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SACW #1 | 2 Jan. 03

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire #1 | 2 January 2003 __________________________ #1. Chilling nuclear disclosure (Praful Bidwai) #2.India: Nothing At All To Lose: The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2003
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      South Asia Citizens Wire #1 | 2 January 2003

      __________________________

      #1. Chilling nuclear disclosure (Praful Bidwai)
      #2.India: Nothing At All To Lose: The Congress does not know how to
      oppose political Hindutva (Achin Vanaik)
      #3. An ode to the Indian Constitution (M.N. Buch)
      #4. India: National Textbooks for the Future? (Kumkum Roy)

      __________________________


      #1.


      The News International
      January 02, 2003

      Chilling nuclear disclosure

      Praful Bidwai

      Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's disclosure that he planned an
      "unconventional" response to a possible Indian attack across the
      border last year has sent tremors through the international
      community. His statement, and the Indian response to it, are a grim
      reminder that South Asia is still "the world's most dangerous place".

      To be fair, Gen Musharraf's statement-that Indian troops "should not
      expect a conventional war" if they "moved a single step across the
      international border or the Line of Control", and further that this
      was conveyed to "Prime Minister Vajpayee through every international
      leader who came to Pakistan" did not explicitly use the words
      "nuclear weapons".

      It is also true that Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi later "clarified" that
      "the President only meant unconventional forces, and not nuclear or
      biological weapons...They (a section of the media) took this
      unconventional form of people rising against the Indian armed forces
      as meaning nuclear weapons..."

      However, the world is likely to interpret the statement as a
      disclosure, or at least a broad hint, that Islamabad had made
      preparations to use nuclear weapons at some point during the
      10-month-long post-December 13, 2001, eyeball-to-eyeball
      confrontation, as New Delhi in all probability did; he also conveyed
      a nuclear threat, however obliquely, to India.

      This conclusion is not unwarranted. For one, historically, nuclear
      threats have been generally made not through overt, explicit
      references to nuclear weapons, but through warnings of "horrible"
      consequences, etc. For another, it is broadly understood, especially
      after the Kargil war, that both Pakistan and India would have
      contingency plans to use nuclear weapons; both have doctrines that
      permit such use (in Pakistan's case, a first strike).

      And for a third, the specific context to which Musharraf referred was
      an exceptionally dangerous situation, with a distinct potential for
      escalation from "limited" skirmishes, to large-scale war (with
      conventional weapons and methods), on to a nuclear exchange.

      Even assuming that Musharraf had in mind "non-traditional" war,
      involving far more lethal armaments than those deployed in past
      India-Pakistan wars, or the use of unconventional manoeuvres
      (encircling of Indian forces by the Kashmiri people), the immediate
      response from India's forces suggests the assumption of a more
      aggravated scenario.

      Thus, outgoing army chief Gen S Padmanabhan said: "We were absolutely
      ready to go to war. Our forces were well located but such a decision
      is ultimately a political decision." Padmanabhan dismissed the notion
      that Pakistan's nuclear capability had deterred India from going to
      war twice last year. He said: "When we assess our adversaries, we
      assess all [their] capabilities. We had evaluated it [Pakistan's
      nuclear capability] and were ready to cope with it." Padmanabhan
      hinted that an "informal" nuclear command structure has already been
      in existence. "What is invisible today will become visible tomorrow."

      The lightest interpretation that can be put on this exchange is that
      the threshold for an India-Pakistan nuclear confrontation has now
      fallen to a dangerous new low. Amidst the heightened visceral
      hostility, which the two states' rulers mutually nurture, nuclear
      weapons could be used not at the fag-end of a conventional conflict,
      when the defeat of one adversary appears imminent. They may be used
      early-without much warning.

      This week's verbal exchanges have further raised the temperature of
      India-Pakistan rivalry. There have been several such recent
      exchanges, including the hubris-driven claim by each state that it
      "won" the recent border confrontation against the other. Two months
      ago, India's defence minister George Fernandes declared "victory".
      Now, Musharraf has announced: "We have defeated our enemy without
      going into war...The enemy has withdrawn its forces..."

      In reality, both India and Pakistan lost billions of dollars in
      staging the globe's biggest military mobilisation since World War II,
      involving a million troops. Both imposed avoidable hardship and
      fatigue upon their forces by keeping them on high alert for long
      periods.

      Both sacrificed the lives of scores, if not (a few) hundreds, of
      their soldiers-in landmine blasts, shelling, and accidents. In India,
      the estimate is 300 armed personnel dead, and an unspecified number
      of civilians, along with loss of limb to several hundreds, and the
      death of countless sheep, goats and cattle. Neither gained strategic
      advantage or political-diplomatic leverage from the confrontation.

      Both India and Pakistan parody, ridicule or altogether demonise each
      other's intentions, plans and actions. Thus, The Hindu quotes
      officials to say that India believes that Musharraf was "addressing a
      domestic audience" on Monday. He "wanted to show" that it was India
      which "backed down" after mobilising its troops. "India believes
      Musharraf wanted to bring the India-Pakistan issue under the
      spotlight once again" when the international community's interest in
      it is "waning". India treats Musharraf's statement "with disdain".

      At the same time, New Delhi has termed Musharraf's statement "highly
      dangerous" and "provocative" and used it to reject any meaningful
      "forward movement" in mutual relations.

      Such casual, cavalier exchanges between the two receive tub-thumping
      reception from the expected cheerleaders: strategic "experts" and
      hawkish politicians. This sows the irrational illusion that each side
      is in some sense "prepared" to match/counter the other's "nuclear"
      challenge, that nuclear wars are winnable, that "protection" is
      possible against these mass-annihilation weapons.

      This is heady Macho mythology, the most dangerous part of the
      pathological mystique associated with nuclearism. For there are, can
      be, no victors in a nuclear war. Nuclear weapons are strategically
      irrational. They cannot protect civilian non-combatants. Rather, they
      make them especially vulnerable.

      The best "security" nuclear weapons afford is of a negative kind --
      based on fear, insecurity, balance of terror. It is at best cold
      comfort to know that retaliation is possible after the adversary's
      first attack. But nuclear retaliation is an act of senseless revenge,
      not of regaining security.

      Yet, both India and Pakistan are hurtling towards inducting nuclear
      weapons into their armed forces. Pakistan announced last April it was
      upgrading its strategic nuclear command. India is planning to
      establish this month its Strategic Forces Command (SFC) tasked with
      managing the nuclear arsenal. "The Cabinet Committee on Security is
      expected to give the formal go-ahead...A nuclear command post in the
      shape of a concrete underground structure is also being built,"
      reports The Times of India.

      For the moment, the nuclear system's different components will be
      kept separately. The radioactive cores will be with the Department of
      Atomic Energy, the detonation assembly will be in the custody of the
      Defence Research and Development Organisation, and the delivery
      vehicles with the armed forces.

      This is one more step in the direction of raising the nuclear danger
      in South Asia. Yet, given its preoccupation with the Middle East, and
      the many actions of the US government in legitimising nuclear
      weapons, the world community is unlikely to intervene in this region
      to counsel restraint and halt India and Pakistan's descent into a
      nuclear arms race.

      The pressure for such restraint will have to come from within. In
      today's vitiated climate, that is a tall order. India's government,
      the country's most rightwing and conservative since Independence, has
      decided that it will obstruct the normalisation of relations with
      Pakistan as much as possible. That's what the latest visa
      restrictions mean. Pakistan has duly reciprocated this hostility.
      Only a strong peace movement can alter this dismal situation.

      _____


      #2.

      The Telegraph
      January 02, 2003
      Op-Ed.

      NOTHING AT ALL TO LOSE
      - The Congress does not know how to oppose political Hindutva

      Achin Vanaik

      One of the more comforting assumptions that political analysts have
      had is that India's sheer size, complexity and array of diverse and
      cross-cutting social, cultural, ideological and economic demarcations
      force all national-level politics to ultimately move towards some
      kind of "moderate" centre. Even though the rise of the Bharatiya
      Janata Party and the sangh parivar pushed the centre of gravity of
      Indian politics to the right, there has always been the argument that
      if the BJP wants to be a "normalized" ruling party then it cannot at
      the same time be the party of the Hindu rassemblement. Hence the
      repeated predictions that the only way it could grow electorally and
      legitimize itself nationally would be by moderating its ideological
      proclivities.

      However, its first major spurt took place between 1984 (two Lok Sabha
      seats) and 1989 (89 seats) mainly because of its Ramjanmabhoomi
      campaign. Its next major spurt took place after its calculated
      demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 when in subsequent
      elections in 1996, '98 and '99, its tally hovered between 161 and 182
      seats. This new electoral plateau had then suggested to many that the
      same principle of moderation stood as the guarantor preventing
      further acceleration of the Hindutva project.

      The Gujarat results have put paid to this belief. It is by shifting
      even further to the right that the sangh now expects to make further
      electoral inroads. For if the failures of governance (the
      anti-incumbency factor) were the main reason earlier for pendular
      shifts between ruling and opposition parties in the states, thus
      holding out the promise of a Congress-centred ruling coalition at the
      national level in the next Lok Sabha elections, such a view must now
      be reassessed.

      The gains from Gujarat for a hard and ruthless Hindutva project are
      very significant. The first lesson is that the failure of governance
      is not enough to topple a party if it also has a powerful mobilizing
      strategy and capacity. After all, a wearied electorate has enough
      experience of all parties performing miserably when it comes to
      governance. Second, a state-organized pogrom against Muslims does not
      horrify very substantial sections of society, not just in Gujarat.
      There is a new and widespread "common sense" about needing to "react"
      against "threatening" Indian Muslims supposedly linked by religion to
      both Pakistani treachery and "Islamic terrorism". Third, patient
      grassroots work in civil society amongst tribals and Dalits through
      the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other
      front organizations can pay rich dividends even if these activities
      cannot overcome material problems and deprivations faced by these
      communities. Fourth, allied parties in the National Democratic
      Alliance have neither serious political scruples nor any national
      vision and are most concerned simply to continue enjoying the feeble
      fruits of a minority share in power at the Centre. Fifth, the
      Congress opposition does not know how to oppose political Hindutva.

      This last factor is perhaps the most disturbing. For the sangh to
      carry out fully its Hindutva agenda (the establishment of an
      anti-democratic reg- ime, and an authoritarian civil society) it must
      achieve an electoral majority or close enough to it so that it can
      rule on its own. Even better would be achieving the two-thirds
      majority that would enable it to permanently change the Indian
      Constitution and institutionalize irrevocably a Hindu rashtra.
      Standing in the way of this electoral route to decisive political
      authority is the Congress. The Congress must suffer a virtual
      electoral demise if political Hindutva is to fully triumph.

      The Congress must fight this opponent at two different levels - the
      electoral and the ideological-political. For over 15 years, whatever
      the fluctuations in the electoral graph of the BJP at the Centre or
      in the states, the curve of the sangh's ideological-political advance
      has moved steadily, even if sometimes only slowly, upwards. This is
      because there is no other force capable of matching the range and
      depth of their activities - from the cultural-ideological to the
      welfarist-recreational - in the pores of Indian civil society.

      In contrast, the Congress has for a long time been little more than a
      ramshackle electoral machine periodically geared up, whose own
      activists are, in so many cases and at so many levels, attracted to
      various themes of Hindutva ideology as well as tempted to change
      sides since the sangh bears the aura of being nationally the possible
      "wave of the future" or at least the next party of governance in the
      states where the Congress today rules. The Congress has no inspiring
      vision of its own, no systematic programme that reflects strong
      social commitments to the lower castes and classes, and therefore no
      assured constituency of supporters, ideological, political or
      electoral.

      In the longer term, the sangh has to be confronted and defeated in
      civil society. If the Congress cannot develop comparable grassroots
      organizations and activities, can it at least think of various local
      and regional, if not national-level, campaigns on particular issues
      that can provide inspiration and appeal to many sections of Indian
      society as well as enthuse its own party-workers and supporters?

      Can the Congress become, at least in part, a campaigning force of
      some creativity not only adopting the negative posture of opposing
      Hindutva, which it must (soft Hindutva is finished, which is not to
      say the Congress might not still pursue this approach), but also of
      pursuing the positive posture of standing for something worthwhile
      and relevant to the lives and feelings of the people it wishes to
      attract? In short, how does it make itself politically distinctive
      and meaningful and how does it convince people of its sincerity and
      commitment in this regard? If today's Congress is not even capable of
      doing this much, then is there anything else it can do?

      Manmohanomics makes it neither distinctive from the BJP nor
      meaningful to society outside the mislabelled Indian "middle class",
      that 10-15 per cent of the Indian elite which is in fact the
      strongest social base today for Hindutva. At the last general
      elections of 1999, 46 per cent of Hindu upper castes voted for the
      BJP compared to 21 percent for the Congress. Not only is the BJP no
      longer a Brahmin-Bania party (having made inroads into other backward
      classes as well as tribals) but it is also now the most favoured
      party of the Hindu upper castes and classes.

      In the short term, there are two things the Congress can and should
      do besides abandoning permanently the temptation to pursue soft
      Hindutva. It must make pre-poll alliances with other political
      parties so as to forge stable coalitions that are seen as being
      stable, and by doing so send home the message that there is also a
      broad unity of forces strongly opposed to what Hindutva stands for.
      It can no longer afford to remain aloof or simply expect others to
      woo it. Second, given its programmatic or organizational limitations
      it must look for a "low fuss-high impact" initiative that has the
      potential to alter its image and to attract those sections of Indian
      society whose own resurgence offer the best chances of countering the
      sangh.

      In effect, can it find a way, for example, to give its own ranks and
      support-base a Dalit composition? No mainstream party in India has
      had the courage to adopt a policy of reservations at all internal
      organizational leadership levels for Dalits, tribals and women in
      proportion to their membership within the party. As the membership of
      such groups grows, so does their leadership presence. Such a policy
      can galvanize the Congress as never before. It has everything to gain
      and what, given its current plight, does it have to lose?

      _____



      #3.

      The Hindustan Times
      Wednesday, January 1, 2003

      An ode to the Indian Constitution
      M.N. Buch

      The VHP has been trumpeting the Hindu Rashtra theme after the
      Gujarat elections. Around 82 per cent of the population professes the
      Hindu faith. With such a vast majority being Hindu, why should the
      VHP suffer from such a deep-rooted inferiority complex that it
      insists on a formal declaration of India as a Hindu Rashtra?

      The average Hindu has no doubts about his Hindu status or faith, nor
      does he want that there should be a formal declaration of the nation
      as a Hindu nation. Unless, there are other ulterior motives, as is
      clearly the case with the VHP.

      The first motive could be to change the Constitution, to remove the
      word 'secular' from the Preamble, to dilute Article 14 which mandates
      equality for all and to eliminate Article 25 which gives freedom of
      worship as a fundamental right to all Indians. In other words -
      declare India as a theocratic State.

      Our neighbour, Sri Lanka, in its Constitution (Chapter II, Article
      9), accords a special place to Buddhism. The article reads, "The
      Republic of Sri Lanka will give to Buddhism the foremost place and
      accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster
      the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted
      by Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e)."

      The Sinhala speaking people are largely Buddhists. Article 18 of the
      Constitution made Sinhala the official language. Hence, the balance
      of employment in government services tilted in favour of the
      Sinhalese to the disadvantage of the Tamils. An official religion and
      language which excluded Tamil is one of the main reasons why an
      extreme form of violent separatist movement was launched by the
      Jaffna Tamils under the banner of LTTE.

      Sri Lanka's status as a near-theocratic State has not led to national
      development. It has instead triggered a civil war.

      We have the example of Pakistan whose Constitution declares it as an
      Islamic republic, mandates Islam as the official religion and directs
      that only a Muslim may hold the high offices of State such as
      president, prime minister, etc. The truth is that the binding force
      of Islam has not brought about unity between the western and eastern
      wings of Pakistan as originally constituted in 1947, nor has it led
      to peace between the Shias and Sunnis, the original inhabitants of
      the four constituent units of present day Pakistan and the Mohajirs
      (refugees from India), and between the four provinces themselves.

      Islam has not resolved the internal conflicts in Pakistan. It has not
      brought democracy. It has instead made the civil society subservient
      to military control. Despite Islam, Pakistan sponsors terrorism,
      especially against India. Theocratic Pakistan, when compared with
      secular Turkey, is certainly not a happy country to live in.

      In every true democracy, there is complete separation between the
      church and the State. In all temporal matters, temporal and secular
      laws govern the State. Religion has no role in governance. Every
      great democracy tends to be multicultural and multiethnic and this
      was true of Anglo-Saxon Britain before the Asian influx. Britain
      consisted of the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the Picts, the Irish, the
      Welsh and the remnants of the original Britons. Even this society was
      multiethnic and multicultural, a democracy. The Anglo-Saxons or the
      Normans no longer dominated once the power of the king was broken and
      parliamentary democracy was introduced.

      The strongest point in favour of democracy is that everyone is equal
      in the eyes of law and justice is done on the basis of merit rather
      than on religion, caste or status. Because Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence
      is based on such equality it has given the world a system of justice
      and adjudication which is the model for most countries, other than
      dictatorships.

      Even the Indian system of justice is based on Anglo-Saxon law, as
      modified for Indian conditions. And it is this system of justice
      which permits people like Praveen Togadia to make highly provocative
      and obnoxious statements.

      Another motive of touting a Hindu Rashtra could be to rid India of
      anyone who is not a practising Hindu or owes allegiance to another
      faith. If they fail to push out such people or to physically
      liquidate them, then in a Hindu Rashtra they would have second class
      citizenship and be denied of rights of a free citizen. This,
      incidentally, is the fate of non-Muslims in Pakistan.

      An extreme example of such brute discrimination was Nazi Germany in
      which the Jews didn't have the right to live and the people of
      Eastern Europe, the Slavs, who were called Untermenschen
      (sub-humans), were fit only to be slaves. Can a democratic India
      afford to call its non-Hindu citizens Untermenschen? Or create
      concentration camps for Muslims, Christians and 'liberals'? Or murder
      millions inside gas chambers?

      A third motive could be to play the communal card to win elections.
      Nothing could be more myopic than this. Winning votes in the name of
      religion demands that the electorate should consist of fanatics who
      are prepared to put religion above such issues public order, access
      to a development and employment, better education and health services
      and a bright future. The Constitution of India mandates the welfare
      of the people as the primary duty of the government and a party
      seeking power must convince the people that their welfare will be
      promoted.

      The appeal made by the VHP is an open invitation to bigotry.
      Ghettoisation, mental or physical, is fatal to the well-being of the
      nation and everything that Ashok Singhal, Togadia and their ilk say
      only promotes such ghettoisation. This is a dangerous trend because
      the ultimate in ghettos was the Warsaw Ghetto in which the Jews were
      herded by the Nazis and then exterminated. Perhaps the likes of
      Togadia have yet not reached the depths of degradation of Hitler, but
      the intention seems to be common.

      A sane, democratic India cannot afford the insanity of a Togadia or
      Singhal. LK Advani has categorically stated in Parliament that India
      cannot be a Hindu Rashtra and its secular nature will prevail.
      Indeed, the VHP is the greatest enemy of Hinduism.

      ______



      #4.

      Economic and Political Weekly
      December 21, 2002
      Commentary

      National Textbooks for the Future?

      We have been told how the sentiments of self-proclaimed
      religious leaders have been taken into consideration in rewriting
      school history textbooks. What is obvious is that the first casualty
      of this rewriting has been truth. Presumably these so-called
      religious leaders do not include the quest for truth in their
      agenda. Neither does the National Council of Educational Research and
      Training. The case of the Class XI book on ancient India authored by
      Makkhan Lal.

      Kumkum Roy

      We have been reviewing textbooks that have been published by the
      National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for the
      past few months, and it is quite likely that we have reached a
      saturation point as far as interest in the issue is concerned. Yet,
      given the gravity of the situation, it is perhaps necessary to
      continue with the exercise, in order to draw attention to the serious
      problems that will arise if these books are recommended and used in
      schools. It is in this context that we need to scrutinise the Class
      XI book on ancient India authored by Makkhan Lal.

      We need to remember that these are books that will be used by
      students who consciously opt to study History at the Senior Secondary
      School level, some of whom will perhaps go on to study History in
      college and subsequently as well. It is these young men and women who
      will become History teachers in the next generation. Also, given past
      experience, one knows that NCERT books have often been used by
      students preparing for various competitive examinations. As such,
      what goes into them has widespread implications that cannot be
      overlooked.

      Some statements in the book are confusing, to say the least. I will
      cite just two instances. One, from page 11, informs us: "they [the
      British] were worried of the fact that British civilians were getting
      brahmanised and developing inferiority complex" (p 11). Elsewhere (p
      32) we learn that "India is a country with vast variety of rich
      vegetation and congenial regular weather chain. It is most suited for
      human habitat. Conditions for population saturation resulting in mass
      human migrations are more probable here than in any other part of the
      world like central Asia or Europe." It is perhaps our loss that we
      are unable to make sense of such ideas.

      Perhaps more worrisome are the inaccurate statements that have
      slipped into the book at a number of points. Once again, a handful of
      glaring examples must suffice. We learn on page 86 that "RigVedic
      society comprised four varnas, namely, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya
      and Sudra." As I have pointed out elsewhere ('Where Do We Go From
      Here?' in Saffronised and Substandard: A Critique of the New NCERT
      Textbooks, SAHMAT, New Delhi, 2002, pp 25-38), there is only one
      reference to the fourfold varna order in the Rig Veda, in one verse
      out of more than 10,000, and to use this to suggest that society
      represented in the text was stratified along varna lines is simply
      inaccurate. It is not justified by any logic of historical
      reconstruction, but then perhaps we are naïve to expect such logic to
      operate. What we are up against is the logic of attributing as much
      antiquity and sanctity as possible to any institution that is
      regarded as valuable from a narrow, majoritarian, homogenising
      perspective. So the varna order has to be classified as early Vedic,
      even if the evidence cannot sustain such a claim.

      The second statement, on the same page, flows from similar concerns.
      "The Vedas prescribe a penalty of death or expulsion from the kingdom
      to those who kill or injure cows." Once again, this is inaccurate,
      simply because the Vedas consist of mantras or prayers to the
      gods/goddesses. They are not normative texts, and do not prescribe
      punishments. But then, in the introduction to one of the most popular
      works on Vedic mathematics, we are told:

      It is the whole essence of his [Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Puri who
      "discovered" Vedic mathematics] assessment of Vedic tradition that it
      is not to be approached from a factual standpoint but from the ideal
      standpoint, viz, as the Vedas, as traditionally accepted in India as
      the repository of all knowledge, should be and not what they are in
      human possession. That approach entirely turns the tables on all
      critics, for the authorship of Vedic mathematics then need not be
      laboriously searched in the texts preserved from antiquity. [italics
      in the original, General Editor's Note, p vi, to Vedic Mathematics by
      Jagadguru Swami Sri Bharati Krsna Tirthaji Maharaja Sankaracarya of
      Govardhana Matha Puri, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi].

      We also learn (pp xxix-xxx):

      Revered Guruji used to say that he had reconstructed the sixteen
      mathematical formulae (given in this text) from the Atharvaveda after
      assiduous research and 'Tapas' for about eight years in the forests
      surrounding Sringeri. Obviously these formulae are not to be found in
      the present recensions of Atharvaveda; they were actually
      reconstructed, on the basis of intuitive revelation, from materials
      scattered here and there in the Atharvaveda. ŠIn 1957, when he had
      decided finally to undertake a tour of the USA he re-wrote from
      memory the present volume, giving an introductory account of the
      sixteen formulae reconstructed by him.

      As such, we should not be surprised that the term Veda can be used to
      mean just about anything. Such attempts to redefine 'Vedic' could
      have been dismissed as harmless eccentricities in most situations.
      But, as we have seen in Jhajjar, people can lose their lives if they
      are thought to have been guilty of killing cows, and it is in that
      context that we need to ensure that such statements do not go
      unchallenged.

      It is perhaps worth recalling what H D Sankalia, recognised for long
      as the father of Indian archaeology, said with respect to the cow:

      The ban on cow slaughter is indeed of comparatively recent growth,
      mostly as a reaction against Islam rather than genuine, real love and
      reverence for the cow. ...From some 3000BC to C700 BC, man in India,
      as elsewhere in the world, continued to prefer beef to all other
      forms of animal diet...What the cow/ox in India needs today is good
      treatment - wholesome food, and fodder and water, and freedom from
      exploitation by the Hindus at all levels. Their reverence for the cow
      is always superficial. This was noticed and recorded by the authors
      of the Bhagavata Purana and the Ramayana centuries ago and regarded
      as one of the symptoms of the Kali Yuga! The Kali Yuga has increased
      in its intensity and so also the exploitation of the cow. It is
      against this exploitation that we must all strive, not for a blanket
      prohibition of go-vadha. ('The Cow in History', Seminar, 1968.)

      What is alarming is the scant regard for truth that has accompanied
      the rewriting of history in the name of updating antiquated
      scholarship.

      Another instance of tampering with evidence occurs on page 90. Here
      we learn that "Indra is known as Purandara, 'Lord of Cities'". This
      is a shocking travesty of Vedic Sanskrit. It is true that there are
      several references to Indra, one of the most important gods of the
      Vedic pantheon, as Purandara in the Rig Veda. But the term purandara
      means destroyer of pura, and not lord of cities. Pura itself might
      mean a settlement, perhaps fortified, and not necessarily a city. The
      only way in which one can arrive at the sense of lord of cities is by
      replacing d by dh, and creating a term purandhara that does not occur
      in the Rig Vedic mantras. But clearly, the devotees of Indra will
      stop at nothing to achieve their ends. And why must Indra become the
      lord of cities? Well, the Harappan civilisation is by any standards
      urban, and if it has to be claimed as Vedic, then Indra, as one of
      the chief gods of the Vedic pantheon, and as a warlike, valorous hero
      figure, has to be urbanised. What better than a simple sleight of
      tongue, replacing one consonant by another? So, while on the one hand
      lip-service continues to be paid to the sanctity of the Vedas, on the
      other hand, Vedic mantras and words can be transformed to suit
      present-day agendas.

      Consider certain other problems with the book. Let us look at the
      definition of the Dharmasutras (p18).

      The Dharmasutras and the Smritis are rules and regulations for the
      general public and the rulers. It can be termed in the modern concept
      as the constitution and the law books for the ancient Indian polity
      and society.

      Such parallels between modern and ancient institutions and practices
      were frequently drawn by nationalist historians in the early
      twentieth century, when there was a preoccupation with trying to find
      parallels for modern institutions in the past. However, in the
      twentyfirst century, and after more than 50 years of independence, we
      should be able to move beyond such strategies, which were
      not necessarily accurate, and acknowledge historical change instead
      of constructing a picture of a changeless past by all means, fair
      and foul. Notice also that equating the Constitution with the
      Dharmasutras obscures and denies the very different histories that
      have gone into the production of these documents. The Constitution
      emerged through a process of intense discussion and debate, which is
      part of our democratic heritage. The Dharmasutras and Smritis, on the
      other hand, are primarily brahmanical documents and need to be
      understood as such.

      A related problem is the way in which this perspective leads to
      constructing a picture of uniformity, one that runs counter to the
      rich diversity of developments in ancient India that have been
      documented over the last few decades. We read, for instance, on page
      35

      Although there always had been many states in India but their social
      and cultural setup had been broadly the same throughout. Sanskrit was
      the most respected language besides the local languages. States were
      administered and governed on the basis of law-books called
      Dharmasastras. Places of worship and pilgrimage are distributed
      throughout the country. These cultural bonds gave the Indians a sense
      of unity and nationality.

      It is worth examining the implications of this statement, which in
      fact constitutes one of the running themes of the book. The only
      diversity that is acknowledged is that of different political powers.
      Social change is brushed aside and the fact that we have histories of
      the spread, modification and change in the varna/jati system would be
      impossible to accommodate within this framework. Linguistic diversity
      is likewise suppressed. Students would not be allowed to examine the
      implications of the fact that the earliest inscriptions (including
      those of the Mauryan ruler Asoka) are primarily in Prakrit, and not
      in Sanskrit and that the Dharmasastras may have had little or no
      significance for the Mauryan administration (and those of many other
      polities) for instance. The fact that the institution of pilgrimage
      has a history of its own would not be focused on and the fact that
      nationality is a modern notion would be lost on students who would be
      taught that it existed from time immemorial. And what about
      pedagogical strategies? Sadly, the book abounds in statements that
      are simple assertions, designed to encourage rote learning. Read the
      following paragraph, (p 84) which is inserted to suggest that the
      Vedas are of great antiquity:

      Bal Gangadhar Tilak, on astronomical grounds, dated Rig Veda to 6000
      BC. According to Harmon Jacobi Vedic civilisation flourished between
      4500 BC and 2500 BC and some of the Samhitas were composed in the
      latter half of the period. Famous Sanskritist, Winternitz felt that
      the Rig Veda was probably composed in the third millennium BC. R K
      Mookerjee opined that "on a modest computation, we should come to
      2500 BC as the time of Rig Veda". G C Pande also favours a date of
      3000 BC or even earlier.

      What, if anything, does this tell us about the logic of dating texts?
      The student will have half a dozen names to remember but little
      insight into a serious historical problem. To add to the confusion,
      we have a sentence on page 92 that states "there are other scholars
      who consider Vedic culture as different from that of the Harappan
      civilisation." If we look for any understanding of why they suggest
      this, we will be disappointed.

      Finally, it may be worth considering what happens with four issues
      that have been marginalised from standard histories. One would have
      expected that in a new history written in the twentyfirst century,
      these issues would have found some space. But that is not to be. The
      first issue that we can consider is the treatment of regions, and I
      will simply focus on the treatment of Tamilakam, the ancient Tamil
      region. On page 153 we find a map of south India, where
      Gangaikondacholapuram and Tanjavur are listed as sites of the Sangam
      Age. Obviously, chronology has been sacrificed. There is a
      discrepancy of several centuries between the Sangam Age and the
      period of the later Chola rulers when these settlements emerged as
      important urban centres, but then, perhaps from the perspective of
      the author, notions of time are generally irrelevant for regional
      history. It is also worth looking at the treatment of the tradition
      of Bhakti in the text. The Alvars are referred to as Vaisnava saints
      on page 193, they become Vaisnava devotees on page 199 and finally on
      page 229 we learn that "The Bhakti movement led by Nayanars (Saiva
      saint) and Alvars (Vaisnava saint) spread all over the country. These
      saints went from place to place carrying their message of love and
      devotion." Which of these three statements is the student to accept?
      Clearly, time, space and factual accuracy are trivial matters when
      reconstructing regional histories. And this is the case of a region
      whose history has been amongst the best researched in the last few
      decades.

      It may also be useful to see what happens with issues of gender.
      Women pop in and out of the pages of the book occasionally, in
      connection with inheritance, where we are told that they could
      inherit in the absence of "male issues" (p 96) or if they were the
      only child of their parents (p 86), a situation that is portrayed as
      being virtually constant (p 160, p 226). None of the concerns with
      engendering history that have been raised in the last three decades
      find space in the book. If we expect to find discussions about women
      in connection with other matters, including their roles in
      production, or in alternative religious traditions such as Buddhism
      and Jainism, we will be disappointed.

      Perhaps more intriguing is the treatment of the concept of 'tribe'.
      Clearly, this has become a dirty word, to be scrupulously eschewed.
      This may have to do with the fact that 'tainted' scholars such as R S
      Sharma had suggested "that the social formation represented in Vedic
      literature could best be understood in terms of the category of a
      tribal society in transition. In the present book, the only reference
      to tribe occurs in the context of the Kusanas (p 145) who are
      connected with central Asian tribes. There is also an illustration of
      tribal coins on page 142, but beyond that the student would be left
      in the dark about the possibility of tribal societies existing in the
      past. In other words, tribal populations will now be denied a past
      and will perhaps figure as a figment of the imagination of Christian
      missionaries, if at all.

      It is also worth examining what happens to the question of
      untouchability. This almost surfaces twice in the book: once, on page
      97, in the context of the later Vedic period, when we learn that "The
      most glaring evil of the jati system, namely, the concept of
      untouchability had not yet reared its ugly head". Then we suddenly
      stumble on some remarkable information on page 225. "The
      transformation of a specific profession into jati and the increasing
      phenomenon of hypergamous unions between different jati led to the
      rise of mixed jati. Jatis were also formed on the basis of religious
      sects such as lingayats, virasaivas, svetambaras, and digambaras,
      etc. The lowest were the antyajatis of whom Chandalas are the
      most important representatives." Does this tell us anything at all
      about the oppressions associated with caste, and how these
      affected the lives of vast sections of people? And do our children
      have a right to know and understand these issues?

      One is left wondering whether women, dalits, tribals are part of the
      nation or not, or whether the nation is envisaged as an upper caste,
      brahmanical construct, centred on the Ganga valley. Surely, the
      National Council of Educational Research and Training has some
      responsibilities to discharge towards the vast majority in the
      country. We have been hearing about how the sentiments of
      self-proclaimed religious leaders have been taken into consideration
      in rewriting History. What is obvious is that the first casualty of
      this rewriting has been truth. Presumably, these so-called religious
      leaders do not include the quest for truth in their agenda. Neither
      does the NCERT.

      It is in this context that it is absolutely essential that many more
      of us engage in what has been called the battle of the books. We need
      to intervene in as many ways as possible, as parents, teachers,
      concerned citizens of the country, to ensure that future generations
      of school-going children learn histories that move beyond a
      preoccupation with dynastic vicissitudes, and can be equipped to
      understand and intervene in an increasingly complicated social
      scenario.


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