Newspaper report on Hindu fundamentalism
ucgadkw at UK.AC.UCL
Mon Jun 29 10:19:02 UTC 1992
The following article appeared in the London Independent
newspaper recently, and I thought it was relevant to the
recent remarks here about the Hindu slant of the picture
comics on Indian historical and cultural themes.
I don't want to drag INDOLOGY into a slanging match about
fundamentalist issues. But as we were reminded by Prof.
Emmerick some time ago, in the Devanagari debate, our
field does have a political dimension, however abstract
our studies of vyakarana, jyotihsastra, etc.
Extremist Hindus rewrite history
Independent 12 June 1992
From Tim McGirk
in New Delhi
Schoolchildren in some states of India may soon be taught that Ram and
other heroic gods from epic Hindu poems written around 1000 BC were real
Hindu revivalists have recruited more than 100 historians,
archaeologists, sociologists, and linguists to re-interpret India's
ancient civilisation for school textbooks. But some critics warn that
these children's books, because of their possible political bias, may be
slanted against India's religious minorities and distort history so that
legendary gods stride out of the realm of poetry into reality.
In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal
Pradesh, all states controlled by the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), extremist Hindu groups have set up primary and high schools
that veer away from the standard state curriculum to focus on Sanskrit,
the lives of Hindu saints and leaders, and the scientific principles
expounded in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu hymns.
Often in these schools, the achievements of the Muslim Moghul
emperors, whose reign lasted for three centuries, are brushed aside and
the brutish sides of their conquest are accentuated instead. MJ Akbar,
a Muslim politician and author, said: "It's very simple. The BJP knows
there are votes to be gained in taking positions against Muslims are the
country's largest minority.
Professor Devandra Swarup Aggarwal, the vice-president of the
Deendayal Institute and one of the project organisers, denies that this
revision of Indian history has a political tinge. "We don't want this
to be a government-sponsored history. It should be an intellectual
Although this project to rewrite school textbooks is still in
the early stages, some scholars are already challenging the long-held
assumption that the Aryans, nomadic warriors who swept across the
grasslands of Central Asia into India, and also Europe, were responsible
for the two pillars of Hinduism: its philosophy and the caste system.
Professor Aggarwal said: "This Aryan race theory was a figment
of the nineteenth-century European mind." He claims that it was
concocted to justify British rule. "It was a way of the English saying
to the Indians: 'Look, we're both descended from the same racial stock.
The only difference is that your ancestors came 3,000 years ago and
you've stayed static ever since'," he said.
Scholars have long believed that the fair-skinned Aryan
warriors brought their own gods, language and philosophy with them from
Central Asia when they swarmed through the passes of the Hindu Kush into
India. According to this theory, the Aryans set up the caste system
with their priests, soldiers and merchants at the top and India's
original natives, the dark- skinned Dravidians, at the bottom of the
heap. For Professor Aggarwal, the caste system was "based on spiritual
principles to explain that not all of us are born equal". He says
evidence points to the existence of an earlier civilisation known as the
Harappa, whose cities and towns were strung along the Indus river in
The Harappas left writing that has yet to be deciphered, but
the professor claims the Harappas were seafarers, whose trading
expeditions led them to the Middle East. It was these traders, rather
than Aryan conquerors, who are perhaps responsible for the shared roots
of Indo-European languages, he suggests. Ra, and Krishna, who Hindus
believe were incarnations of Lord Vishnu, may have been kings of the
ancient Harappa civilisation. "Everyone in India draws inspiration from
Ram and Krishna but, so far, the textbooks don't accept them as
historical personages," he said.
In a country were past and present are as intertwined as they
are in India, being a historian can be a controversial profession. The
Hindu revivalists are not the only political activists accused of
tampering with history. The fifty-second session of the Indian History
Congress this year collapsed in discord after scholars fended off
attempts by the Congress government to commission a history of post-
independence India. Many historians refused to co-operate, claiming this
history would be biased in favour of the Congress party's Nehru/Gandhi
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