Of historical lies and countering negationism
The English-educated class that has turned the negation of India's civilisational greatness into a fashion statement needs to be dislodged from its perch if correctives are to be applied
One of the issues that needs to be addressed as we seek to sort out the problems posed by Marxist interpretation of history is what Koenraad Elst, the Belgian orientalist and Indologist, describes as negationism in India.
Known for his writings on Indian history and Hindu-Muslim relations, Elst says that while negationism in Europe means the denial of Nazi genocide on the Jews and gypsies during World War II, the Indian brand of negationism deals with the section of intelligentsia “trying to erase from Hindu memory the history of their persecution by the swordsmen of Islam”.
In his book, Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam, Elst says: “the number of victims of the persecutions of Hindus by Muslims is of the same order of magnitude as that of the Nazi extermination policy, though no one has yet made the effort of tabulating the reported massacres and proposing a reasonable estimate of how many millions exactly must have died in the course of the Islamic campaign against Hinduism”.
Apart from Elst, there are several other Western scholars who have addressed this issue. Among them are David Frawley, an American Hindu teacher and author, who has written extensively on the Vedas and Hinduism and Francois Gautier, the French journalist who has made India his home and has been vigorously campaigning for correction of our understanding of history, specially medieval history.
Elst quotes American historian Will Durant to back his claim that this dreadful enterprise of negating the facts of history has been a major pastime of Indian intelligentsia. Durant summed it up like this: “the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilisation is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within”.
Convinced that India has its own “full-fledged brand of negationism” Elst says, “This movement is led by Islamic apologists and Marxist academics, and followed by all the politicians, journalists and intellectuals who call themselves secularists”. Also, it is promoted by the Indian state. Those who lead this movement to negate historical truths, use the techniques used elsewhere to achieve a similar purpose — namely, to “slander scholars whose testimony is inconvenient; impute political or other motives to them in order to pull the attention away from the hard evidence they present”. Further, keep the vast corpus of inconvenient testimony out of the readers’ view. It is an intellectual crime because it subordinates the truth to political compulsions.
Elst published his book a quarter century ago, but it had to wait for over two decades for his thesis to gain traction. One of the reasons for this was that the Nehruvians and Marxists constituted “The Establishment” in New Delhi until 2014 and they succeeded in largely shutting out other voices in the academia and media. Thus, spurious narratives flourished in utter disregard of available evidence.
Apart from Frawley and Gautier, many Indian authors have flagged the issue and argued that the time has come to bridge the gap between history and truth. Prominent among them is Dr SL Bhyrappa, undoubtedly one of the most prominent Indian novelists of our time, whose historical novel Aavarana: The Veil makes a frontal assault on the negationists and argues that Indians must unshackle themselves “from the bonds of false knowledge”.
Elst’s thesis is fully corroborated by David Frawley, who says “a defeatist tendency” exists in the psyche of modern Indians perhaps unparalleled in any other country today.
Frawley dwells deep into the mind of the Indian elite and says: “An inner conflict bordering on a civil war rages in the minds of the country’s elite. The main effort of its cultural leaders appears to be to pull the country down or remake it in a foreign image, as if little Indian and certainly nothing Hindu was worthy of preserving or even reforming. His damning conclusion after observing the Indian elite for many decades is that it suffers from a fundamental alienation from the traditions and culture of the land that would not be less poignant had they been born and raised in a hostile country.This new English-speaking aristocracy prides itself in being disconnected from the very soil and people that gave it birth.”
This tendency, he says, has no parallel in the world. “There is probably no other country where it has become a national pastime among its educated class to denigrate its own culture and history, however great that has been over the many millennia of its existence. When great archaeological discoveries of India’s past are found, for example, they are not a subject for national pride but are ridiculed as an exaggeration, if not an invention, as if they represent only the imagination of backward chauvinistic elements within the culture”.
He lambasts the Indian elite further when he says: “there is probably no other country where the majority religion, however enlightened, mystical or spiritual, is ridiculed, while minority religions, however fundamentalist or even militant, are doted upon. The majority religion and its institutions are taxed and regulated while minority religions receive tax benefits and have no regulation or even monitoring.” “While the majority religion is carefully monitored and limited as to what it can teach, minority religions can teach what they want, even if anti-national or backward in nature.
The dominant intellectual class that is subjected to this damning indictment goes by another name — Macaulay-Putras! The English-educated class that has turned the negation of India’s civilisational greatness into a fashion statement needs to be dislodged from its perch if the correctives are to be applied.
Francois Gautier, another Westerner, who is deeply troubled by the Indian elite’s effort to hide uncomfortable truths from history books. In his book, A History Of India As It Happened Not As It Has Been Written, Gautier tears into the questionable narratives of Marxist historians and quotes many examples of negationism in their work. He says “we will never be able to assess the immense physical harm done to India by the Muslim invasions. Even more difficult is to estimate the moral and the spiritual damage done to Hindu India”.
Finally, Gautier explains why negationism must be challenged. He says “it is not about vengeance, or of reawakening old ghosts, but of not repeating the same mistakes”. This is indeed central to the argument of Elst, Frawley, Gautier, and Bhyrappa. Secular, democratic India must know the truth and make peace with it.
(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati)
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