Being a Hindu in India: The Agony and the Ecstasy
Blatant and continuous persecution over centuries defines the Hindus of India. The imperialisms created havoc to Hinduism; the colonials projected Hindus as primitive; and the missionaries tried to get the Hindu ‘pagans’ into their fold. Hinduism resisted strongly during the Islamic and the colonial periods. Post-Independence, caste discrimination and Dalit exploitation became the polemic against Hinduism. Corrections evolved on this aspect by reservations and special statuses right from the beginning. There was ignoring of data from the colonial period showing no educational discrimination based on caste. The argument against the Hindus persist as being discriminatory and hegemonic. The priests are evil; our heritage believed questionable; our antiquity negated.
Years of a leftist ideology rule and its historical discourses in textbooks brainwashed generations of Hindus to be ashamed of themselves, simultaneously exonerating the destruction causing European and Islamic invaders in the idea of secularism. Our academia, political powers, and the media combined to present a warped view of our country.
The Disunited Indians and the Persistent Criticism of Hinduism
Unfortunately, even after seven decades of independence, we do not have a common narrative. A narrative uniting people across all languages and cultures. Starting from the pseudo-Dravidian identity which refuses to go away thanks to a committed group of scholars, our country never stands united on a single issue (barring remotely cricket). Every Hindu festival and cultural celebration become regressive now in a new way of attacking the political party in power. Hatred for one man is manifesting as hatred for the entire community of Hindus. Caste and the cow are the only arguing points to put Hindus on the defensive at every level.
The narrative we have is of disunity. After years of anger which culminated in 2014, when a supposedly pro-Hindu party came to power, the diatribe against Hindus has increased across all channels, both national and international. People seldom realize that BJP was an outcome of the long-standing policies of the Congress. Suddenly, Bhakt has a negative connotation. Intolerance is a term applied to any resistance to an established discourse. The old paradigm has in fact strengthened: being secular is to appease the minorities and being liberal is to abuse the Hindus. It is an unfortunate persecution of the Hindus in the only country left for them.
Vamsee Juluri writes in his book, ‘Writing Across a Cracked World,’ that there is a strong ‘Establishment’ on one side and a not-so-strong ‘Movement’ on the other. The Establishment sets the strong discourse which becomes the mainstream thought. This consists of the Universities, the media houses, and the entertainment industry. Films have a particularly vital role to play in setting up and strengthening these discourses. For example, Hollywood films easily make you believe that the white American is always the hero saving the world. The Black or the Brown do save the world rarely, albeit with help from the White super guy. Indians are content on photoshoots with Hollywood celebrities or as the slum-dwellers, even as dangerously their serials depict ‘Hindu Terror.’ The powerful US Universities keep their stranglehold on the popular conception of an ugly India, an ugly Hindu, and an ugly Brahmin. Their sepoys in India duly amplify these discourses and helped on the way by powerful stories of ‘Holy saints in Cities of Joy’.
The Rarely Discussed Strengths
It is surprising that a religion and culture of extreme theological tolerance stands in the dock for caste-discrimination and exploitation of Dalits. Christians, Muslims, Parsees came across from foreign lands and had full cooperation from the local people, including the priests. They integrated into the society without much issues. Muslim traders in areas like Kerala and Gujarat were equally rich and prosperous as their Hindu colleagues. Other religions like Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism came out as off-shoots sometimes seriously questioning the mainstream thought of Hindus. Yet, there were no violent encounters.
The three philosophies of Hinduism-Dvaita, Vishisht Advaita, and Advaita flourished with strong individual proponents without any violent frictions. There have been no known instances of priests pushing Kshatriya kings for conquering foreign lands by giving religious sanction. The two things which are exclusive features of Hinduism are: first, its acceptance of a higher knowledge and a lower knowledge; and second, the idea that there are no falsehoods. One progresses from a lower truth to a higher truth and never from falsehood to truth as Swami Vivekananda was fond of saying.
Higher knowledge is the knowledge of God transcendent to the material world and at the same time immanent in everything. The only purpose of life is this higher knowledge. The lower knowledge is that of the world, in turn composed of the body, mind, intellect, space, time, matter, energy, cause, and effect- everything which science deals with. All Indian schools, especially Advaita, gave importance and relevance to the phenomenal world. The clear-cut distinction and acceptance of these two forms of knowledge never allowed religion being antithetical to science or arts, which hence progressed without any fear of persecution.
What do the at least 30 million surviving ancient manuscripts in Indian libraries, repositories, and private collections deal with? Michel Danino says, ‘Every topic under the Indian sun: philosophies, systems of yoga, grammar, language, logic, debate, poetics, aesthetics, cosmology, mythology, ethics, literature of all genres from poetry to historical tradition, performing and non-performing arts, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, chemistry, metallurgy, botany, zoology, geology, medical systems, governance, administration, water management, town planning, civil engineering, ship making, agriculture, polity, martial arts, games, brain teasers, omens, ghosts, accounting, and much more — there are even manuscripts on how to preserve manuscripts! The production was colossal and in almost every regional language.’ Brick design was highly evolved thousands of years back, and our town-planning and sanitation modes were far ahead of their times. Barring China, no country could come close to the quality of our silk and cotton.
This contrasts with the Abrahamic religions, where science was in constant clash with religion (think Bruno and Galileo); and many times, the scientists compromised to avoid a clash with religious thought. The process of clash continues in the Western world with a tolerance now, but without a full-fledged acceptance. This conflict is prominently and particularly missing in Indian thought. Nowhere is this more prominent than in evolutionary science. Even today, despite being an educational heavyweight, US has trouble with the teaching of evolution. Disturbing voices still want alternatives to Darwinism taught in schools-Intelligent design or its older form, god. As late as 1996, the Pope issued a statement in support of evolution. And scientists celebrated this as finally religion seeing reason. It is another matter that western science defined religion only as Abrahamic thought; and a majority had and have still no clue about Indian thoughts on science.
Way back in the last decade of the 19th century when Darwinism was peaking in controversy, Swami Vivekananda simply wondered what the fuss was all about. Advaita never had problems with evolution and it is in fact a necessity of matter, he said. Religion in fact is the biggest supporter of evolution if one understands both correctly, Vivekananda claimed. I am yet to come across a single western scientist-writer who has spoken about Swami Vivekananda or Sri Aurobindo and their thoughts on evolution, while criticizing the religious opposition to evolution. The strawman has always been Christianity unfortunately. Our priests are never known to come in the way of doing science, astronomy, or even depiction of the most elaborate expressions of sexuality in temples!
The lower and higher truths are important in understanding Hinduism with its rich variety of customs, rituals, gods, and traditions. Rituals, mythology, and philosophy are the three components of religion and once understood that there are no falsehoods but only grades of truths- the diversity is at once grasped. Rituals and mythology maybe are the kindergarten of religion, said Vivekananda, but they lead to the final philosophy.
Dvaita, Vishisht Advaita, and Advaita are the routes to achieve Moksha or its badly translated equivalent in English- salvation. Simply put, as Swami Vivekananda explained, Dvaita is an individual soul trying to merge with a separate God; Vishisht Advaita is an individual contracted soul wholly contained within God trying to expand to become God; and Advaita is the existence of God alone as a singularity with everything else starting from the atoms to multiple universes as a superimposition. Moksha is clearly an experiential state of realization and not subjected to experiment or proof.
‘I am God’, and there is nothing else, including my body, mind, and intellect, say the realized. In Advaitic thought, which accepts all routes as equally valid, the only purpose and meaning to life are the quest for realizing the unity by removing the superimposition (also called ignorance, or Maya, or a bad translation again- illusion). Otherwise, the superimposed world has no meaning or purpose, vividly atheistic in its implications. The goal of human life is immortality with no further births and not an immortality of an eternal life.
Similarly, in the spheres of the body, mind, and intellect, a person may choose the routes of Karma, Bhakti, or Jnana to achieve Moksha. However, the final gateway is that of Jnana. This was amply emphasised by Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Sri Ramana Maharishi. The Advaitic gurus stressed that individuals have different temperaments, and hence, the need and evolution of different methods. The goal of Self- realization stays the same. David Frawley says that the simplest definition of Sanatana Dharma is the science and art of Self-Realization. The entire effort of the study turns inward in Hindu philosophy from ‘Who is God?’ to ‘Who am I?’. The journey stays firmly inward as the outer world is not subject to a denial. All routes are equally valid so long as the basic tenets of Dharma are stuck to, which is to be in harmony with nature- living and non-living.
Ramana Maharishi, the truly liberated sage, stressed that after reaching Moksha there is no need of the scriptures. Also, scripture reading does not lead to Moksha. It only shows the way. After reaching the shore, the boat is no longer important. There is no religion in the world which can claim to say that. That the scriptures are useful, but not mandatory. And certainly, irrelevant after Moksha. Dvaita philosophies with a personal god and efforts to unite with that god has its echoes in the Abrahamic religions. Hence, Hinduism never had problems with accepting the Christian and Muslim thought. It just added to the diversity. Unfortunately, there was never a reciprocation to the ideas of Hinduism that all religious thoughts are equally valid. Never. In fact, all attempts by invading religions were to subdue or convert, sadly continuing even today.
Hinduism places time and history as of secondary importance in the realm of the phenomenal world. The higher Truth and reality are timeless and eternal. Thus Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Upanishads, and all our scriptures are messages permeating across time and generations. This is one aspect of the Indian culture which Marxist-influenced historians could never understand. It is futile in trying to gain liberating knowledge through history. The truth about the existence of Rama or Krishna is finally irrelevant in this personal journey to Moksha. This, then, becomes the major point of divergence from other religions, where history plays a significant role.
Sanatana Dharma accepts all routes with equal love, including atheism. This is the reason there was never a religious persecution by the Hindus. Secularism was an unnecessary story for us. The defining paradigm of religion-one god, one book, and one way- is a severe obstacle in the understanding of Hinduism through colonial lenses. But they were the conquerors, and that indeed made all the difference. There were always a few who realized and became ‘insiders’ of the tradition. However, their voice was highly submerged.
The Aryan Hoax and Its Perpetuation
The pernicious Aryan theory, unfortunately internalized, has hit the country’s unity and solidarity at multiple levels. The Aryan invasion theory and its modifications were the construct of a fantasy of a whole bunch of German Indologists including Max Mueller (who was on the payrolls of the East India Company); and eagerly taken up by the British colonials to bring an artificial divide between the North and the South. Archaeological, geological, scriptural, and historical records have conclusively proved the Aryan Invasion Theory wrong. Genetic studies have been the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Yet, our textbooks kept harping about the theory for years together with no revisions. The repercussion- a near permanent fissure in relations between the North and the South Indians.
As the discourse goes, around 1500 BC or so, horse riding invaders called the Aryans from Central Asia invaded North India. The fair-skinned Aryans defeated the dark skinned racially different natives called Dasas and Dasyus, and drove them South, where they evolved into the Dravidians of today. The Dasas and Dasyus also became slaves and the Sudras in the Varna system devised by the Aryans. The latter wrote the Vedas in a remarkably brief time after 1500 BC, after first creating the near perfect language of Sanskrit.
Distillation of Mahabharata, Gita, and other Sanskrit scriptures through a pseudo-science of philology solidified the fantasies about the Aryans and their connections to a great European past. Indology chairs were set up in German Universities to augment these malignant theories. These readings based on positivism, historicism and empiricism severely undermined the commentatorial traditions of India deeply rooted in spirituality. If Aryans are the originals coming to India, the Europeans by being distant cousins of the same Aryans had a moral justification to continue their civilizing mission. Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee have debunked the German Indologists in a scholarly manner in the book, ‘The Nay Science.’
Dr Ambedkar also had severe problems with this thesis. He strived to show that there were no racial connotations in the Vedas and was convinced that there was egalitarianism in the Vedas rather than a hierarchy. The differences were more cultural where the Dasas and Dasyus were more likely non-believers of Vedas, but clearly integrated into the society. The Dasa and the Dasyus are the non-Vedic Aryans. The slave system in India is also questionable. Dr Ambedkar said that the Aryan invasion theory should die. He wanted a solidarity amongst all the castes and dreamt of a day when the majorities and minorities could merge into one. Our historians ignore Dr Ambedkar, especially his views on the Aryan theory.
The colonized minds before the independence accepted the Aryan discourse. Remember who are the rulers? A significant archaeological finding of the Harappan civilization discovered much before the independence flew in the face of the Aryan invasion theory. Here it becomes unacceptable that the left dominated historians, deriving their power from Nehruvian philosophies, trying to fit everything historical into the paradigms of exploiter and the exploited, not offering an alternative narrative.
The Whipping Lash for Hinduism-Caste
Very often, the only definition of Hinduism is the discriminatory Hindu caste system. The warts became the definitions. There is a discounting or even negation of everything else by way of its culture, antiquity, heritage, literature, philosophy, music, arts, dance, astronomy, science, mathematics, architecture, and so on. Caste system was a favourite whipping lash on Hinduism during colonial rule; and this passed to the eager post-Independent academia. In such an all-inclusive Hinduism, why did caste become so important? The main reason across the period of colonial rule has been the confusion between Varna and Jati.
Varna best translates as class. ‘Jati’ is the word in Hinduism for ‘caste proper,’ which is the social unit one is born in. There is a fundamental problem with translations, of course. Force-fitting of the untranslatable Sanskrit words with English descriptions is highly problematic. The Varnas are four in number and they have always remained so: Brahmanas (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders), and Sudras (labourers).
Jatis rise and fall on the social scale; the Varnas are always stable and have not altered over thousands of years. It is not ‘up or down’ as the Varnas denote a professional qualification and are not inherently superior or inferior to each other. All ancient Indian sources make a sharp distinction between the two. Smritis mentions that the various Jatis form by a process of intermixture of Varnas. Intermarriage between the Varna gave rise to the various Jatis. Also, scriptures did allow movement across Varnas even as Jatis could move up or down on the social scale.
The social status of the several Jatis might have varied from region to region or from epoch to epoch. Vedic authority was important to recognize the infallible Varnas described. The Smritis, composed later, however were more reflective of its societies and the emergence of castes and sub-castes. The Jatis evolve in time as some new form and old collapse. The ancient texts linking Varna and Jati united the country and society, but Western Indology divided the society by creating separate castes by using a logic unknown in the ancient Indian texts.
The British administrators and continued by our powerful academics, either by ignorance or deep intent, depicted the Indian caste system as consisting of four varnas, with a new category of ‘untouchables’ below the Sudras. Also, the Jatis were wholly located within the Varna, instead of an admixture of Varnas, and that became grossly problematic. The British were very eager to depict the ‘untouchables’ as falling outside the Hindu domain, though Gandhi foiled these attempts. H.H. Risely, in his census of 1901, caused a havoc by his superficial understanding of social systems by jamming of Varna, Jati, and the newly added ‘social status’ to classify by caste. This stopped in 1919 due to enormous problems.
Western Indology accentuated the differences between the dvija (twice-born) and the Sudras, and between the ‘egalitarian’ Westerners and the ‘caste-ridden’ Hindus. Cherry picking and selective interpretation of texts and by also erasure of a major alternative history of the caste system achieved this discourse. Brihadaranyaka and Satapata Brahmana gave successive progressive evolutions of castes (where Sudras become the best), but these accounts disappeared completely as a telling example of Orientalism. Western Indology neglected the evidence of hierarchy reversal in context of the status of Sudras.
The Vyadha Gita of Mahabharata depicts a monk gaining highest wisdom from a housewife and then a butcher. Moksha comes with a desireless and non-attached activity, irrespective of the caste and station of life. This clear delinking of caste and the final Moksha; or Manusmriti giving the quantum of punishment depending on the caste with the highest to Brahmins for a similar crime, are some important debating points while considering caste.
Most smritis talk about the duties of the Varnas rather than their rights and this is a key point deliberately or ignorantly missed by most critics of Hinduism. Many scriptural sources have clearly negated Varna by birth, but these rarely get a mention. The recent attempts by Tirupati Devasthanam to train Dalits to become priests is a welcome going back to the Varna concepts of our scriptures. The priests in many temples belong to communities apart from the strict Brahmins. The twisting of the discourse as that of rights is simply not true.
Sri Aurobindo says:
Caste was originally an arrangement for the distribution of functions in society, just as much as class in Europe, but the principle on which the distribution was based in India was peculiar to this country. Essentially, there was, between the devout Brahmin and the devout Shudra, no inequality in the single virat purusha of which each was a necessary part. Chokha Mela, the Maratha Pariah, became the guru of Brahmins proud of their caste purity; the Chandala taught Shankaracharya: for the Brahman was revealed in the body of the Pariah and in the Chandala there was the utter presence of Shiva the Almighty.
Caste therefore was not only an institution which ought to be immune from the cheap second-hand denunciations so long in fashion, but a supreme necessity without which Hindu civilisation could not have developed its distinctive character or worked out its unique mission.
American Indology today persistently endeavours to inject race as driving wedge between the twice-born and the Sudras.
Literacy, Caste and Educational Exploitation -Wrong Discourses
Arvind Sharma writes in his book, ‘The Ruler’s Gaze’, that the colonials popularized that Indians were highly illiterate, and education was the exclusive domain of high caste Brahmins and elite Muslims. Sadly, we have again internalized this wrong thesis that the forward castes ‘exploited’ the lower castes in the access to education. Dharampal made a deep study of three reports commissioned by the British themselves in the 19th century, which deconstructs this idea.
In summary, the huge study states that there were about 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar around the 1830s. Every village had at least one school. Also, there were 1800 institutes of higher learning with at least 6 scholars in each of those. In Bombay, most villages had at least one school, the larger ones more. The proportion of those attending institutional schools in India in 1800 was not inferior to that of England. England was ahead in education of girls, but the number of girls educated privately in India balanced this. Private education was 4-5 times more than institutional attendance. The study mentions William Adam who said that elementary education was accessible to all sections of the population.
The predominant castes in Madras schools were the Sudras. In Tamil speaking areas, the forward castes comprised of 13-23%. Muslims ranged from 3-10%. The Sudras and other castes formed 70-84% of the school going children. In Malabar areas, the twice -born forward castes were 20%, Muslims 27% and Sudras about 50%. In Bellary, Sudras were 33%. ‘All other castes’ accounted for almost 63% in some areas, which are the castes defined lower than the Sudras too. In Oriya speaking areas, Sudras and other castes formed 63.5% of the school going population. In Telugu areas, the proportion of Brahmins was between 24-46%, and that of Sudras between 35-41%. Brahmins filled the higher learning courses but in astronomy and medicine, Brahmins were significantly less in proportion. In some areas the proportion of girls was high, like in Jeypore it was 29.7%. In Malabar, amongst Muslims, the proportion of girls was 35%.
The literacy rate when the Britishers left India was about 12%. The truth is that the replacement of the traditional and classical education system by the Anglicized education destroyed the literacy rates of India. The story about ‘Brahmanical denial of knowledge’ however stuck in the collective Indian mind.
The Polemic against Brahmins
Recently Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, held a placard given by an Indian saying, ‘Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy’. The narrative of hatred and misinformation continues even today sadly. The political parties instead of uniting, continue dividing. A reverse discrimination with reservations replacing an equal opportunity model, sacrificing merit on the altar, has become the paradigm of social justice to correct the wrongs of the past.
In 1955, my father missed an Engineering seat by two marks and had to settle for a BSc course. This because the cut-off was higher for Brahmins as a group (350 versus 300 for non-Brahmins) in his region. Later, Brahmins came in the ‘Forward Caste’ group. This was the malicious form of social justice which has severely failed in its purpose of uniting. Manipulating the size of targets and the distances to cover continuously is a strange way of correcting past social injustices. This political strategy has been a social failure as communities now agitate to classify as ‘Backward.’ Bitterness has only increased which includes the forward castes too who have missed opportunities due to reservations. There is disruption of the social fabric even more than the colonial era thanks to the politics.
Agreed, there were many instances of shameful untouchability practised across Indian villages and towns by the higher castes, especially the Brahmins. But the discourse stays of a constant and permanent accusation. There is a forgiving and forgetting of even the Britishers; but the injustices of the past by the higher castes, unfortunately represented by only Brahmins, are still set in stone, and the accused are permanently guilty. This is what upsets most Brahmins. The corrective actions in the political, social, educational, and employment fields by way of special statuses and reservations and even public apologies by major figures does not seem to cut any ice.
Brahmin bashing was a favorite trick of the British rule to create fissures within the Indian society. Hinduism and its caste system were the roots of everything bad in India. Our textbook writers simply continued the theme of the colonials. In text-books of successive classes, the slow indoctrination happened that the caste system was one of the most horrible things about Hinduism; and how Brahmins took the whole country down by their brutal system of exploitation. The result beautiful-every caste including Brahmins themselves, hate Brahmins.
Despite the huge discourse against Brahmins who rarely held political or financial power on a big scale anytime in our history, the fact stays that Hinduism survives because of the oral traditions of Brahmins. Our Vedas and Upanishads are the strongest definition of Hinduism; and they survived over thousands of years in the oral form as a transfer of knowledge from Guru to Shishya and from father to son. The written form was not important because of exact methods of oral knowledge transfer, including the way to speak each vowel. The rules of grammar, meter, pronunciation is of exacting standards. Even today, to learn a single Veda, it takes a minimum of 7 to 10 years of constant repetition, practice, and a grounding in ancillary studies like grammar and logic. The oral tradition helped Hinduism to be strongly resilient to attacks-physical and mental. It was difficult to counter our strong philosophies at an intellectual level. This is an overlooked fact when criticising the Brahmanical class who were equally strong, if not more, in resisting attempts at conversion.
Invasions of all types had no libraries to destroy-the best way to crumble any civilisation. Cultures and civilizations obliterated when marauding invaders destroyed the libraries holding the entire knowledge base. It was fortunate that nothing of that sort happened to Hinduism. It happened however to Buddhism. The oral tradition, one of the most amazing features of Indian culture, firmly preserved the Vedic culture and knowledge base in its pristine form across thousands of years.
This allowed a huge resistance to invasions; and prevented a wholesale conversion to other religions despite gross violent acts. Unfortunately, the British colonials created villains out of the Brahmins for their own ulterior motives. The great icons of Sanatana Dharma like Valmiki, Narada, Rama, Krishna, Veda Vyasa, Hanuman of olden days and the contemporary figures like Swami Vivekananda and Nisargadatta Maharaj are not Brahmins. However, this misses out in the popularized story of Brahmanical tyranny.
Brainwashing and Deracination after Independence
‘Brainwashed Republic’ by Neeraj Atri and Muneishwar Sagar is a revelation on the nefarious role of our academia in distorting our history. The Government of India’s Ministry of Education set up the National Council of Educational Research and Training, by merging seven government institutions in 1961. NCERT had the major task of writing the textbooks for schools, and a majority number of the Indian states accepted them as standard. Deriving patronage from a similar political ideology, the left-liberal brand, it completely distorted the historical narrative.
Dr NS Rajaram classifies these historical distortions as follows:
- Distortion of ancient history through the ‘Aryan invasion’ and the Aryan-Dravidian wars, presenting the Vedic Age as an ‘age of conflict.’
- Distortion of Medieval history, by whitewashing the Islamic record and presenting it as the ‘age of synthesis’.
- Distortion of the period of the Freedom Struggle, by whitewashing Congress blunders and suppressing the contribution of the revolutionaries, Sardar Patel, Sri Aurobindo and Subhas Bose.
Sri Aurobindo’s contributions are unknown to most Indians. The struggle for Indian Independence began much before Gandhi landed back in 1915. The Nationalist movement of Sri Aurobindo, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak was doing yeoman work towards fighting for independence. They had severe issues with the Congress moderates. Sri Aurobindo and his group saw the Congress moderates as inclined favourably towards the Britishers and disconnected with the masses. The 1905 partition of Bengal led to an upswing of emotions and resolution. Sri Aurobindo was a severe critic of the Congress and Gandhi; and it is no wonder that our history books rarely mention him. The winners write history. Sri Aurobindo was truly a giant son of India whose thoughts on India, religion, secularism, evolution stand true even today. He needs an urgent revival.
- Distortion of post-independent India, by whitewashing the monumental blunders of Pandit Nehru and his successors to bring about dynastic rule under the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty at the cost of national interest.
What is the purpose of history? It might generate a lot of answers and heated debates; but for India after Independence, history should have served a specific purpose. At the time of independence, when we are at the bottom of our confidence and self-respect, there was a need to look back at our history and ancient heritage; and tell the country truth about ourselves. The growing generation needed telling that we were once one of the richest and the most culturally advanced countries in the world. Our future should root in our past, said Aurobindo repeatedly. Our ancient civilizations and the wonderful achievements of the country in various secular and non-secular fields should have been the starting point. The purpose of history, finally, for school children is to instill a sense of pride and respect for the country. Alas, we lost an excellent opportunity.
The NCERT was more than willing to distort the narrative completely. The agenda filled history brainwashed the growing Indians into believing that we were a country meant for invasions. The history became a history of invaders instead of the land and its people. The Islamic invasions, the European invasions, the British rulers, the story of a select Indian leaders like Nehru and Gandhi became the only theme of the text-books. It was funny to study obscure Delhi based rulers in detail- full chapters sometimes devoted to them; and the student at the time of finishing school would have no clue about Lachit Borphukan, the Maratha resistance of Shivaji or Kanoji Angre, the Portuguese exploitation of Goa, Krishnadevaraya, Marthanda Varma, or the Chola rulers of the South and their fantastic architecture. There was a sprinkling mention of the Sikh gurus.
The distorted narrative showed the invaders as benign people who were very benevolent towards the people and its religions. The invasions were brutal and so were the rulers. There was a large-scale extermination of Hindus and destruction of temples. The facts were all very well-known at the time of Independence, but the purpose seemed to not to offend the minorities in the name of secularism. There was a complete whitewashing of the facts. Arun Shourie shows how and why this was done in his book, ‘Eminent Historians. ’Accounts of contemporary historians during the barbaric acts of destruction, loot, and killing were completely ignored; and the texts had references from accounts of 20th century historians who came to dominate the Indian history narrative.
The question never occurred to us during our growing years and neither was it asked why people needed to invade India. What was so special about the country which attracted the plunderers from across the world? Was it told that we were the richest and the most prosperous country in the world? Angus Maddison came much later with clear numbers showing the tremendous prosperity of pre-colonial era when India and China were contributing more than 50% of the world GDP for 17 centuries from the start of the millennium. UK was contributing 2% of the world GDP when the East India Company landed in India and became 18% in a period of 150 years of sheer loot and plunder of the sub-continent. India reduced from 30% to 2%. The exact numbers were not known for a long time but still the facts were clear about the tremendous economic and scientific growth of India in the pre-colonial period of India.
Will Durant authored a book in 1930 which is painful reading. He strips the colonial rule completely and starts in the introduction saying:
I came away resolved to study living India as well as the India with the brilliant past; to learn more of this unique Revolution that fought with suffering accepted but never returned; to read the Gandhi of today as well as the Buddha of long ago. And the more I read the more I was filled with astonishment and indignation at the apparently conscious and deliberate bleeding of India by England throughout a hundred and fifty years. I began to feel that I had come upon the greatest crime in all history….’
I wish to speak, in this chapter, with unaccustomed partiality and passion. I am poorly qualified to write of India: I have merely crossed it twice between east and west, and once from north to south, and seen hardly a dozen of its cities. And though I have prepared myself with the careful study of a hundred volumes, this has all the more convinced me that my knowledge is trifling and fragmentary in the face of a civilization five thousand years old, endlessly rich in philosophy, literature, religion, and art, and infinitely appealing in its ruined grandeur and its weaponless struggle for liberty. If I write at all it is not only because I feel deeply about India, but because life cannot wait till knowledge is complete.
This book was well known at the time of independence, but none of this ever had a mention in our textbooks. We just grew up being ashamed of our country, its religion, its culture, and its arts. Today, the youth is completely disconnecting from the idea of India. In fact, a twisted ideology is out to convince that any idea of patriotism is fanatical.
Brainwashed Republic shows how NCERT authors achieved this indoctrination and deracination. Using boxes, highlights, and suggestive questions right from early classes, the authors continued to place the seeds of discontent and shame at our culture, heritage, religious traditions, spirituality, and philosophy. The secular achievements in the fields of science, medicine, and arts reduced to small footnotes. The Indian student grew up believing that everything wonderful in the secular fields originated in the West. The dark ages and Renaissance were true for the West, in fact. However, the theme came wrongly transferred to the East.
The Germans chose to clearly depict their Nazi past in the history books after the war. By not denying anything, Germans are at peace with their Nazi past. The Muslims of today are in no way concerned with the horrors of the Islamic invasions in the past. The Christians of today are equally uncomfortable as everybody else with the Goa Inquisition. A truthful depiction would have led to a greater harmony today and a sense of ‘Indianness’ in everyone. When the alternative versions come later in bits and pieces, many Hindus feel cheated at the single view of history handed down during the formative years. The past needs telling as it is without ruffling the present feathers. It called for an immense talent and art to deal with our complex and a tortured past; and obviously beyond the agenda filled immature minds of the NCERT writers.
The Britishers completely obliterated their colonial history. The Americans did not stress too much on the atrocities perpetrated on the native American Indians. A positive spin of huge proportions allows the youth who grows up in these countries to feel that his or her country is the best in the world. European countries like France, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark rarely mention the inflicted cruelties in their colonising adventures in far-off lands. An average Britisher is truly proud of its heritage and culture apart from being ignorant of its brutal colonial past. It is a different kind of white-washing but the citizens confidently believe that they are the best in the world. Contrast that to Indians who go abroad feeling that they belong to a poor race, a depraved country with nothing much to show by way of culture or history; and with a sense of shame hanging constantly on their minds.
Can things improve for the future for Hindus?
Even after 70 years of Independence, we are not wiser. There was this golden chance after Independence to set up a great grand national narrative uniting people across all states, regions, languages, religions, and culture. Today, our country stands divided and fissured. There is no feeling of nationalism and a sense of genuine pride. Each religion, language, caste, culture, and region feel alienated. The North-East people, the Tamil Brahmins, the Dalits, the Muslims, the Christians, the Biharis, the backward classes, the forward classes- all stand separate and angry. The Brahmins feel punished forever for the ‘sins’ of their ancestors.
The blame lies in the political rulers post-Independence. Democratic system with a desperate desire for votes allowed a social Balkanisation in every form conceivable. Every party has short-term and long-term successes and failures; but this one single long-term failure of the Congress party to achieve a unity amongst its citizens despite having a more than adequate opportunity is the biggest and the most unpardonable.
Sri Aurobindo wrote scathingly in 1907:
British began of course long ago, the attempt to make capital of the religious diversities of Indian society and recently the policy of setting the Mahomedans as a counterpoise to the Hindus have been openly adopted. The latest brilliant device (of the British bureaucracy) is an attempt to reshuffle the constituent elements of Indian politics and sort them out afresh on the basis not only of creed, but of caste… (Caste) has not and should not be allowed to have any political meaning.
Our politicians have replaced the Britishers in a ferocious continuation of divisive and hate filled politics. Despite all castigations, every individual is painfully conscious of his region, religion, and caste. How unfortunate is that?
The history writers were of no help either. The exploiter-exploited narrative fitted well with the dominant ideology and there is today a strong resistance to correction. We grew up ashamed and worse, even hating ourselves. Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabharata became ‘Hindu’ scriptures; Sanskrit became a Brahmanical exploitative language; Dravidian identity became stronger despite evidence to the contrary by holding on to every straw. A single paper on genetics becomes huge evidence today against mountains of proof rejecting the Aryan-Dravidian thesis. Every Hindu ritual becomes regressive with a serious discourse set up over six decades on wrong notions of secularism and liberalism. There is an urgent need to tell the truth or at least the alternative versions, without trying to offend or please. However, the ideologues have infiltrated every conceivable institution; and any attempt meets a wholesale abuse and accusation of ‘saffronisation.’
Neutral historians in our country should have the task of re-writing our history. A history to unite and to create a proud country; not to create hate, malice, and division. The internal wars are more dangerous for the country. The country needs it to take its rightful place in the world arena. To begin with, a grand narrative is important saying that Sanatana Dharma, Sanskrit, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Vedas belong to the land and its people and not to only the narrowly defined ‘Hindus.’ We can focus on the past achievements in the secular fields of science and arts. There are plenty of references to show knowledge transfer from the ancient Indians to the Greeks, and then to the west. The Indian influences on Greek thought could be a subject of our history books; more relevant than the complex European wars and treaties studied in our textbooks. Our hoary past and the present too has many positives to be proud of. We can all call ourselves proud Indians irrespective of language, caste, religion, and creed.
Maybe, do not talk about Hinduism saving the world, but if we accept Sanatana Dharma as the religion and philosophy of the land and its people, we can surely talk about it as the future saviour of the world with its acceptance of diverse paths, with acceptance of all levels of truths, and with acceptance of science- if in harmony with nature. Can we do that? Or have we diverged in our travel too far to come back?
- The Complete works of Swami Vivekananda in 9 volumes: Published by Advaita Ashrama. A stand-alone source for clearing all cob-webs and a guaranteed life-changer
- Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud by Arun Shourie
- Brainwashed Republic: India’s Controlled Systemic Deracination by Neeraj Atri and Munieshwar Sagar
- The Theft of India: The European Conquests of India, 1498-1765 by Roy Moxham
- Writing Across a Cracked World: Hindu Representation and the Logic of Narrative by Vamsee Juluri
- Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines: Rajiv Malhotra
- Academic Hinduphobia: A Critique of Wendy Doniger’s Erotic School of Indology by Rajiv Malhotra
- Battle for Sanskrit: Is Sanskrit Political or Sacred? Oppressive or Liberating? Dead or Alive? By Rajiv Malhotra
- Indian Culture and India’s Future by Michel Danino
- The Lost River: On the trails of Saraswati by Michel Danino
- Sri Aurobindo and India’s Rebirth by Michel Danino
- Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita by Waite Dennis
- Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy by Ramakrishna Puligandla
- What Is Hinduism? A Guide for the Global Mind by David Frawley
- Musings on Hinduism by Nithin Sridhar and Arvinda Rao K
- Being Hindu by Hindol Sengupta
- The Nay Science: A History of German Indology by Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee
- The Ruler’s Gaze: A Study of British Rule over India from a Saidian Perspective by Arvind Sharma
- The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History by Sanjeev Sanyal
- The Case for India by Will Durant
- MOTHER TERESA: The Untold Story by Aroup Chatterjee
- Lies with Long Legs: Discoveries, Scholars, Science, Enlightenment – Documentary Narration by Prodosh Aich
- TRUTHS: 500 years – European Christians in History by Prodosh Aich and MVR Nair
- Nationalism & Distortions in Indian History by Navaratna S Rajaram. Book excerpts in: http://indiafacts.org/distortions-in-indian-history/
- Urban Naxals by Vivek Agnihotri
- Michel Danino’s series of lecture on the Aryan Issue at Amrita University https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT4pUJMDV2Y
- How much of Indian history is really true? Sanjeev Sanyal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukq_8FeQTaA
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