Sooner or later, we will conquer Corona too. The relentless progress of science will ensure that. Like TB, polio, or smallpox, coronavirus also will bite the dust before human ingenuity. However, science cannot cure the communal virus that is spreading faster than Corona. Using the tools that science and technology have gifted, religious bigots keep injecting hate in society. All countries are prone to such bigotry, but in India, much of this hatred stems from the way history is being taught in school.
The story goes like this. India was the greatest civilization. Then, a thousand years ago, India fell to the Muslim invaders. Between the opposing narrative, the argument is only about the intent of these invaders—whether it was driven by political ambitions or religious fervent. Depending on who you listen, you will learn that some rulers were devil incarnates or angels dropped from heaven. Hindu supremacists claim that the dark ages came upon India the moment Prithviraj Chauhan fell to Muhammad of Ghor in 1192 in the second battle of Tarain. The other side tries to disprove this by saying how India remained great under the Muslim rulers until the capitalist British came and spoiled the party.
When the media was filled with the self-proclaimed liberals, the leftist narrative had prominence. With the rise of social media, the side with a bigger budget for cooking up WhatsApp messages and Photoshop is winning the propaganda battle. Outside the confines of the serious academicians, this is how Indians learn history. Had it remained as a civilised debate, it would have remained an entertaining pastime. However, in India, history is a political sledgehammer with which you bash the heads of those who stand in your way to power.
How true and relevant is either narrative of our history? Do we have a common history? No one can deny that invasions took place in some parts of India. Like any invasion, the victor committed brutality over the vanquished. There is nothing unique or unprecedented about these invasions. They were as ugly as any invasion could be in any parts of the world. History is no fairy tale. It is often gore, misery and cruelty wearing a thin mask of imagined glory. Now, the past has gobbled up the vanity of the victor and the anguish of the vanquished. The marks they have left remain, some as beauty spots, some as warts, but that is what makes us what we are.
When we talk about invasion of India, which India are we talking about? A major part of the country, for example the southern states and the eastern ones, remained insulated from any invasion. Sacking of a relatively minor kingdom in Delhi 800 years ago had no impact on the Hindu empires of the south, which continued to expand globally and create majestic temples, music, literature, and art. Even for a Hindu supremacist to call the last 800 years of India as dark ages of Hindus is to insult these empires. Delhi, until the British changed their capital from Calcutta, was just one among many cities of India, something which the Lutyens liberals also forget in their heated debates.
We became a nation because we united against a common enemy, the British. We became a nation because people of almost 584 princely kingdoms and the citizens of British India decided to become one country under a constitution which proclaimed it as a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Dwelling on what happened in a corner of the country many hundred years ago, even if that corner happens to be the Capital of modern India, due to the accident of history, is dangerous. We need to free our history from the Delhi peg we have tied it to. There is more to India than Delhi and our northwestern borders. We can start telling stories about the great maritime history of India, which was driven not by invasions or religious hatred, but by trade, science, shipping, and commerce. At least the debates will be more about the romance of the sea than the gore of the long-forgotten battles. firstname.lastname@example.org