By Ananya Guha
To confound race with language, as some historians have been contending is flawed. People may be of common racial descent, but can speak different language\s and vice versa. The present social crisis in India is due to questions of race, language and religion and a tenuous nationalism based on these doctrines. When we identify one race, one language and one religion seeking a common footing, in a country such as India, then we are contorting facts and treading on flimsy hypotheses. More than being flimsy, the thinking is erroneous and dangerous; grounded on singularity of beliefs. The perception of unity, founded on such singular basis, is historically inauthentic and simply cannot be furthered. To do away with the historical imagination of an Aryan linguistic group, whose peoples were pastoral agriculturists, and nomadic, the existence of an urban civilisation predating it, and perhaps even co existing with it is glossing over historical truths and origins.
Such debunking of history can have portentous implications. Children will be taught a nebulous history, where myth, fantasy and stories predominate. To ally history with the mythic is to consciously super impose a structure on history, falsifying it and considering this to be indestructible. This is the polemic of politics and history. The unravelling of a history, to suit the politics of the times is in bitter and acrylic taste.
Political gains can only be short term. The future will always chart out the inexorable forces of history. History is a nuanced combination of past, present and future where analysts will be selective about choosing inferences, based on interpretation. History is largely interpretive drawn on incontrovertible facts. Facts in isolation may or may not be history.
The politics of culture, religion and language is a fetish. This fetish destroys the fact that language and religion are ineluctable. Many of the languages of India had their origins in one language, and many more came into being as a result of diverse interactions, and racial incursions, inter mix. The myth of focusing on a single language, which was an off shoot and a parallel process in the development of other Indian ‘ modern’ languages needs to be decoded if not exploded. This is slowly being transferred into what is considered to be sacrosanct, untouchable almost.
Such is the inherent danger of toying with history. What is more dangerous is infusing wrong and flawed notions into young sensibilities and minds. The word ‘ culture’ has layered connotations. To bandy it around with an admixture of religious concomitants is to whip up fanatic feelings. Politics is correlative of such fanaticism, nihilist in the long run.
The seats of the past and of a long drawn history of any civilisation, cannot be sundered indiscriminately. The forces of Islam and Christianity must be viewed as historical intrusions. History is bitter sweet, it also objectifies invasions and invasions. To look upon the invader as ‘ enemy ‘ in present day contexts is anachronistic. Social contexts keep changing, depending on current politics and society, as well as of notional thinking. Akbar’s heresy was positively geared. That, also the structure of a caste biased society led to repression is historically proved. We are living in its midst.
We must continue to argue out a strong case for the India of realities. This India is based on a vibrant mutation, a flowering of languages and religion, a multiplicity of races and ethnic attributes. This India is a welter of religions, castes, sub- castes or ethnicity. This India continuously strives to be distinctively ethnic and autonomous in spirit. This India has remained unfazed with the transitory nature of the politics of the times. This India possesses a commonly perceived unity – that of the poor and the weaker sections of its untrammelled societies.
The argument is to be embattled if needed and bold. Not in our wildest imagination can we take for granted the belittling of history. This argument will always be manifest in its cultural rulers, and not its political potentates. We can only pick up threads from a strong historical thread and connect. The present disconnect is an appalling end to a glorious road to history and a past of challenges, ups and downs and also that of historical processes of mutation. The disconnect is also because of ignorance and the desire to apply blinkers to history. It remains to be seen what school and university boards do to frame syllabus. Are they going to bow down to political war lords, or are they going to use dispassion, while formulating texts, which now are being ousted out of contexts?
It is also not a question of which side one belongs to. All learning is freedom and knowledge is driven by freedom. People and scholars are free to interpret, choices must be given, but historical facts cannot give way to cursory knowledge based on propaganda, and myths. In parallel students must be given the choice of learning about regional histories in the country. The various cross currents of regional history give proper understanding of movements, traditions, society and culture. Singling out heroes who fought say, the Mughals is not the only history of a region. It is peoples, races, languages, that we are concerned with, not only battles and conflicts. We have seen how deification of Shivaji the Maratha leader has a fall out on the politics of today. But what about the Bhakti leaders of Maharashtra, who have contributed to the development of the language? To ally history at both national and regional levels with conquerors, the conquered, battles and war lords is to reduce it to glorification and sub nationalism, not always desirable. History must take look dispassionately at societies, their economies, social and cultural movements, literature and all that underpin societal structures.
The muddled connect between the past and present is putting ‘ this India’ to a clock frantically ticking backwards.