Dec 31 2002 : Hari Chandra comments on Hijacking India's History (NY Times)
Following is my rejoinder that I sent to NY Times.
Resurrecting India’s True
By Hari Chandra
This is with reference to “Hijacking India’s History” Op-Ed piece by Kay Friese
published in The New York Times of Dec 30, 2002.
India’s identity battles are nothing new, but recent archeological evidence
seems to be unnerving quite a few of yesteryear history gatekeepers and their
apologists – the so-called secularists, who have for long enjoyed the
establishment backing up until the mid-nineties. Kay Friese’s ranting Op-Ed is
typical of the paranoia that has gripped the self-appointed history gatekeepers
in India in recent months - more so after the riots that followed the Godhra
carnage in Gujarat, where a train car full of Hindu women and children were
burnt alive by fanatic Muslims.
India’s Hindu nationalists have a rightful quarrel with the official history,
which has for long been guided by colonial masters with their own agendas,
racial, regional, religious, and otherwise. Post-1947 after the partition of
India and the end of the British rule, the mantle was passed on to the Congress
party, which under the Nehruvian socialistic order dominated the society for 45
of the last 55 years.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was an agnostic and a
Fabian socialist. He never cared about India’s Hindu identity, and was more
interested in the social engineering that was to accompany his socialistic
ideal, which proved to be nothing but an illusion. His vehement opposition,
despite popular Hindu sentiment, to the rebuilding of the Somnath Temple as
resurrection of civilization pride after India’s independence is a case in
point. Somnath, one of the most revered pilgrimage sites of Hinduism was
plundered and destroyed by Mohammed Ghazni as many as 17 times between 1001 A.D
and 1027 A.D., and evokes civilizational trauma as well strong nationalistic
feelings across India even today.
Despite being a suave and sophisticated intellectual, Nehru and the Congress
Party fully exploited the dynamics of vote bank politics, which tended to divide
Hindu vote into caste/region based categories, while keeping the Muslim vote
unified by pointing an accusing finger at the Hindu society - this despite the
fact that India retained its multi-religious and pluralistic character after
Partition in 1947, while Pakistan became an authoritarian Islamic republic.
It is under this setting that historians of the socialist, communist, and the
neo-Macaulay variety came in handy for the ruling Congress Party to cover-up,
distort, and pervert Indian history out of its geographic, cultural, religious,
social, and political setting. The aim was to ensure that the Hindu votes do not
consolidate under one political umbrella, even as Muslims are courted as a
ready-made vote bank. Also, to use history to show that the Hindu culture is
itself was an outcome of invasion by Aryans, who displaced the indigenous
people. A perfect cover to justify subsequent barbaric invasions by Islamic
plunderers and the rapine British rule by comparing them to the Aryans, and in
projecting Indian culture to be an outcome of benign outside influences rather
than the uniquely indigenous Hindu cultural traditions.
Specific to the issues raised by Kay Friese, rewriting history is nothing new,
and is nothing wrong particularly in light of new facts that can be ascertained
with the help of science.
The Aryan Invasion Theory – a favorite of professional secularists – is largely
based on philology of Indo-European languages, and was dated around 1500 BC by
Max Mueller. The dating of the theory was arbitrary, and was acknowledged by Max
Mueller himself later.
Etymologically, according to Max Muller, the word Arya was derived from ar-
"plough, to cultivate" - meaning an agriculture background and indicating a more
settled, peaceful, and civilized society rather than a conquering people of
nomads and hunter-gatherers that the Aryans were projected to be.
Surprisingly, the roots of Aryan Invasion Theory are not found in any oral,
written, or archeological record of India, but in the European political
discourse and more specifically, the German nationalism of 19th the century.
Using philological basis, a theory was constructed, whereby a homeland of the
Aryans was posited to be in the southeastern Europe or Central Asia. This
homeland concept was further buffeted with a supposed invasion on horses and
chariots that was then tied up domestication of horse referenced in Vedic
literature. As a coup de grace, the Aryan Invasion Theory was considered proven
by claiming that the domestication of the horse took place at around 1500 B.C,
and that the horse provided the military advantage that enabled the Aryans to
conquer the indigenous people of India.
A major flaw of the invasion theory is that it is all based on philology and has
nothing to support in terms of archeology. Oral traditions were posited in a
time, place, and setting of the secularist historian’s choice, but there was
nothing in terms of physical evidence to support it in India or elsewhere.
Second, the Harappa/Mohenjadaro civilization excavations with large amounts of
physical evidence that point to a highly evolved people are posited as belonging
to the indigenous people, but there seems to be nothing that can be said of them
in philological terms. Third, if the Aryans destroyed the indigenous
civilizations, there seems to be no evidence of this in the Harappa and
Mohenjadaro excavation sites, which largely appear to be abandoned than
destroyed. Fourth, geographical as well as astronomical references in Vedic
literature are largely confined to India and match with events in the third
millennium B.C and earlier, and not circa 1500 B.C as per the Aryan Invasion
Theory. Fifth, there is no reference in the Vedic or the Post-Vedic literature
of any conquests of Dravidians, the indigenous people who were supposed to have
been driven out by Aryans. More importantly there appears to be no
Aryan-Dravidian divide in the historical, cultural, literary and religious
traditions that can be brought to evidence.
That the Aryan Invasion Theory was no more than a figment of colonial
imagination seems to be troubling the professional secularists given their
intense politicization of the debate and complete obfuscation of evidence that
has been unearthed in recent years. So great is their aversion to reality and
Hinduism that a tribe of secularist historians led by Romilla Thapar issued a
declaratory statement that no more archeological excavations be done lest they
confuse history, and hurt the feelings of the minority community - a case of
acute paranoia to say the least.
There is no way to reconcile the philological assumptions and the anomalies and
inconsistencies that crop with the Aryan Invasion Theory. The alternate
Indus-Saraswati civilization theory on the other hand posits that the Aryans
were indigenous people, and the original habitants of the townships along the
Indus, Ravi, and Saraswati rivers, and that no invasion from outside took place
during the Vedic times. Post-Vedic invasions did occur, and are well documented
and are backed up with substantial evidence. This theory is backed by evidence,
which is at least consistent, scientific and can stand up to critical scrutiny.
The archeological evidence is quite wide in range: satellite remote sensing and
infra-red imagery of the long lost Saraswati river; Radio-isotope confirmation
of the water from underground aquifers that fed the Saraswati river; carbon
dating of the archeological evidence of numerous human settlements along the
Saraswati river tracing along Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat in North India;
forensic archeology of the Harappa Horse seals; and the philological connections
of the Vedas with the archeological evidence. Enhancing further these findings
are the discoveries of the submerged cities at Dwarka and Gulf of Cambay in
Gujarat, excavation sites at Lothal and Dholavira in Gujarat, and Ropar in
Punjab, underwater archaeological sites off Mahabalipuram and Poompuhar in Tamil
Nadu, and off Musiris in Kerala, among others.
Instead of casting aspersions on Hindu nationalists via civilization history,
religion, and politics, it would have been prudent if Kai Friese did his
homework not just about Aryan Invasion Theory but also about India’s medieval as
well as contemporary history.
As for religious freedom, Article 25 of India’s constitution guarantees free
profession, practice and propagation of religion. However propagation does not
automatically mean conversion, and religious conversion via force, economic
inducements, fraud or allurement robs this very freedom to choose. This issue
was specifically addressed by the Supreme Court of India in a 1977 verdict,
whereby it held that the word "propagate", in the context of religion would mean
to transmit, carry forward, diffuse or extend a particular religious belief or
practice. But there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one's
Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, which are native to India,
Islam and Christianity originated in a foreign land, with a cultural and
philosophical tradition that is inimical to Hindu tradition, which believes in
the brotherhood of all humanity irrespective of region, race or religion. Islam
came into India on the cutting edge of a sword with unheard of barbarity that
saw plunder, destruction, rape, slavery, and forced conversion in its wake.
While there is a belief that Jesus Christ visited India during his missing
years, and it is a fact that Christianity came to India via St. Thomas in 52
A.D., Christianity’s growth in India was largely due to missionaries, who had
the backing of colonial rulers be they French, Portugese, or the British.
With respect to Gujarat, the Congress Party, secularist historians as well as
the secularist media refuse to acknowledge what happened at Godhra was uncalled
for, and also that the ensuing bloody riots for all the violence were brought
under control within three days with the deployment of the Indian Army. Instead
of having a balanced approach, and taking the state administration to task for
the security lapses as well as relief efforts, they chose the ruling BJP party,
and more specifically the party’s chief minister in Gujarat, Narendra Modi, and
demonized him to no end. Additionally, Hindu Gujaratis were portrayed as
arsonists, bloodthirsty killers, and rapists, and only the Muslims as hapless
victims. This secularist appeasement of the minorities resulted in a fierce
backlash that resulted in the BJP getting two-thirds of the legislature seats in
the December 2002 state elections by appealing to Hindu pride, and targeting
Islamic terrorism in Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir as well as other parts of India.
No wonder India Today magazine, a leading journal, in its Dec 30, 2002 issue
rightly observed in its editorial: Gujarat “election was held in the backdrop of
two riots, one bloody, the other pure sophistry. In the latter, professional
secularists and the conscience-keeping industry sought out the darkest entries
from the glossary of hate to describe the crime of the Hindu – Holocaust,
fascism, Hitler…They rhapsodized the ghettos of victimhood, and, forever
scavenging for a cause, they found a self-serving monster in Modi. The election
exposed their pretence.
“Secularism doesn’t mean a repudiation of religion. In this country, secularism
in practice meant romancing the minority and demonizing the majority. The
professional secularist always needed a bogeyman, the usurper of the ideal and a
ghettoized victim. Gujarat provided a perfect situation. The Hindu was the
bogeyman. The post-Godhra Hindu to be precise. Godhra itself couldn’t have
provided the stereotypes – there the victim was the Hindu. So Godhra was just a
crime. No adjectives from the history of hate were required to magnify it. The
anger of the majority is as much a reality of the times as the anguish of the
minority. The so-called secularists refuse to admit it. This election has
Unlike many countries, India’s civilization heritage as well memory transcends
several millennia and is a product of its timeless and peaceful coexistence of
the Hindu society. And unlike other religions, Hinduism is a religion without
any fundamentals – the concepts of exclusivity, chosen people, racial
superiority, conversion, religious head, and religious dogma via a book, edict
or revelations are alien to Indic tradition. Hinduism is more of a philosophy
with full freedom of thought and action, with each individual pursuing
liberation of the soul via the medium of truthful self-discovery. In a true
sense, Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion, a notion that has been
attested to by the Supreme Court of India as many as three times in recent years
during the Hindu versus the professional secularist legal battles.
Kay Friese’s shoot-and-scoot allegations against Hindu nationalists do more harm
than good as they distort the identity and ideological debate currently underway
in India. Let India and its people decide who and what they are rather than get
judged by an amateur and immature outsider.
Original Op-Ed article from The New York Times.
Hijacking India's History
By KAI FRIESE
While some of us lament the repetition of history, the men who run India are
busy rewriting it. Their efforts, regrettably, will only be bolstered by the
landslide victory earlier this month of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the
Western India state of Gujarat.
The B.J.P. has led this country's coalition government since 1999. But India's
Hindu nationalists have long had a quarrel with history. They are unhappy with
the notion that the most ancient texts of Hinduism are associated with the
arrival of the Vedic "Aryan" peoples from the Northwest. They don't like the
dates of 1500 to 1000 B.C. ascribed by historians to the advent of the Vedic
peoples, the forebears of Hinduism, or the idea that the Indus Valley
civilization predates Vedic civilization. And they certainly can't stand the
implication that Hinduism, like the other religious traditions of India, evolved
through a mingling of cultures and peoples from different lands.
Last month the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the
central government body that sets the national curriculum and oversees education
for students up to the 12th grade, released the first of its new school
textbooks for social sciences and history. Teachers and academics protested
loudly. The schoolbooks are notable for their elision of many awkward facts,
like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist in 1948.
The authors of the textbook have promised to make revisions to the chapter about
Gandhi. But what is more remarkable is how they have added several novel
chapters to Indian history.
Thus we have a new civilization, the "Indus-Saraswati civilization" in place of
the well-known Indus Valley civilization, which is generally agreed to have
appeared around 4600 B.C. and to have lasted for about 2,000 years. (The
all-important addition of "Saraswati," an ancient river central to Hindu myth,
is meant to show that Indus Valley civilization was actually part of Vedic
civilization.) We have a chapter on "Vedic civilization" — the earliest
recognizable "Hindu culture" in India and generally acknowledged not to have
appeared before about 1700 B.C. — that appears without a single date.
The council has also promised to test the "S.Q.," or "Spiritual Quotient," of
gifted students in addition to their I.Q. Details of this plan are not
elaborated upon; the council's National Curriculum Framework for School
Education says only that "a suitable mechanism for locating the talented and the
gifted will have to be devised."
More recent history, of course, is not covered in school textbooks. So we will
have to wait to see how such books might treat this month's elections in
Gujarat. They were held in the wake of the brutal pogrom of last February and
March, in which more than 1,000 Muslims were murdered and at least 100,000 more
lost their homes and property. The chief minister of Gujarat, who is among the
leading lights of the B.J.P., justified this atrocity as a "natural reaction" to
an act of arson on a train in the Gujarati town of Godhra, in which 59 Hindu
pilgrims lost their lives.
The ruling party's subsequent election campaign was conducted against the rather
literal backdrop of the Godhra incident: painted billboards of the burning
railway carriage. The murdered Muslims were not accorded the same tragic status,
although their pleas for justice created a backlash that played neatly into the
campaign theme of Hindu Pride. It was, of course, a great success.
The carefully nurtured sense of Hindu grievance has been nursed rather than
sated by acts of mob violence: the destruction of the 15th-century mosque in
Ayodhya, for instance, or the persecution of Christians in earlier pogroms in
Gujarat's Dangs district. The B.J.P., along with its Hindu-supremacist cohorts,
the R.S.S. (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the V.H.P. (Vishwa Hindu Parishad),
has a seemingly irresistible will to power. (The R.S.S. and the V.H.P. are not
political parties but "social service organizations" that have served as
springboards to power for B.J.P. leaders like Narendra Modi, chief minister of
In vanguard states like Gujarat, thousands of students follow the
uncompromisingly chauvinistic R.S.S. textbooks. They will learn that "Aryan
culture is the nucleus of Indian culture, and the Aryans were an indigenous race
. . . and creators of the Vedas" and that "India itself was the original home of
the Aryans." They will learn that Indian Christians and Muslims are
But they still have much to learn. I once visited the bookshop at the R.S.S.
headquarters in Nagpur. On sale were books that show humankind originated in the
upper reaches of that mythical Indian river, the Saraswati, and pamphlets that
explain the mysterious Indus Valley seals, with their indecipherable Harrapan
script: they are of Vedic origin.
After I visited the bookshop I stopped to talk to a group of young boys who live
together in an R.S.S. hostel. They were a sweet bunch of kids, between 8 and 11
years old. They all wanted to grow up to be either doctors or pilots. Very good,
I said. And what did they learn in school? Did they learn about religion? About
They were silent for a few seconds — until their teacher nodded. A bespectacled
kid spoke up. "Christians burst into houses and make converts of Hindus by
bribing them or beating them."
He said it without malice, just a breathless eagerness, as if it were something
he had learned in social science class. Perhaps it was.
Kai Friese is a journalist and magazine editor in New Delhi.
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