SV: ICHR controversey

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 1 11:05:33 UTC 2000

I make a comment on this issue against my own better judgment, but something
has to be said, and so be it. Perhaps this is the wrong forum, its focus not
being on contemporary politics, but as the topic has already been raised,
here goes.

The contemporary problem is not so much one about history as about
historiography. K. N. Panikker's online interview
( says as much. What
exacerbates the problem is that every Sukla, Misra and Tiwari, and every
Abdul, Rahim and Siddiqui thinks he has a say in the debate, without even
defining what it is that is being debated.

Even worse, there is a basic tendency towards ad hoc denial of certain
aspects of India's past. It is hardly justifiable, but that is what has
happened, repeatedly. I don't need to dwell on the may faults of the
Hindutva-vadis. However, the accepted professional historians have their own
brand of negationism, which should not be overlooked. Example from
Panikker's interview -

-------begin excerpt-----------
Q. Isn't it true that the differences between Hindus and Muslims have
  always existed? And there is nothing new about it?

A. (Angrily) What type of differences?

Q. Communal differences.

A. No, it is not communal. If you are saying that you are a Muslim
  or a Christian or a Hindu, it means that your religious belief
  is different. If you say you are a teacher and the other person
  says that he is a businessman, so it's a different lifestyle,
  isn't it? It does not mean it is antagonism that you fight against
  each other. But it has not led to riots which is a modern
  phenomenon in the way it has been taking place in India from
  the colonial times.

---------------end excerpt------------

The interviewer had a Muslim name, by the way. Just FYI.

The south Asian situation in pre-colonial times was never as simple as all
this, was it? The difference between being a Hindu and a Muslim is nothing
like that between a teacher and a businessman, is it? Wouldn't the same Dr.
Panikker accept the standard notion (found in every eighth grade Indian
history text book) that lower castes in India converted in large numbers to
Islam, in order to escape the oppression of the higher castes? It should be
obvious that conflict between lower caste and higher caste would have been
simply replaced by religious conflict between higher caste Hindu and lower
caste Muslim, not to mention the conflict between native Kshatriya elite and
immigrant Sultan's armies. After all, Marxist theory fundamentally depends
upon the notion of conflict in society. What religious co-existence then
does Dr. Panikker have in mind? Religion may be the opiate of the masses,
but Indian Marxists know all too well that far from inducing a state of
rest, religion has induced a lot of violent action, in India and elsewhere.

Furthermore, almost every single Indian historian has this idealized notion
that everything was rosy and healthy before India became a British colony,
and that every little contemporary communal problem really began only in the
19th century. Before that, it was all Hindu-Muslim-bhai-bhai, presumably.
The favorite culprit is the British policy of divide-and-rule. The slightest
murmur that there may be more to this than simply British policy is denied
with an almost visceral hatred. Hence Panikker's anger at the question that
was raised. Anger usually stems from frustration, and frustration stems from
inability - an inability to explain certain data based upon the given
theory. They glibly overlook that the colonial policy of divide-and-rule
worked well precisely because there already was something with which to
divide. As a scientist, I would say, if the data don't fit the theory, throw
the theory out or modify it accordingly. But historians, whether of the
established Marxist/liberal/conservative kind or the budding Hindutva kind,
are not scientists. They would rather deny the data than have their pet
theories questioned. Presumably, they've never heard of cutting the coat
according to the cloth. To mix metaphors, they are probably afraid of
washing dirty linen in public, but the longer it remains unwashed, the worse
it stinks.

One need not search too long to find out why this is so. It has been
incumbent upon Indian historians to accept the above-mentioned idealized
picture as a matter of faith, because of independent India's rejection of
the two-nation theory that created Pakistan. The secular, democratic
republic of India may have accepted the existence of Pakistan in practice,
but has never reconciled itself to it in principle. India's rejection of the
two-nation theory, with nothing to counter it except a false picture of
pre-colonial communal amity, comes at the cost of its own identity, both in
internal goverment and in foreign relations. The Hindutva-vadis have their
vision of an "Akhanda Bharat", but the secular thinkers have their own
vision of an "Undivided India" too. How long can a nation live in denial?
That, dear reader, if you have read so far, is what really affects India

The biggest problem, for me personally, is that the only people in India who
are willing to pursue this line of thought are either born VHPites, or they
achieve VHPite-ness. A small percentage of them end up having VHPite-ness
thrust upon them, both by the self-proclaimed secularists and the
self-proclaimed VHPites. Pretty soon, everything boils down to the favorite
form of debate - name-calling.

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