India offers its citizens a comfortable illusion of freedom and democracy based on equality and liberty. But a closer inspection of this face value reveals many ugly truths. Homegrown presents a series of articles, ‘Muffled,’ by Devang Pathak wherein we attempt to highlight a 68-year-old culture of repression, censorship and injustices meted out to the basic rights of Freedom Of Speech and Expression in this country. After Muffled: 17 Recent Instances Of Censorship In India Show Exactly How The Political Agenda Has Shifted,’ in this second piece, he satirically observes the mindset of Indian governments and how they appear to be subtly or unsubtly manipulating the very concept of ‘Indian Culture’ to suit their own agendas.
There was a brief period of hope in this country as far as enlightenment goes. This was the period when Internet penetration grew exponentially. When the phrase “Let’s Google it” spread like wildfire not just for school and college assignments, but as a means of logical investigation and query to find out what we did not know. Sadly, that didn’t last long.
Now however, we live in a time where goldfish are more attentive than us. The modern human being with scores of chat apps, social media and other digital distractions can’t give his attention to any subject for more than 8 seconds. This serves as a perfect cocktail to fool people. There is already scientific proof that we human beings see the truth our brains want us to see, not the actual events which lie before us. Add to that the increasing reluctance to ask questions, seek answers, and general gullibility--the stage is set for rampant manipulation.
Now what if we tell you that these circumstances are being used opportunistically in India? Don’t believe me? Let me present to you a plausible scenario of how one can accomplish the engineering of an entire culture.
Stage 1: Selectively discard widely held beliefs, conventions and even facts.
The gullibility of our Indian population is frightening. The need for education in this country did not arise from simple economic ambitions but to vanquish the perils of ignorance and superstition. The scores of news stories which rely on sensationalism keep using our gullibility with idols which drink milk, UFOs, ludicrous astrologers on prime time television etc. It’s during these troubled times that our leaders come to save us from our gullibility-by banning and censoring.
India has a long-standing tradition of banning books we don’t agree with. We have banned books on our leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Shivaji, Morarji Desai, Dhirubhai Ambani, and imposed silencing on journalists when their stories didn’t suit politicians’ interests, but our most favourite excuse for bans is “hurtful to religious sentiments and feelings”.
Satanic Verses, Rama Retold, Early Islam are few of the books which are expressly banned in India while several have been withdrawn by publishers fearing vandalism and book burning. Interestingly, Mein Kampf, which is banned in some countries, enjoys a high readership in India.
The latest books are Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ and Madhurubagan. Doniger’s book has been removed by its publisher in India after a movement led by Mr Dinanath Batra, who said that it was hurtful to the sentiments of Hindus. What role does Mr Bharati have in this discussion? Fear not, I will return to it later in the article. As far as Madhurabagan (One Part Woman) story goes, the aftermath of the protests has not just brought about an end to the distribution of the book, but also killed the writer’s spirits.
But what if we didn’t simply stop at bookshops? What if you go after the place where books are in fact not only in abundance, but at the watershed of shaping beliefs in the country, and change their content? The place where the very future of this country is shaped - our schools?
We have heard numerous concerned reports in the past 8 months about the changes being proposed in our education system. But the truth is that this is not the first attempt to change the Indian education system in an unceremonious and politically motivated manner. There have been attempts at changing education, especially the history taught in schools since 1977 when the Janata Party first came to power. The Hindu right wing alleges that the books offer a ‘Western and Marxist’ view of history which is ‘anti-Hindu’. They tried to ban certain textbooks written by eminent historians but had to withdraw their campaign after widespread protests.
But the first true glimpse of their decisive intentions came in 2001 when the NDA government was in power. A CBSE circular in October 2001 instructed the deletion of certain portions from prescribed textbooks which were in the syllabus for almost 20 years. These portions of text were concerned with consumption of beef in ancient India, an objective look at the lack of evidence to support the historical authenticity of Ramayana and Mahabharata, portions about Jainism and several texts about Mughal rule.
There was widespread backlash from eminent historians such as Romila Thapar, editors and the media. A collection of protest letters and articles titled ‘Communalisation of Education’ was created by the Delhi Historians Group. The articles and letters throw a light on the dangers of history revisionism and the political agendas which guided these policy decisions. The document needs to be studied today because efforts for revisionism and interference still exist.A disturbing example is the education imparted in RSS-funded schools, cited in the document, where Gandhi was deemed ‘Dushtatma’ and Ashoka’s adoption of Ahimsa is deemed ‘cowardice’. Additionally, this article we did at Homegrown examined some of the most terrifying excerpts from Indian textbooks in recent times--the perfect case study to illustrate this example.
The constant attacks on popular figures- from Gandhi to Tipu Sultan and sometimes even unlikely targets like Mother Teresa, the right wing seems to raise rhetoric which is high on emotion but low or non-existent in facts. But the rabble-rousing tactics offer limited success.
The use of policy force then, is imminent. There is only so much book burning and bans can achieve. After all, even the Nazis were famous for burning books. The only foreseeable next step has to be influencing policy matters in the long term.
Stage 2: Influence The Gatekeepers of Information
The critics of our present government are often attacked viciously. They are deemed anti-national and unpatriotic for raising important cultural and moral questions and not conforming to the ‘Development’ rhetoric of the present government. But the reason to keep asking questions still persists.
Parvin Sinclair, the Director of NCERT was forced to resign two years before her term due to her refusal to change the National Curriculum Framework as per the wishes of the present HRD Minister Smriti Irani. The Sangh Parivar has long clamoured for an educational overhaul which is in line with their ideology. The government has made many questionable moves in this respect- they have appointed RSS functionaries or sympathisers to high level posts even if they lack the requisite academic competence, nominated BJP members / associates to head institutions ..or even creating an environment where the appointees of previous governments are forced to toe the line with the present government.
Y Sundershan Rao is a critic of the Western and Marxist Scholars, a defender of the caste system and is adamant about proving the historicity of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. He was appointed the Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, with a reconstitution of the entire ICHR team with members who are associated with RSS or its outfits. Mr. Girish Chandra Tripathi appointment as the Banaras Hindu University Vice-Chancellor, Chandrakala Padia’s nomination for IIAS-Shimla and Kavita Sharma’s nomination for Vice Chancellor of South Asian University have also raised grave concerns among academicians.
Mr Ved Prakash, UGC Chairman, along with Delhi University Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh were in attendance at RSS Chief Mohan Bhagawat’s lunch on October 12 in Delhi. Both of them were appointed under the UPA Government but seem to have anxiously agreed to terms of the present government to continue in their posts. Mr. Singh has even given a platform to certain RSS functionaries on the campus. The National Book Trust was formed in 1957 with the aim of providing good literature at affordable prices in all Indian languages. The NBT publishes books, organises fairs, exhibitions, seminars and workshops as well as provide assistance to authors and publishers. Thus, the NBT is essential for promoting reading in the Indian society. The Chairman of NBT, Mr A Sethumadhavan resigned a few days back,6 months before the end of his tenure, citing “hints” from the present government that they wanted him gone and wanted to bring in someone “close” to them in his position. Mr Baldev Sharma, the former editor of RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya has been appointed as the Chairman of NBT.
But why just talk about the education institutions? The truth is that movie lovers in India outweigh our literacy rate. They are unintentional symbols of our culture. Thus, they too deserve a close government watch.
The Central Board for Film Certification in India has long been deemed an archaic institution. Every nation requires a regulatory body, which prescribes the ratings for movies based on their suitability for the audience but the CBFC would often engage in censorship and banning of movies whose content hardly warrants it. The latest controversy emerged around MSG - Messenger Of God.
Leela Samson resigned as the CBFC chairman along with nine other members, citing government interference after the movie MSG was cleared by an appellate tribunal. The Censor Board had refused to give the film a clearance, saying that the film was an advertising commercial for the self-proclaimed God Man, which promoted blind faith and superstition.
Irrespective of the legitimacy of the former member’s concerns about the movie, the new government had a chance to overhaul the membership and functioning of the CBFC to allow for progressive reform for creative expression in India. Instead, the CBFC has been used to recruit people closely associated to the ruling party or RSS and is considering further regressive measures for film expression in India.
Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani, a Hindi film producer who made the Har Ghar Modi video before the elections, was made the chairman of the CBFC alongwith nine other members. BJP members appointed to the board include actress Jeevitha, Bengali and Assamese actor George Baker, actor S.Ve Shekhar, actress Vani Tripathi Tikoo and Ramesh Patange, who is a Dalit writer with close ties to the RSS.
The entire BJP campaign was built on the fact that they were different from Congress and would never make the same mistakes as the previous government. When the government was questioned as to why only the members who were close to the ruling party were appointed instead of deserving cinema experts, the excuse stated was that all previous governments had appointed members from their party or who were close to their ideology. The Censor Chief made the first true reflection of his intentions clear when he issued a notice to the regional offices with a list of banned words and representations in movies. The government was quick to correct the situation but we hardly suspect that this would be the last controversy from the office.
The “I copied in the test because even he did” style of excuse has failed to work on teachers from my school and fails to fool the Indian public as well. The agendas which the leaders of the institutions serve may very well be fulfilled one day. The only real victim in this struggle would be creative and honest freedom of expression.
Stage 3: Offer a Fresh Perspective on the Past, Including Factual Events
So now you’ve done it--you have proved the fallacy of the old idols and conventions. But that is simply not enough. The public will still clamour for new knowledge or a new lens to make sense of the world around them and this is where the final step comes - revision.
In August 2014, the Gujarat School Textbook Board approved nine of Mr Dinanath Batra’s textbooks for children. The same man you met earlier in the article regarding the protests against Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism, is the founder of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. He is an ardent critic of the Western and Marxist version of history taught in our schools and to counter this “malaise”, he has written his own books.
The content of his books include proof that the first airplane was made in India as referenced by Lord Ram’s Pushpakviman from Ramayana, stem-cell research was first used in the Mahabharata, many western inventions and discoveries were actually done by Indian ascetics thousands of years ago and that the map of ‘Bharat’ needs to be redrawn to include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Tibet, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. Revisionism is also not apparent in just education in classrooms but also the views propagated through endorsement, support or even exaltation, as in the case of Nathuram Godse. The Sangh has long maintained a strong campaign of support for the killer of Mahatama Gandhi with a focus on moral justification for his actions. Their plans have now broadened into creation of symbols of Godse and his ‘bravery’ throughout the country.
Here’s an example of their cohesive and organised use of their large support base and following.
On October 5th, a packed symposium was organised in the auditorium of the National Museum in Delhi. The symposium was organised by Akhil Bhartiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, a historical research organisation, which is affiliated with the RSS to commemorate Hemu, the Hindu ruler of India in 1556. He was on the throne for 29 days before being defeated in the Second Battle of Panipat.
There are claims made that he was a just Hindu ruler who had put out a declaration banning cow slaughter, took steps to control corruption and also made the kingdom more business-friendly. There is a documentary shown about Hemu which contains most scenes from the Hindi film, Jodha Akbar. None of the claims made in the symposium about Hemu can be verified by medieval-era historians.
Mr Subramaniam Swamy delivers a speech praising the fact that it was the effort of people like Hemu that failed Muslims and Christians from converting “8o percent of Hindus. That is why ISIS wants to come back to India. To finish the unfinished task.” On the history books in school, Swamy states to deafening applause that “Books written by Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and other historians of Nehru must be burnt in a bonfire.”
Next, it was the turn of science.
The Indian Science Congress was organised in January 2015 with young science students and scientists in attendance. A session by the name of ancient sciences through Sanskrit stated that ancient Indians had already mastered aero-engineering by building 200 foot planes with 30 engines and 20 systems for war time use.
An exhibition outside this session had devices made out of ancient texts or inspired by them. These include ancient rockets that could dispel fog and rain, an ancient electrolyte cell, and a technique for cleaning cotton and a bacteria in cows which allows them to produce 24-carat gold. There is also a claim made about avionics that a war between two kings led to an inter-galactic battle where one king broke the helmet of the other on Mars. The helmet is allegedly still on Mars, and it is claimed that it is even confirmed by NASA. The possibility of using heated sugar in conducting Lord Ganesha’s plastic surgery to affix his elephant head was also discussed.
The Sangh Parivar affiliates plans to hold many conclaves similar to the one on Hemu over the next three years in cities such as Delhi, Ujjain, Nagpur, Bhopal and state of Goa to rewrite history and to sanitise it so that it reflects India’s glorious ‘Hindu’ past. Thus, make no mistake--the last step of the revisionism process is in full force in India.
History is not written by the political agendas of changing governments--it is to be written by academic and scientific research. The truth can owe allegiance to no ideology or group, for as the past may be shameful or undesirable for some, it exists as a reminder of lessons for a better future. One can only hope that this message is heard by our leaders.