By Devesh Narayanan:
The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) made a little history of their own this month. There has been an organizational restructuring that has raised many eyebrows. The new panel is an assortment of questionable individuals, including office-bearers from the RSS backed Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY), a former BJP candidate, and a number of anti-Leftist, anti-secularist academicians. This reconstitution comes in the backdrop of the growing allegations that the government is pushing for the saffronization of education.
How does this news affect you?
Well, for starters, ICHR has a significant say in the content of the history textbooks, and could potentially shape the way in which our coming generations view the Indian culture. But, this is about something more. It’s about the pursuit of true knowledge. It’s about celebrating the diversity of our cultural roots. It’s about realising that everyone had a part to play in shaping this wonderful nation of ours.
Leading this controversial team is perhaps an even more controversial figure, a historian whose work is unfamiliar to almost everyone in the academic circle. Not much is known about the new ICHR chief, Professor Y Sudershan Rao, except his alleged former RSS leanings, his keen interest in including sacred Hindu texts as credible sources of historical information, and an absolutely outrageous blog that talks about how the caste system may not have been exploitative, but rather an efficient system that worked well in ancient times. The very same man who says that his primary agenda as the chairperson would be to prove the authenticity of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, goes on to vehemently claim that there is absolutely no danger of the saffronization of our history. How reassuring!
In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Prof. Rao was quoted, “The stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata cannot be termed a-historical just because there is not enough archaeological hard evidence.”
Well, Sir, you’re a scientist. The lack of evidence after centuries of research is, in fact, the exact reason why you should not determinedly flog a dead horse.
Prof. Rao’s fixation on the historicity of Hindu religious texts gives the impression of a man grasping at straws – which if the rumours surrounding his appointment are to be believed – reinforces this image. Allegedly, ICHR had sent a list of their indispensable academicians, recommending them for the top post, to the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
However, the list was ‘misplaced’ by the ministry, a new name was pulled out of thin air, and a new chairperson was appointed. Now that, if true, is genuinely frightening. In any case, there is a disturbing amount of secrecy regarding this whole restructuring and the new appointments. Prof. Rao has apparently never written in a peer-reviewed journal before, and it is nearly impossible to find a complete list of his publications and interests. Seriously, what’s with all the secrecy?
I do not wish to berate Prof. Rao any further, not when the rest of his team is just as questionable. Many of the new members have colourful histories of their own. Religious expert Sushmita Pandey’s research centers on the historiography of religion, having authored several papers on our doctrines and the verity of the religious movements in the Mahabharata. Quantum physicist MD Srinivas also managed to make it to the panel. Questions are also being raised about the basic qualifications and eligibility of a few other members like Michel Danino. Some new members have even become less discreet about their protests against secularism since their appointment. Prof. Mukherjee recently ranted about the “academic fascism” of the Left, and openly questioned the “secularist discourse”.
Many professional historians have repeatedly proven that the RSS-affiliated historians often use simplistic folklore-based explanations for the historical events and deliberately choose to ignore complex interpretation and enquiry, thereby leading to gross factual inaccuracies. Whether a political potshot or not, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi’s recent tweet astutely captures a very real fear – “Hope India’s new history book does not stretch back to when Brahmin Sadhus had pet dinosaurs.”
One should never attempt to mix faith with logic and scientific practice. Well, no one could stop a person from believing anything he or she wants to, but it is truly dangerous when that person tries to enforce his or her beliefs on others. In this case, I shudder to think of what will happen if the ICHR actually does rewrite our history and saffronize our heritage; a move that could affect millions in the country.
Worse still, there is simply no logical rebuttal of a religious argument. There isn’t much room for negotiations and compromises when one faith is pitted against another. I, for one, am confident that the Christians, Muslims and other minorities are not going to take this alienation without any retaliation. This never-ending slugfest and such pointless debates are unnecessarily coming in the way of an impartial, accurate, and scientific analysis of our country’s glorious heritage.
However, I believe that it’s too soon to judge this new panel, and sincerely hope that their new-found power inspires them to keep an open mind when considering research. At the end of the day, we don’t want a saffron-tinted version, or a red-tinted, or a green-tinted version of our history. We just want the truth.