Rewriting history the Hindutva way

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The proponents of Hindutva started writing their own version history in an organised way as early as 1970 by using various political prerogatives in the post-emergency period. They tampered with NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) material and meddled with the curriculum in school textbooks, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. The reason that this newly created brand of ‘historians’ cited for the changes was that the then existing history books did not represent the interest of ‘Hindus’. They envisaged that the categorising of such a ‘Hindu history’ at the pedagogical level would add to the sustained efforts of right-wing organisations to build a militarised political mass in North India.

By the early 2000s, new textbooks packed with hyper communal feelings became a part of school curriculum across north India. These textbooks could create institutionalised communal rhetoric by situating Indian history at two different levels — one, a romanticised golden ancient past and the other, a vulgar medieval period. This two-way programme has been the singular objective of organisations such as the Bharatiya Ithihas Samkalan Yojana (All India History Reform Project), a subsidiary of the RSS formed in 1978.

In the imagined narratives of the Hindutva version of history, every Muslim ruler is characterised by a singular quality; being anti-Hindu. The same narratives have taken it upon themselves to find artefacts of ‘Hindu piety’ — temples, statues or any other religious insignia — beneath every archeological monument. Subsequently, and most alarmingly, these narratives have created a ‘fixated enemy’ for a wide public in the provincial towns and interiors of north India, which sees itself as a protector of the Hindu faith. In the present-day milieu, the very idea of Indian history is being superseded by ‘Puranic nostalgia’ with the identification of ancient texts as real historical literature. Today, a mutilated sense of history has become the popular consciousness of north India.

The reductive narratives of Hindutva present history in terms of a clannish binary of Hindu versus Muslim: Shivaji is made to be the saviour of Hindu women in Maharashtra, Akbar is the hunter of Hindu women in Gujarat and the Nizam of Hyderabad is the one who sent the unbending Hindu women from his harem to the gallows.

PK Yasser Arafath | Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi
PK Yasser Arafath | Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi

By continuously invoking the emasculated Hindu-maleness under the agile Muslim invaders, these histories invoke the need of an invigorated Hindu masculinity and piety. Such ‘pious’ masculinity is believed to have fashioned clusters of perfect males who are invincible, warring, and protecting. Visuals have been an important part of this masculine piety. The visualisation of six-pack, hyper-masculine Puranic characters expresses a rather aggressive visual piety for ongoing textual manipulations. In other words, the new rhetoric around the masculinisation of the ‘pious Hindu man’, represented largely by RSS workers, has a direct link with the new agenda of rewriting history.

The image of global Hindutva has become a colossal reality in which the ‘Hindus’ are presented as the perfect victims and the Muslims as their carnivorous other. The Indian diaspora, looking for a singular, uncomplicated history of the mother nation they can take pride in, has been an ever growing audience for these narratives.

Thousands of community schools run by various organisations under the aegis of the RSS produce millions of students with such a historic consciousness. However, what is forgotten in these attempts is that when revenge-based history of Hindutva essentialises medieval India as a period of unending conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, the actual historical depth of the very nation gets negated.

By dragging history into the Hindu- Muslim binary, the right wing wants to conceive the idea of revenging mobs, which are only controlled through the moral and normative framework of religious piety. This part of the problem also attests a shift in the politics of piety in many post-colonial societies — the shift from piety as protest to piety as revenge. As a matter of fact, one can remember that modern piety based politics has assumed the title role of producing revengeful historical texts more visibly in the Middle East and South and South East Asia. In Pakistan, the other; ‘Hindu men’, are continuously constructed as either wilful kafirs (non-believers) or betrayers while it is the Catholics and Jews who are otherised in the textbooks of Middle-East countries.

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