Newspaper report on Hindu fundamentalism

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UK.AC.UCL
Mon Jun 29 10:19:02 UTC 1992

Status: RO

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
3000 BC.
          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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