Indian history and the modern historians
In its character and composition Indian history that is available to us in the present from is very much like any average commercial Indian film, with something of everything and with nothing serious in particular, trying to match the expectations of every one in a society that is as a diverse as the fish in the Indian ocean. In the process it loses its dignity, garnishing truth and glorifying evil and thereby leaving the intelligent audience with utter disbelief. Rarely, very rarely it comes anywhere nearer to truth.
No other nation has the kind of complex history as India has. Partly because of its great antiquity and mainly because of the lack of proper documentary and archaeological evidence, Indian history permits itself to be molded in whatever fashion a historian would like to. With gray and dark areas every where and in every epoch, it provides enough opportunities to some of our modern historians to cook history according to their own likes and dislikes. This approach to our history has greatly eroded our national character and our value system, because it has changed the way we think about ourselves, eroded our self esteem and our pride as a nation.
At least three or four generations of Indians, since 1947 have been fed with this concocted version of Indian history which has made them insensitive to the realities of the past and respond to the duplicity they perceive with a kind of their own. Facts are suppressed under the garbage of fiction or some ideology. Controversial topics and subjects are carefully engineered and interpreted or ignored altogether so that no sentiments are hurt. Is this the right approach?
Indian history should be written purely from an Indian point of view, in the idiom and context that is purely Indian, and also in the light of values that are Indian as well as universal. To write about Indian history from any other point of view or in the context of a particular ideology or ism that is alien to Indian soil is like reciting Sanskrit mantras with a foreign accent or comparing Lord Siva with the Bacchus of the west.
It may help us to overlook the unpleasant facts, or tone down the emotions that go commonly with unpleasant memories. But in the process it also makes us ignorant of our true heritage and the continuity of the value system that is vital to the building of true character and moral values among the younger generations. One may write copiously about Indian history, ignoring the valuable contributions made by Hinduism and its many great children to the various aspects of Indian life and society, but at what cost? Can we draw a circle ignoring the center?
The same type of argument goes when it comes to deciding the curriculum in the schools. It may not be an exaggeration to say that for some of the modern elite in India, a Walt Disney cartoon movie in the schools is more acceptable and tolerable than a lesson on the life and character of either Rama or Krishna. Why? Is it not because they are not the so called secular personalities? We are willing to accept a poem of Wordsworth in a text book, but not a verse from the Vedas or the Bhagavad gita, though they are packed with meaning and full of truth and wisdom. Why?
Our argument is that writing of history should be in the context of the time in which it had taken place and in the context of the major influences that shaped the society and especially in the context of the religion and the ethics that shaped it. Imagine the history of Europe without any mention of the Pope, the church and the Vatican! The crusades or the struggle against Islam. If left to themselves, Indian scholars schooled in socialism and communism would have suppressed even the practice of yoga. Fortunately, yoga found its way into the West and gained acceptance, before we truly realized its value and importance in modern life.
History should not be devoid of such truths that are essential for us to learn about the truth of our past so that we can be guided by it in future. What is the use of history if it does not represent truth and if does not help us to over come some of the mistakes our ancestors committed in the past? What is wrong if we teach our children the truth of our common past, so that they would know how to survive in future?
History should neither trivialize important facts nor emphasize trivial facts. However hurtful it might be and however controversial some incidents in the past might appear to us in today's context, a historian should not ignore his role as an impartial scribe of the past events and as a serious student of truth. Tailor made histories do more damage to a nation in the long run because they do not give us the opportunity to understand our past and avoid our past mistakes.
It is time we rewrite our history, from a purely Indian and Indian ethical point of view, without any fear, favoring none, judging truly in the context of the values we cherish, accepting no foreign notion that was alien to the Indian soil till modern times. It is time Indian history is written without fear. Yes we say fear because that is what we believe is responsible for this soft and practical approach to Indian history which is causing all the damage. If we are afraid of truth, how can we teach our children to be truthful? If our history text books excel in telling lies and glorifying tyrants who perpetrated cruelties against their own people, irrespective of the religions they practiced can we stop our children becoming polluted with such knowledge? Jahangir and Shajahan might have been great lovers to their wives and concubines, but they were cruel to ordinary Hindus who traded in the bazaars and tilled the lands. For them the Hindus were Kefirs and infidels. Let us accept the truths regarding our ancestors and look to the future with hope and a better vision.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hinduism, ancient history
- History of Hinduism, medieval period
- Hinduism, modern history
- Battle over history
- The Aryan invasion
- Atheism in ancient India
- courage the virtue
- Secularism in ancient India
- The biggest holocaust in world history
- A brief history of Afghanistan
- Caste system the bane of Hinduism
- The Arthashastra of Kautilya
- Megasthanese's Indica or Indika