Wednesday, February 10, 2010


History has often been used as a political tool. The British did that when they ruled India. But six decades after their departure, the disparaging set of views and beliefs that they propagated about India's past and its 'Hindu' tradition not only continues to be unquestioningly accepted and propagated, but things have reached such a stage that "if one makes positive noises about the contribution of Indian culture to humanity, one runs the risk of being associated with Hindu nationalism."

In an illuminating article entitled 'How free are we?' in Outlook magazine, Jakob De Roover - in India one still needs the name of a Westerner to give respectability to an alternate view - speaks about a not-so-manifest but insidious threat to intellectual freedom in the study of India: an implicit censorship that, "moulds the mind of people in particular ways; it constrains their speech; it compels them to show compliance to certain dogmas in their writings; and, for the unlucky few, it may even end their careers." This has its roots in the colonial past in which European civilisation was consciously projected as being superior. That is why, according to Roover, all ills and atrocities in Indian society like "widow-burning, dowry murder, domestic violence, female infanticide and caste discrimination" are linked to ‘Hindu’ foundations, while similar ills and atrocities such as "racism, colonial genocide, the two World Wars, the Holocaust, sexual abuse, etc" are considered as aberrations acts that deviate from the true temper of European culture; no link is made with the continent's Christian experience.

The British, as we all know, created and nourished an intellectual and governing class whose prime purpose was to protect and further the interest of the Empire. Roover points out that the other objective of the colonial master was to project Indian, particularly Hindu, history and culture as a negation of 'civilising' Western norms. Despite that, independent India opted to retain all colonial structures of governance and education. At a fundamental level, therefore, freedom was no more than a transfer of power from one set of rulers to another.

In other posts, I have written in some detail about how the colonial structures of the state, particularly the civil services and police, which at one time even Nehru wanted to rid India of, have perpetuated the continuation of a neo-colonial and feudalistic society which has prevented real democracy from taking root. Even more insidious has been the role of academics in perpetuating the myth of the superiority of Western civilisation and the inferiority of 'Hinduism'. These 'secularists', as Roover calls the Marxists and liberals who share an 'allergy' to Hinduism, have "dominated the Indian universities and established an intellectual and institutional hegemony," and performed a role similar to the colonial master. This domination has resulted in different forms of implicit censorship: it determines what is published, where the funding goes, and who gets appointed and has created "a widespread fear of saying ‘the wrong thing’, which paralyses the study of Indian culture."

Since this has been going on unquestioned for a long time, the average educated Hindu has been growing up with a shaken faith in his religion; the more Westernised he becomes, the greater the possibility of his becoming totally disconnected with it. One reason for this, in addition to those mentioned by Roover, is that the colonial master turned all Hindu gods into mythological characters who were no shown as more than creations of the imagination of poets and writers. This was part of a deliberate plan to show Hinduism as a false religion and, thereby, encourage conversions to Christianity. That is why Ramayan and Mahabharat were reduced to the status of 'epics', little different from Odyssey and Iliad that are no more than literary works describing a dead civilisation and its false gods and religion. The implied equating of Greek mythology and Hindu 'mythology' has taken its toll, as is the often missed fact the the word 'mythology' is never used in connection with Christianity or Islam.

That is why you will often find that when a Hindu goes to, say, a Hanuman or Durga temple, he prays, but when out of it, beaten into doubt, he questions their very existence. Some, of course, have made some sort of peace with this doubt by believing in one's chosen personal deity while accepting the possibility that other gods and goddesses are no more than myths. Those who know even a bit of Hinduism understand how inseparably inter-related the whole canvas is; if you take out one piece the whole picture is destroyed. If Durga is real, for example, then there is a whole pantheon that has to be real too. And if that is real then? The whole web is intricately inter-woven. So either all gods are mythical or they all are real. And, lest we forget, every single religion is packed with the supernatural, the rationally unbelievable and the scientifically impossible.

This colonial construct has also created a small but powerful group of men and women who have almost completely severed their ties with and belief in the religion of their birth, except when it comes to celebrating certain festivals in a 'secular' way. It is this disconnected lot of liberals and Marxists, bearing Hindu names, who are perpetuating the colonial view of the history of India. It is this lot that goes up in arms when anyone questions what they have done, accusing them of 'saffronising' history, being part of the communal Hindutva brigade etc. In fact London based historian Salil Tripathi, who belongs to this group, has gone to the extent of equating them with Nazis! In this endeavour, not only do people like him continue to have powerful political backing of 'secular' parties that fear that any much needed correction will help parties like the BJP, but also the English media that is saturated with individuals who have grown up on their dope and have become like them. This sophisticated but unquestionably intolerant censorship has effectively prevented the resurgence of "a climate of intellectual freedom that has too long been absent from the study of India."

It is not an accident that even 63 years after Independence, India has not been able to formulate a vision for itself as a nation. A vision flows out of what a nation sees itself as. And that is often based on the lessons of history. China and India are the oldest living civilisations in the world. Unfortunately India's view of itself has remained as was defined by the British to subjugate it and make it feel inferior. Pakistan has broken away from that view but in a negative sense that sees the Hindu as the enemy and the period during which Muslims kings ruled much of India as the ideal. Its sometimes stated vision of claiming the rest of India too some time in the future, emerges from that limited and horribly distorted interpretation of India's history.

Secular India, on the other hand, does not want to re-connect to its complete and unbroken past for reasons that have more to do with politics and low self-esteem than history itself. So, like everything else the colonial master created to rule India by making Indians feel inferior, its version of history too is being conveniently perpetuated. There must be no other example in history where a nation and a culture has remained so 'enslaved' even after evicting its conqueror.

That perhaps explains why focused Indians excel all over the world when competing as individuals while a direction-less, shackled India continues to under-perform. India is not free yet.

An informative article by Shyamal Barua can be found here.
Related reading:
1. Corrupt, colonial India faces volcano
2. For Bharat's sake, and India's, dump colonial institutions
3. India's democracy now only 'by the people'
4. Go India, got to be the best, not second