They haven’t met each other yet, but Yellapragada Sudershan Rao and Dinanath Batra have plenty in common. For one, both have the blessing of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Rao took over as the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research two weeks ago under the Modi government. And the PM’s praise and endorsement of Batra’s Tejomay Bharat has led to the Gujarat government directing all schools in the state to make it available as supplementary reading material for children.
Two, both are united in their mission to rewrite India’s history from a ‘Bharatiya’ standpoint. In this, they share a passion for the Ramayana and Mahabharata, in which epics they seek historical fact. They tilt at “the Marxists” and their view of history, as they go about restoring ‘national pride’ in school textbooks and Indian history, by injecting into them a liberal dose of myth and spirituality.
At the Naraina Vihar headquarters of the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, the trust which Batra runs, the elevator moves up two floors to the chant of the Gayatri Mantra. At the end of it appears Batra, 86 years of age but still sprightly. Affable of manner, he could well be an eccentric granduncle in the family, one you can have a friendly squabble or share a laugh with. But Dinanath Batra is not a man to be trifled with. Not for anything has the media dubbed him the ‘book ban man’, a sobriquet he does not mind at all.
The badge was pinned on him after he sent publishers Penguin scurrying for cover with the demand that they pulp Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Next he focused attention on Megha Kumar’s Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969, serving a notice on publisher Orient Blackswan which withheld its release on the very next day, May 16—the day the Modi government came to power—on the pretext of a pre-release assessment. However, his seminal achievement, as it were, has to have been getting Delhi University to withdraw A.K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas. All these works, according to him, distorted Indian epics and poked fun at Hindu gods and Indian culture.
Batra’s book-banning penchant stems from his grand vision of a history rooted in what he perceives to be the Bharatiya culture, not the distortions that pass off as Indian history in school curricula. “You tell me,” he demands, “while pages of history books have been devoted to Mughals, there are only a few lines about Rana Sanga (the 16th-century ruler of Mewar). He had 80 wounds on his body when he died.” Batra’s acolytes cluck appropriately in sympathy.
His ‘sarathi’ in this battle for restoring pride in Bharatiya history is Narendrajit Singh Rawal, a former school principal from Bhiwani, Haryana. Their association goes back to the time when both were principals of government schools in Haryana. “Today’s curriculum,” says Rawal, “is ill-equipped to teach a child about character-building or respecting human values. It is this we wish to address in our books.”
Enter Tejomay Bharat, which till 2010 was just another book languishing in school libraries. A chance meeting with Rekha Chudasama and Ruta Parmar of Vidya Bharati (the network of schools and institutions of higher education run by the RSS) led to its being translated into Gujarati. Then chief minister Modi chanced upon it and expressed a desire to write a foreword.
Almost a month after Narendra Modi became prime minister, a June 30 directive by the Gujarat State Education Board enjoined upon more than 42,000 primary and secondary government schools across the state to make the nine-part series of Batra’s books, translated from Hindi to Gujarati, part of this year’s curriculum as “supplementary literature”. They are not mandatory, Batra clarifies, teachers will have the freedom whether or not to teach from them. But there is no doubt in people’s minds that Batra’s books will be taught following the diktat from the Gujarat government.
The man who left his roots at Dera Ghazi Khan (Pakistan) following Partition is not quite done yet. College curriculum is next on his agenda. Union HRD minister Smriti Irani’s intention to start a debate on the curriculum on the lines of the Kothari Commission’s recommendations is a godsend, he says. Set up in the ’60s, the commission had advocated promotion of Hindi and Sanskrit and a uniform policy of education, among other things. Batra is looking forward to a national debate and has already set up his own commission comprising scholars from the previous NDA regime, like former NCERT director Y.S. Rajput (accused of plagiarism, according to a media report) or JNU’s former pro-vice chancellor Kapil Kapoor. “Did you know NASA says Sanskrit is the language closest to computer programming and we don’t value our traditional strengths,” Batra thunders in incredulity.
In Batra’s ethnocentric world, Bharat and not India is the centre of spiritualism as well as science and technology. Not Pythagoras but Bodhayan had conceptualised the theorem of the square of the hypotenuse of a triangle being equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides! Seers of Bharat with their divya drishti (divine insight) knew long before anyone else how to measure the distance to the moon. Aryabhatta and Sushruta are the scientists teachers have forgotten to teach. “If students read Wendy Doniger, they will become deviants,” says Batra.
Clearly, it won’t be easy being a student anymore. Or a teacher, for that matter.
The box on Dinanath Batra (Guru Dronacharya Station: Doors to Open on the Right) makes one wonder if elections were held to usher in good governance and prosperity for people or to waste energy on ‘culture’. Cultural fascism must be considered a criminal offence. Even the term cultural revivalism would be a misnomer here, for revivalism implies the re-establishment of what originally existed, not an invented past. What right does anyone have to decide their interpretation of history alone should predominate?
The Marxist framework is not the only framework to analyse history. It is about time other ways of looking at history are allowed to re-enter our universities. The left leaning tilt of history teaching that took root in the 70s has meant that some our greatest historians like Jadunath Sarkar and RC Mazumdar are dismissed as communal - in his article in the Indian express Prof. DN Jha called Sarkar the epitome of communalism (these are not exact words). This attitude needs correction - Dinanath Batra may not be the right person for this though, given the bizarre theories he has come up with, but there will be other better equipped persons.
Also, the article says "Not Pythagoras but Bodhayan had conceptualised the theorem of the square of the hypotenuse of a triangle being equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides!" The author should have done some research - it could be true that Baudhyana actually conceptualised this theorem in the Sulba Sutras. Prof. Seidenberg who is a leading historian of mathematics had opined in an article in the Journal of Exact Sciences in 1978 that the mathematics of the Sulba Sutras predate not only Greek but also Sumerian & Babylonian mathematics and should be earlier than 1700BC atleast (Pythogaras came later in ~500BC) . And he was not saffron. This view does not agree with the Aryan Migration Theory and is not highlighted.
Analysing history can be multi-faceted and thus contentious and history-rewriting is not done by one set of people alone and always
The current education in India was developed for sustaining an European empire and colonial exploitation. Its main objective was to produce Macaulayite brown sahibs to serve the empire and nourish the superiority of the western culture and white race. Eminent freedom fighters like Nehru and Jinnah both were the perfect example product of this system and their minds and life styles were totally enamoured by contemporary western socialites, their ideas, values and sense of propriety. Both, under political exigencies had to flip-flop between a sherwani and savil row suits, but they remained blue blooded down to their bones till their last breadth. Albeit Nehru due Gandhian influence on him must be credited to more of being a worthy son of his motherland than Jinnah.
Both saw no real need for a radical change in how the education was imparted on especially in subjects related to history at the primary to high school level in their respective chosen countries. So, in India while under its respective Congress education ministers from Abul Kalam Azad to ShrMmali to Nurul hasan to Arjun Singh - longest serving for period 5-11 years - our kids continued to learn more on the hole of Calcutta and Lord Clives, Hastings and Curzons of this world, than the Mahatama and Nehru himself let alone their compatriots who gave their lives for their motherland; in Pakistan they wiped the school blackboards completely clean of anything before Mohd bin Qasim.
So, here we are .. if we tell our kids that our pre-Islamic civilisation and its achievements dwarfed that of Europe and Arabia to give them a sense of some self-respect and pride, we are accused of "saffronising" and destroying our "education system" ... whose system is this any way ... is it really Indian or still the one of Thoms Babbington Macaulay ?
Cultural fascism has also to be considered as criminal and an offense to the public weal.
Even the soothing term ´cultural revivalism´is a false coin. Revivalism points to the re-establishment of what originally existed, not reinvented. And what authority do they have to decide their reading of the history has predominance.
So much energy being pumped into these kind of aberrations that one wonders whether the elections are meant for the prosperity of the nation or the so called culture.
Batra and Y.S.Rao will not rest unil they have destroyed our educational system in order to satisfy their saffronization agenda!
CORRECTION : more than 3 milleniums ago
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