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Signature campaign to protest newly formed ICHR -

Some Thoughts

Vinod Kumar

Whenever there is a protest, it interests me. Not because I love protests but because of the deep significance a protest carries with it. A protest is a sign of a vibrant democracy and the very idea that people are free to protest is a good feeling that we in some parts of the world are allowed to express our opinions without any retaliation from the powers that be. It is indeed sad that such freedom is not allowed in all parts of the world. I believe in one’s inalienable right to disagree and to be able to voice such a disagreement in public. We all must protest when such a right is denied to any individual in any part of the world. Having said that let me also say that every right also comes with responsibility. The responsibility to be just, fair, rational and objective in our protest. A protest for the sake of protest or for ulterior motives other than for truth or search for truth loses its value and the very purpose of allowing the freedom of disagreement and speech reduces it to the low level of hypocrisy.

I came across an "urgent call for signatures" to protest the newly constituted Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). The call was spearheaded by many who were associated an academic institute or the other. So naturally I expected a very high level of intellectual content in the protest. Fortunately the subject was not new to me so it raised further curiosity.

The protest says that the "in the last few months, the BJP-led government has appointed a new council with members whose goal is to legitimatize and entrench a narrow Hindutva ["Hinduness"] version of history. They subscribe to the dubious and unsubstantiated BJP views on such contentious issues as the mosque-temple at Ayodhya. Further, there is every indication that the new ICHR will subordinate its historical research to the values of Hindutva and the whims of the Sangh Parivar."

In support of their argument they cite Professor BB Lal and accuse him of having written "academically weak and unscholarly book, The Earliest Civilization of South Asia: Rise, Maturity and Decline (Aryan Books, 1997)"and also accuse him of making "surprising and unconvincing claim that the site (Babri masjid in Ayodhya) contains pillar-bases of a temple". They claim that "Professor Lal to share the findings of his research, a basic professional requirement if these findings are to be proven and rigorous standards of research are to be upheld" and they go on to question "the credentials of such scholars and their worthiness to sit on the reputable bodies such as the ICHR". If the proponents of the "urgent signature campaign" had done some research of their own they would not have written such unsubstantiated charge about Prof. Lal in their appeal. I would direct them to read Prof. Lal’s article "Facts of History can not be altered" in The Hindu of July 1, 1998 in response to the article 'Tampering with history', by the Editor of The Hindu, (dated June 12, 1998). There is no use reproducing that debate here: evidently the proponents of the signature campaign have not read Prof. Lal’s article but they decided to carry on their diatribe against him anyway.

Then the protest goes on to say Prof. KS Lal has "recently focussed almost exclusively on the alleged historical injuries and injustices suffered by the Hindus. His recent books, all published by presses that have specialized in putting forward the Hindutva agenda, include inflammatory and unscholarly works such as Indian Muslims: Who Are They (New Delhi, India, 1990) and Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India (New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1995).

The above raises some interesting questions and exposes the thought process of the proponents of the signature campaign. Firstly the proponents of the resolution believe "the injuries and injustices suffered by the Hindus (from the Muslims rulers and invaders) are only "alleged" and secondly dealing with them "almost exclusively" is Hindutva agenda. Other than that they fail to define what exactly they mean by "Hindutva" agenda and how what the new ICHR members or those who appointed them have done to advance it

I wonder since when dealing with one aspect of a problem has become "unscholarly or inflammatory" and specially when such a topic bears on truth and facts. It seems that the proponents of the campaign have not done any research of their own. When social scientists talk "exclusively of the injustices and injuries" suffered by the low caste people of India by the caste system, nobody ever accuses them of "unscholarly and inflammatory" action. Yes, it is true that truth may be and is bitter and unpalatable at times but that is no reason to deny it. And in the true spirit of truth no Hindu has ever denied the harshness of the caste system. It is a fact of life; denial will not wish it away. The only way to remove it is to talk about it and discuss it in public and analyze its causes and take action to remove it.

Similar is the case of the "injuries and injustices" suffered by the Hindus at the hands of the Muslims. To say "historical injuries and injustices" as "alleged" is an insult to the academic status of the proponents of the signature campaign. Muslim historians with glee and great satisfaction have written volumes of the injustices and injuries done to the Hindus. Their only regret was that it was not done in enough measure.

I will come back to this topic later. Let me first deal with another aspect of the whole controversy.

Many accusations have been heaped on the newly constituted ICHR. Most of these have been responded to in the media but it seems some people just don’t want to give up. I will not address what has already been refuted but I will like to address a more basic aspect and see what is the reality behind such accusations against the members of the newly constituted ICHR.

So before I go any further, let me review what is ICHR and what was its memorandum of incorporation.

The original Memorandum of Association states that ICHR's aims was to give 'rational' direction to historical research and foster 'an objective and scientific writing of history'. The new resolution, which will be included in the Gazette of India, states that ICHR now seeks to give a 'national' direction to an 'objective and national presentation of history'. Many allege that 'rational' has been changed to 'national', and 'scientific' too has been changed to 'national' by the BJP. There is a controversy regarding the wording itself and as to who has changed it. Arun Shourie has pointed out by his research the wording of the memoranda has been the same for at least since 1986. But, any way for my discussion here it is irrelevant. Let me go by what is claimed to be in the original memoranda i.e. "be to give 'rational' direction to historical research and foster 'an objective and scientific writing of history'." I think that is a good definition and covers what history should. In a secular democracy we can not ask for anything other than "rational, objective and scientific" presentation of history.

The key words as stated above are ‘rational’, ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’, and I will focus my discussion on these. But before we go on to these let us concentrate on ‘history’ before we move on to "rational, objective and scientific historical research’.

What is history? History according to Webster dictionary means:

    1. an account of what has happened; narrative story; tale;
    2. (a) what has happened in the life or development of a people, country, institution, etc. (b) a systematic account of this, usually with an explanation
    3. all recorded events of the past
    4. the branch of knowledge that deals systematically with the past; a recording, analyzing, coordinating, and explaining of the past events.

May I point out it does not mention falsifying or ignoring the facts or events to suit one’s pre-ordained conclusions.

Thus from the very definition of history – it is neither secular nor communal – history is just a record of the events as they happened and events are events they are neither secular nor communal. Events have no religion. History is "no respecter of persons or communities and must always strive to tell the truth, so far as it can be deduced from reliable evidence" (HCIP vol. 6. P. xxix) Reliable evidence is the key to history not its distortion.

Now let me come to the words "rational, objective and scientific". As a matter of fact to the academics who were in charge of ICHR from the beginning and to those academics who have started this "signature campaign"; these words should need no definition but to be on the safe side let us define these in general terms if nothing else than to have a common starting point. The underlying principle in all the three words as far as I understand is to carry out search into the past in a logical, truthful manner and follow the lead wherever the events lead. It does not mean to twist the facts to prove something predetermined – whether secular or communal. The conclusions should follow the lead and not vice versa. To me "rational, objective and scientific research" does not mean to fabricate or ignore the events to suit a predetermined conclusion.

To cite an example the kind of history we have been following in India let me illustrate it from an actual case. The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education had issued instructions in 1989: "Muslims rule should never attract any criticism. Destruction of temples by Muslim rulers and invaders should not be mentioned." Now this is not history by any standards. I can understand the need for communal harmony but communal harmony can not be created in the vacuum. In order to create communal harmony one has first to understand what is the cause of communal disharmony. Or what has disturbed the communal harmony in the first place? To give labels of "secular history" or "communal history" is simply academic hypocrisy. An academic should ask whether what is written is borne out by facts or not? "The real and effective means of solving a problem is to know and understand the facts that gave rise to it, and not to ignore them by hiding the head, ostrich like, into the sands of fiction." One can hardly begin to treat a disease before even knowing what the disease or its nature is!!

A distorted history is not history is sheer fiction.

The proponents of the signature campaign have accused Prof. KS Lal of "has recently focussed almost exclusively on the alleged historical injuries and injustices suffered by the Hindus." And this they claim is in accordance with the Hindutva agenda.

The question for an academic should be not whether it is "Hindutva" agenda or "secular" agenda – the real question is whether there were injuries and injustices to the Hindus and if the facts and events bear out there were, the historians and academics task would be to investigate and find out the possible causes that led to such injuries and injustices; not to deny their having happened. Now if the injuries and injustices were done to the Hindus during the Muslim rule – what is communal in it or in writing about it? To the contrary not mentioning those facts would be "communal".

The proponents of the campaign would do themselves a great favor were they to read the history of the Muslim period written by the Muslims themselves. Let me just quote one example – that too a mild one – I will not like to make this response too long and too gory.

The following is a literal translation of Barani – a historian and a distinguished Muslim of the fourteenth century – by Moreland: "Sultan Alauddin demanded from learned men rules and regulations, so that the Hindu should be ground down, and property and possessions, which are the cause of disaffection and rebellion, should not remain in his house." The view is fully confirmed by the statement of Qazi Mughis-ud-din of Bayana whom the King consulted as to the legality of these measures and certain other questions. Mughis-ud-din whole heartedly justified Ala-ud-din’s rigorous policy towards the Hindus and pointed out that Islamic law sanctioned sterner principle, so much so that, "if the revenue collector spits into a Hindu’s mouth, the Hindu must open his mouth to receive it without hesitation."…… Barani goes on to say: "When he became king, he came to the conclusion that policy and government are one thing, and the rules and decrees of law are another. Royal commands belong to the king, legal decrees rest upon the judgement of qazis and muftis. He was gratified to learn that his treatment of the Hindus was in full accordance with the Islamic law and assured the Qazi that he had given orders that the Hindus shall not be allowed to possess more than what is required for a bare subsistence."

Would writing these facts in the history books be called "communal" and may somebody explain why?

Let us take another case. It is a historical fact that Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India at least seventeen times and each time he made much plunder, demolished Hindu temples, forced Hindus to convert to Islam at the point of sword, broke Hindu idols and carried some of those to be put in front of mosques in Ghazni and Baghdad for the faithful to tread on them. This is all recorded by Mahmud’s own and other Muslim historians. Now what is secular or communal in these events and how mentioning them in history books make history "communal"? From every "rational, objective and scientific" point of view, washing away or ignoring the sins and crimes of Mahmud would be "communal" to the contrary!!

If a contemporary Muslim historian says it happened and he saw it happen, there is no reason not to believe it did not happen. Like if an apple falls to the ground, it does -- it can not wished away. A historians task like that of a scientist is to find out why according to Islamic law a Hindu should be ground down to utter poverty what was the basis for Qazi Mughis-ud-din to recommend such an action. Similarly, there is no use hiding the events of Mahmud under the rug. To the contrary we should investigate why Mahmud did what he did? Did he leave any justification in his own words for his acts for the posterity. As far as I know he did. His justification for demolishing Hindu temples and converting Hindus to Islam at the point of the sword should be given full coverage in history books. Not only that these should be covered with a "rational, objective and scientific investigation into these events and the causes thereof. Because that will be true history – it would be neither communal nor secular. Hiding or ignoring these facts of history would be "communal".


The Hindus had been allowed to practice Hinduism under Muslim rule on the payment of jizya. This was not acceptable to many orthodox Muslims. Ziauddin Barani – a historian and contemporary of the two Tughlaqs wrote in righteous indignation:

"….should the kings consider the payment of a few tankas by way of jizya as sufficient justification for their allowing all possible freedom to the infidels to observe and demonstrate all orders and details of infidelity, to read the misleading literature of their faith and to propagate their teachings, how could true religion get the upper hand and how could the emblems of Islam be held high….."

It would thus appear that an orthodox section of the Muslims chafed at the Hanafite doctrine which was officially accepted by the Muslim rulers in India. As Qazi Mughis-ud-din pointed out to Alauddin Khilji, "it was Hanifa alone who assented to the imposition of jizya on the Hindus, Doctors of other schools allow no other alternative but ‘Death or Islam’. As has been stated above Sultan Mahmud (of Ghazni) followed this policy and evidently Barani and men of his ilk yearned for its restoration in the fourteenth century. Barani gave vent to this feeling in the following passage in his Fatwa-I-jahandari: "If Mahmud … had gone to India once more, he would have brought under his sword all the Brahmins of Hind who, in that vast land, are the cause of the continuance of the laws of infidelity and the strength of the idolaters, he would have cut off the hands of two hundred or three hundred thousand Hindu chiefs. He would have not returned his "Hindu-slaughtering" sword to its scabbard until the whole of Hind had accepted Islam. For Mahmud was a shfi’ite, and according to Imam Shafii the decree for Hindus is "either death or Islam"—that is to say, they should either be put to death or embrace Islam. It is not lawful to accept jizya form the Hindus as they have neither a prophet or a revealed book."…… "How", asks the indignant historian, "will the true faith prevail if rulers allow.

Such sentiments from the Muslims of India are not unique to Barani. Even only fifty years ago, after the partition such sentiments were expressed in a journal of a highly respected Muslim university when on the rebuilding of Somnath temple. A couplet was published

"Mandir to somnath ka tamir ho gaya

Ek aur Ghaznavi ki fakat intezaar hai"

(The temple of Somnath has been reconstructed

We wait for another Ghaznavi)

The question for historians (and social scientists) is to investigate why such sentiments are repeatedly expressed by a certain segment of Indian society. Where in lies the seeds of such sentiments. We can not wish them by not writing in the pages of history. That is "communalism" and "intellectual hypocrisy and dishonesty". By any definition of the word it is not "secular" and under no circumstances would it lead to communal harmony. For it would only encourage those who have perpetrated the crime which certain parts of Indian society are trying to hide. It would only make those events happen again. Only in rational, objective and scientific investigation into these lie the solution to the communal disharmony in India.

Ignoring the facts of jizya would be "communal" history. Instead of ignoring or hiding the historians should investigate what is the religious basis for imposing jizya and what are its other implications. The traditions of the Prophet might give some clues. Otherwise we shall be teaching "communal" history.

Coming back to "communal" history as envisioned by "values of Hindutva and the whims of Sangh Parivar" as the proponents of the signature campaign like to address; they fail to describe what their whims are? It would have been educating if they had given some examples. As far as I can see they only want to write the history of India as it happened – the way the history should be written.

The proponents of the signature campaign say "the BJP government does not have the mandate to destroy our educational system and poison young minds" and talking of ICHR they say "these are national organizations which should not become the jagir of a sectarian and communal group". On this point, I fully agree with the proponents of the signature campaign that should BJP or any other group tries to play with the facts of history which have been laboriously and painstakingly recorded by the Muslim invaders and rulers of India and their historians, should be brought to public knowledge. We should never allow ICHR and other national institutes to become the "personal jagir" of any communal group. These are national treasures and should be maintained as national treasures.

In conclusion let me emphasize once more that to say there were no injuries or injustices to the Hindus during the Muslim rule would be a travesty of truth and justice and a grave distortion of history – such history would a "communal" history. The absence of Hindu temples of antiquity across the landscape of much of India is a living proof of their destruction by the Muslims, so eloquently described by the Muslim historians themselves and the glee with which Muslim historians describe the massacre of Hindus is something worth reading. To deny these in the pages of history would be neither "rational nor objective nor scientific" in a country where we believe "satyameva jayate". It will also be intellectual hypocrisy and dishonesty.

I would ask the proponents of the signature campaign to join me and urge the BJP government to make sure that the newly constituted ICHR carries out its duty in earnest and write "rational, objective and scientific" history of India and not compromise its integrity, and follow the trail of events wherever it might lead without any sacred cows to save. In the meantime let us not compromise our own honesty and commitment to a "rational, objective and scientific" research into history.

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