How The Sangh Parivar Invents And Spreads Fake History

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Why You Should Read This
  • The Sangh Parivar’s version of Indian history twists historical facts in an attempt to shape society in accordance with Hindutva ideology.
  • This paper by Tanika Sarkar explores how the Sangh Parivar manufactures its version of history and takes it to the people through formal education, as well as through informal avenues.
  • The goal of this project is to create and popularise the idea of a glorious Hindu past that defines all that it means to be Indian, while projecting all minorities as foreign.
  • You can read it in fullClick on each point to dig deeper and get the complete picture. in 9 minutes or skim itRead only the numbered points. in 2 minutes.
  1. For almost a century, the Sangh Parivar has relied on the discipline of history to sustain itself and normalise its Hindutva vision of society. Inventing and spreading its own version of Indian history is as fundamental to the Hindutva political project as flawed claims of “racial science” were to Nazi ideology.
    • Through the creation and spread of its version of history, the Sangh Parivar has worked to shape Hindu common sense and justify hatred against religious minorities.
    • This version of history is spread through government funding and support through formal educational settings like schools and universities under BJP governments. But its message has also been taken to the people through more commonplace, accessible channels through religious and cultural organisations. This ensures that the RSS agenda is spread far and wide in easily understandable forms.
    • The value of these channels for Hindutva has intensified at crucial moments in modern Indian history. For instance, in 1991, Sanatan Dharm Temple functionaries in Delhi replaced discourses on spiritual and divine themes with discussions on past Hindu-Muslim conflicts, providing support to the ongoing Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
  2. The foundation of Hindutva history comes from the works of ideologues like V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. They believed the purpose of history was the recounting of national glory — glory that could only be achieved through war and conquest. So this version of history glorifies the Aryans “conquering” the indigenous people of India as well as the 1857 revolt against the British. And it denounces Buddhism for promoting peace, because it supposedly exposed the nation to foreign attack.
    • According to Savarkar, the defining glory of Indian history comes from wars and conquest.
      • In a glaring contradiction, Hindu aggression is glorified while Muslim conquests were simultaneously demonised. Muslims were portrayed exclusively as religious zealots and violent invaders who single-mindedly worked to destroy what was imagined to be a single Hindu society- despite historical evidence to the contrary.
    • For Savarkar, faith and language were the main criteria for being Indian – enshrined in the slogan of “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan”. His narrow definition of who was Indian was designed to exclude non-Hindus.
      • Hindus and Muslims were described as eternally in conflict, even in modern times. The figure of the Muslim became a symbol for imagined oppressors who are religiously bound to abduct and convert non-Muslim women through force.
      • This false history is used to justify hatred against Muslims today and to convince Hindus that they need to become like this imagined enemy: a cruel and vicious warrior.
    • The philosophies and historical works of Savarkar continue to be effective tools for the Hindutva ideology. Even though he doesn’t provide sources, his assertions are taken as the gospel truth.
  3. In Hindutva history, “Hindu” and “Indian” are seen as interchangeable terms, while Muslims and Christians only represent violent foreign oppressors. But caste was a major stumbling block for this image of a Hindu nation, in which all Hindus are projected as a single united block. Savarkar acknowledged that Hindus weakened themselves through caste divisions. But simultaneously, he argued that by protecting Hindu blood and traditions from contamination, caste segregation led to the creation of a Hindu identity.
    • From the 1920s, when lower caste groups began to assert themselves politically, the Sangh saw an urgent need to create a common enemy, i.e., the Muslims, to bring all castes together under one Hindu nationality.
    • Ambedkar is denounced as “a man burning with hatred against Hinduism” and anyone who converted to another religion, including due to caste oppression, is held guilty of treason because, according to Savarkar, “change of religion means change of nationality.”
  4. The RSS runs the largest network of schools in India, second only to the Indian government. These schools often operate in areas where no other form of education is available and dole out Hindutva history along with charity. These schools train children using a formal and informal curriculum that combines Hindu pride and supremacy with hatred for all that is non-Hindu.
    • The nature of education is tailored to the audience with different kinds of schooling being set up for different groups like children from urban middle classes, slums, or tribal communities.
      • For children from remote areas and marginalised communities,  these are sometimes the only avenue for education.
    • In BJP-ruled states, Vidya Bharati, which is the educational wing of the RSS, decides the curriculum for government schools. Things like compulsory Bharatiya Sanskriti (Indian Culture) courses are used to teach Hindu ethnic pride and bigotry towards others.
    • In colleges, teachers are trained in Hindutva history first through teacher training programs, and then expected to take it to their students.
      • In these programs, teachers are repeatedly told that it is better to avoid too much thinking and stick to what is told to them. And what is told to them are false stories about the achievements of Hinduism and its role in the historical progress of the world. For instance, the RSS “Margdarshak” Lajja Ram Tomar tells us that Europe and the US are filled with ruins of ancient Hindu temples, that the Rig Veda calculated the speed of light, and that Paris has set up a statue of Manu, calling him the first lawgiver of the world.
      • The message from the Sangh to college teachers is that Western knowledge can be used if it agrees with the claims of Hindutva history, but ideas of individual freedom are to be quickly shut down as evil.
  5. Textbooks issued by the BJP-led central government in 2002 are representative of Hindutva history. These textbooks engage with facts very selectively: they show resistance against the British as led only by Hindu kings and not the masses, they mention Bhagat Singh as a revolutionary but ignore his socialism and atheism, they talk of Ambedkar drafting the constitution but say nothing of his critique of caste.  History is turned into a biography of the nation, making patriotism the sole purpose of learning history.
    • In line with Savarkar’s and Golwalkar’s works, these textbooks portray Indian civilisation as the best one, converting mythological works like the Puranas into real sources of history. 
    • Facts are announced and given to the students in these books, and never really explained or situated in the larger historical background.
      • And these facts are chosen selectively, especially when it comes to modern history. In particular, people who directly questioned or challenged Hinduism, especially on matters of gender and caste, are too embarrassing to be included in these history books.
    • These textbooks give no importance to teaching how historical processes took place, how various events are linked, or how to analyse such events. They emphasise rote learning of facts and attempt to glorify Hinduism at every opportunity. The 2018 plan for modification of NCERT books reflects this tendency very well, with even subjects like science, geography and languages full of appreciation for Hindu culture.
    • Even in schools where the Sangh is unable to influence the formal syllabus, there are non-teaching ways of propagating the Hindutva message. For instance, visual icons of Hindu kings who fought against Muslims may be found around the school premises, and maps of undivided India, i.e., “Akhand Bharat” may be displayed. There are also mandatory extracurricular activities like “spiritual” camps where students are taught about Muslim violence and “love jihad”.
  6. The RSS is also attempting to get involved in historical research, by packing the Indian Council of Historical Research with its people and creating pseudo-academic literature. The goal is to “Indianise” and “nationalise” research on history. This basically boils down to things like incorporating tribal legends into Hindu mythology, making Hindu mythology the basis of ancient Indian history, and updating older Hindutva histories to do away with inconvenient claims such as the foreign origin of the Aryans.
    • The history wing of RSS, i.e. the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY) is central to this plan. The RSS has worked smartly and made sure that the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is full of its people, with ABISY head Y. S. Rao even being appointed as the chairperson.
      • ABISY wants to establish India’s “real” history by compiling a Puranic encyclopaedia. Other research projects it has undertaken include tracing the route of Saraswati river in order to establish that the Vedas are historically true and dating the Mahabharata, Shankaracharya, and Buddha.
    • Itihas Darpan is Hindutva history’s primary  academic journal. It is headquartered in the RSS offices in Delhi and since 2016, it has been sponsored by the ICHR. It is full of articles by obsolete writers, many of whom are not even academic scholars. Most writers use vague citations and rarely refer to any recent well-known historical works. Most works deal with the ancient period, seeking to establish Indian civilisation as the oldest and most influential.
    • Rewriting of old Hindutva histories is undertaken seriously, given that it is politically and socially pragmatic to do the same. While they initially argued that upper castes were racially superior “Aryans”, they now say that upper castes and indigenous tribal communities have the same origin but one just became more “advanced”. This is all that this history has to offer communities like Adivasis: symbolic unity in the face of real, historical oppression.
    • The RSS also makes inroads into popular imagination by writing new histories which incorporate local legends, myths, and stories into Hindu histories and cultural traditions. It is easy for ABISY to do this because once divinity is brought in, there’s no need for proper evidence. Through this process, tribal communities are posed as actually being part of the larger Hindu religious sphere. At the same time, conflict with non-Hindus is also emphasised, tying this Hindu identity to shared violence against religious minorities.
  7. The Sangh Parivar has been majorly successful in spreading its version of history because it is extremely simple and because in addition to formal schooling, it can also be spread through informal channels like festivals and charity programs. Secular history, on the other hand, remains mostly confined to academia and text books.
    • The resources available to the Sangh, and its dedication to the cause has translated into a long-standing, intense effort to take its history to the masses through organic and local channels.
      • Sangh organisations put together welfare schemes, like employment-generating programmes, along with local Hindu festivals and conferences to draw people into Hindutva history. For example, the RSS-affiliated Vivekananda Kendra provides more than 900 service projects across the country, from informal schooling to rural housing. Those who need this charity inevitably end up being drawn into the cultural pride and bigotry that is the real purpose of all such projects.

This summary was by India Ink’s Academic Correspondent, Isha Phullay.

Source text: How the Sangh Parivar Writes and Teaches History
Publication: Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India (Edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot, 2018)
Author: Tanika Sarkar

Note: This is a summary of a book chapter. It reflects one argument that we think would be interesting or useful to discuss. It may not offer the full picture or represent consensus on this topic, both of which are always evolving. If you would like to know how other scholars have built on or critiqued the arguments presented in this summary, click here to see some of the works that cite it.