With a BJP government at the Centre, rewriting history and suppressing alternative points of view seem to be the order of the day. By DIVYA TRIVEDI

HISTORICAL revisionism has attained a certain kind of urgency in the country today. The blurring of the lines between fact and myth is being expedited like never before. Sweeping generalisations about the past are being made publicly and repeatedly, not only by individuals but also by formal organisations. Conferences are being organised to rearrange facts and show “Hindus” as the true inheritors of the land and all “others” as foreigners or invaders. This is to build a narrative of a glorious Hindu Rashtra that negates the contributions of the Mughals, Buddhists, Christians and everybody else.

Interestingly, the favourite whipping boy is the medieval period. This October, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana commemorated the medieval king Hemu, or Hemchandra Vikramaditya, in a grand function in Delhi for having ascended the throne after 350 years of Mughal rule. The fact that throughout his life Hemu worked under the Pashtun/Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri and towards furthering his reign was reduced to a footnote. It was only by defeating other Afghan rebels that Hemu became king. His reign is being glorified as extraordinary, never mind that it did not last for even a month as he lost in battle and died.

At the frontiers of such revisionism are people like Dina Nath Batra, who has made a career out of forcing publishers (legally) not to publish books he disapproves of, and Subramanian Swamy, who threatens television anchors live on air (“The Newshour” with Arnab Goswami, September 17) and calls citizens who ask him questions “demented” (Ram Kumar from Mumbai asked Swamy during a phone-in when the VVIP culture would end, “The Newshour”, September 17). Research institutions and educational bodies are being filled with people who triumph through rhetoric rather than with professionally capable academics.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be in a hurry to consolidate its vote bank further by including the backward castes in the Hindu fold. The fuelling of Dalit-Muslim antagonism, tested in Gujarat 2002 and successfully rejigged in western Uttar Pradesh before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, peaked with the Trilokpuri riots in Delhi, which saw clashes between the low-caste Valmikis and Muslims. While politically the BJP is making great strides in co-opting the lower castes by using groups such as the Valmikis, in the social sphere it is relying on reconversions, or ghar wapsi, and spreading the myth of love jehad.

A 2.45-minute-long audio recording Frontline accessed  via WhatsApp has a girl’s voice warning listeners about a Muslim extremist organisation headquartered in Dhaka (Bangladesh) with its Indian centre in Kerala through which “mullahs” and “maulvis” advise [Muslim] Bollywood stars to marry at least two Hindu girls and produce 12 children each. This will inspire the average Muslim man to lure two Hindu girls and produce 12 children each. At this rate, India will be converted to an Islamist state in just 24 years! Apparently reading from a text in Hindi, the girl’s voice says: “Recently, the police have apprehended a Muslim man named Wasim Akram, who created a Facebook profile by the name of Daksh Sharma and lured Hindu women and sexually assaulted them.” The recording begins and ends by advising listeners to circulate it widely. Such propaganda not only undermines a woman’s agency but also strengthens anti-Muslim prejudice, and it aims to disrupt the communal harmony that inter-religious marriages bring to the fabric of any society.

In the academic sphere, revisionism is rapidly taking place through the writing of books with distorted histories. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent comments on Ganesha’s elephant head being proof of the existence of cosmetic surgery in ancient India are an indication of the path spin doctors of history are expected to follow. At a Mumbai hospital, he told a gathering of doctors: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.” To support his claim of the use of advanced science in ancient India, Modi said: “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.” No doctor in the audience challenged him.

While delivering the third Nikhil Chakravartty Memorial Lecture, titled “To Question or Not to Question, That is the Question”, the historian Romila Thapar raised the issue of academics’ silence in the face of blatant untruths. “When it comes to religious identities and their politics, we witness hate campaigns based on absurd fantasies about specific religions and we no longer confront them frontally. Such questioning means being critical of organisations and institutions that claim a religious intention but use their authority for non-religious purposes,” she said.

The BJP spokesman Vijay Sonkar Shastri recently authored three books—Hindu Charmakar Jati, Hindu Khatik Jati and Hindu Valmiki Jati. The RSS leaders Bhaiyyaji Joshi (general secretary), Suresh Soni and Krishna Gopal wrote the forewords. Released by the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat, all three texts claim that Dalits, Indian Muslims and tribal people were “created” by Muslim invasion and subsequent atrocities in medieval times and that Sudras were never untouchables in the Hindu religion.

Joshi said: “To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders…, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.” Soni wrote: “Dalits had their genesis during Turk, Muslim and Mughal eras. Today’s castes like Valmikis, Sudarshan, Majhabi Sikhs and their 624 sub-castes came into being as a result of atrocities against Brahmins and Kshatriyas during medieval or Islamic age.”

The ignorance the three RSS leaders exhibit about a religion they publicly espouse is remarkable. They seem not to have read the Rg Veda, the source of numerous Hindu traditions and beliefs. The historian D.D. Kosambi had read it in Sanskrit, and according to The Oxford India Kosambi, compiled, edited and introduced by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, the Rg Veda speaks of four major castes, tribes being outside the then localised caste scheme: “Brahmana was his (the Supreme Being’s) mouth, Kshatriya made of his arms; the Vaisya his thighs, and the Sudra generated from his feet (RV.X.90.12), says the particularly sacred Puru-sasukta hymn. Yet the four-caste system is not described as prevalent outside of India, where the earliest division into Arya and Dasa was known to persist.”

As far as animal sacrifice is concerned, Kosambi had this to say: “The function of Vedic ritual is the celebration of certain animal sacrifices at the fire-altar. The five principal sacrificial animals are in order of importance: man, horse, bull (or cow), ram, he-goat…, and their flesh was to be eaten as is seen from rubrics for the disposal of the carcasses….” Horse sacrifice is particularly significant, given the importance Aryans attached to horses.

Will Subramanian Swamy give a call now to burn Kosambi’s books along with the “Nehruvian books” of Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar?

Michael Witzel, the Harvard University Indologist, and Steve Farmer, a comparative historian, in the article “Horseplay in Harappa” (Frontline, September 30, 2000) proved how a fake seal of a horse was trumped up by a Hindutva propagandist historian and warned against the dangers of inflicting on the present such anti-scientific twisted images of India.

“In the past few decades, a new kind of history has been propagated by a vocal group of Indian writers, few of them trained historians, who lavishly praise and support each other’s works. Their aim is to rewrite Indian history from a nationalistic and religious point of view…. Unquestionably, all sides of Indian history must be repeatedly re-examined. But any massive revisions must arise from the discovery of new evidence, not from desires to boost national or sectarian pride at any cost…. The current ‘revisionist’ models contradict well-known facts: they introduce horse-drawn chariots thousands of years before their invention; imagine massive lost literatures filled with ‘scientific’ knowledge unimaginable anywhere in the ancient world; project the Rigveda into impossibly distant eras, compiled in urban or maritime settings suggested nowhere in the text; and imagine Vedic Sanskrit or even Proto Indo-European rising in the Panjab or elsewhere in northern India, ignoring 150 years of evidence fixing their origins to the northwest.”

Mahishasura

In the process of myth making, denying certain myths their space also becomes important as in the case of Mahishasura. The festival of Vijayadashami, which falls on the 10th day of the Hindu festival of Navratri, celebrates the killing of Ravana by Rama. The goddess Durga’s killing of the demon king Mahishasura is also celebrated. These stories depict Rama and Durga as “good” and Ravana and Mahishasura as “evil”. There are 300 versions of the mythological epic Ramayana and as many interpretations of which character in the story stands for what. While upper-caste Hindus pray to Rama and Durga, several communities, including the backward classes, some tribes and some Brahmin sub-sects, consider themselves to be descendants of Mahishasura and Ravana and worship them.

The burning of effigies of Ravana has been carried out in public for many years in a celebratory fashion, and followers of Ravana spend the day in mourning by not stepping outside their houses. For the past four years now, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi has been holding a public meeting on this day, calling it Mahishasura Shahadat Diwas (Mahishasura Martyrdom Day) and inviting speakers to come and share their views. This year, on October 9, the students’ wing of the BJP, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), disrupted the meeting and attacked those present, injuring students who had formed a human chain to ward off the goons. A girl, Sonam Goel, was kicked in the stomach by one in the attacking mob. The previous night, Ivan Kostka, the editor ofForward Press magazine, was arrested and his office raided within hours of a complaint being filed after midnight by an ABVP member at the local police station. The October issue of Forward Press was devoted to the “Bahujan-Shraman tradition” and carried research articles.

“The Bahujan rendition of the story of ‘Mahishasura’ and ‘Durga’ has been presented in words and through sketches and paintings. There is absolutely nothing in the issue that can be described as objectionable under the Indian Constitution. Our objective was not to humiliate or hurt the sentiments of any community or group. We are only trying to identify and rejuvenate the symbols of Bahujan culture and civilisation. Anyway, Bahujan renditions of popular texts have a long tradition, starting from Jyotiba Phule and going up to [B.R.] Ambedkar and Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy],” said Pramod Ranjan, consulting editor.

Although these are two separate incidents, the precision with which the attack in JNU was carried out and the quick police action against Forward Press make them appear coordinated and premeditated. The JNU administration was under pressure from the local police to disallow the holding of the Mahishasura event, according to a source who wishes to remain anonymous. Various students organisations—the All India Bahujan Students’ Parliament, the All India Students’ Association, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), the All India Students Federation, Concerned Students, the Democratic Students’ Front, the Democratic Students’ Union, Janrang, the Krantikari Naujawan Sabha, the Students’ Federation of India, The New Materialists and the United Dalit Students Front—took part in a march on October 12 protesting against the administration’s clampdown on the meeting and the right-wing violence.

JNU is only one of the many places where Shahadat Diwas is celebrated. There are several communities and tribes (primarily Asura) who revere Ravana and mourn on the day he was killed. Protest marches against the incident in JNU were held in several places, including Patna, Nawada and Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Bangalore in the south. Pradeep from Siwan, Bihar, told Frontline over the telephone that close to 150 people gathered on October 5 in Gandhi Chowk, Patna, and around 400 people gathered in Nawada the day before. The event was presided over by former MPs and MLAs of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Mahishasura celebrations in different parts of the country were reported in the press. In Punjab, hundreds of people gathered in the cities of Jalandhar and Ludhiana to hold shok sabhas (condolence meetings). Raj Kumar Atikaye, the head of the Punjab Safai Karamchari Welfare Board, said: “We need to follow his [Ravana’s] ideals. Even his enemies recognised him as a scholar…. When women and minors are being raped in our society, Ravana did not touch the wife of his enemy who was in his custody.”

The Dashanan temple in the Shivala locality of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, built in 1865 and opened once a year on Vijayadashami day, echoed with the chants of “Jai Lankesh” and “Lankapati Naresh ki Jai Ho”. There is a five-foot idol of Ravana at the Chhinnmastika temple, which is near the Dashanan temple. People believe the idol to be the chowkidar(guard) of Maa Chhinnmastika and worship it on Vijayadashami. Ravana is believed to be a devotee of Siva.

At a village called Ravan in Nateran in Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh, Ravana is worshipped by Kanyakubja Brahmins, the sub-sect to which he is believed to have belonged. Effigies of him are never burnt in the village and his blessings are taken on every occasion as they are believed to ward off evil; people even have stickers on their vehicles with the words “Jai Lankesh”. The Mahishasura festival was also celebrated with great enthusiasm this year by people in Uttar Pradesh (Lucknow and Dewariya), Bihar (Buxar and Vaishali), West Bengal (Purulia) and Jharkhand (Giridih and Damodar Gop).

In Delhi’s Titarpur area, most villagers earn money by making Ravana effigies, no matter what their primary profession is, and consider him a blessing. Just as some people have their reasons for worshipping Rama or Jesus or the Buddha, some others worship Ravana for their own reasons. The Bharatiya Dalit Panther Party (BDPP) organised a mela to protest against the burning of effigies of Ravana in Pukhrayan in Kanpur Dehat district, Uttar Pradesh. Pinku Prasad, the party’s district president, reportedly said: “We will not tolerate the practice of burning effigies of Lord Ravana anymore. The government should also ensure that the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad are accorded due respect.” The ceremony was conducted in the spirit of Ambedkar, a Dalit and a follower of the Buddha, who fought against discrimination in society, he added.

Ravana is believed to be a Dravidian king of the Gond tribe who was well versed in the Vedas. Apart from holding a Ravana Mela, the BDPP has also been organising a “Baudh Dikhsha” ceremony every year so that future generations will remember Ravana’s sacrifice and continue the tradition.

In this context, in the article in Forward Press “Why this celebration of death?”, the writer Premkumar Mani asked: “If someone made a festival of the massacre in Gujarat or the massacres of Dalits in Bihar, or say, a celebration of the death of Bhumihars—how would that feel?”

Jitendra Yadav of the All India Backward Students’ Forum, the organiser of the event in JNU, told Frontline that children in backward class homes are told stories of Mahishasura’s valour. “Though the worship of Ravana is not in the form of an organised thought, it is there in our consciousness because of the culture dished out to us as kids. Stories of him are found in folk songs in the Yadav community in the form of Biraha.” Jitendra Yadav added that worshippers of Durga do not fret because the goddess is not the focus of the celebrations and is mentioned only in passing. The objective is to talk about the cultural heritage of the backward classes, which includes Ravana, Mahishasura, Ekalavya, Sambuka and Surpanakha, all of whom are humiliated or killed in the Savarna version of the myths.

Transformation on campusGaurav Jogi, a PhD student in JNU who is researching student politics, sees a transformation in campus cultures from debate to violence. He also points out that since 1991 there has been a culture among the Dalit communities on campuses of celebrating their own identity through programmes on Ambedkar and Phule. “While the Dalits were doing this, the ABVP did not have a problem as it was done in an academic fashion. But now that the OBCs [Other Backward Classes] are also celebrating their own identity and reaching out to the masses, the OBC vote bank that the BJP wants to consolidate is being threatened.” Last year, students under the banner of the EFLU Asura Community in the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, celebrated a Narakasura week during which they organised an academic seminar titled “Reinterpreting Indian History: Redefining Secularism in University Spaces”, an open forum titled “Resisting Dominance: Articulating Cultural Resistance” and a face-painting competition with the theme Ravana. Students and artists were extended an open invitation to participate in art installations and public canvas painting. Students, including women, from the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe/OBC communities were slapped with criminal charges at the behest of the ABVP. This raises the question, to what extent are educational campuses being Savarna-ised? But these instances point to the cultural transformations taking place on campuses that have to be welcomed. With reference to the clampdowns, students ask the valid question: “If Ganesh Chaturthi can be celebrated on campuses, then why not Asura festivals?”

Anant Prakash Narayan, vice-president of the JNUSU, calls the new government UPA (United Progressive Alliance) III: “Everything that the UPA did, this government is doing at thrice the speed. We do not believe in either Durga or Mahishasura. We believe one can’t destroy a myth by creating a parallel myth, but the right to freedom of expression and dissent has to be defended. It has been JNU’s culture to move forward through discussions, not through censorship. As far as hurt sentiments are concerned, the ABVP is the last group that should talk about it because in reality when they tell women what to wear or not to wear, they are hurting women’s sentiments the most.”

At a public meeting, Sunil Kumar Suman, a former JNU-ite, said: “We have to understand the politics of myth as our country is steeped in superstitions. There are encyclopaedias of gods and goddesses. Rama is not just a myth. Riots take place in his name; people are killed and raped in his name. These myths have to be countered, and myths have to be reinvented.” At the same meeting, Gautam Navlakha, an activist, pointed out that the present government is able to institutionalise communalism thanks to previous governments, which strengthened the state a

http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/orgy-of-myth-making/article6578126.ece