By Roshni D’Souza / Madras Courier

The current government’s attempts to rewrite history–devoid of facts, concocted on imaginary/fantastical grounds–to suit the Hindu nationalist narrative is dangerous.

Back in the eleventh century, when Muslim rulers were new to Delhi, the Sultan of the Khilji Dynasty, named Bhaktiyar Khilji, fell ill. Islamic doctors from his court were not able to cure him. Medicine in those days was closely associated with religion, unlike now. Someone from Khilji’s court asked him to consult the principal of Nalanda University, named Rahul Sri Bhadra, for the cure. This principal was a Buddhist monk. Khilji could not accept that a Buddhist monk was better at healing than Islamic doctors. Yet he had to swallow his pride when his condition worsened. But he only accepted a cure from Bhadra if the monk did not use the medicine. Bhadra agreed. The monk only asked Khilji to read the Holy Koran. The words of Allah served as medicine, and the Sultan was cured. This, however, made him angrier.

Khilji was miffed that a Buddhist monk was able to do what his Islamic doctors couldn’t. The Sultan decided to terminate the source of this ability by burning down the Nalanda University library, destroying around 9 million books, and effectively suppressing Buddhism. It took 3 months to burn down the library. Persian historian who lived at the time of Khilji Minhaj-i-Riraj in his book Tabaqat-i-Nasari said, “Smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills.”

Hindutva groups believe that this event marks the beginning of the downfall of Hinduism. According to them, this is how the “Islamic invaders” began to establish Islamic ideology, which kept going until the end of the Mughal Empire.

The story of Khilji destroying Nalanda because of Rahul Sri Bhadra is less-known without much credibility. But according to Hindu nationalists, the conclusion of the story is true. To them, this might seem plausible because Khilji was also responsible for replacing Buddhism with Islam in Bengal. But the main focus of the Sultan in Bengal was to uproot Buddhism. It did not have anything to do with Hinduism. Moreover, the Brahmins conflicted with the Buddhists for centuries.

The one historian that supporters of Hindu nationalism frequently quote is Minhaj-i-Siraj. If we look at accounts of this historian, Bhaktiyar Khilji only destroyed places in Magadh–and Nalanda was nowhere mentioned. The story about Khilji destroying Nalanda might also be made up. Interestingly enough, the historian says: Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar (or vihara).

This meant the ruler did kill a lot of Hindus. But not in Nalanda. Yet the Buddhist place of education, is considered the place where Hindu oppression started. Other evidence also suggests that Brahmins worked hard to destroy Buddhist shrines themselves. With this one example alone, we can understand that Hindutva narrative surrounding Muslim invasion–and the oppression of Hindus–is flawed. The attempt to distort history to suit the Hindutva narrative is evident. And this change is the most evident in school textbooks. Between 2014 and 2018, over a thousand changes were made to NCERT textbooks. In Rajasthan, textbooks with chapters on Akbar were replaced with Hindu king MaharanaPratap. Even the battle of Haldighati, from which Maharana Pratap retreated, is written as his victory.

Other corrections include Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the country, being omitted from a class 8 history textbook in Rajasthan. The Dalit reformer Dr B. R. Ambedkar is referred to as ‘Hindu social reformer.’ This is patently false as Ambedkar, who disagreed the ‘Hindu way of life,’ converted to Buddhism in 1956.

Ambedkar also spent much of his life criticising the caste system embedded in Hinduism. In 2018, the BJP government appointed a secret committee whose job was to rewrite history in a way that suits the Hindu nationalist narrative. The purpose of this committee was to prove that the Hindus were descendants of the first inhabitants of India, and did not arrive here by migration. Historically, the original inhabitants are considered to be the tribals (or Adivasis). The Bhil tribe in particular, which constitute 8% of the current population, are considered the very first inhabitants. The remaining 92% of people came from other parts of the world, particularly from the region North-West to India.

More importantly, there is no record of Indian inhabitants migrating outside India except the forced migrations during British rule. Despite that, the second objective of the committee set up by the BJP was to prove that Hindus migrated out of India. The creator of the committee was Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who openly declared that he wants to include the findings of the committee into school textbooks. The BJP government takes pride in their distortion of history. A BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, in an interview to Reuters, said:

Our government is the first government to have the courage to even question the existing version of history that is being taught in schools and colleges. Anyone who questions their version, however, faces heavy flak from BJP members and supporters, particularly their trolls in the IT Cell. This includes the well-known academics and historian such as D.N Jha, Dr Ananya Chakravarti and The current government’s attempts to rewrite history–devoid of facts, concocted on imaginary/fantastical grounds–to suit the Hindu nationalist narrative is dangerous. It reeks of inferiority complex; it is a clear sign that the current establishment, in its desperation to gain politically, is ever so willing to tinker history.

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