Hindutva and History
By Irfan Engineer
(Secular Perspective November 1-15, 2017)
The controversial statement of the BJP legislator of UP State Sangeet Som denigrating Taj Mahal should not surprise us. ‘History’ propounded by the Hindu supremacists is stranger than fiction. It is a tool in the hands Hindutva to justify their ideology which considers Muslims and Christians, whose holy lands are outside India (land mass from River Sindhu to Arabian Sea) as foreign religions. Indian Constitution may qualify Muslims and Christians as Indian citizens but Hindutva political ideology (HPI) views them as foreigners to be gotten rid off or subdued to the status of non-citizens or second class citizens. Hindutva calls upon all Hindus to wage war on what they consider foreign religions. Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar called upon Hindus to “Hinduize all politics and militarize Hindudom”. Hinduizing politics meant to establish political and cultural hegemony of upper-caste Hindus.
The war that HPI wants to wage on the ‘foreign’ religions needs justification and convincing and mobilizing the lower caste sections of Hindus, without whom the war is impossible. They need to convince the lower castes that the Hindu religion, which practices oppressive caste system and treats a section as untouchables and sub-humans, is superior to the foreign religions – viz. Islam and Christianity. Demonization of Muslims and Christians was crucial to build militarized Hindudom that Savarkar called upon. One of the instruments used to demonize the Muslims and Christians was History. The political ideologues of Hidndutva fictionalized History and historicized fiction without having any intention to respect the science of History.
‘History’ propounded by HPI has basically borrowed from the colonial historiography of Henry Miers Eliot and John Dowson, both British civil servants. Eliot and Dowson periodized the Indian past according to the religion of the rulers – Hindu period and Muslim period. Though Eliot and Dowson periodized pre-Islamic history as Hindu period supposedly on the basis of religion of the rulers, but the rulers did not see themselves as followers of Hindu religion for most period. The word ‘Hindu’ was used more to denote inhabitants of the geographical region on the Eastern bank of river Sindhu. The Persians pronounced Sindhu as ‘Hindu’. “The term ‘Hindu’ was coined in opposition to other religions, but this self-definition through otherness began centuries before there was contact with Europeans (or indeed, with Muslim).” (Doniger 2013, 5) “Our word ‘Hindu’ originates in the geographical feature of the Indus River. It comes from a word for ‘river’ (Sindhu) that Herodutus (in the fifth century BCE), the Persian (in the fourth century BCE), and the Arabs (after the eighth century CE) used to refer to everyone who lived beyond the great river of the northwest of the subcontinent, still known locally as the Sindhu and in Europe as the Indus.” (Doniger 2013, 6-7)
The rulers before the Muslim rule did not identify their religion as Hinduism, it the outsiders who referred to all the inhabitants of the region as Hindus. It is Colonial masters who used the geographical term ‘Hindu’ to mean religion. The Britishers in their census enumeration used Hinduism to denote religion of those who were neither Muslims, Christians or other known religions. Besides the fact that many historians would question periodization of history on the basis of religion of the ruler, Eliot and Dowson called ‘pre-Muslim period’ as Hindu period, even though the different rulers followed diverse religious faith including Jainism and Buddhism.
Without critiquing the colonial historiography of Eliot and Dowson, HPI endorsed it and built upon it. HPI glorified the Hindu period to be golden period of Indian History and considered the Muslim period as a period during which there was a decline. Communal Muslims or Muslim nationalists glorify the Muslim period. Both viewed history from their respective ideological perspective to determine their future. Romila Thapar writes that historical interpretation can become a two-way process, where the needs of the present are read into the past, and where the image of the past is sought to be imposed upon the present; and the image of the past is the historian’s contribution to the future (1993; pp. 1). E H Carr reaches same conclusion and writes, “When we attempt to answer the question ‘What is history?’ our answer, consciously or unconsciously, reflects our own position in time, and forms part of our answer to the broader question what view we take of the society in which we live.” (Carr 1987).
Hindutva ideologues differ in their narratives of history as is evident from the different stances taken by different leaders on Taj Mahal. Yogi Adityanath once said Taj Mahal had no connection with India’s culture or heritage (Manish and Sanyal 2017) and omitted it from the booklet of tourism department of UP. Sangeet Som, BJP MLA called it a cultural blot on India and which was built by traitors (Sharma 2017). BJP MP Vinay Katiyar opined that Taj Mahal was originally a Shiv Temple (PTI 2017). Later Adityanath called it pride of India after visiting it and that sweat and toil of Indian people had built it.
However, their instrumentalist view of history is that the golden period of ‘Hindu’ history was over after invasion by the Muslim aggressors from the Northwest. Thereafter the social structure crumbled and ‘Hindus’ and ‘Hindu’ culture suppressed which caused their economic decline. The Muslim aggressors were despotic and their religious fanaticism required them to destroy every symbol of ‘Hindu’ culture and forcibly impose ‘Islamic’ culture and convert all ‘Hindus’ to Islam. ‘Hindus’ resisted the aggression which led to permanent war between the two communities or two nations – Muslim and ‘Hindu’ – not between two kings who happen to be Muslim or ‘Hindu’. The Muslim community through their Emperors enslaved and humiliated the Hindus and with the intention of completely destroying their culture. Muslims demolished their temples and constructed their mosques over it. Presently they claim there were 3,000 such temples which were destroyed and mosques built over them, including the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and the mosques in Mathura and Varanasi. The HP ideologues have never presented a list of all 3,000 structures which were destroyed and mosques constructed in its place.
The objective of writing such a history is primarily to stigmatize entire Muslim community and represent them as oppressors against whom all Hindus should be united and wage a war to seek revenge of historical wrongs done to them. There was little chance for the caste based hierarchically structured society to unite and for those on the lower rungs of the structure to defend the birth based social privileges of those on upper rungs when they themselves suffered inhuman oppression from the upper castes. One of the strategies to achieve this was to demonize other communities, historicise conflicts with it, pose it as an existing threat and call upon all Hindus to unite against them.
The second objective is to reclaim, own and control the land, institutions and structures owned by the ‘enemy’ communities. If you can’t build it, grab from others. The third objective is to create a case for expansionism – Akhand Bharat with not only capturing Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also South China in the North, Myanmar in the East, Sri Lanka in the South and entire West Asia as we shall see shortly. The fourth objective was to construct an image of glorious past in which all technological and scientific achievements that we see today was already achieved by the ‘Hindus’ thousands of years ago during the Vedic period, including aircraft (pushpak viman), plastic surgery (implanting Elephant head on to a human body), most advanced nuclear tipped missiles and used during the war in Mahabharat, genetic engineering etc. Pride in the past is one tool to not only unite the community, but also claim it to be superior to all other communities and therefore right to rule the world and to create a militarized and authoritarian state to achieve that objective. Claiming a glorious ‘Hindu’ past was also to deny glorious past of any other community. For example, if Taj Mahal and even Kaaba is a glorious structure, it must be a Hindu structure as no such glory belongs to ‘enemy’ community.
Purushottam Nagesh Oak was one of the HP Ideologue who established ‘Institute for Rewriting Indian History’ and wrote several books. The historical wisdom of HPI is largely informed by Oak’s writing. Broadly and Briefly, Oak’s claims are as under:
- Islam and Christianity derived from Vedic Religion. Christianity was Krishna nitee. Vatican is corruption of ‘Vatika Nagri’ and Papacy was originally Vedic priesthood. ‘Abraham’ comes from Brahma; ‘church’ is corruption of Sanskrit word ‘vichar-vimarsh”; Jesus or Yahveh was Rig Vedic God. The word disciple is derived from Sanskrit word ‘dikshapal’. Krishna puja was prevalent in the whole world.
- Arabia had a Vedic past and Kabaa was a Hindu Temple – a Shiv Ling based on an inscription mentioning Indian King Vikramaditya on a dish found inside Kabaa. Mohammad was Hindu and Arabs worshiped Mahadev and performed their pilgrimage to Kashi and Haridwar. Allah was a Hindu God.
- The foreign Muslims were wrongly credited for construction of Indian monuments. Muslims were destroyers of Indian monuments and not constructors. Amongst the monuments wrongly attributed to the ‘foreign’ Muslims include Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Humayun Ka Maqbara, Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and many others. These were all ‘Hindu’ structures misappropriated by the Rulers of the time. The evidence to claim so could be as meagre as some carving on any wall which could not be of Muslim origin, or some similar sounding Sanskrit name. Taj Mahal e.g. was, according to Oak, an ancient Shiva Tempel Tejo Mahalaya which was commandeered by Emperor Shajahan from the Maharaja of Jaipur. Oak argues that the words ‘Taj’ and ‘Mahal’ are both of Sanskrit origin. Mahal means mansion and Taj is corruption of word ‘Tej’ which means splendour. Oak gives such explanations for all his claims.
- To summarise, his other sweeping claims include that one should not believe in Medieval records; Mughal arts and art of Mughal gardens is a myth; Development of Indian Music during Mughal period is a myth; all the monuments built by Mughals (which Oak describes as ‘jihadi’) and the narratives behind the monuments are false; That the Medieval period (when ‘foreigners’ ruled) was golden age is a myth; Indian king Porus did not lose to Alexander in the battle of Hydaspes fought in 326 BC; Indian borders extended from Bali to Baltic Sea and from Kerala to Kaba; Sanskrit was the world language in ancient times etc.
These assertions would be and should be normally questioned by not only students of history but also people with ordinary intelligence. Hindutva’s historical wisdoms are doled out to their cadres and followers who have been mobilized and recruited by touching their religious sentiments and amenable to orientation of a strong unitary collective that would act as their support network and give them a sense of belonging. The strong unitary collective is built around shared common objective and common hatred of those whom they call foreigners. Hindutva ‘history’ is an ideological tool to deepen the conviction of the mobilized cadres and imagine a past where the enemy ‘foreigners’ were oppressors even in the past. It induces them with hatred of the ‘foreigner’ and motivates them to commit worst crime against them. HPI built on imagined past in which the ‘foreigners’ are projected as having committed inhuman atrocities on them brings forth the need to exorcise the agony of having suffered such atrocities by inflicting it on the ‘foreigners’ around them. Such imagination of the past first suppresses the human within before they become cadre of Hindu supremacists.
The cadre convinced of such an imagined past is rarely able to stand up to rational scrutiny of his/her belief. They keep repeating their belief. They follow their leader who too keeps repeating his/her belief of what the past was and hope that it would be accepted as unassailable truth if enough number of people repeat it enough number of times. It is through this prism that Tipu Sultan is also looked from. That Tipu Sultan died fighting the Britishers notwithstanding, Tipu being a ‘foreigner’ should necessarily mean he was oppressor of ‘Hindus’.
Mobilized cadres of HPI need empathy and help to restore their rationality and humanity. However, they have demonstrated the destructive potential once by demolishing Babri Masjid. Other historical heritage of the country needs to be protected. Our education system should be strengthened to inculcate human values and equip students to explore past in order to understand it and learn lessons of history to shape our future.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism