One of the defining characteristics of history writing by historians of India is that they make it bereft of ideas. As a social scientist would tell, this is one of the classic ways in which historians can hide, distort a part of history as it really happened, and present their own version for future generations; the argument being that if history textbooks generate ideas and are taken seriously by readers, they will make the study of history ‘contingent’. Events of the past will then be seen as that could have gone either way, making the reader go deeper and search for more ideas.
One of consequences of that will be to explain why right people armed with the right ideas didn’t always win. This process generates empathy for those who fought and struggled valiantly and be an inspiration.
Manoshi Sinha’s book Saffron Swords does exactly that. It tells us the story of those Indians who fought valiantly against invaders and armies, based on an immense moral courage. To me, this book will do what our textbooks haven’t been able to do for the children of India and many adults like me. It will generate ideas for us to look deeper in the history we haven’t been exposed to as part of our education.
Manoshi’s book is a beginning of a change. It goes against most of the textbooks written on history in the last seventy years, especially our textbooks where the courage of Hindus is not mentioned as it was felt to be not worth writing about for our school children.
Our textbooks are not sympathetic to the heroes who showed courage and bravery. They find mention in Manoshi’s book. Their names, their lives, their inner selves on why they fought which was lost to the pages of history finds a home. Our children who did not get ideas about what it meant to have courage now find so in these pages.
Ideological ambivalence and contradictions are important for studying history, especially for people who have lived under slavery and whose history was distorted by their masters. This is true for Blacks, for Jews and for Native Americans and I will add for Hindus. They have no one to write a history for them that would tell what they went through. They need a history that will provoke them into looking at their own minus the prism of western historians.
Ideas have power and those generated from reading history have a power to change the destiny of a people. The ideas that motivated the heroes are documented in the pages of Saffron Swords. The example they set lives on long in people’s minds and has been captured beautifully. It gives us the idea that our ancestors resisted, rebelled and did not accept the foreign rule and its atrocities lying down. This is an idea that has been denied to our children.
What was our nation conceived in? It was conceived in dharma. Yet, today the entire thought process of the people, of our constitution, our history textbooks all take us away from this concept imposing many an alien concepts in the name of secularism that have no place in our Indian ethos.
While growing up, reading our textbooks I got the feeling that our invaders and their dynasties and our local heroes were virtually identical people. Textbooks for our students are silent about the fact that Akbar slaughtered thirty thousand people in Chittorgarh, mostly women and children, Babur built the Babri masjid by destroying the Ram temple and Aurungzeb destroyed the holiest spots of Hinduism. Our history textbooks are silent about Jaziya (tax) that Hindus had to pay in order to survive.
Reading our books, one gets the feeling that our state historians have tried to minimize the evil the invaders were and suppress the glory of the heroes who opposed them. Our heroes’ passion to defend the motherland and the two entirely different values represented by the warring sides is missing from our books. As a result, they become ‘virtually identical people’ and difficulty arises as to choose who was morally right of the two.
Akbar and Maharana Pratap both seem to be equally identical, equally idealistic; one the justice loving emperor of India trying to unite everyone, the other opposing him, a rebel king trying to retrieve his kingdom. The choice is easy to make then.
All wars, all conflicts in the history of India have been presented to us in a way that is crafted in a language designed for deceit. Is that why we don’t see any passion in our children that can come from reading our history?
The history of India, the valiant resistance by its children to invaders and conquerors could have been presented as one of the greatest gifts to the world, for people fighting against oppression and injustice. It couldn’t be. Its relevance was lost to the history writing in the last seventy years that in my opinion made us descend into further shame and humiliation.
The book Saffron Swords by Manoshi Sinha tries to undo that injustice.
Dr. Rajat Mitra is a Clinical Psychologist, Author, Harvard alumni, and UN public service awardee for gender justice, having worked nationally and internationally on human rights issues. He is the author of The Infidel Next Door.