A recent judgment projects incorrect views about Indian history and makes it a religion-caste narrative

In a 37-page judgment of the Meghalaya High Court, discussion about the merits of the judgment begins at the 23rd page. The first 22 pages take your breath away, in the same sense as the pollution in New Delhi and not like the backwaters of Kerala.

An astonishingly incorrect and incomplete telling of India’s history pervades these pages. The sermon on India’s history begins with: “As we all know, India was one of the largest countries in the world and there was no Pakistan, Bangladesh & Afghanistan…” (The generosity in excluding Nepal and Sri Lanka must not go unnoticed). Truth is, there was no “India” even till the early 1940s. There was no Meghalaya till 1972. Millions of Indians and founding leaders of India—Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Savitribai Phule, Sarojini Naidu— and countless others made India the social-coalition long before ‘India the nation state’ was created. The judgment also makes the blunder of neatly dividing India’s history into three stages—a united geographical unit ruled by Hindus, followed by the one ruled by the Mughals and then ruled by the Britishers.

This narration is laden with myths which real historians have spent their entire life countering and which can be filled into dozens of books. For instance, was Nagaland Hindu during the imagined Hindu period of this narrative of ‘history’ and was it Muslim during the Mughal part? What about Mizoram? Was the relation between ‘Mughals’ and ‘Hindus’ only one of conversion and plunder? (Hint to all questions: No). This narration rests upon the deletion of caste identity and violence, the circumstances surrounding the origin of Buddhism, the countless histories and stories of India and more.

Even as historians continue to enquire if history is supposed to be about an enquiry and conversation with the past about the past, all this finds no place in the judgment. Inaccuracy is not the only problem with the judgment. It appears, at least to me, a mis-telling. Sample the following sentence: “It is an undisputed fact that at the time of Partition, lakhs and lakhs of Sikhs and Hindus were killed, tortured and raped and forced them to leave their forefathers’ property and compelled them to enter India”… Did Muslims not get butchered during the Partition? Is this omission from the judgment accidental?

“Pakistan was declared an Islamic country and India should have been declared a Hindu country but it remained a secular country”, the judgment rues. Pakistan defined itself with, and chained its identity, to a religion and India and Indians refused to do the same. India has a unique place in the history of the world because of this. For India and Indians, “unity in diversity” was not an empty phrase or a national pep-talk; it was an extraordinary and unprecedented accomplishment and endeavour.

The judgment quotes Tathagata Roy, the current governor of Meghalaya. Roy is reportedly infamous for bigoted utterances. His tweet about the 26/11 terror attack allegedly said, “slaughter of innocents (except Muslims)”. He later deleted this tweet. He has endorsed pseudo-scientific claims such as there being internet during the time when Mahabharata allegedly happened. I wish that the hon’ble judge authoring the judgment had cited real historians.

But leave aside history. The judge continues with the espousal of ideas, which when implemented, would certainly bring India to a standstill. The judgment observes: “Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhist, Parsis, Christians, Khasis, Jaintias and Garos who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to live in this country peacefully and with full dignity without making any cut-off year and be given citizenship without any question or production of any documents”… Again, ignoring the obvious bigotry, how will the identities of these supposed people be verified without documents? What it means is this: that anyone who turns up and claims to belong to any of the aforementioned identities must be declared an Indian citizen without any documents or any verification process whatsoever.

The judgment charitably states, to avoid any confusion, that “I am not against my Muslim brothers and sisters who are residing in India for generations and abiding Indian laws, they should also be allowed to live peacefully”… Note the phrasing in “allowed to live”. As it happens, no court in this country has the right to decide which religion should be allowed in India and which should not be.

The judgment adds: “I am confident that only this Government under Shri. Narendra Modiji will understand the gravity, and will do the needful as requested above and our Chief Minister Mamataji will support the national interest in all respect.” Why is a judge expressing confidence in x politician or y political party? India, as the judge himself noted, existed long before either of these politicians came at the helm of affairs.

Most importantly, the fact that a judge with incorrect views about Indian history is sitting over any case, much less cases involving grant of domicile to people, is terrifying. By this time, the judgment, which amplifies myths about India and Indians, must have found its way on millions of WhatsApp messages. But one hopes that the apex court will take note and condemn the aforementioned observations.