By re-writing history, can Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh delete history? What has happened has happened. By omitting facts from textbooks, we will not make them nonfacts; we will only make tomorrow’s students uninformed.
Throughout history and across cultures, those in power have tried to restructure history to suit themselves.
Facts were buried in the process, but they remained facts for impartial students to dig up and study. Being narrowly focussed on their self-interests, politicians are always inclined towards re-writing history with the aim of glorifying themselves.
The Maharashtra State Education Board removed chapters about Muslim rulers and Mughals from history textbooks last month.
Uttar Pradesh is doing the same thing now. A generation of Maharashtrians and Uttar Pradeshians will grow up ignorant of the fact that Mughals ruled India.
It will mean nothing to the Mughals. But it will mean illiteracy for those who are taught selective history.
It is strange that hardened ideologues do not see the negative side of this kind of approach to history. Sangeet Som, articulator of a hate-line BJP approach, had no hesitation to say: “History will be rewritten to erase Mughal Emperors from it.”
Who is he to do so? His boast means nothing because his mind is too small to grasp the significance of things. He was a critic of the Taj Mahal’s history, but felt compelled to accept that marvel in marble as a work of art. Beyond the Taj, however, Sangeet Som has a stand that is self-defeating and ignorance-based.
“What kind of history are you talking about,” he asked. “The same history in which the person who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? Planned to annihilate all Hindus? I guarantee you that this history will be changed. Whether it is Babar, Akbar or Aurangzeb, the government is working to erase them from memory.”
No government in the world can erase historical figures from mankind’s memory. Unspeakable cruelties became state policy under rulers like Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Idi Amin. But they will never be erased from our memory.
A Pope did everything from murder to incest (John XII, 954-964) but he too will remain in history, complete with his criminal record.
The Mughals not only built the Taj Mahal (which Rabindranath Tagore described as “a teardrop of love”) but also set certain standards that did India good. Ashoka and Akbar are rated as the greatest emperors of the past.
But it is worth remembering that Ashoka showed his greatness by feeling guilty about killing a hundred thousand people in the battle of Kalinga; remorse led him to embrace Buddhism and become a messiah of peace.
Akbar became a messiah of tolerance without a bloodstained Kalinga giving him a guilty conscience. He took Hindu wives but never asked them to convert to Islam.
He even prohibited cow slaughter in his empire. His initiative in getting the Mahabharata translated into Persian is legendary. Yogi Adityanath may boast about deleting the Mughal Period from history, but no Mughal, no Akbar, no Shah Jahan will get deleted from history.
The only consequence of his attempt will be more people wondering how yogis get into politics. Facts cannot be eliminated even by saffron-clad sanyasins.
The sensible course open to authorities like Adityanath is to explain the facts in context. They should teach why Ashoka became Ashoka The Great, why Akbar became Akbar The Great. (And why Yogi Adityanath did not rise to those levels of greatness.)
It became known last month that Iran has been trying to rewrite history. Its 2019 textbook contained a story depicting two little girls and three little boys playing outdoors. The 2020 version of the book had the picture minus the girls. Policymakers also decided that women were not good enough to study maths and physics.
This is all the more ironic because Iran is a country where there is a 50-50 male-female ratio in universities. The dictatorial Shah of Iran had banned the veil. But the 1979 revolution led to the black chador becoming common.
Religious training was now added to the national curriculum. In 2019, just last year, Omar Khayyam’s name disappeared from several textbooks. That space was given to poems about Iranian martyrs in Syria and Lebanon.
So, does Omar Khayyam cease to exist? When the clouds are cleared, his name will glitter across the sky like Akbar’s does in the Indian sky.
Re-writing history is the hope of small minds. Fortunately for mankind, small minds perish in their smallness.