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Putting history in proper context
Putting history in proper context

Virendra Parekh
The Observer Of Business And Politics
February 25, 2000

Title: Putting history in proper context
Author: Virendra Parekh
Publication: The Observer Of Business And Politics
Date: February 25, 2000

One thing is common to mullahs, missionaries and Marxists. Whenever they are given a dose of their own medicine, they call it a foul play. No wonder, the secularist lobby dominated by their friends is incensed. The decision of the Indian Council of Historical Research to withdraw from publication two volumes, penned by Marxist historians K. N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar, pertaining to the freedom struggle has incurred its wrath. ICHR chairman B R Grover has clarified that the withdrawal is only temporary and meant to check the manuscripts for possible inaccuracies and omissions. He has pointed out that ICHR has in the past withdrawn volumes, even after their publication, for similar reasons.

This has not pacified the secularist lobby. It has wasted no time in condemning this 'hard evidence of a deep-seated conspiracy to saffronise Indian history'. The eminent historians who wrote the books concerned feel slighted. Striking a pose of outraged innocence, secularist newspapers have sermonised the government on the dangers of tempering with history writing.

What is most remarkable about the present controversy is the deliberate and total obliteration of the context. The boot is on the other foot. Stalinist activists, masquerading as historians, have deliberately and systematically distorted our history to fit it into Marxist categories. Now when an attempt is being made to expose their manipulation and falsification, we hear lectures on importance of objectivity and dangers of state control in history writing.

Striking a pose of superiority is the hallmark of this brand of historians. It is below their dignity to discuss issues on merit. Aryan invasion theory, for example, has been beaten hollow by incontrovertible evidence marshalled by scholars like K D Sethna, Srikant Talageri, David Frawley, A Seidenberg and Navaratna Rajaram among others. The new evidence collected by these scholars pertain to literature, archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, metallurgy and mathematics. It explains all the known facts much better. It points to the movement of Aryans from India to other countries, standing the invasion theory on its head.

The response of Marxist historians to these new developments is either pointed indifference or derision. "The latest entrants into the field (of history) are Indian scientists from the US, who in the guise of using science and computers are now holding forth on the Aryan problem. They are neither willing to acknowledge that they know little about archaeology, history or linguistics, nor are they willing to work with such specialists", wrote Romila Thapar. Notice the arrogance, notice the disdain for scientific methods, notice the derailment of issue by personalising it.

If looking at evidence presented by others is below their dignity for Marxist historians, supplying evidence in support of their own assertions is even more so. On 2 October 1986, twelve Marxist historians, led by Romila Thapar, wrote a letter to the Times of India. They noted "with growing concern the recent tendency in Tol to give a communal twist to news items". "The statement in your news report that the site at Mathura is to be 'liberated' and handed over to the 'rightful owners' as the birthplace of Krishna raises the question of limits to logic of restoration of religious sites... How far back do we go? Can we push this to the restoration of Buddhist and Jain monuments destroyed by Hindus? Or pre-Hindu animist shrines?" wrote their eminences.

The indefatigable Site Ram Goal prepared a questionnaire for these historians and sent It to Romila Thapar. He requested them to produce, among other things, a list of epigraphs and citations from Hindu literary sources which record the destruction of Buddhist and Jain monuments and animist shrines by any Hindu, at any time: the Hindu theology that says or even suggests that non-Hindu places of worship should he destroyed, desecrated or plundered or which hails such acts as pious or meritorious: a list of Buddhist or Jain monuments and animist shrines which have been desecrated or destroyed or converted into Hindu places of worship in the remote or recent past: the names and places of Hindu monuments which stand on sites earlier occupied by Buddhist or Jain monuments and animist shrines and a list of Hindu kings or commanders whom Hindus have hailed as heroes for desecrating or destroying or converting into Hindu places of worship any Buddhist or Jain monuments or animist shrines.

However, he did not receive even an acknowledgement from her, leave alone any comments from the points raised In his letter. This was true to their form. Anyone who has audacity to demand proof from their eminences is disqualified by that very act to receive any attention from them.

Even when concrete evidence of their lies, distortions and prejudices is documented in detail and pushed under their nose, their response Is contemptuous (and contemptible) silence or a shower of abuse. Arun Shourie has narrated at length what they have done to history textbooks. The charges were specific, not vague or general. The name of the author, the title of the book and page numbers were quoted in every case. Shourie also gave concrete examples of their financial irregularities, irresponsible behaviour and malpractices like theft of manuscripts with a view to plagiarising them. His condemnation of their eminences was, in a word, total. What was the response? "Arun Shourie is not a historian. He is a mythologist of Hindu communalism. He is a political pornographer," declared K N Panikkar. Not one word about the issues raised.

This is the kind of people who are insisting that whatever they write must be accepted as gospel, that to check their works for inaccuracies and omissions is an insult, that to question their presentation and interpretation of history is nothing short of its falsification.

The question is: Having brazened it out so far, why are they restless now? Answer: Because they can see that the party will soon be over unless they put up a fight. They could perpetrate and perpetuate their mischief so long as their ideology was fashionable, rulers were benevolent and their fellow-travellers controlled most of the important positions in universities and journalism.

But times have changed. Intellectual fashions are changing, patronage of rulers is vanishing and their Holy Books have become raddy-pasti. All that remains, or remained until recently, is their hold on government institutions and the vast network of fellow travellers, the former being the key to the latter. The recent appointments to ICHR of independent historians and the move to restore accountability In its functioning have sent shivers down their spines. No longer will it be possible for them to drag on projects for decades, fatten themselves on public funds and dispense patronage to cronies. India's history establishment has long been controlled by people who are better at politicising issues than historical research. No true history of India can be written unless their influence is countered.

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