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Friday, June 9, 2023

A case for re-writing Bharat’s history

Oscar Wilde famously said- “The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.” I have always been intrigued by this quote. What makes history so fascinating, both as an academic discipline and an area of interest is that there are so many versions to it. Each person in the country has a different worldview. Take war for instance. People belonging to opposing sides have a different perception of how things unfolded. But we often fail to see that there are always two (or more) sides to the story. And that is why Bharat’s history needs to be rewritten.

Among the grimmest times in our great civilization’s history was the period of the British Raj from 1858 to 1947.Bharat has not been the same since. Despite the departure of the British seventy-five years ago, our minds remain colonized in some ways. Whether it is the use of the English language or the functioning of Bharat’s heavily British-influenced legal system, traces of colonialism continue to linger.

During and after the time of independence, Bharat’s history was largely documented by the British and parts of it were later adopted by former Prime Minister Nehru and other leaders. History will always have multiple perspectives. But the problem arises when students are only exposed to one side of the story, which is what I believe has been happening.

Around two years ago, Home Minister Amit Shah called for a rewriting of history from Bharat’s point of view.He elucidated by stating that it was because of leaders like Veer Savarkar, that the infamous 1857 war against independence was called a ‘Kranti’ (revolution) and not merely a ‘revolt’ – a term that the British commonly used. This seemingly small word change is one of many examples to show the version of Bharat’s history that is taught today. The history of Bharat that the British wrote was mainly from a colonizer’s viewpoint, ignoring the many centuries of rich history that Bharat had had before the arrival of the East India Company.

While the independence movement remains significant, it primarily talks about Bharat in a period of vulnerability. Those dark times have primarily portrayed Bhartiyas either as dissenters or as people who were submissive to British rule. It is important to understand that there was a Bharat before the Mughal and British eras. Our nation was one of the richest and most powerful, contributing to over 25% of the global GDP. Bharat was one of the few places in the continent that even Genghis Khan, the greatest conqueror of his time, did not attack. From what I have read in textbooks at school, these points are hardly mentioned.

Perspectives in postcolonial Bharat have not changed much. The biggest problem when Bharat decided to ‘rewrite’ history after independence was that it did so from predominantly Marxist and colonial perspectives. Much of the history that I remember studying in school focused more on British exploitation and the independence struggle and less on Bharat’s civilizational achievements.

The prescribed history books mostly spoke about the feudal system at the time and class conflicts between the Bhartiyas and the British, with examples of the land revenue and taxation system.While all that may be important, has the larger picture been compromised? The millennia-old history, infrastructural, economic and political accomplishments of the Indus Valley Civilization and dynasties before the British and the Mughals are only spoken about in passing, while our subjugation to the British empire is extensively discussed.

Perhaps, the Marxist version of Bharat’s history remains ‘popular’ even today due to its victim mentality and ideological origins emphasizing the concerns of the disadvantaged, making it a seemingly attractive narrative.

Bharat has established itself as the world’s largest and most diverse democracy. Its diversity is mostly seen from a religious and cultural perspective. But I wish to emphasize that Bharat’s strengths not only lie in its religious or ethnic diversities but in thoughts and worldviews too.

This should allow us to engage in healthy debates and idea exchanges. When the idea of diversity can be applied to religion, ethnicity, classand personal beliefs, history is no exception. There lies its necessity to be rewritten – to include more perspectives than simply the colonial and Marxist ones taught in schools today.

I believe that recently, the teaching of Bharat’s history,for the most part, isone-dimensional. Many textbooks in schools today explain the subject mostly through the lens of Bharat’s northern kingdoms and external invasions. From the Maurya and Gupta Dynasties to the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal invasion, Bharat’s history has predominantly been ‘north-centric’- as Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal also implied in his article.

As a Bhartiya from the south, it was surprising to see that my history textbooks in school had very little mention of dynasties like the Cheras, Wadiyars, Pandyas, Chalukyas and especially the Cholas who were able to expand beyond Bharat towards Sri Lanka and even Southeast Asia, which is an achievement as great (if not greater) as those of the Mughal dynasty.

Bharat’s history needs rewriting. However, that does not mean a complete rejection of historiography so far but to provide a different perspective of Bharat’s evolution. Our nation’s biggest strength lies in its intellectual diversity. Encouraging more accounts of our great land’s history will prompt more discussion and ultimately, help us respect each other’s views. For that, we need to encourage more aspiring historians to come forward, think outside the box and bring their research to the table.

Let us hope to explore more of our nation’s great history, go beyond the conventional ideas of our textbooks and educate our people by showing them the greatness that is Bharat.

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