipline as it generates debates. Unanimity or one’s efforts to make others surrender is a recognisable characteristic of dictatorships, and not that of a free state. Open and continuing discussions and debates are the essence and strength of history and, for that matter, a great strength of an open society of an intellectually vibrant nation.

 

And now, a word of caution. There is a tendency among historians to act as judges and give moral sermons. Historians must write and rewrite history. They are not supposed to be moral judges. Benedetto Crose has rightly said:

 

 “Those, who on the plea of narrating history, bustle about as judges, condemning here and giving absolution there, because they think that this is the office of history… are generally recognised as devoid of historical sense.”12

 

 

 

Problems in History Writing

 

Historians recognise that they are all culturally and socially influenced in their endeavour to write history but make all efforts to deny that their work is culturally, or socially, determined or constructed. As has been discussed briefly in the Introduction, E.H.Carr in Chapter II of his book What is History provides a useful summary on this aspect of history writing. He rightly says that society and individuals are inseparable. “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of continent, a part of the main.”13 Like any other individual, a historian too is a social phenomenon, both the product and the conscious and unconscious spokesperson of the society to which he belongs. It is in this capacity that he approaches the facts of historical past. Therefore, we must not forget that we cannot fully understand or appreciate the work of a historian unless we have first grasped the standpoint from which he himself approaches it, and that standpoint is itself rooted in a social and historical background. It is, therefore, essential that before we study history, we must study the historian and study his historical and social environment. When some historians claim that they are writing scientific history, or that only their version of history is correct, one must conclude immediately that the historians are not only being untruthful but are also hiding their political agenda under the garb of a ‘scientific’ history. There exists nothing like scientific history. On similar lines, Benedetto Croce also spoke with his characteristic bluntness:

 

The historian must have a point of view…an intimate personal conviction regarding the conception of the facts which he has undertaken to relate… It suffices to read any book of history to discover at once the point of view of the author, if he be a historian worthy of the name and know his own business… Absolutely historical historians do not and cannot exist. Can it be said that Thucydidus and Polybius, Livy and Tacitus, Machiavelli and Guicciardini, Giannone and Voltaire were without morals and political views; and in our own time, Guizot or Thiers, Macaulay or Balbo, Renke or Mommson?.... If the historian is to escape from this inevitable necessity of taking side, he must become a political and scientific eunuch; and history is not the business of eunuchs… Historians who profess to wish to interrogate the facts without adding anything of their own to them, are not to be believed.14 

 

The problem with Marxist historiography and its relationship with history is much more curious. For Marx and his followers, i.e. Marxist historians, the problem of history is not just understanding ‘what happened’, ‘how it happened’ and ‘why it happened’. For them the problem is “how to change the world” by the use of history. At the core of this view lies the fundamental Marxist belief that the society we inhabit is the bad bourgeois society and, fortunately, this society is in a state of crisis. The good society which lies just around the corner can be easily attained if only ‘we’ work systematically to destroy the language, the value, the culture, the ideology of this ‘bourgeois’ society. This necessitates a massive, radical left-wing political programme and everything the historians write, every criticism they make, is determined by that overriding objective. In this, the post-modernists are exceptions. They are fully convinced of the utterly evil nature of the ‘bourgeois’ society but have lost all hope of change and have fallen back into destructive nihilism. They assert that the only way to achieve Marxism is to destroy the society if it cannot be changed.15

 

Marxist historians have failed to understand and appreciate the fact that the society we live in has evolved through a complex historical process, very different from the Marxist formula of the rise of feudalism over slavery and bourgeoisie over throwing the feudal aristocracy. It is highly complex with respect to the distribution of power, authority, and influence. Just as it was not formed by the simple overthrow of aristocracy by the bourgeoisie, so, in its contemporary form, it does not consist simply of a bourgeois ruling class and a proletariat. The idea that we are now in the final period of the late-capitalistic crisis is simply absurd. Marxists have been looking forward to the final capitalistic collapse for over a century – in 1848, 1866, 1918, 1946, 1963 and 1968, to mention just a few dates, but as fate would have it, they are forever doomed to disappointment.16

 

Statements like “The pursuit of history is, whether practitioners choose to acknowledge it or not, a political occupation,”17 indeed, are not only exceptional but also far-fetched. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the experience of colonisation around the world has shown that domination by a more powerful culture – which defines its reality in quite different ways – either totally destroys, or at least drives, the less powerful ones into a subservient role. What was considered culturally ‘valid’ can be rendered ‘invalid’, and the politically weaker ones are somehow required to modify their reality to fit within the constraints of the new codes.

 

We, as historians, must learn to recognise that:

 

 “The past is perceived in different ways by different cultures. Methods of interpreting, recording, managing and protecting the past also differ between cultures… The way people define their existence, their world view and their creation stories, and how they value, interpret, manage and transmit their past will continue to be handed on from generation to generation.”18

 

At this point, we need to be reminded that historians don’t just write research monographs where personal passion and prejudice may be a vital driving force; they also write textbooks where biases inherent in difficult research works should be filtered out. Therefore, it is important that when we embark upon writing the history of a society or a nation or a country, we must be fairly well equipped in terms of our understanding of that society and the nation, and must free ourselves from biases, parochialism and prejudices. A few surveys, some visits and collection of materials from secondary and tertiary sources, and the application of hypotheses and models that may have been developed and applied to study a completely alien society can hardly make one equipped for such a job. The difference between passionate and biased writing of a research monograph, and the writing of an unbiased, and detached textbook has to be understood and followed with humility. The textbooks  for primary, secondary and higher secondary students must contain only that material which is accepted by most of the scholars, if not all. The debated/debatable material, and the ideologically loaded and slanted material must be reserved for research monographs and kept out of school textbooks. 

 

History and Historiography in the Indian Context

 

We have so for had a glimpse of the nature of history and certain problems historians face while writing history textbooks and research monographs. We have seen that there is nothing like a set mould for writing history. Further, each generation writes and rewrites its own history in the light of new evidence and its own experience. Also we have seen how there is nothing like ‘scientific history’ or ‘objective history’, as propagated by some historians. Biases are inherent. What is needed is that we must try to sift out biases as much as possible.

 

Now we shall briefly see how the history of ancient India has developed and has been written over a period of two centuries and what kind of factors have operated in the writing of those history books.

 

Sanskrit Literature and History

 

In the 18th and 19th centuries and even in the early 20th century, several foreign scholars opined that ancient Indians had no sense of history writing and whatever was written in the name of history was nothing more than a story without any sense. Some Indian scholars who revel in denigrating anything and everything Indian cling to the same view even today. This certainly is the worst form of self-condemnation and, indeed, a very false judgment. To say that Indians had no awareness and concern about their own history and no sense of writing it would be grossly incorrect. The knowledge of history was given a very high place in ancient India. It was accorded sanctity equal to that of a Veda. The Atharvaveda, Brahmanas and Upanishadas include Itihas-Purana as one of the branches of knowledge. Kautilya in his Arthashastra (4th  century B.C.) advises the king to devote a part of his time everyday to hearing the narrations from history. According to the Puranas, the following are the subject matters of history: sarga (evolution of universe), pratisarga (involution of universe), manvantantar (recurring of time), vamsha (genealogical list of kings and sages), and vamshanucharita (life stories of some selected characters).

 

In the context of the Puranas it may be remembered that in ancient India, Itihas was looked upon as a means to illuminate the present and the future in the light of the past. The purpose of history was to generate the understanding and inculcate a sense of duty and sacrifice to be made by individuals for their families, by families for their clans, by clans for their villages, and by villages for Janapadas and the Rashtra, and ultimately for all of humanity as such. History was not meant to be an exhaustive compendium of the names of kings and dynasties and their failures and achievements. It was treated as a powerful vehicle for the awakening of cultural and social consciousness. It was, perhaps, for this reason that the narration of Puranas was a part of the annual ritual in every village and town during the rainy season and at the time of festivals. This tradition continues even today. Thus, the Puranas may not fit into the modern definition of historical works, and those who wrote them may not have been aware of the “historian’s craft”, but they were fully aware of the purpose of their writing history and the purpose of history itself.

 

A number of historians like F.E. Pargiter19 and H.C. Raychaudhury20 have attempted to write history on the basis of the genealogies of various dynasties given in the Puranas. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes (in the court of Chandragupta Maurya c. 324-300 B.C.) testifies to the existence of a list of 153 kings whose reigns had spanned, till then, a period of 6053 years.

 

Early Foreigners

 

When we look for writings on the history of ancient India beyond Indian frontiers, we find that the earliest attempts in this direction were those of the Greek writers, particularly of Herodotus, Nearchus, Megasthenes, Plutarch, Arrian, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Ptolemy. However, except for Megasthenes, all others have touched Indian history only marginally. They were all concerned mostly with the north-western part of India and primarily the areas which either formed a part of the Persian and Greek Satrapies or came under Alexander’s campaign. Further, these writers were basically concerned with the trail of Alexander and not with Indian history as such. Megasthenes wrote about India in a book called Indika which is no longer available to us. We know about Megasthenes’ writings through extracts in the writings of Diodorous, Strabo, and Arrian. It is very clear that Megasthenes had little or virtually no understanding of the Indian society and Indian social systems and that is why, many a time, he is not only confused but also plainly wrong. For example, he mentions that Indian society comprised seven castes (jatis). The discrepancies in Megasthenes’ work seem to be rooted in his lack of knowledge of any Indian language and in his not being a part of the Indian society and psyche. It is surprising that all intensive trade relations between India and the Roman and Greek worlds during the first few centuries of the Christian era could leave only a few traces in the Indian literary tradition of the period.

 

Many Chinese travellers came to India from the early centuries of the Christian era to about 1000 A.D. They came as Buddhist pilgrims to study Buddhism and, therefore, their accounts are somewhat tilted towards Buddhism. The Chinese tradition has preserved a long list of such travellers. Of these, the most illustrious ones are Fa-Hien, Hiuen-Tsang and I-tsing. Though we get some general information about the regions they visited from their accounts, the problem lies in the fact that they give quite an exaggerated account of Buddhism during the period. For example, Hiuen-Tsang depicts Harsha as a follower of Buddhism, while Harsha in his own epigraphs portrays himself as a devotee of Shiva. Perhaps, unaware of the Indian tradition, Hiuen-Tsang failed to realise that unlike foreign rulers, Indian rulers gave equal respect to all religions. The respect shown to Buddhism by Harsha made Hiuen-Tsang believe that he was a follower of Buddhism.

 

The next important phase of historiography begins with Al-Beruni, who was born in central Asia in 973 A.D. and died in Ghazni (in present-day Afghanistan) in 1048 A.D. He was one of the greatest scholars of his time and a contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni. When Mahmud conquered a part of Central Asia, he captured  Al-Beruni and brought him from his native place to Ghazni. Though Al-Beruni deplored his loss of freedom, he appreciated the favourable circumstances for his work. Unlike Megasthenes, Al-Beruni studied Sanskrit and tried to gain a knowledge of Hindu sources. The list of works consulted by him and given in his book Alberuni’s India is long and impressive. His observations cover a range of subjects from philosophy, religion, culture and society, to science, literature, art and medicine. Al-Beruni’s work can be termed as relatively objective and wherever he has faltered it has been largely due to his lack of proper understanding. Al-Beruni appears to be comparatively less influenced by religious and racial considerations, which we so often encounter in the writings of his successor Muslim and European historians. However, sometimes Al-Beruni does betray this trait when he observes sarcastically, “The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.”21

 

During the medieval period, many Sultans and Emperors got the history of their regimes written. These rulers employed scholars and ordered them to write the history of their ancestors and their rule. Naturally, these are very heavily loaded in favour of the rulers. Though these are a good source of medieval history, the fact that they were sponsored by the rulers themselves should not be forgotten while using them as a source to write the history of the period. 

 

Christian Missionaries and Enlightenment

 

The next phase of historiography belongs to the European interest, mainly of the Christian missionaries. A large number of books were produced on India but none of them can be compared to what Al-Beruni had written. While Al-Beruni also possessed a well-defined religious and hermeneutic awareness, he was essentially a scholar and, beyond a certain point, he was not driven to write as per his faith. However, this was not the case with the writings of missionaries. Their writings can hardly be said to be fair and free from racial and religious prejudices. They were mostly interested in learning and writing about Indian history in order to preach and spread Christianity. Their contributions during the 17th  and 18th centuries were affected also by the religious, intellectual and political movements in Europe. Indian history became an easy victim of political and religious problems of Europe.

 

With the advent of Enlightenment another phase of European historiography on India began. Many scholars like John Holwell, Nathaniel Halhed and Alexander Dow – all associated in various capacities with the British East India Company – wrote about Indian history and culture, proving the pre-eminence of Indian civilisation in the ancient world.

 

On the basis of Puranic references, they also described the immense antiquity of human beings. Holwell wrote that Hindu texts contained a higher revelation than the Christian ones, they pre-dated the great deluge described in the Old Testament and declared that, “The mythology, as well as cosmogony of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were borrowed from the doctrines of the Brahmins.”22 Halhed also critically examined the various aspects of Indian history, religion, mythology, etc. He discussed the vast periods of time of human history assigned to the four Yugas and concluded that “human reason can no more reconcile itself to the idea of Patriarchal longevity of few thousand years for the entire span of human race.”23 Based on huge amounts of literature produced in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, many scholars and intellectuals who had never travelled to India wrote about it. The great intellectual and statesman, Voltaire, viewed India as the homeland of religion in its oldest and purest form and also as the cradle of worldly civilisations. He was convinced of the pre-eminence of Indian achievement in the areas of secular learning and world culture. He described Indians as the people “to whom we owe our numbers, our backgammon, our chess, our first principles of geometry and fables which have become our own.” He further wrote, “In short, I am convinced that everything – astronomy, astrology, metaphysics, etc. – comes to us from the bank of Ganges.”24

 

The French naturalist and traveler, Pierre de Sonnerate, also believed that all knowledge came from India, which he considered to be the cradle of civilisations. In 1807, well-known metaphysician Schelling wrote, “What is Europe really but a sterile trunk which owes everything to Oriental grafts?”25 The great philosopher, Emannual Kant, also acknowledged the greatness of the ancient Indian culture and civilisation. He wrote, “Their religion has a great purity … (and) one can find traces of pure concept of divinity which cannot easily be found elsewhere.”26 He also declared that Indian religious thoughts were free of dogmatism and intolerance. J. Michelet held that the Vedas were, “undoubtedly the first monument of the world.” And, it is from India that emanated “a torrent of light and the flow of reasons and right.”27

 

That was the fairly objective assessment of India history, though sometime some scholars did get carried away emotionally. But this situation did not last long. With the beginning of the 19th century, attitudes started changing and any objective and fair treatment to Indian history and civilization itself became history. Indian history started being looked down upon, and denigrations and distortions again began because of political and racial considerations and a superiority complex among the British, in particular, and Europeans, in general.  Thomas Trautmann writes, “British Indo-mania did not die of natural causes; it was killed off. The Indo-phobia that became the norm in early-nineteenth century Britain was constructed by Evanglicalism and Utilitarianism and its chief architects were Charles Grant and James Mill. British Indo-phobia was, above all, a deliberate attack upon the built-up structure of a just and fair treatment of Indian history; it was devised to oppose it and destroy it.”28

 

Civil Servants, Missionaries and Indologists

 

A search for the roots of systematic distortion of Indian history during the last two centuries leads us to the establishment of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, which contributed towards the writing of Indian history in its own way. However, it must be mentioned at this very stage that generally these writings reflect the contemporary debate on religious faith and the notion of nationality and also their vested interests in enlarging the European colonies for economic exploitation. Some leading intellectuals of the 19th century who traversed this path are William Jones, H.H. Wilson, Monier Williams, M. Elphinstone, James Mill, T.B. Macaulay, Karl Marx and Max Mueller. The most prominent 20th-century historians belonging to this school of thought were Vincent Arthur Smith and E.J. Rapson.

 

A large section of European scholars and Christian missionaries got worried when the greatness of India’s past started becoming known, and when Indian philosophy, logic and writings on such things as the origin of the universe, human life and the age of the world started gaining acceptance. For well over a millennium-and-a-half, much of the Europe had accepted the Old Testament as the final statement documenting the history of human beings. Thomas Maurice, for example, was bitterly upset over the appreciation for and acceptance of India’s past, its philosophy, logic, etc. He wrote in 1812 about “the daring assumptions of certain skeptical French philosophers with respect to the Age of the world … argument principally founded on the high assumptions of the Brahmins… (which) have a direct tendency to overturn the Mosaic system, and, with it, Christianity.”29 These people were also very worried about the increasing trend of questioning the Biblical story of Creation. Bishop Usher had calculated that the universe was created at 9.00 a.m. on 23rd October 4004 B.C. and that the Great Flood took place in 2349 B.C. These dates and creation stories were facing the threat of being proved wrong in the face of Indian belief which talked in terms of the four Yugas and several hundred million years. This threatened the very foundations of the Christian faith.

 

It was under these circumstances that William Jones came to India as an employee of the East India Company. He was determined to study the Indian languages and  literature vis-à-vis Christianity. However, the faithful were relieved by “the fortunate arrival of… the various dissertations, on the subject, of Sir William Jones.”30 On his own part, Jones’ concern was second to none. He wrote in 1788, “Some intelligent and virtuous persons are inclined to doubt the authenticity of the accounts delivered by Moses.” Jones too was very clear that “either the first eleven chapters of Genesis… are true or the whole fabric of our national religion is false, a conclusion which none of us, I trust, would wish to be drawn.”31 He further wrote, “I am obliged of course to believe the sanctity of venerable books [of Genesis]”.32

 

In order to prove that the Genesis Chronology was correct and was corroborated by the Brahmanical, sources Jones resorted to narrating the chronological events described in the Bible and the Puranas as parallel happenings. Exactly at this point began the wilful distortion of Indian history and, at the first instance, it came to be seen as an appendage for the corroboration of the Genesis stories which had come under fire due to the scientific discoveries, and the confirmation of the higher antiquity for the existence of this earth and the universe, as described in Sanskrit literature.

 

While delivering his first Presidential lecture at the Asiatic Society in 1784, on the topic, ‘On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India’, Jones laid bare his scheme both in terms of religious semblance as well as the Mosaic chronology vis-à-vis the Hindu faith, beliefs and the chronology. He writes, “It is my design, in this essay, to point out such a resemblance between the popular worship of old Greeks and Italians, and that of Hindus.”33 But, in practical terms, he not only talked of resemblance between the Gods of two different worlds but also their chronology. Talking of the deluge described in the Puranas and the first incarnation of  Bhagwan Vishnu, i.e. Matsyavatara, Jones writes:

 

 “This epitome of the first Indian history … though whimsically dressed up in the form of an allegory, seem to prove a primeval tradition of this country of universal deluge described by Moses and fixes consequently the time when the genuine Hindu Chronology actually begins…. We may suspect that all the fourteen  Menus [Manus] are reducible to one, who was called Nuh by the Arabs, and probably by the Hebrews; though we have distinguished his names by an improper pronunciation of it. Some near relation between the seventh Menu and the Grecian Minos may be inferred.”34

 

In this paper Jones continues with a similar one-to-one parallel identification of Greek and Italian gods with those of Hindus. But before that he says something which is worth quoting. He says, to any lay man it “must be indubitable that their [Hindus] doctrine is in part borrowed from the opening of Genesis… In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was void and waste… and God said: let lights be – and light was. The sublimity of this passage is considerably diminished by the Indian paraphrase of it, with which Menu, the son of Brahma, begins his address to the sages on the formation of the Universe.”35

 

What Jones is saying, in effect, is that Hindu doctrine, mythology, etc. have been borrowed from the Genesis. He further writes, “Rama and Crishna must be introduced, and their several attitudes distinctly explained.  The first of them, I believe was the Dionysos of the Greeks” (214).

 

So Rama became an imagined God – Dionysos – of Greeks, a God of wine and worldly pleasure, rather than an embodiment of ersonified ideal  Greeks distinctly explained.orrowed from the opening of Genesis.pronounciation of  idealism and virtue,  Jones further writes:

 

“The first poet of the Hindu was the great Valmic, and his Ramayan is an Epick poem… comparison of the two poems [the Dionysus and the Ramayana] would prove Dionysus and Rama to have been the same person; and I am inclined to think, that he was Rama, the son of Cus, who might have established the first regular government in this part of Asia.”36

 

What Jones sought to establish through his ornate circumambulation is that Rama was the first European to begin the practice of colonialism and made Asia his colony! The strong impact of absurdities advocated by Jones has appropriately been summarized  by Thomas Trautmann. He writes:

 

“Jones’ reconciliation of the story of the past in Sanskrit literature with the biblical narrative fixes upon the list of Vishnu’s ten avatars or “descents” into earthly forms to save the goodpast in Sanskrit literature with the biblical narrative fixes upon the list of vishnu; and i from destruction by forces of evil. The series begins with three avatars that were especially associated with the story of a world-wide flood: the fish, the tortoise and the boar. The fish incarnation in particular seems readymade for identification with the Biblical flood, carrying Manu (the first human), his family and the seven sages (risis) in a ship (the Ark of Noah!) fastened to a horn on his head. Jones identified Manu with Noah, distinguishing this Manu from an earlier one, the progenitor of a human race, whom he identifies with Adam. Manu II, then, and the seven sages can be identified with the eight humans aboard the Ark in the Biblical story (Noah, his three sons, and the four wives), from whom the entire human race has since been propagated. Jones further more identifies the fourth avatar of Vishnu, the man-lion Narasimha, with the Biblical Nimrod, descendent of Ham. Bali, the demon who was overcome by the fifth avatar, the dwarf Vamana, is identified with the Biblical Bel. The seventh incarnation, king Rama of Ayodhya, Jones identifies with the Biblical Raamah, also in the line of Ham; with him begins the “civil government” in India, or as we would say, civilization. In this manner the whole series of avatars of Vishnu can be forced into the diluvian and post-deluvian chronology, and Sanskrit literature can be read as reporting the same historical events as does Genesis. But this reconciliation of Indian chronology with the Biblical chronology is only possible by simultaneously rejecting the vast spans of time that make up the yugas, kalpas, manavantaras of Indian time cycles. The four yugas are squeezed into the Ussherite chronology, rejecting the traditional figures for their duration (4,320,000 years for the entire cycle four ages), or the traditional dating of the beginning of the Kali, namely 3102 B.C. In  outline, Jones’ Mosaic reading of Indian chronology may be represented as follows:

 

Adam                 Manu                                       Krta yuga        4004 B.C.

Noah                  Manu II                                                           2948 B.C.

the Flood            fish, tortoise, boar avatars                               2349 B.C.

Nimrod               Narasimha                               Treta yuga       2217 B.C.

Bel                      Bali                                                                  2105 B.C.

Raamah              King R            ama                              Dwapar yuga   2028 B.C

                           The Buddha                            Kali yuga         1026 B.C.

 

Both the acceptance of Hindu flood mythology as history and the rejection of Indian cyclical time as mythology are part of the unitary project of Mosaic ethnology.”37

 

Eager to settle the question of the Genesis stories, and vis-à-vis Indian philosophy and chronology, Jones took upon himself the responsibility of unravelling Indian chronology for the benefit and appeasement of his disconcerted colleagues: “ I propose to lay before you a concise history of Indian chronology extracted from Sanskrit books, attached to no system, and as much disposed to reject Mosoick history, if it be proved erroneous, as to believe it, if it be confirmed by sound reason from indubitable evidence.”38 Despite such assurances, Jones’ own predispositions in this matter were revealed in several earlier writings. In 1790, Jones concluded his researches by claiming to have “traced the foundation of the Indian empire above three thousand eight hundred years from now”,39 that is to say, safely within the confines of Bishop Usher’s date of the Creation of the Universe in 4004 B.C. and, more importantly, within the parameters of the Great Flood, which Jones considered to have occurred in 2350 B.C. The same was the constraint with Max Mueller when the question of the chronology of Sanskrit literature came up. Lacking any firm basis of his own and rejecting every Indian evidence, he arbitrarily dated the entire Sanskrit literature, taking the earliest i.e. the RigVeda to be from the period 1500-1200 B.C., once again within the safe limits of the Genesis chronology propounded by Bishop Ushers.

 

Such efforts on the part of European scholars, chiefly British, brought some relief and made this new approach safe for Christianity and its ardent followers. Assessing the impact of such works, mainly of Jones, Trautmann writes, “Jones in effect showed that Sanskrit literature was not an enemy but an ally of the Bible, supplying independent corroboration of Bible’s version of history. Jones’ Chronological researches did manage to calm the waters somewhat and effectively guaranteed that the new admiration for Hinduism would reinforce Christianity and would not work for its overthrow.”40

 

As we shall now see, with the passage of time the efforts to forge similarities between the Indian mythologies and gods and goddesses on the one hand and Greeks and Roman on the other were abandoned, but the chronology given by William Jones remained a benchmark, and still remains one for all further references. Till date it remains within the safe limits of Bishop Usher’s framework of the Genesis chronology, so that no Brahmanical thought is able to disturb the Mosaic chronology, irrespective of what geology, palaeo-biology, astrophysics, palaeontology, etc. say about the origin and chronology of the Universe, earth, humans beings etc.   

 

In view of the growing concern of the faithful, the Boden Professorship of Sanskrit was endowed by Colonel Boden at Oxford University, specifically to promote Sanskrit learning among the English so as “to enable his countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian religion”. Awards and prizes were given to literary works undermining the Indian tradition and religion. The first occupant of the Boden Chair was Horace Hayman Wilson. Writing about a series of lectures he delivered, Wilson mentions that, “these lectures were written to help candidates for a prize of £ 200 given by John Muir… for the best refutation of the Hindu religious system.”41

 

Friedrich Max Mueller is considered to be one of the most famous Sanskritist of the 19th century. He was a German but in his 20s he migrated to England in search of a job and spent the rest of his life there. Finally he did find a job with the East India Company. On the basis of financial support of the British East India Company he undertook the massive job of translation and interpretation of the Indian religious texts in English. Though he achieved an unparalleled feat of getting a huge mass of Sanskrit texts translated into English, thereby unfolding it to the English-speaking world, his approach and intentions were never free from prejudice. Though many of his writings are camouflaged with incredible ingenuity in praise of Indian religion, philosophy and literature, their real nature and purpose can be understood better in the light of his private correspondences with his own family members, several British officials and missionaries. Max Muller was driven into doing this by his financial position, his religious belief and the political exigencies. Besides the problem of the religious beliefs of Christians, which has been discussed earlier, India lost its political freedom completely in 1857. Both these problems coloured the approach for writing and interpreting Indian history. The sole aim of writing Indian history now was to lend support to the education system pushed by Macaulay for creating “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in morals and in intellect.”

 

In 1857, the year in which the British control of India became almost complete, Max Mueller wrote to the Duke of Argyll: “I look upon the creation given in the Genesis as simply historical.”42 Therefore, in terms of the time span all he had was only 6000 years. He could go back, at the most, only up to 4000 B.C. within which the entire history – right from the origin of the Universe to the modern times – had to be squeezed. It was under this guiding principle that William Jones, Max Mueller, Vincent Smith and others wrote Indian history.

 

Thus, the fate of Indian history got wedded to the concerns of  the safety, propagation, and pleasure of Christianity. The culmination of the objectives and the results of the efforts of the European Indologists  are seen in private correspondence. Max Mueller writes to his wife regarding his monumental work of editing 50 volumes of Sacred Books of the East:

 

“ I feel convinced, though I shall not live to see it, that this edition of mine and the translation of Veda, will herein after tell a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.”43

 

Two years later, in 1868, Max Mueller wrote to the Duke of Argyll, the then Secretary of State for India:

 

“The ancient religion of India is doomed, and if Christianity does not step in, whose fault will it be?”44

 

He had expressed similar sentiments in a letter to Chevalier Bunsen written on August 25, 1856. Here Mueller says:

 

 “India is much riper for Christianity than Rome or Greece were at the time of St. Paul. The rotten tree has for some time had artificial support… For the good of this struggle I should like to lay down my life, or at least to lend my hand to bring about this struggle…. I should like to live for ten years quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and then see whether I was fit to take part in a work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priest-craft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching… Whatever finds root in India soon overshadows the whole Asia… Much more could be said about this; a wide world opens before one, for which it is well worth while to laying one’s life.”45 

 

He wrote to Dr. Milman, Dean of St. Paul, on February 26, 1867:

 

“I have myself the strongest belief in the growth of Christianity in India. There is no other country so ripe for Christianity as India…”46

 

Max Mueller’s brilliance in camouflaging his writings well, and in not allowing the real purpose of his writings to be understood by all and sundry, has been acknowledged in most glowing terms by  Chevalier Bunsen in his letter to him written on April17, 1855. Bunsen writes:

 

 “You have so thoroughly adopted the English disguise that it will not be easy for any one to suspect you of having written this ‘curious article’. It especially delights me to see how ingeniously you contrive to say what you announce you do not wish to discuss, i.e. the purport of theology. In short, we are all of opinion that your cousin was right when she said of you in Paris to Neukomm, that you ought to be in the diplomatic service!”47

 

Max Mueller was not alone in writing this type of history and desiring to uproot all Indian tradition from the soil. Monier-Williams, famous for his Sanskrit-English and English-Sanskrit dictionaries, and a Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, wrote in 1879:

 

“When the walls of the mighty fortress of Brahmanism [Hinduism] are encircled, undermined and finally stormed by the soldier of the Cross, the victory of Christianity must be single and complete.”48

 

Thus, it becomes obvious beyond even the slightest doubt that most of the work done on Indian history during the 18th and 19th centuries was guided by the preconditions imposed by the ardent belief in the Genesis stories of creation as narrated in the Bible. These books were to counter all the writing that projected the India of the past as a  great civilisation and Indian philosophy and thought indicating great antiquity in the context of  the origin of universe and that of the human beings.

 

Another factor that contributed to the distortion of ancient Indian history was the British imperial interest in India. By 1804 we notice a marked shift in British attitude towards India. After the defeat of French forces at the hands of the British and the weakening of Maratha power, the British became confident of their rule over India. However, they were worried about the fact that the British civilians coming to India were getting brahmanised and developing an inferiority complex. To overcome this problem and to inculcate a superiority complex in the British officers in relation to the western culture they adopted a two-pronged strategy. First, and most importantly, they followed the policy initiated by the Utilitarian school led by James Mill, who between 1806 and 1818, wrote six volumes on the history of India without ever visiting it or knowing any Indian language.49 He divided Indian history into three periods – first, Hindu Period; second, Muslim Period; and third British Period – without any logic or justification. He presented an extremely denigrating picture of the Hindu period. He condemned every institution, idea and action of that period and held Hindus responsible for all the ills that the country had been beset with. These volumes were introduced as textbooks in the Harleybury school in England, which was established to educate young Englishmen coming to India as administrators and civil servants. James Mill, his son, John Stuart Mill, and his disciple, Lord Macaulay, played the most crucial role in shaping the imperialist policy in India and the future of Indian education, at the core of which was the distorted history of ancient India as we have seen earlier.

 

The most useful summary of Mill’s History of British India has been given by Dharampal in his celebrated book The Beautiful Tree. He writes:

 

“The complete denunciation and rejection of Indian culture and civilization was, however, left to the powerful pen of James Mill. This he did in his monumental three-volume History of British India, first published in 1817. Thenceforth, Mill’s History became an essential reading and reference book for those entrusted with administering the British Indian Empire. From the time of its publication till recently, the History in fact provided the framework for the writing of most histories of India. For this reason, the impact of his judgment on India and its people should never be underestimated.”50

 

According to Mill, “the same insincerity, mendacity, and the perfidy; the same indifference to the feelings of others; the same prostitution and venality” were the conspicuous characteristic of both the Hindoos and Muslims. The Muslims, however, were perfuse, when possessed of wealth and devoted to pleasure; the Hindoos almost always penurious and ascetic; and “in truth, the Hindoo like the eunuch, excess in the qualities of a slave”. Furthermore, similar to the Chinese, the Hindoos were “dissembling, treacherous, mendacious, to an excess which surpasses even the usual measure of uncultivated society.” Both the Chinese and Hindoos were “disposed to excessive exaggerations with regard to everything relating to themselves”. Both were “cowardly and unfeeling”. Both were “in the highest degree conceited of themselves and full of affected contempt for others”. And, above all, both were “in physical sense disgustingly unclean in their persons and houses”. 

 

As compared to the people of India, according to Mill, the people of Europe even during the feudal age, (the vices of the Roman Church and the defects of schoolmen notwithstanding), were superior in philosophy. Further, the Europeans “were greatly superior, notwithstanding the defects of the feudal system, in the institutions of the Government and in laws”. Even their poetry was “beyond all comparison preferable to the Hindoos.” Mill felt that it was hardly necessary to assert that in the art of war “the Hindoos have always been greatly inferior to the warlike nations of Europe.” The agriculture of the Europeans “surpassed exceedingly to that of the Hindoos”, and in India the roads were little better than paths, and the rivers without bridges; there was not one original treatise on medicine, considered as a science, and surgery was unknown among the Hindoos. Further still, “compared with the slavish and dastardly spirit of the Hindoos”, the Europeans were to be placed in an elevated rank with regard to manners and character, and their manliness and courage. James Mill further writes:

 

“Our ancestors, however, though rough, were sincere; but under the glossing exterior of the Hindoo lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy. In fine, it cannot be doubted that, up on the whole, the gothic nations, as soon as they became a settled people, exhibit the mark of the superior character and civilisation to those of the Hindoos.”51

 

Mountstuart Elphinstone was not far behind Mill in denigrating India in his History of India: The Hindu and Mohamdan Periods. Hindus came to be the special targets.

 

Besides denigrating India and its ancient history in every conceivable way, major efforts were also made towards proving that India was neither a country nor a nation. They replaced the term rashtra (nation) with the term ‘sub continent’ and, of course, put forward the theory that India was not a nation but a conglomeration of nations, and the Indian people were more of a rag-tag gathering. Articulating the British view, John Strachy wrote in 1880:

 

“This is the first and foremost thing to learn about India that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity – physical, political, social and religious, no Indian nation, no ‘people of India’, of which we hear so much.”52 

 

To understand these abominable views of Strachy better we need to take a look at another description of India prepared by J.A. Dubois under the auspices of the East India Company. Dubois saw a large number of nations within a small geographical area. In this book, A Description of the Character, Manners and the Customs of the People of India; And of Their Institutions, Religious and Civil (edited by G.U. Pope, 1879), Dubois writes:

 

 “A good observer will remark, under general points of resemblance, as much difference between a Tamil and a Telugu, between a Kanares and a Mahrata, as one would perceive in Europe between an Englishman and a Frenchman, an Italian and a German. There are countries in India peopled from time immemorial by different nations who, though, mixed together in same province and even in the same district, still preserved their distinct language, character, and national spirit. On the Malabar coast, for example, within a space of forty or fifty leagues from north to south, from Telichery to Onore or to Nagar, there are no less than five different nations peopling that small territory; and all of them appear to have been settled there upwards for a thousand years. These five nations are the Nairs or Naimars, the Kurgs or Kudagu, the Tuluvu, the Kaunguni and the Kanariese. These are not merely names of castes as might be supposed, but they distinguish five different nations, each of which is divided, like all of here Indian nation, into a variety of castes; and although these five races dwell in the same district, each has its peculiar language by which it is must discriminated as by it national customs, spirit and character.”53

 

Thus, what we witness is a group of five nations within a few square kilometers area.

 

It is surprising that some respected historians like E.J. Rapson, who edited Ancient India: from Earliest Times to the first Century A.D. (Cambridge History Series; 1914), also subscribed to the view that India was not a country but consisted of “several large countries and a multitude of smaller communities each having its own complicated racial history and each pursuing its own particular lines of development independently of its neighbours.”54

 

Following in the footsteps of Mill, Elphinstone, and Marx (whose views we shall discuss a little later in the section dealing with Marxist historiography), in 1904, V.A. Smith, an ICS officer serving the British Government in India, prepared a textbook titled Early History of India. As a loyal member of the civil services he emphasised the role of foreigners in ancient India. Alexander’s invasion cornered almost one-third of his book. Smith’s racial arrogance is too obvious when he writes, “The triumphant progress of Alexander from the Himalayas to the sea demonstrated the inherent weakness of the greatest Asiatic armies when confronted with European skill and discipline.”55 Smith gives the impression as if Alexander had conquered the whole of India from the Himalayas to the seas whereas the fact is that he touched only the north-western borders of India and it was a virtual non-event. This is proved by the fact that despite a lot of information about various foreigners in Sanskrit texts, we do not have even a fleeting or vague mention of any event connected with, or even the name, of Alexander. Further, citing the example of India’s political condition after the death of Harsha in 646 A.D. Smith says that it must “give the reader a notion of what India always has been when released from the control of supreme authority and what she would be again, if benevolent despotism (i.e. British) which now holds her in its iron grasp should be withdrawn.”56

 

 Smith presented India as a land of despotism which had never experienced political unity till the establishment of the British rule. He observed, “Autocracy is substantially the only form of government with which the historians of India are concerned”. Historian R.S. Sharma has best summed up the whole approach of British/Imperial historians: 

 

“British interpretations of Indian history served to denigrate Indian character and achievements, and justify the colonial rule… However, the generalisations made by historians were either false or grossly exaggerated. They could serve as good propaganda material for the perpetuation of the despotic British rule. … At the heart of all such generalisations lay the need of demonstrating that Indians were incapable of governing themselves.”57

 

What Sharma has written about British historiography of India is correct. But, it is unfortunate, that he himself becomes a British/Imperialist historian when it comes to writing Indian history in his professed Marxist framework.

 

The distortion of Indian history by the British was lamented by all educated people and not just contemporary historians. Bankimchandra Chatterjee wrote:

 

“There are distortions and systematic suppressions of the achievements and physical prowess of the Hindus in the country of western scholars. None of the books on Bengal written by British authors contain a true history of Bengal. The Bengalis have to write their history themselves, from their own view point and relating to their own interests. We need a history of Bengal; otherwise there will be no hope for Bengal. But who will write it? You will write it, I will write it, everyone will write this history. Whosoever is Bengali will write it.”58

 

Despite all this and much more, some Indians are still writing panegyrics in praise of the British Orientalists, on the plea that it is because of them that we know our history and it is they who made us aware of our real (?) heritage and history. Of course, these Indian apologists do not say what kind of history the British Orientalists have finally reconstructed for us. O.P. Kejariwal, former director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, laments – as late as in 1998 – that Orientalists have been misunderstood and have not been given a fair treatment by Indian historians. He writes:

 

“After all this, it seems a tragedy that the British historians and scholars of India were either forgotten or viewed as generally prejudiced and imperialist. Moreover, this was done, as has been shown, without any study of their lives and works.”59

 

One is at a loss as to what needs to be studied in order to believe in what Kejariwal is saying. He also does not offer any advice in this matter. He seems to be totally oblivious of the devastating impacts those small sentences tucked into long passages had, and continue to have, on the writings of Indian history.

 

Kejariwal is not alone in feeling sorry for the ‘unfair’ assessment of British Orientalists. Prof. Surendra Gopal, who has had the distinction of being a sectional as well as general President of the Indian History Congress (IHC) has written his Ph.D. thesis on James Mill’s ‘contribution’  to Indian history. He writes:

 

“With all our eagerness to hang the British historians, no serious study had been undertaken to analyse their work, their “crime”, if we may call them…. We have just given them a bad name.”60

 

It seems that Prof. Surendra Gopal has not read any of the Presidential Addresses delivered in the same IHC, leave alone what R.C. Majumdar wrote as early as in 1927, much before he himself came to address the IHC session as its General President. Had Prof. Gopal done that, he would have discovered, to his utter consternation, that from the very same platform of the IHC, address after address had been pleading for the rewriting of Indian history in view of the distortions perpetrated by the very same British historians whose innocence he was pleading. Indubhushan Banarjee, in his Sectional Presidential Address to the Modern History session of the IHC, said:

 

“European writers on Indo-British history have often failed to rise above the political exigencies of the situation, and that is why it has been said that the British Indian History has been the ‘worst patch in current scholarship’. [British] Historians… appear as pitiful apologists for British rule in India.”61

 

Like Prof. Gopal who wrote on Mill, S.N. Mukherjee has written a book on Willam Jones. Mukharjee writes:

 

“It is often forgotten that all Oriental studies in the eighteenth century had a political slant and all political pamphleteers  writing on East Indian affairs based their theories on Oriental researches … [these] orientalists were not isolated groups. They were involved in the political conflicts of the time and ‘theories’ about Indian history and culture were influenced by their respective political positions and intellectual convictions.”62

 

So much for the Indian History Congress and the British Orientalists! Considering the downhill slide from Indubhushan Banarjee  to Surendra Gopal, coupled with Marxist control and guidance, one is not surprised at the vilification campaign the IHC embarked upon against the NCERT textbooks on history. I am not surprised at the standard, both in terms of language and scholarship, of the Index of Errors published by the IHC, I am not surprised that it has approved absurdities like “silk was not known in ancient India”, “Harappan people made pots of iron and porcelain”, and “Nile flows from North to South”. Never mind the Mandsor inscription, the term ‘Bronze Age’ for the Harappan civilization and the geographical atlases that show the river Nile flowing south to north!

 

The mental, physical, economic, political and emotional breakdown of Indians, especially Hindus, was such that it moved even Karl Marx (who supported India being enslaved by the British, as we shall see later) to the extent that he took up the issue openly. After discussing the havoc played by the Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Afghans, etc. on Hindus, Marx writes in the New York Daily Tribune (1853):

 

“There cannot, however, remain any doubt that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before... All civil wars, various invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strongly complex, rapid and destructive as successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface. England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptom of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of new, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the recent misery of the Hindoo,, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain from all its ancient traditions and the whole of its past.”63

 

It must be mentioned here that this dispatch was written by Marx on June 10, 1853 and published in the New York Daily Tribune (No. 3804) on June 10, 1853. While Marx has been very critical of the British in this dispatch, his position in the second dispatch written on July 22, 1853, and published in the Tribune on August 8, 1853 is vastly different. In his second dispatch, Marx is not  only  devoid of any sympathy with which  he talked in his first dispatch but also does his best to justify the destruction of Hindu society, polity, economy and all that he was lamenting earlier. It requires no great intelligence to guess why all that sympathy disappeared within a month. Marx was already living as a refugee in England (I describe Marx as a refugee in Britain because that is how he describes himself in a letter to Engels written on April 16, 1856). Probably, the British could not tolerate such a stinging criticism of their doings in India from someone to whom they had given asylum and extended financial help and infra-structural facilities to carry on with his research work in the British Museum. I believe that pressure was exerted on Marx to mend his ways and write favourably about the British, which he did in the very next dispatch.

 

Nationalist Approach

 

Differences of opinion and different interpretations of, the same evidence is not only respected, but also considered essential for the healthy development of the academic world. But difference of opinion is not quite the same as distortion of  history. The Indian intelligentsia of the 19th century was horrified at the distortions in the writings on ancient Indian history. In the late 19th century some scholars like R.G. Bhandarkar and V.K. Rajwade tried to look at ancient Indian history from the Indian point of view. Both Bhandarkar and Rajwade worked on the history of Maharashtra and reconstructed the social, political and economic history of the area.

 

However, the real challenge to the imperialist version of history came during  the first quarter of the 20th century. Some of the most notable historians of this period were D.R. Bhandarkar, H.C. Raychaudhary, R.C. Majumdar, P.V. Kane, A.S. Altekar, K.P. Jayaswal, K.A. Nilakantha Shastri, T.V. Mahalingam, H.C. Ray and R.K. Mookerji. D.R. Bhandarkar (1875-1950) reconstructed the history of ancient India on the basis of epigraphic and numismatic evidence. His books on Ashoka and on ancient Indian polity helped explode a number of myths created by the imperialist historians. In the realm of political ideas and institutions the biggest blow on the imperialist school was inflicted by K.P. Jayaswal (1881-1937). In his book Hindu Polity, published in 1924, Jayaswal effectively knocked down the myth that Indians had no political ideas and institutions. His study of literary and epigraphical sources revealed that India was never a despotic country as propagated by the imperialist historians. Besides hereditary kingship, India had a tradition of republics, right from RigVedic times. Jayaswal also convincingly demonstrated that contrary to the views of the British historians, Indian polity and art of governance was far more developed than in any other part of contemporary world. Hindu Polity is one of the most important books ever written on ancient Indian history.

 

H.C. Raychaudhury (1892-1957) in his book Political History of Ancient India reconstructed the history of ancient India from the time of the Mahabharata war to the Gupta period and practically blew off all the clouds created by V.A. Smith. R.C. Majumdar is respected as the doyen among historians. He was a prolific writer and has written on almost every aspect of Indian history. He wrote a number of books covering the period from ancient India to the freedom struggle. The publication of History and Culture of the Indian People in 11 volumes under his editorship is one of his most outstanding achievements. This multi-volume series on Indian history and civilisation from prehistoric times to India’s independence in 1947 remains a singular reference work.

 

K.A. Nilakantha Sastri (1892-1975) contributed immensely towards the understanding of South Indian history. His books, A History of Ancient India and A History of South India, are examples of brilliant scholarship. R.K. Mookerji (1886-1964) was an outstanding writer when it came to expounding on the most difficult subjects in the simplest of terms. His Shipping in Ancient India,  Indian Nationalism, Hindu Civilisation, Education in Ancient India and Fundamental Unity of India not only put the cultural, economic and political history of India on a firm ground but also made it accessible to the lay reader. P.V. Kane (1880-1972) was a great Sanskritist. His monumental work entitled History of Dharmasastra in 5 volumes running to over 6,000 pages is an encyclopaedia of social, religious and political laws and customs of ancient India.

 

R.C. Majumdar, perhaps the most prolific and profound writer on Indian history, wrote in the preface of his Ancient India (1927) that his endevour was to “write the history of India from a strictly historical and not from a European point of view.” Citing examples from Smith’s writings, Majumdar says:

 

“These sentiments, which are echoes in other books, are not only uncalled for and misleading, but are calculated to distort the vision and judgment of modern readers. Those who cannot forget, even while writing the history of ancient India, that they belong to the imperial race which holds India in political subjection, can hardly be expected to possess that sympathy and broadmindedness which are necessary for forming a correct perspective of ancient Indian history and civilization. European scholars have rendered most valuable service by way of collecting materials for ancient Indian history and civilization, and Indians must ever remain grateful to them for their splendid and pioneering works. But they would hardly be in a position to write the history of India so long as they do not cast aside the assumptions of racial superiority and cease to regard Indians as an inferior race.”64

 

However, the situation did not get any better even after Independence. The approach to Indian history-writing got further vitiated.  R.C. Majumdar lamented the situation in the following words:

 

“The end of British rule has led to a steady deterioration of historical studies… This decline was caused not only by constant interference of the government in the business of historiography, but also by the attitude of many historians themselves. Certain new trends are growing among a section of historians which violate the high ideals among a section of Indian historians.”65

 

The contributions of all these great scholars helped in clearing the mist created by the missionaries and the imperialist historians. But we must not forget that somewhere the colonial hangover lingered on even among nationalist historians. Indian historians on ancient India have not moved out of the chronological framework prepared by the western Indologists even now. They differ with the western Indologists only in their approach to India, and sometimes they try to establish a distinct and original character of the Indian civilization beyond the domains of religion and philosophy. More than the framework, a major problem that has not been addressed by historians is the distinction between the history of Aryan India and that of ancient India.66

Marxist Approach to Indian History

The Marxist school of historiography used to be the most influential school of history in the second half of the last century. However, it has now lost much of its lustre after the collapse of Communism around the world. Despite the inherent contradictions and total failure of the Marxist model of history-writing, it is academically important to discuss it and acknowledge the contributions it has made.

 

The Marxists believe in five universal stages of history. These five stages are: (i) Primitive Communism, (ii) Slavery, (iii) Feudalism, (iv) Capitalism, and (v) Communism.

 

Karl Marx and F. Engels, the founding fathers of Communism, have defined these stages. They have clearly acknowledged their intellectual debt to F.W. Hegel and Lewis Henry Morgan. It must be mentioned here that the concept of the stages of history referred to above by Marx and Engels was based on their understanding of European history. Before we come to Indian Marxist historiography, we must get acquainted with what Hegel and Marx said about Indian history and civilisation.

 

G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) was a great Western philosopher. He was not an Indologist and made no attempt to learn Sanskrit or any other Indian language. He made use of only translations, reports, etc. His writings on Indian history and philosophy were based mainly on the writings of William Jones, James Mill and some other British writers. The result, indeed, was disastrous.

 

In the beginning, Hegel felt that India, and the Orient in general, had to be excluded from the history of philosophy. In the light of several writings, Hegel subsequently, but reluctantly, accepted that India had a philosophical system and that its history had a great antiquity. However, he considered it to be inferior to that of the Greeks and Romans. Even his contemporary European scholars were appalled at his conclusions about Indian history and philosophy. They saw him as a “prototype of a Westerner” who saw Western thoughts as a measuring yardstick for of all things. 

 

“Therefore, whatever he had to say about the Indian world, turned out to be very insufficient; and the result was a caricature which shows… that he ventured on a task for which he was not qualified.”67

 

Similarly, Marx was also very superficial in his knowledge of India and not free from racial considerations. Most of what he had to say about India is found in newspaper articles. Marx took his lead from Hegel. As we have seen in the earlier pages, in the beginning he was very disturbed with what the British did to Indian culture, civilization, polity, society, and economy. But in his second dispatch to the New York Daily Tribune published on August 8, 1853, he became a great votary of India being enslaved by the British, and dismissed it as a backward and uncivilised nation with no history. In this second dispatch he wrote:

 

“India, then, could not escape being conquered, and the whole of her past history, if it be anything, is history of the successive conquests she has undergone. Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society. The question, therefore, is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India being conquered by the Turks, by the Persians, by Russians, to India conquered by the Briton.

 

“England has to fulfill a double mission in India; one destructive, the other regenerating – annihilation of old Asiatic Society and the laying of the material foundation of western society in Asia.”68

 

This is what one may call dialectical materialism, the guiding principle of Marxism. When caught being wrong or what is perceived to be wrong (whether it is wrong or not is not the question) or rebuked, change your position and try to justify it with dialectics. Have we not been witnessing this in India, with such expressions as ‘historic blunders’, ‘historic mistakes’, and so on?

 

Now Marx not only sheds his sympathy and tries to justify the British rule and the destructions caused by it in India, but also puts on a mask that clearly displays his racial arrogance and cultural chauvinism. He happily records that the British succeeded in destroying the Hindu society, polity, culture, etc. which could not be done earlier by the Arabs, Turks, or even by the Mughals. He further writes in the same dispatch published in the Tribune:

 

“Arabs, Turks, Tatars who had successively overrun India, soon became Hindooized, the barbarian conquerors being, by an external law of history, conquered themselves by the superior civilization of their subjects (i.e. the Hindus). The British were the first conquerors superior, and therefore, inaccessible to the Hindu civilization. They destroyed it by breaking up the native communities, by uprooting the native industry, and by levelling all that was great and elevated in the native society.”69

 

It must be underlined here that Marx now justified the destruction of the Indian society as a necessity. He said that it was the duty of the British to annihilate the Indian society and economy in order to create a Western society based on materialistic foundations. His only complaint in this second dispatch was that “The historic pages of their (British) rule in India report hardly anything beyond destruction. The work of regeneration hardly transpires through a heap of ruins.”70

 

The Hegelian and Marxian approach to Indian history, by and large, remained dormant for a long time. It was almost non-existent during the British rule in India. After India became independent, the Marxist school of historiography became one of the most influential and dominant schools. The history of India also came to be written in conformity with Marx’s scheme. Consequently, primitive communism, slavery, feudalism and capitalism, i.e. the various stages of history as propounded by Marx, came to be seen in Indian history too. This school also, like the imperialist school, does not find anything good with Indian civilisation. Like Marx, Indian Marxist historians feel that all that is good in Indian civilisation is the contribution of the conquerors and, that is why, according to this school, the Kushana period is the golden period of Indian history and not the periods of the Satavahanas or the Guptas. The period from the Guptas to the conquest of Muslims in 12th century A.D. has been termed as the “Period of Feudalism” i.e. “The Dark Age”, during which everything degenerated. This is the Marxist view despite the fact that, irrespective of the political upheaval, there was an all-round development in the fields of literature, sciences, art, architecture, economy etc. Also, when it came to literary evidence and its chronology, they largely follow Max Mueller and other British historians. Wherever Marxist parties are in power, distortions in ancient Indian history textbooks go up to a level that has to be seen to be believed. They go to the extent of saying that Indians did not know how to write until about 6th century A.D., that the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation was a colony of Sumerians, that ancient Indians knew nothing about science, technology, and mathematics, and that the Aryans were nomads.71

 

Just one example will suffice to illustrate how Marxist historians  denigrate and belittle India’s ancient history, beneath the glitter of ‘good English’ and the vanity of scholarship (we must not forget that while they were criticizing the NCERT textbooks, good/bad English was their constant refrain). Romila Thapar, one of the most sophisticated Indian Marxist historians, puts R.C. Majumdar, R.K Mookerjee, K.P. Jayaswal and others in the same category along with James Mill, V.A. Smith and E.J. Rapson. These great Indian historians, according to her, have vitiated history-writing by an attitude which is no longer accepted today. Her deep-seated disdain surfaces when she refers to their description of ancient India as an “unashamed” portrayal of India’s past. To understand her arrogance and bitterness better, let us try to delve into her following words:

 

“… Nationalism was replaced by a form of militant Hinduism, and the communal atmosphere in Indian politics in the late 1930s and the 1940s tended to vitiate the study of ancient and medieval history. The Gupta period became the ‘Golden age’ largely because it was the period of renascent Hinduism. Many of the ills of India were ascribed to ‘Muslim invasion and rule’. It was maintained that Hinduism in its Sanskritic form was the essential culture of India, and other forces were in a sense an intrusion. The identification of ancient India with Hindu culture became so marked that even the Buddhists were regarded with some suspicion. Earlier attempts at proving the indigenous origin of all things Indian were accentuated, a trend which continues to be supported by certain historians to this day.”72

 

Indian Marxist historians lay emphasis on the economic interpretation of all social ideas, customs and institutions. Since they are allergic to religion and spirituality, their irreverence for saints and sages, especially those of Hindus, is too obvious. All that notwithstanding, their writings have contributed towards the understanding of various aspects of Indian history that had earlier remained ignored.

 

In the Marxist scheme of history, Marxism is the ideal philosophy and polity, and the Soviet Union the ideal state. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and a total eclipse of the Marxian polity and economy, these historians are finding it difficult to explain the reasons for their collapse. It is, perhaps, this phenomenon that has contributed to the loss of lustre to the Marxist historiography.

 

This whole Marxist obsession for a universal version of history – that all societies pass through the same stages of developments/historical phenomena, as formulated by Karl Marx – does not consider the fact that each society evolves in  its own complex way, and there is no such biological formula as could be applied as a road roller. Rabindranath Tagore’s views, expressed more than a century ago, when distortions in Indian history had reached a dismal peak, best summarize the problems the Marxist mentality poses in the writing of history. He writes:

 

“The superstition that history has to be similar in all countries must be abandoned. The person who has become hard-boiled after going through the biography of Rothschilde, while dealing with the life of Christ is likely to call for his accounts books and diary (economic history). And if he fails to find them then he will form a very poor opinion of Christ and would say: ‘A fellow who was not worth even a nickel, how come he can have a biography?’ Similarly, those who give up all the hopes of Indian history because they fail to find the royal genealogies and accounts of their conquests and defeats in the ‘Indian Official Record Room” and say ‘How can there be any history when there  is no politics?’ are like people who look for aubergine  in paddy fields. And when they do not find it there, in their frustration they refuse to count paddy as a variety of grains at all. All fields do not yield the same crop. One who knows this and thus looks for the proper field is truly a wise person.”73

 

The Present Scenario

 

Though there have always been at least two dominant streams in Indian historiography, there existed a normal respect for each other. However, with the emergence of the hegemony of Marxist historians after 1960, any voice of dissent was crushed mercilessly, and scholars having different views were called bourgeoisie, fascists, imperialists, communalists, and so on. Still, the voices of dissent could not be silenced completely. These have been getting louder and louder in the last 15 years. The Marxist denigration of ancient Indian history and the general insistence on glorifying Muslim rule (concealing all their atrocities perpetrated during the period) are the major areas of discard. In order not to allow repetition or continuance of the distortions, we need to evolve certain historically correct and acceptable parameters for approaching Indian history. In this context, Chakrabarti rightly says:

 

“It is the interplay of race, language and culture which has provided the most strong plank of the understanding of ancient India by the Western and the Indians alike. This plank was laid down at the height of the western political hegemony over India, and the fact that this still has been left in its place speaks a volume for the post-1947 pattern of the retention of Western dominance in various forms…. We believe that unless this major plank of colonial Indology is dismantled and taken out, it is unlikely that there will be a non-sectarian and multi-lineal perspective of the ancient Indian past which will try to understand history of the subcontinent in its own terms.” 74

 

There is a saying, “It is never too late”. What is seriously needed now is that all historians involved in higher research sit together and give a serious thought to the various issues in history. The mania of holding on to one’s own views and position, and using every trick to deny the existence of any other alternative view is simply absurd. It is an ostrich-like approach. We all have to think of the nation when it comes to planning and developing textbooks for schools, colleges and universities. We must decide – keeping the students’ age and ability for understanding history – what history has to be taught and at what stage. Prescribing and discussing Karl Marx and Das Capital in a history book meant for Class II or Class III is absurd (see the West Bengal history books for primary classes).75 The fact should not be lost sight of that in the former USSR, and so also in most of the Communist world, only one kind of history was taught – that which could bring revolutions, retain revolutions and indeed, take forward revolutions. Revolutions! Revolutions!! And Revolutions!!! But see what has happened. Distorted histories bring only disdain, ridicule, and contempt and not revolutions.

 

We must remember that as historians we do not have to write politically, socially or economically correct history. Our professional obligation is to write history as it is. We need not hide away hard facts. The country, the people and the society must learn to live with history, and not in history. The country has to grow up and face history and its historical truth.

 

At the same time, we must accept that although the idea of universal and uniform history may have an attraction and charm of its own, unfortunately, history has not developed the same way everywhere. For this, there is a large variety of reasons – geography, social customs, food habits, religious practices, etc. A historical study that ignores these factors does so at its own peril as Rabindranath Tagore said. Any sensible history-writing, thus, has to make room for both the universal quality and the distinctiveness of the people about whom it is being written.

 

However, at this point it is crucial to refer to the role of ideology in history-writing. It is an established fact that the ideal of ‘objective scientific history’ is neither valid nor attainable. If we borrow Walsh’s phrase, it is impossible for the historian “to jump out of his own skin”; it is impossible for him to totally dispense with his own intellectual and ideological perspective. Historical research would continue to be coloured by ideological elements. Different interpretations arising from – or coloured by – ideological positioning will continue to exist. In such a situation, the important issue is how much of these should be allowed to sneak into textbooks meant for very young and impressionable minds. It would be unfortunate if history is used to nurture in the young, impressionable and innocent minds apathy and/or antipathy  towards their past. Tagore expressed his anguish about  this almost a century ago. He said:

 

“By not viewing Bharatavarsha from Bharatavarsha’s own perspective, since our very childhood we learn to demean her and in consequence we get demeaned ourselves. An English boy knows that his ancestors had won many wars, had conquered many lands and had done extensive trade and commerce. He too wants to be an heir to the glory of war, of wealth, of success in commerce. We learn that our ancestors did not conquer other countries and did not extend trade and commerce. To make this fact known is the very purpose of the history of India. What our ancestors did, this we do not know; therefore we also do not know what we ought to aim for. Therefore we have to imitate others. Whom should we blame for this? The way we get our education since our very childhood, with every passing day, we get increasingly alienated from our own country till a sense of rebellion against the land of our birth overtakes our mind.”76

 

Let us desist from denigrating our own past in our books of history to make it politically correct. It does not mean that I am pleading for the creation a false sense of pride in our past, for turning a blind eye to our failings, or for creating a sense of megalomania. Let our history books also reflect what was memorable in our past, reflect the distinctive contribution of India made to the heritage of humankind, and not focus only on some of our obvious blemishes. Let our history books reflect that blemishes are also a part of human past everywhere, not just in India. But, at the same time, let there be sufficient light on the persistent quest for the perfection of humans. In that quest, India was very advanced which we can be justly proud of, and which may equip us with strength and confidence to face the future.77

 

 

Notes and References:

 

1.     Beside a large number of articles in the newspapers and magazines, see also Makkhan Lal, 2002, NCERT Social Science Textbooks: False Propaganda, Political Agenda and the Eminent Historians. Aligarh; Makkhan Lal et al., 2003, History in New NCERT Textbooks: Fallacies in the IHC Report. NCERT, New Delhi; Makkhan Lal, 2004, History: An Unending Debate, NCERT, New Delhi; SAHMAT, 2003, Saffronised and Substandard, (a collection of articles by Marxist historians and Communist parties leaders,  published in news papers and magazines), New Delhi.

2.       R. Aldrich (ed.), 1991, History in the National Curriculum. London; J. Appleby, L. Hunt & M. Jacob, 1994, Telling the Truth About History, New York; K. Crawford, 1995, ‘A History of the Right: The Battle for the Control of the National Curriculum, British Journal of Educational Studies. Vol. 33(4), pp.433-56; M. Ferro, 1992, Comments on reconte l’histoire anx enfants, Paris; E. Foner, 2002, Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World. New York; F. Furedi, 1992, Mythical Past, Elusive Future: History and Society in an Anxious Age, London; V. Little, 1990, ‘A national curriculum in history: a very contentious issue’ British journal of Educational Studies. Vol. 38(4), pp. 319-34; L. Hien and L. Seldon (eds.), 2000, Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan; Germany and United States. New York; P. Gathercole and D. Lowenthal (eds.), 1989, The Politics of the Past. London; R. Layton (ed.), 1989, Who Needs the Past, London; G.B. Nash, C. Crabtree and R.E. Dunn, 1997, History on the Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past, New York; R. Phillips, 1998, History Teaching, Nationhood and the State: A Study in Educational Politics, London; C.S. Maier, 1988, Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust and German National Identity. Harvard; D. Bercuson and S. Wise (eds.), 1994, Valour and Horror Revisited, McGill Queen University (Canada); D. Miller, M.J. Rowlands and C. Tilly, 1989, Domination and Resistance, London; M. Wallace, 1996, Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American History, New York; D. Lowenthal, 1996, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, New York; P. Write, 1985, On the Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain, London; S. Shenon, 1989, Archaeological Approaches to the Cultural Identity, London; R. Hewison, 1987, The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline, London; P.G. Stone and B. Molyneaux, 1994, The Presented Past: Heritage, Museums and Education London.

3.       For a glimpse of how the Marxist historians cornered all the resources for propagating their own works and promoting themselves and their followers right from 1950s, see Arun Shourie, 1998, The Eminent Historians: Their Methods, Their techniques. New Delhi.

4.       K. Osborne, 2003, ‘Teaching history in schools: a Canadian debate’ Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol.35(5), pp. 586-626.

5.       E.H Carr, 1977, What is History. p. 30, (first edition was published  in 1961), Penguin.

6.       R.G. Collingwood, 1978, The Idea of History, p.12 (first edition was published in 1945). Oxford.

7.       As quoted in Jeremy Black and D.D. MacReild, 1998, Studying History, p.18, MacMillan.

8.       As quoted in Michael Stanford, 1998, ‘Preface’, An Introduction to the Philosophy of History, Blackwell.

9.       Arthur Marwick, 2000, The New nature of History: Knowledge, Evidence, Language. pp. 31-32, London.

10.    E. Hobsbawm, 1990, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myths, Reality. pp.12-13, Cambridge.

11.    Jadunath Sarkar, Presidential Address at a History Conference held in Calcutta, quoted in R.C. Majumdar, History of Medieval Bengal, 1973, p. x, Calcutta.

12.    Benedetto Croce, History as the Study of Liberty, (English edition in 1947), p. 47, London.

13.    Donne Devotion Emergent Occasions No. XVII, as quoted in E.H. Carr, 1977, What is History? p.31. Penguin (first edition was published in 1961).

14.    Benedetto Croce, History as the Study of Liberty, (English edition in 1947), London.

15.    Jacques Derrida, 1976, Of Grammatology. Baltimore; See also Derrida: A Critical Reader, edited by David Wood, 1992) Oxford; Michael Foucault, 1980, Knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings; New York; F. Fukuyama, 1992, End of History and the Last Man, London; Ludmila Jordonova, 2000, History in Practice, London; Hayden White,1987, The Content of Forms: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, Baltimore; J. Lyotard, 1984, The Post Modern Conditions, Manchester.

16.    With the collapse of the former USSR and the rest of the Communist regimes around the world, people have now been questioning the relevance of Marxism. After the publication of The Black Book of Communism: Crime, Terror, Repression (1999, Harvard) the whole ideology and the conduct of the communist regimes have come under a high-resolution scanner. The book, as the title itself suggests, documents crime, terror and repression perpetrated by the Communist regimes against their own people. The documents/articles in the book have been contributed by those very officials/people who were responsible for all inhuman acts during the Communist regimes. Some of the facts will simply leave you dazed. The documents that details the brutal killing of 20 million people in Russia, 60 million in China, 1 million in Vietnam, 2 million in north Korea, 2 million in Cambodia, 3 million in eastern Europe, 1.5 million in Latin America, 2 million in Africa and 1.5 million in Afghanistan. A huge total of 98 million (Nine crores and Eighty lakhs) people killed by their own governments! Compare this figure with about 40 million people (both soldiers and common people including those killed by two atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in the Second World War. More than two-and-a-half times more people were killed by Communist regimes in peace times and that too their own people.

17.    Ludmila Jordonova, 2000, History in Practice. p. xiv. London.

18.    Hirini Matunga, 1994, ‘Waahi Tapu:Moari Sacred Sites’, pp. 219-25, In D.L. Carmichael, J. Hubert, B. Reeves and A Schanche (eds.) Sacred Sites, Sacred Places, London.

19.    F.E. Pargiter, 1922, Ancient Indian Historical tradition, London.

20.    H.C. Raychaudhury, 1997, Political History of Ancient India, (first edition 1924), Calcutta.

21.    Al Beruni,  Alberuni’s India, (Translated by E. C. Sachau, first published in 1910), reprinted 1989, Delhi.

22.    As quoted in P.J. Marshall, 1970, The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, p.46, Cambridge.

23.    As quoted in John Marshall, 1931, Mohenjodaro and the Indus Civilization, p. 159, London.

24.    J.S. Bailly, 1977, Letters sur l’origine dessceinces et sur celle despeuples de l’asie, p. 4, Paris.

25.    As quoted in L. Poliakov, 1971, The Aryan Myth, p.11, London.

26.    Emanuel Kant as quoted in W. Halbfass, 1990, India and Europe, p. 93, New Delhi.

27.    J. Michelet, 1864, Bible de l’humanite, Paris.

28.    Thomas  Trautmann, 1997, Aryans and British India, pp. 58-59, New Delhi.

29.    Thomas Maurice [1812] (1984) Indian Antiquities, reprinted in India in 1984. New Delhi.

30.    Thomas  Trautmann, 1997, Aryans and British India, p. 74, New Delhi.

31.    William Jones (1788). ‘On the Gods of Greece, Italy and IndiaAsiatic Researches Vol. 1, p. 225.

32.    William Jones (1790) ‘On the chronology of Hindu’ Asiatic Researches Vol. 2, p. 111.

33.    William Jones (1788). ‘On the Gods of Greece, Italy and IndiaAsiatic Researches Vol. 1, pp. 198-202.

34.    William Jones (1788). ‘On the Gods of Greece, Italy and IndiaAsiatic Researches Vol. 1, pp. 198-202.

35.    ibid, p. 207.

36.    ibid,  p. 221.

37.    Thomas Trautmann, 1997, Aryans and British India, pp. 58-59, New Delhi.

38.    William Jones (1790) ‘On the chronology of Hindu’ Asiatic Researches, Vol. 2, p. 111.

39.    ibid.

40.    T.R. Trautmann, 1997, Aryans and British India, p. 74.  London

41.    See N.S. Raja Ram, 1996, p. 78.

42.    Max Mueller’s Letter to the Duke of Argyll, dated 16 December, 1868, Oxford.

43.    Max Mueller (1902) Life and Letters of Right Honourable Fredrich Max Mueller. Vol. 1. London.

44.    Max Mueller’s Letter to the Duke of Argyll, dated 16 December, 1868, Oxford.

45.    Max Mueller’s letter to Chevelier Bunsen, dated 25 August, 1856, Oxford.

46.    Max Mueller’s letter to the Dean of St. Paul’s (Dr. Millman) dated 28 February, 1867.

47.    Chevelier Bunsen’s letter to Max Mueller, dated17 April, 1855.

48.    As quoted in N.S. Raja Ram, 1996, 77.

49.    James Mill, (1814-1818), History of British India, 3 vols., (subsequently the fifth edition in six volumes),  London.

50.    Dharampal, 1983, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian in the Eighteenth Century, p. 83, New Delhi.

51.    James Mill, 1917, History of British India, Vol. I, p. 83, p. 344, (for more details see pp. 351-2’ 466-72.

52.    John Strachey, 1880, Expansion of England, London.

53.    J.A. Dubois, A Description of the Character, Manners and the Customs of the People of India; And of Their Institutions, Religious and Civil (edited by G.U. Pope, 1879), p. xviii. London

54.    E.J. Rapson who edited Ancient India: from Earliest Times to the first Century A.D., p. 33, Cambridge History Series; 1914.

55.    V.A. Smith, 1904, Early History of India, London (reprinted in 1987, New Delhi).

56.    ibid.

57.    R.S. Sharma, 1999, Ancient India: A Textbook for Class XI. p. 6, NCERT, New Delhi.

58.    Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

59.    O.P. Kejariwal, 1998, The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past. Oxford.

60.    Surendra Gopal, 1972, James Mill, Ph.D. Thesis submitted to Mysore University, 

61.    Indubhushan Banarjee, 1945, Presidential Address to Indian history Congress, held at Annamalainagar.

62.    S.N. Mukherjee, 1968, Sir William Jones: A Study in Eighteenth Century British Attitude to India, p. 2, Cambridge.

63.    Karl Marx, 1853, ‘The British Rule in India’, New York Daily Tribune (no. 3804), 25 June, 1853.

64.    R.C. Majumdar, 1927, Ancient India, p. xv.

65.    R.C. Majumdar, 1970, Historiography in Modern India, p.52, Bombay.             

66.    D.K. Chakrabarti, 1997, Colonial Indology: Sociopolitics of the Ancient Indian Past, p. 224-25, New Delhi. 

67.    J.H. Hoffmeister (ed.) Documente zu Hegel Entiwicklung. p. 338. Stuttgard; also see W.F. Hegel. Philosophy of Religion. London; W. Halbfass. ‘Hegel on the philosophy of Hindu’, pp. 107-122. In German scholars on India. Varanasi.

68.    Karl Marx, 1853, ‘The Future of British Rule in India,’ published in NewYork Daily Tribune, 8 August, 1853.

69.    ibid.

70.    ibid.

71.    For details, see History (Ancient): A Textbook for Class VI. Published by West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Calcutta and its review by Makkhan Lal (2002) A Review of the Class VI Textbook of History Published by the Govt. of West Bengal. Aligarh; For the approach of Marxist historians towards Indian history see the Index of Errors in New NCERT History Books by Irfan Habib, S. Jaiswal and A. Mukherjee and its reply by Makkhan Lal, Meenakshi Jain and Hari Om (2003) History in the New NCERT Textbooks: Fallacies in the IHC Report. NCERT, New Delhi.

72.    Romila Thapar, 1968, ‘Interpretation of Ancient History’, History and Theory, Vol. 8, pp.318-25.   

73.    Rabindranath Tagore, 1903, The History of Bharatvarsha, An address delivered to the students and staff of Santiniketan.

74.    D.K. Chakrabarti, 1997, Colonial Indology: Sociopolitics of the Ancient Indian Past, p. 35, New Delhi.

75.    See history textbooks published by the by West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, Calcutta

76.    Rabindranath Tagore, 1903, The History of Bharatvarsha, An address delivered to the students and staff of Santiniketan.

77.    S.C. Bhattacharya (1993). History, Textbook Writing, Nation, Society. Paper presented in seminar on “Rewriting of History and the NCERT Textbooks” held in Bhopal, 9-10 November 2003.