Thursday, December 18, 2014

RSS Rewriting History I


NCERT Text Books
Does Indian History Need To Be Rewritten?
No. BJP's doctoring of history, so reminiscent of totalitarian states, is an attempt to turn the clock back and, if- possible, do away with history altogether.

The Prime Minister has justified the deletion of ten passages from NCERT history textbooks (to 1oe followed soon by their replacement and then the abolition of history as a separate subject till Class X) on the ground that these books are "one-sided". How does he know? And how does being Prime Minister give him the authority to issue such a fatwa? It is nobody's contention that the NCERT books are perfect, but any revision must be based on at least a minimum level of competence in the subject. It is significant that the names of those writing the new textbooks are being kept strictly secret.
A second justification, offered by BJP spokesmen like V.K. Malhotra, is even more dangerous. The books are not factually inaccurate, but they are unsuitable because they hurt the "sentiments" of children of sundry communities and religions. Once again, who decides, when and whose sentiments?
The passage in Satish Chandra's book about the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur, which no one had objected to even at the height of the Khalistani movement, suddenly comes under attack, and sadly, first of all from the Delhi Congress just on the eve of Punjab elections. And what if "sentiments" are mutually opposed? References to the oppressive aspects of the varna system and, no doubt soon, any criticism whatsoever of the ancient Brahmanical society, are to be deleted. Dalits, subordinated castes, women, have obviously no "sentiments" worth bothering about.
Even more importantly, is it the function of history to ignore all "unpleasant" facts, and become a collection of moral fables or happy tales, its contents dictated by "religious" and/or "community" leaders chosen by the Sangh Parivar for its political games? Surely, education is worthwhile only if it stimulates rational thinking and questioning and much of inherited common-sense necessarily comes under scrutiny: as when children learn that, contrary to the evidence of their eyes, the earth moves round the sun. Maybe, the scientific explanation for eclipses should be banned, for it might hurt the belief that they are caused by Rahu?
But it is dangerous to be sarcastic about such things, for we have a minister who might think this to be a good idea...
"History" of a particular kind is vital for the Sangh Parivar, to consolidate its claim to be the sole spokesman of the "Hindus" who have to be convinced that their interests and emotions are and have always been unitary and inevitably opposed to those of Muslims or Christians, regardless of differences of caste, gender class, immense regional variations. There had once been a certain fit between such assumptions and the habit, derived in part from the British, of slicing up Indian history into "Hindu" and "Muslim" periods, treating religious communities as unchanging blocs and defining eras in terms of the religion of rulers. All this changed as history-writing came of age and progressed beyond the deeds of kings and great or evil men. The BJP's doctoring of history, so reminiscent of totalitarian states, is an attempt to turn the clock back and, if possible, do away with history altogether.

(Sumit Sarkar is Professor of History, Delhi University. This article first appeared in the Times of India, 2 December 2001 and is reproduced here courtesy Delhi Historians Group)

Don't Read This!
The text of the controversial deletions made from the NCERT History books.
Book: Ancient India
Author: Romila Thapar
For: Class VI

Page 40 - 41

Hunting was another common occupation, with elephants, buffaloes, antelopes and boars being the objects of the hunt. Bulls and oxen were used for ploughing. The cow held pride of place among the animals because people were dependent on the produce of the cow. In fact, for special guests beef was served as a mark of honour (although in later centuries brahmans were forbidden to eat beef). A man's life was valued as equal to that of a hundred cows. If a man killed another man, he had to give a hundred cows to the family of the dead man as a punishment.  

Book: Modern India
Authors: Arjun Dev and Indira Arjun Dev
For: Class VIII 

Page 21 


North of Delhi, the territories of Lahore and Multan were ruled by the Mughal governor. However, as a result of Nadir Shah's and later, Ahmed Shah Abdali's invasions, their power was destroyed and the Sikhs began to emerge as the supreme political power in the area.

Another power that arose in this period in the region around Delhi, Agra and Mathura was that of the Jats. They founded their State at Bharatpur wherefrom they conducted plundering raids in the regions around and participated in the court intrigues at Delhi.

Book: Ancient India
Author: R.S. Sharma,
For Class XI

(a)  page 7

A band of scholars took upon themselves not only the mission to reform Indian society but also to reconstruct ancient Indian history in such a manner as to make case for social reforms and, more importantly, for self-government. In doing so most historians were guided by the nationalist ideas of Hindu revivalism, but there was no dearth of scholars who adopted a rationalist and objective approach. To the second category belongs Rajendra Lal Mitra (1822 - 1891), who published some Vedic texts and wrote a book entitled Indo-Aryans. A great lover of ancient heritage, he took a rational view of ancient society and produced a forceful tract to show that in ancient times people took beef. Others tried to prove that in spite of its peculiarities the caste system was not basically different from the class system based on division of labour found in pre-industrial and ancient societies of Europe .

(b) page 20-21

Archaeological evidence should be considered far more important than long family trees given in Puranas. The Puranic tradition could be used to date Rama of Ayodhya around 2000 B.C., but diggings and extensive explorations in Ayodhya do not show any settlement around that date. Similarly, although Krishna plays an important part in the Mahabharata, the earliest inscriptions and sculptural pieces found in Mathura between 200 B.C. and A.D. 300 do not attest his presence. Because of such difficulties the ideas of an epic age based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata has to be discarded, although in the past it formed a chapter in most survey books on ancient India. Of course several stages of social evolution in both the Ramayana and Mahabharata can be detected. This is so because the epics do not belong to a single phase of social evolution; they have undergone several editions, as has been shown earlier in the present chapter.

(c) page 45

The people living in the chalcolithic age in south-eastern Rajasthan, western Madhya Pradesh, western Maharashtra and elsewhere domesticated animals and practised agriculture. They kept cows, sheep, goats, pigs and buffaloes, and hunted deer. Remains of the camel have also been found. But generally they were not acquainted with the horse. Some animal remains are identified as belonging either to the horse or donkey or wild ass. People certainly ate beef, but they did not take pork on any considerable scale. What is remarkable is that these people produced wheat and rice. In addition to these staple crops, they also cultivated bajra. They produced several pulses such as the lentil (masur), black gram, green gram , and grass pea. Almost all these foodgrains have been found at Navdatoli situated on the bank of the Narmada in Maharashtra. Perhaps at no other place in India so many cereals have been discovered as a result of digging. The people of Navdatoli also produced ber and linseed. Cotton was produced in the black cotton soil of the Deccan, and ragi, bajra and several millets were cultivated in the lower Deccan. In eastern India, fish hooks have been found in Bihar and west Bengal, where we also find rice. This suggests that the chalcolithic people in the eastern regions lived on fish and rice, which is still a popular diet in that part of the country. Most settlements in the Banas valley in Rajasthan are small but Ahar and Gilund spread over an area of nearly four hectares.

(d) page 90

The agricultural economy based on the iron ploughshare required the use of bullocks, and it could not flourish without animal husbandry. But the Vedic practice of killing cattle indiscriminately in sacrifices stood in the way of the progress of new agriculture. The cattle wealth slowly decimated because the cows and bullocks were killed in numerous Vedic sacrifices. The tribal people living on the southern and eastern fringes of Magadha also killed cattle for food. But if the new agrarian economy had to be stable, this killing had to be stopped.

(e) page 91-92

According to the Jainas, the origin of Jainism goes back to very ancient times. They believe in twenty-four tirthankaras or great teachers or leaders of their religion. The first tirthankara is believed to be Rishabhadev who was born in Ayodhya. He is said to have laid the foundations for orderly human society. The last, tewenty-fourth, tirthankara, was Vardhamana Mahavira who was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. According to the Jaina tradition, most of the early tirthankaras were born in the middle Ganga basin and attained nirvana in Bihar. The twenty-third tirthankara was Parshvanath who was born in Varanasi. He gave up royal life and became an ascetic. Many teachings of Jainism are attributed to him. According to Jaina tradition, he lived two hundred years before Mahavira. Mahavir is said to be the twenty-fourth.

It is difficult to fix the exact dates of birth and death of Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. According to one tradition, Vardhamana Mahavira was born in 540 B.C. in a village called Kundagrama near Vaishali, which is identical with Basarh in the district of Vaishali, in north Bihar. His father Siddhartha was the head of a famous kshatriya clan called Jnatrika and the ruler of his own area. Mahavira's mother was name Trishala, sister of the Lichchhavi chief Chetaka, whose daughter was wedded to Bimbisara. Thus Mahavira's family was connected with the royal family of Magadha.

In the beginning, Mahavira led the life of a householder, but in the search for truth he abandoned the world at the age of 30 and became an ascetic. He would not stay for more than a day in a village and for more than five days in a town. During next twelve years he meditated, practised austerities of various kinds and endured many hardships. In the thirteenth year, when he had reached the age of 42, he attained Kaivalya (Juan). Through Kaivalya he conquered misery and happiness. Because of this conquest he is known as Mahavira or the great hero or jina, i.e. the conqueror, and his followers are known as Jainas. He propagated his religion for 30 years, and his mission took him to Koshala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa, etc. He passed away at the age of 72 in 468 B.C. at a place called Pavapuri near modern Rajgir. According to another tradition, he was born in 599 B.C. and passed away in 527 B.C.

(f) page 137 – 138

Causes of the Fall of the Maurya Empire

The Magadhan empire, which had been reared by successive wars culminating in the conquest of Kalinga, began to disintegrate after the exit of Ashoka in 232 B.C. Several causes seem to have brought about the decline and fall of the Maurya empire.

Brahmanical Reaction

The brahmanical reaction began as a result of the policy of Ashoka. There is no doubt that Ashoka adopted a tolerant policy and asked the people to respect even the brahmanas. But he prohibited killing of animals and birds, and derided superfluous rituals performed by women. This naturally affected the income of the brahmanas. The anti-sacrifice attitude of Buddhism and of Ashoka naturally brought loss to the brahmanas, who lived on the gifts made to them in various kinds of sacrifices. Hence in spite of the tolerant policy of Ashoka, the brahmanas developed some kind of antipathy to him. Obviously they were not satisfied with his tolerant policy. They really wanted a policy that would favour them and uphold the existing interests and privileges. Some of the new kingdoms that arose on the ruins of the Maurya empire, were ruled by the brahmanas. The Shungas and the Kanvas, who ruled in Madhya Pradesh and further east on the remnants of the Maurya empire, were brahmanas. Similarly the Satavahanas, who founded a lasting kingdom in the western Deccan and Andhra, claimed to be brahmanas. These brahmana dynasties perfomed Vedic sacrifices, which were neglected by Ashoka.

(g) page 240 – 241

The Varna System

Religion influenced the formation of social classes in India in a peculiar way. In other ancient societies the duties and functions of social classes were fixed by law which was largely enforced by the state. But in India varna laws enjoyed the sanction of both the state and religion. The functions of priests, warriors, peasants and labourers were defined in law and supposed to have been laid down by divine agencies. Those who departed from their functions and were found guilty of offences were subjected to secular punishments. They had also to perform rituals and penances, all differing according to the varna. Each varna was given not only a social but also a ritualistic recognition.In course of time varnas or social classes and jatis or castes were made hereditary by law and religion. All this was done to ensure that vaishyas produce and pay taxes and shudras serve as labourers so that brahmanas act as priests and kshatriyas as rulers. Based on the division of labour and specialisation of occupations, the peculiar institution of the caste system certainly helped the growth of society and economy at the initial stage. The varna system contributed to the development of the state. The producig and labouring classes were disarmed, and gradually each caste was pitted against the other in such a manner that the oppressed ones could not combine against the privileged classes.

The need of carrying out their respective functions was so strongly ingrained in the minds of the various classes that ordinarily they would never think of deviating from their dharma. The Bhagavadgita taught that people should lay down their lives in defense of their own dharma rather than adopt the dharma of others, which would prove dangerous. The lower orders worked hard in the firm belief that they would deserve a better life in the next world or birth. This belief lessened the intensity and frequency of tensions and conflicts between those who actually produced and those who lived off these producers as princes, priests, officials, soldiers and big merchants. Hence the necessity for exercising coercion against the lower orders was not so strong in ancient India. What was done by slaves and other producing sections in Greece and Rome under the threat of whip was done by the vaishyas and shudras out of conviction formed through brahmanical indoctrination and the varna system.

Book: Medieval India
Author: Satish Chandra
For: Class XI

Page 237 – 238

The Sikhs

Although there had been some clashes between the Sikh Guru and the Mughals under Shah Jahan, there was no clash between the Sikhs and Aurangzeb till 1675. In fact, conscious of the growing importance of the Sikhs, Aurangzeb had tried to engage the Guru, and a son of Guru Har Kishan remained at the Court. After his succession as Guru in 1664, Guru Tegh Bahadur journeyed to Bihar, and served with Raja Ram Singh of Amber in Assam. However, in 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested with five of his followers, brought to Delhi and executed. The official explanation for this as given in some later Persian sources is that after his return from Assam, the Guru, in association with one Hafiz Adam, a follower of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, had resorted to plunder and rapine, laying waste the whole province of the Punjab. According to Sikh tradition, the execution was due to the intrigues of some members of his family who disputed his succession, and by others who had joined them. But we are also told that Aurangzeb was annoyed because the Guru had converted a few Muslims to Sikhism. There is also the tradition that the Guru was punished because he had raised a protest against the religious persecution of the Hindus in Kashmir by the local governor. However, the persecution of Hindus is not mentioned in any of the histories of Kashmir, including the one written by Narayan Kaul in 1710. Saif Khan, the Mughal governor of Kashmir, is famous as a builder of bridges. He was a humane and broad-minded person who had appointed a Hindu to advise him in administrative matters. His successor after 1671, Iftekhar Khan, was anti-Shia but there are no references to his persecuting the Hindus.

It is not easy to shift the truth from these conflicting accounts. Sikhism had spread to many Jats and Artisans including some from the low castes who were attracted by its simple, egalitarian approach and the prestige of the Guru. Thus, the Guru, while being a religious leader, had also begun to be a rallying point for all those fighting against injustice and oppression. The action of Aurangzeb in breaking even some temples of old standing must have been a new cause of discontent and disaffection to which the Guru gave expression

While Aurangzeb was out of Delhi at the time of the Guru's execution, acting against rebel Afghans, the Guru's execution could not have been taken without his knowledge or approval. For Aurangzeb, the execution of the Guru was only a law and order question, for the Sikhs the Guru gave up his life in defence of cherished principles.

Whatever the reasons, Aurangzeb's action was unjustified from any point of view and betrayed a narrow approach. The execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur forced the Sikhs to go back to the Punjab hills. It also led to the Sikh movement gradually turning into a military brotherhood. A major contribution in this sphere was made by Guru Govind Singh. He showed considerable organisational ability and founded the military brotherhood or the Khalsa in 1699. Before this, Guru Govind Singh had made his headquarters at Makhowal or Anandpur in the foothills of the Punjab. At first, the local Hindu hill rajas had tried to use the Guru and his followers in there internecine quarrels. But soon the Guru became too powerful and a series of clashes took place between the hill rajas and the Guru, who generally triumphed. The organisation of the Khalsa further strengthened the hands of the Guru in this conflict. However, an open breach between Guru and the hill rajas took place only in 1704, when the combined forces of a number of hill rajas attacked the Guru at Anandpur. The rajas had again to retreat and they pressed the Mughal government to intervene against the Guru on their behalf.

The struggle which followed was thus not a religious struggle. It was partly an offshoot of local rivalries among the Hindu hill rajas and the Sikhs and partly on outcome of the Sikh movement as it had developed. Aurangzeb was concerned with the growing power of the Guru and had asked the Mughal faujdar earlier "to admonish the Guru". He now wrote to the governor of Lahore and the faujdar of Sirhind, Wazir Khan, to aid the hill rajas in their conflict with Guru Govind Singh. The Mughals forces assaulted Anandpur but the Sikhs fought bravely and beat off all assaults. The Mughals and their allies now invested the fort closely. When starvation began inside the fort, the Guru was forced to open the gate apparently on a promise of safe conduct by Wazir Khan. But when the forces of the Guru were crossing a swollen stream, Wazir Khan's forces suddenly attacked. Two of the Guru's sons were captured, and on their refusal to embrace Islam, were beheaded at Sirhind. The Guru lost two of his remaining sons in another battle. After this, the Guru retired to Talwandi and was generally not disturbed.

It is doubtful whether the dastardly action of Wazir Khan against the sons of the Guru was carried out at the instance of Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb, it seems, was not keen to destroy the Guru and wrote to the governor of Lahore " to conciliate the Guru". When the Guru wrote to Aurangzeb in the Deccan, apprising him of the events, Aurangzeb invited him to meet him. Towards the end of 1706, the Guru set out for the Deccan and was on the way when Aurangzeb died. According to some, he had hoped to persuade Aurangzeb to restore Ananadpur to him.

Although Guru Govind Singh was not able to withstand Mughal might for long, or to establish a separate Sikh state, he created a tradition and also forged a weapon for its realisation later on. It also showed how an egalitarian religious movement could, under certain circumstances, turn into a political and militaristic movement, and subtly move towards regional independence. 

India history spat hits US

California educators have unleashed debate with textbook revisions.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In the halls of Sacramento, a special commission is rewriting Indian history: debating whether Aryan invaders conquered the subcontinent, whether Brahman priests had more rights than untouchables, and even whether ancient Indians ate beef.
That this seemingly arcane Indian debate has spilled over into California's board of education is a sign of the growing political muscle of Indian immigrants and the rising American interest in Asia.
The foes - who include established historians and Hindu nationalist revisionists - are familiar to each other in India. But America may increasingly become their new battlefield as other US states follow California in rewriting their own textbooks to bone up on Asian history.
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At stake, say scholars who include some of the most elite historians on India, may be a truthful picture of one of the world's emerging powers - one arrived at by academic standards of proof rather than assertions of national or religious pride.
"Some of the groups involved here are not qualified to write textbooks, they do not draw lines between myth and history," says Anu Mandavilli, an Indian doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, and activist against the Hindu right. Speaking of one of the groups, the Vedic Foundation in Austin, Texas, she adds, "On their website, they claim that Hindu civilization started 111.5 trillion years ago. That makes Hinduism billions of years older than the Big Bang." (The assertion has since been pulled from the site.)
"It would be ridiculous if it weren't so dangerous."
Revisionist debates hot in many nations
Communities use history to define themselves - their core ideals, achievements, and grudges. Small wonder, then, that history is frequently reevaluated as political pendulums shift, or as long-oppressed minority groups finally get their say. History, and efforts to revise it, have touched off recent controversies between Japan and its neighbors over its World War II past, as well as between France and its former colonies over the portrayal of imperialism.
Here in India, Hindu nationalists have pushed forcefully for revisionism after what they see as centuries of cultural domination by the British Raj and Muslim Mogul Empire.
Instigating the California debate were two US-based Hindu groups with long ties to Hindu nationalist parties in India. One, the Vedic Foundation, is a small Hindu sect that aims at simplifying Hinduism to the worship of one god, Vishnu. The other, the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), was founded in 2004 by a branch of the right-wing Indian group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
This year, as California's Board of Education commissioned and put up for review textbooks to be used in its 6th-grade classrooms, these two groups came forward with demands for substantial changes.
Textbooks did have glaring mistakes
Some of the changes were no-brainers. One section said, incorrectly, that the Hindi language is written in Arabic script. One photo caption misidentified a Muslim as a Brahman priest.
But instead of focusing on such errors, the groups took steps to add their own nationalist imprint to Indian history.
In one edit, the HEF asked the textbook publisher to change a sentence describing discrimination against women in ancient society to the following: "Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights than women."
In another edit, the HEF objected to a sentence that said that Aryan rulers had "created a caste system" in India that kept groups separated according to their jobs. The HEF asked this to be changed to the following: "During Vedic times, people were divided into different social groups (varnas) based on their capacity to undertake a particular profession."
The hottest debate centered on when Indian civilization began, and by whom. For the past 150 years, most historical, linguistic, and archaeological research has dated India's earliest settlements to around 2600 BC. And most established historical research contends that the cornerstone of Indian civilization - the practice of Hindu religion - was codified by people who came from outside India, specifically Aryan language speakers from the steppes of Central Asia.
Many Hindu nationalists are upset by the notion that Hinduism could be yet another religion, like Islam and Christianity, with foreign roots. The HEF and Vedic Foundation both lobbied hard to change the wording of California's textbooks so that Hinduism would be described as purely home grown.
"Textbooks must mention that none of the [ancient] texts, nor any Indian tradition, has a recollection of any Aryan invasion or migration," writes S. Kalyanaraman, an engineer and prominent pro-Hindu activist, in an e-mail to this reporter. He and other revisionists refer to recent studies that don't support an Aryan migration, including skeletal anthropology research that claims to show a continuity of record from Neolithic times. Such research has not convinced top Indologists to abandon the Aryan theory, however.
The final changes in California's textbooks are expected in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, mainstream academics, both in America and abroad, are setting off alarm bells.
"It was a whitewash," says Michael Witzel, a Harvard University Sanskrit scholar and Indologist, who testified before the commission in Sacramento. "The textbooks before were not very good, but at least they were more or less presentable. Now, it is completely incorrect."
Aryan invasion a British-era theory
Early proponents of the "Aryan Invasion Theory" proposed in 1850 by philologist Max Mueller may have had political agendas to justify the subjugation of the subcontinent, Mr. Witzel says, but the preponderance of evidence shows that Aryans came to India, with their horses, their chariots, and their religious beliefs, from outside.
"Unquestionably, all sides of Indian history must be repeatedly re-examined," wrote Witzel and comparative historian Steve Farmer, in an influential article in the Indian magazine Frontline in 2000. "But any massive revisions must arise from the discovery of new evidence, not from desires to boost national or sectarian pride at any cost."
On the other side of the debate, the historian Meenakshi Jain, a self-described nationalist, says that history is meant to be rewritten, depending on the perspective and needs of the present time.
"Indic civilization has been a big victim of misrepresentation and belittling of our culture," says Ms. Jain, a historian at Delhi University and author of a high school history textbook accepted by India's previous government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.
Pride has its place in history?
Like many Hindus, Jain is proud of the accomplishments of Indian history, such as the fact that three small Hindu kingdoms - Kabul, Zabul, and Sindh - were able to hold off invading Muslim armies for 400 years. She also thinks that students should learn that some of India's most famous temples were commissioned not by upper caste Hindu kings but by aboriginal tribes, who in modern times have been relegated to "backward status."
"There is no such thing as an objective history," Jain says. "So when we write a textbook, we should make students aware of the status of current research of leading scholars in the field. It should not shut out a love for motherland, a pride in your past. If you teach that your country is backward, that it has no redeeming features in our civilization, it can damage a young perspective."
But no matter which version of Indian history California adopts for its 6th graders, it is bound to aggravate someone. The Board of Education has already heard from South Indians who argued that the HEF and Vedic Foundation represent a North Indian upper-caste perspective.
"We were saying, 'These groups don't speak for us,' " says Anu Mandavilli, herself a South Indian. When groups like the Vedic Foundation try to simplify Hinduism as the worship of a single god, "they have their own agendas."

Book 'banning' shows rising Hindu nationalism in India's election year

A US academic's 2009 book on Hinduism will be pulped after a four year legal battle between the publisher and a right-wing Hindu group. Writers fear rising intolerance of free speech.

By , Correspondent

  • People pose as they hold paper cups carrying portraits of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition party, the BJP, in Delhi on Feb. 12, 2014. A publisher said this week it was pulping copies of a US scholar's book on Hinduism after a legal challenge from a right-wing Hindu group. Writers say religious conservatives are undermining free speech in multi-faith India.
The high-profile withdrawal of a book on Hinduism by a US academic has fueled concerns that Hindu extremism is starting to again move out of the margins and into the mainstream of Asia's largest democracy.
Penguin Books India agreed this week to pulp all copies of "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger following a four-year legal battle with a right-wing Hindu group that has also taken on Indian schools over sex education. In its lawsuit, the group said the book's depiction of mythological texts had "hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus."
The move comes as India prepares for general elections which the Hindu nationalist BJP party, led by Narendra Modi, is widely favored to win. It also comes on the heels of a recent ruling by India's Supreme Court that reinstated a colonial-era ban on homosexuality. The ruling was taken in response to a challenge brought by religious groups, including Muslim and Christian campaigners.
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"The political climate is worsening," says newspaper columnist Samar Halarnkar. "What [decisions like this] imply is that the liberal space in Hinduism is being pruned, and what used to be the fringe is starting to become the mainstream."

In an open letter, Prof. Doniger said Penguin had been "defeated" by Indian law that "makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book," she wrote.
Analysts say the attack on Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, speaks to the fragility of free speech in India when it comes to dissecting the tenets of the majority faith.
"Wendy Doniger can't be attacked on her scholarship, she reads in Sanskrit and has been reading the texts for decades," says Nilanjana Roy, a New Delhi-based writer and journalist, and one of the founding members of PEN Delhi, an international writers' organization.
"You can't say she doesn't know what she's talking about. The attack has been that she doesn't have the right."
Doniger isn’t the only writer to face censure for her commentary on Hinduism. Online activists, many of them anonymous, are swift to react to any perceived criticism of their interpretation of Hinduism, particularly on social media. Many journalists and writers in India have found themselves the target of vitriolic online attacks.
Purists seeking to ban books represent a small segment of the Hindu right. But they are the loudest, and despite freedom of speech and expression being enshrined in India's constitution, lethargic governance allows them to get away with disruptive behavior.
"If a group calls for a violent protest over, say, a movie or a book, police will move to ban the offending book or play rather than working to control the law and order situation. It's a shortcut to try to appease that section of the community," says Prashant Narang, a public interest lawyer working with the Centre for Civil Society, a think tank in Delhi.
As a result, some authors and scholars may be starting to self-censor, particularly when it comes to writing about Hinduism in a historical context.
Ms. Roy says scholarly research is suffering. "I know some people who've put aside their work on Ganesha, or on religious sculpture, because they don't want to face the fallout," she says.
Some right-wing commentators have also expressed concern. “Very uneasy about Penguin decision on Wendy Doniger book. Ideas and academic studies, however contentious, cannot be handled by censorship,” tweeted Swapan Dasgupta, a prominent journalist who describes himself as politically conservative.

Publishers as protectors

Penguin Books India, a subsidiary of one of the world's largest publishing houses, has come under intense criticism for abandoning the fight against the lawsuit. In her letter, Doniger praised it for publishing the book in India, knowing that it would "stir anger" from Hindu nationalists. She also noted that the book is available in digital form.
However, Indian writers complain that the book's abrupt departure indicates that publishers can no longer be counted on to protect them.
"What are we to make of this?” asked Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy in a letter to Penguin that was reproduced online. “Must we now write only pro-Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] books?"
Books have also been yanked from shelves in India to satisfy conservatives of other faiths. Salman Rushdie's 1988 book 'The Satanic Verses' was banned due to objections from Muslims. In 2012, the India-born author was forced to pull out of an Indian literary festival after Muslim leaders led protests against him.
In an interview with Time, Dinanath Batra, the head of the group that sued Penguin, said the book had hurt the sentiments of all Hindus. "If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad, Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it?"

Penguin Books India pulls controversial book on Hinduism

Penguin Books India agreed to withdraw the book from circulation in India as well as destroy every copy of the book.

By , Correspondent

  • 'The Hindus: an Alternative History' is by Wendy Doniger.
We’ve seen the chilling effects – in China, Russia, and America, among scores of other countries – when politics and publishing collide.
The latest country to join the censorship bandwagon is India, where publisher Penguin Books India recently agreed to withdraw a book about Hinduism from circulation in India, including destroying all copies of the book currently in the country.
“The Hindus: An Alternative History,” by Wendy Doniger, a professor of religion at the University of Chicago, was pulled by Penguin Books India after a four-year legal battle that began when the Hindu nationalist group Shiksha Bachao Andolan filed a suit against the publisher in 2011, claiming the book disparaged Hinduism and comprised “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”
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The lawsuit accuses Doniger of “hurt[ing] the feelings of millions of Hindus” in the book, which it calls “a shallow, distorted and non-serious presentation of Hinduism” which is “riddled with heresies and factual inaccuracies.”
In a statement released by PEN Delhi, Doniger said, “I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped.”
The decision, not surprisingly, has drawn international outrage from writers including Arundhati Roy, William Dalrymple, Neil Gaiman, and Hari Kunzru, as well as organizations like the National Book Critics Circle and the global community of writers PEN International.
In an open letter published in The Times of India, Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy blasted the publisher, writing, "[Y]ou have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why?"
In a statement, Penguin Books India has defended its decision: “Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual's right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin's approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organization to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be.”
More specifically, “those laws” refer to section 295a of the Indian penal code, which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
As observers have pointed out, the law also makes it difficult for Indian publishers to uphold international standards of free expression.
Perhaps the more chilling point is that “The Hindus” – which, we should add, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle’s prestigious non-fiction award in 2009 – is only the latest in a series of publications recently withdrawn in the face of protest.
“The recall of ‘The Hindus' made Penguin the second Indian publishing house and third liberal institution in recent times to capitulate to a Hindu group,” writes Bloomberg. “In 2008, Oxford University Press agreed to cease publication of a scholarly essay on the Ramayana, and in 2011, Delhi University agreed to take the same essay off its syllabus.”
There’s more: In January, Bloomsbury India removed copies of “The Descent of Air India,” against the author’s wishes, and published an apology to a government minister who was strongly criticized in the book, the NYT notes.
It adds, “In December, the Supreme Court granted a stay of publication of 'Sahara: The Untold Story,' an investigation of Indian finance and real estate conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, until a lawsuit filed by Sahara Group’s head was resolved.”
The latest book ban underscores an alarming trend in Indian intellectual discourse: that writings that offend any person’s religious sentiment, or as the lawsuit put it, “hurts the religious feelings,” will be curtailed, and with it, freedom of speech.
The fight against the book coincides with a potential ideological shift in India, which, three months ahead of a national election, has increasingly seen right-wing Hindu nationalist groups shore up power in the world’s largest democracy. Though the pulling of the book has no direct relationship to the elections, some observers have noted a rise in the influence of right-wing Hindu nationalists like Dinath Batra, the 84-year-old retired headmaster who spearheaded the campaign against Penguin and Doniger’s “The Hindus.”
Wrote novelist Hari Kunzru in the UK’s Guardian, “The Hindu far right … has become expert in wielding the weapon of offense to silence critics.”
In fact, many authors who criticized Penguin Books India’s decision directed their censure not toward the publisher, but at the antiquated laws and political campaigns against such books.
“Indian publishers have faced waves of threats from litigants, vigilante groups, and politicians,” PEN India pointed out.
Doniger herself has said she doesn’t “blame” Penguin, which after years of defending the book in court, was “finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”
Echoes historian Dalrymple, The "real villains are the laws in this country, which were old colonial laws drawn up in the 1890s, and which make insulting religion a criminal offense…The reality is that it is very difficult to defend yourself because the law is stacked very heavily on the side of any lunatic. It's shocking, appalling, dreadful and entirely negative, but I can understand why Penguin did what it did. They should have defended it, but I can understand why, with the law as it is, they decided they couldn't win the case.”
Amidst the furor, there may be a silver lining after all: the ruckus has sent “The Hindus” skyrocketing up bestseller lists, and perhaps more importantly, has brought international attention to the wave of book bans in India, and with it, renewed pressure against the forces behind the suppression.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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Debate on Indian History: Revising Textbooks in California

Sudarsan Padmanabhan
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 41, No. 18 (May 6-12, 2006), pp. 1761-1763
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly


Page 1761 of Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 18, May 6-12, 2006
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Economic and Political Weekly © 2006 Economic and Political Weekly
Abstract: The recent controversy over "correcting" depictions of ancient India in history school textbooks in California, has been largely posited in terms of a "secular vs saffron" debate; however, it has wider ramifications. While Indian Americans' vision of an "ideal" state of being in ancient India is influenced by their own physical separation and cultural isolation in the US, any unitary rewriting of ancient Indian history would have repercussions for India, and could tarnish its ideals of secularism.
Source: Christian Monitor

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