history unnerves reads
By Meenakshi Jain
Publication: The Weekend
Date: December 4, 1999
intellectuals are of late busy defending the Marxist contribution to history
writing in India. Frightened by a perceived threat to their hegemony following
the loss of formidable positions of intellectual power and patronage, they are
gearing up to resist the inevitable challenge to their version of history.
at ‘saffron historians’ whose views have begun to command some attention in
intellectual circles, the Leftists claim that the former will be unable to
present a history that can seriously overturn their account.
Their cockiness is baffling
since ‘saffron historians’ have no need to engage in such an endeavour at
all. A formidable pre-Marxist history already exists; it has merely to be
restored to its former glory. Marxists claim to have widened the spectrum of
historical research to include economic, social, subaltern and sundry other
perspectives, to create a more complete narrative.
anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, philosophers, and specialists on
comparative religion have put together a far richer rendition of the Indian
reality. What is more, it seriously contests the Marxist version in several key
The asymmetry between
archaeological findings and Leftist treaties on early Indian history is now too
great to be ignored by serious scholars, though it Must be admitted that
Marxists are taking a valiant last stand; they are fanning out to various
colleges with ever-greater vigour in a bid to impress susceptible audiences of
the strength of their theses.
It would be interesting to
know whether members of the Archaeological Survey are also being courted in
university campuses, which are more or less still Marxist bastions. However, it
is empirical archaeological data, not normative saffronist fancy, that has
disproved an Indo-Aryan or European invasion in the pre-or proto-historic
periods. There is simply nothing to prove that the Vedic-speaking people were
intruders in the Indus-Saraswati region. The ‘big bang’ theory of Indian
Civilization - the so-called seismic clash between Aryans and Dravidians - has
bitten dust, without RSS historians having to lift a shovel.
Philosophers and experts on
comparative religion have also cast the weight of their scholarship in favour of
an integrated Indian Civilization long before saffron intellectuals came on the
scene. S N Dasgupta’s magisterial History of Indian
Philosophy marshalled an amazing body of religious documents to
present a powerful argument for the Vedic basis of Indian Civilization. Sadly,
but perhaps predictably, this authoritative study has been edged out of the
recommended reading, at least in Delhi University.
Even writers of such
eminence as Mircea Eliade, Rene Guenon, Hanrich Zimmer,
who elevated Hinduism to a level unpalatable to Marxists, have suffered eclipse.
These scholars have written forcefully of Hinduism as the oldest of the mystery
religions of the world: A form of Philosophia Perennis, embodying those
universal truths to which no people or age can make exclusive claim. Its
doctrines, they have said, can neither change nor be perfected, only viewed and
formulated afresh, “each successive formulation always remaining completely
faithful to the traditional spirit.” It is to
Hinduism that these scholars credit Indian’s coherence, even in the
absence of outward structure and authority, again without any prompting from the
Parivar and its affiliates.
Then there is Ananda
Coomaraswamy who detected in India “a strong national genius...
since the beginning of her history.” He found Indian art and culture “a
joint creation of the Dravidian and Aryan genius.” Of Buddhism, he wrote:’
“the more profound our study, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish
Buddhism from Brahmanism, or to say in what respects, if any, Buddhism is really
unorthodox. The outstanding distinction lies in the fact that Buddhist doctrine
is propounded by an apparently historical founder. Beyond this there are only
broad distinctions of emphasis.” No right-wing historian could dare put it so
boldly in Indian today.
Unfortunately for Marxists,
sociological and anthropological works on Indian social structures are also
overwhelmingly at variance with their tomes on the subject.
In sociological accounts, the caste system, projected by Marxists as the
archetype of oppressive institutions, appears as not-so-villainous. Non-Marxist
accounts bring out the high degree of fluidity in the caste system, with upward
mobility the greatest pursuit.
It is sociological and
anthropological accounts that have fully alerted us to the irrelevance of varna
hierarchy in day-to-day life, where power was a crucial determinant and was
exercise more often than not by dominant castes belonging to the fourth varna.
At the local level at least, the varna order was turned on its head with
agricultural castes serving as benefactors and role models for all in their
and anthropologists like, M N Srinivas, C J Fuller, Jonathan Parry and Marcel
Mauss have unraveled (without help from rightist quarters) the ritually limited
role of Brahmins, their complete dependence on their lower caste patrons, and
the contempt and ridicule they generally evoked in tile countryside. In Marxist
historiography, in sharp contrast, the Brahmin has been consistently equated
Sociological accounts of the
Indian village community also contradict Marxist pontifications on the subject.
The former have laid far greater stress on ‘inter-caste complementarily,’
the sense of community that was reiterated in joint celebration of festivities,
rituals, worship, and in combined efforts to raise the crop and defend life and
property from freebooters and natural calamities. Institutions of caste come
across as vibrant and supple in sociological and anthropological writings, as
opposed to their oppressive and status quoist depiction in Leftist literature.
Here too, it may be noted, saffron writers have played a negligible role.
On Islam, too, there is
little need for a saffron academic effort. Enough work has been done by such
renowned scholars as Bernard Lewis and Patricia Crone for us to fully appreciate
the significance of the Islamic revolution in the world context. Crone has
adequately explained the centrality of conquest in ‘the Muslim scheme of
things. Mohammed’s God” she writes, endorsed a policy of conquest,
instructing his believers to fight against unbelievers wherever they might be
found. In short, Mohammed had to conquer, his followers liked to conquer, and
his doily told him to conquer; do we need any more?’
Bernard Lewis, in turn, has
dwelt at length on the “radical change” and “discontinuity” that Islam
brought wherever it went in the Middle East. The pre-Islamic states, scripts and
languages were wiped out.
There was a violent break
“in the self-image and corporate sense of identity, and the collective memory
of the Islamic Peoples in the Middle East” We should not expect that things
could have been differently intended for India.
On Indian specifically, we
have works such as those of the late Prof. Aziz Ahmad, whose Studies in Islamic
Culture in the Indian Environment provides a devastating account of the
magnitude of the rift between the two religious in the subcontinent and speaks
of the inevitability of Partition.
Prof. Ahmad’s works have
been supplemented by those of a number of American academics whose researches
have led them to similar conclusions.
In the light of such a
formidable intellectual corpus just waiting to be rehabilitated, Marxist
intellectuals should refrain from taunting saffronists to pick up the gauntlet.
Their time would be better spent scrambling for cover. The bubble is about to
(The author is a Reader at