With the growing saffronisation at all levels, slowly India’s history too is being discoloured and a distorted narrative is being played out.
Two weeks ago, we discussed the saffronisation of Indian intelligence and bureaucracy. We will take this topic further to see how this extreme ideology is causing us much loss, in terms of intelligence-gathering, loss of face with brazen gaffes and most of all, eroding the plural, inclusive society that India always had.
While we see the growing support for Hindu right-wing extremism across the country with even the educated supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideology, globally, it is being noted that India is shifting to a more regimental rule rather than democratic. With the growing saffronisation at all levels, slowly India’s history too is being discoloured and a distorted narrative is being played out, which in a few years will come to be accepted as the truth, unless the multitudes turn out to correct it.
On September 20, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “Indians didn’t resort to violence. The Ram temple construction work started only after the Supreme Court gave its verdict. This is a positive approach for Indians. India is a nation that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste, creed and religion.” Now we all witnessed how karsevaks and followers of the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the BJP and many organisations under these umbrella outfits converged at Ayodhya and demolished Babri Masjid. Yes, of course, the Congress party allowed the locks to be opened in the first place, allowing the saffron brigade to get its foot in the door. Now they are working towards fulfilling the election promise of constructing the Ram temple on this controversial site. The Supreme Court has also ruled in favour of the Hindus, paving the way for constructing a Ram temple. The five-member bench headed by former CJI Rajan Gogoi condemned the desecration of the mosque and the illegal placement of the idols. But now, this entire history of controversy and violence has been conveniently obliterated and an altogether new story is being told and it will be no surprise if it makes it to modern history books too.
This is not a figment of one’s imagination; early this year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) drafted a history syllabus for undergraduates, with a marked focus on Hindu mythology, rather than historic facts. Obviously, this is to obscure the Mughal or the period of Muslim rule in India. One can only guess that in their rush to do so, they conveniently forgot that religious scholarships – both Muslim and Hindu, were started by Aurangzeb, who has always been depicted as a shrewd, calculating, tyrant emperor. In fact, after the textbook references to communal riots, Braj Bihari Kumar, the chairperson of Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), has asserted the reference to Hindu-Muslim riots should be removed from History books, or else, it would make activists out of students. The fact is, there is a students’ wing of the BJP, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which has caused disruption on campuses and has even been accused of violence; this is, of course, not activism, it is nationalism.
Different rule of law?
On February 9, some students in Jawaharlal Nehru University protested the verdict of capital punishment to Afzal Guru and Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Bhat in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack case. These protests were organised by former members of the Democratic Students’ Union and the event was disrupted by ABVP supporters. Later, speeches by Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid shouting Anti-India slogans were distorted and widely circulated, which, fact checks showed, were not real. Later, in February 2017, we saw how ABVP students disrupted a literary event at Ramjas College on the Delhi University campus. They first objected to Umar Khalid being invited and resorted to violence later. Umar too, was arrested, though the Delhi Police has failed to file a charge sheet against him even after a year. Umar continues to face serious charges and had recently withdrawn his bail application. Later, on January 5, 2020, there again was violence on the JNU campus, in which 35 students were injured and again, this violence was traced to ABVP students. Many of them belonged to various WhatsApp chat groups like Friends of RSS and were seen having brought outsiders to the campus, for violence. Again, police have been seen to have supported the ABVP students in all these incidents that have occurred on various campuses. In the case of the violence unleashed on the Jamia Millia Islamia University campus, an ABVP activist, Bharat Sharma, was clearly seen beating a JMI student. Police brutally assaulted Jamia students on December 15, 2019, and till now, there has been no detailed investigation of these enforcers of the law.
What we have been seeing is the way the administration and machinery of every institution has been manipulated to benefit the current dispensation and bolster right-wing ideology. Whether it is Umar or the activists and scholars arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, their rights are not equal to those of the right-wing activists. Take the example of Pragya Singh Thakur, who also faced severe charges, including MCOCA. These were dropped, not the other charges such as being the main accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. Yet, Home Minister Amit Shah, before fielding her as the party’s candidate in the 2017 elections, falsely said the courts had cleared her. Pragya still faces charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Meanwhile, Umar and the Bhima Koregaon activists who also face UAPA, among other charges, are still in jail. Umar recently withdrew his bail application, while the others are struggling to get theirs. It does seem as though the law is different for different people and of course, not all get justice.
Actually, we seem to be following China’s example. Remember June 4, 1989, when students’ protests and demonstrations for free speech and democracy at Tiananmen Square in Beijing were quelled by Chinese troops that killed and arrested thousands. The Chinese Communist regime will not want anyone to remember these protests, but there is a museum commemorating this incident in Hong Kong, called the June 4th museum. This is supported by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. Last month, this museum moved online, while early this month, Hong Kong Police raided the premises of this museum commemorating the pro-democracy protesters. The counter-narrative to the official Chinese narrative is being done from abroad but the counter-narrators face security threats. Here, die-hard bhakts ask critics to ‘go to China’ then one will know what regimental rule is. Do we have museums that remind us of the stark past and history? There is one at Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial to those killed in the massacre on April 13, 1919, when citizens protested the Rowlatt Act. Colonel R E Dyer ordered his men to fire and this massacre became the turning point in India’s freedom movement. Once again, the government has changed this chilling historic perspective by revamping the memorial, claiming it has been done with much thought. The walls of the lane, that stood starkly bare for more than a 100 years, bearing dumbstruck testimony to the unspeakable horror that had unfolded on that day in April, are now embellished with murals of those who perished that fateful day. There is a daily sound and light show, like a Disney entertainment show, which many have said, is making a mockery of the inhuman massacre.
Contrast this with the National September Memorial and Museum in New York, which commemorates the September 11, 2001 attacks which killed 2,977 people and the bombing of the World Trade Center towers. ‘Never Forget’, it says.
Sadly, we are silently looking on today as our history is being rewritten and distorted. Are we scared of facing the truth?
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)
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