Indian History & Sangh Parivar (Was: Medieval India)

y.r.rani at y.r.rani at
Sat Dec 2 06:48:42 UTC 1995

In response to  >J.B. Sharma >Gainesville College:

Some of the literature mentioned by Mr. Sharma warrants consideration but
the books of Koenraad Elst are written in a hate mongering style and are
not very professional. I read several of his books and though I was
interested to know what he was saying, I detested the WAY that he said it.
He is fostering and encouraging a nonforgiving communalism.  His books are
unfootnoted and read like propaganda.  He would do the world a favor to
cool down the rhetoric.

The obvious problems of any discourse of "Civic Culture" in India are
seemingly overwhelming. The inherent cleavages between perceptions of
India's past, the role of its various ethnic/religious groups and how they
acted upon history and upon one another, are so completely juxtaposed that
a reconciliation in the interpretation and reconstruction of historical
evidence is very challenging in the South Asian context.

The divergences between Hindu and Muslim imperative memories as to their
civilizations' responses and responsibilities are diametrically opposed.
Could not almost any reading of India's "Glorious Past" be construed as
communalism depending on who was reading it?  The history of Islam's
arrival in India and the "Triumph of the Mogul Empire" is a proud and noble
story to a Muslim but to many Hindus it is a story of rape and pillage.
Conversely, the story of Hindu philosophic traditions and their powerful
contribution to human thought and the "Triumph of Indic Civilization"
could be an affront to a Muslim who sees Hinduism as an idolatrous and
pagan challenge to the one true God and the Islamic invasions as wars of
liberation.  How does one teach "national civic culture" or even  a basic
history class in a country such as India, divided as she is by such sharp
distinctions in perceptions of the past?

Hindutva and the now increasingly popular Sangh Parivar were obvioulsy not
born overnight nor divorced from the fluidity of Indian psychological
experiences.  Is it not simply a fundamentalist movement, defined broadly
as a selective rehabilitating of traditions superimposed on modern society
as a reaction to modernity (or perceived internal or externals threats) in
an attempt to access political power or social change.  Nor can it be
sanctimoniously dismissed as a fascist movement.  Like it or not, Hindutva
and the Sangh Parivar is a popular mass movement and their views will
demand agency.  We can not undismantle the Babri Masjid any more than we
can unstorm the Bastille.  Ignoring it will only cause it to grow more
aggressive.  Something has to give.  I don't think it will be the voters.
BJP has 21% of the Lok Sabha seats.  21%!  In a county with more than two
parties, this is a mandate!  We can no longer simply blast the Sangh
Parivar, denigrating them to fascists, while lamenting the end of Indic
civilization.  (Which, BTW, has "ended" many times in the past five
thousand years!)

Hopefully, this Sangh Parivar movement will bring a new era of critical
inquiry into Indian scholarship .  Indian civilization is not and has never
been static.   It is not and did not unfold in a vacuum.  As scholars we
understand that culture is not just textually embedded.  The Sangh Parivar
must be deconstructed in a modern India that is seen as more than a
colonial/ post-colonial/ neo-colonial expression, denied the operational
exigencies of postmodern cultural adaptivity and social and political
agency.  In India, as in the rest of the world, postmodern influences
abound-- late 20th century responses are driven by civilizational
prerogatives and post-industrial imperatives of the information age.  It
could be argued that since India is not truly a post-industrial country,
this paradigm is inapplicable. However, traditional and post-modern
variables are all working simultaneously.  They are not mutually exclusive.
Chronological orderings are insufficient and look more for justification
instead of an inclusiveness.  Whatever models we develop to study India can
not be frozen or we run the risk of dehumanizing and essentializing.
Indian civilization is very fluid with countless cross-cleavages and
counterpoised and over-lapping factions.  Sangh Parivar is just anouther
factor in this complex civilizational tapastry of India in which culture
constantly recreates itself.  The discourses of cultural theory that are
applied in India fall short unless their models are fluid enough to
incompass such complexities.

In the late 20th century there is no civilization that is not elastic and
plastic and liminal at the edges leading to restructuring of thought at the
center that draws form from internalizing a myriad of simultaneous stimuli
both foreign and domestic, ancient and modern.  (Time and again the center
shifts and history takes another course.)  "East is East and West is West"
is a discourse that died several decades ago.  Multi-dimentional,
multi-perceptival multiculturalism is inherent and integral in the
postmodern East and West.  India, with its much touted "absorptive,
pluralistic, universal" nature would certainly recreate itself with these
tools, in this context.  This in mind, the long term results of the Sangh
Parivar movement will ultimately have a catalizing effect on Indian
politics amd scholarship, if the more moderate leaders, and also luckily,
the most popular, are not censured. If India is to continue to recreate
itself as all nations must do in order to survive and progress, there has
to be a dialogue.

How does one then come to a consensus concerning the teaching of Indian
history?  What fills one group with pride fills another with shame or pain.
This a very tricky debate and must be openly and critically explored.

Yvette C. Rosser

   TOO SURE IT IS ALWAYS RIGHT."  *  Justice Learned Hand


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