By Kulbhushan Kain
Chinua Achebe, the prominent Nigerian novelist had written, “Until the lions have their historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter!”
In simple words, Achebe was saying that history always carries a bias.
I studied history at Delhi University in the seventies. However, of late I have started realising that what I was taught had a bias. More often than not, I have started believing what Napoleon Bonaparte said – “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
Why do I write this?
I write this because I have realised that there are many faultlines in Indian history, which for some reason or the other have been ignored, brushed aside lightly, or completely twisted. The reason for that appears quite obvious. For the first decades, our historical thinking was shaped by historians, administrators, and rulers who were in India for the “hunt”. History was thus that of the hunter. What is sad is, that even after throwing off the yoke of colonialism, our history continued to be hijacked due to vested and ideological interests. I know it’s impossible to be objective about history, but the major faultlines seem to be deliberately created.
First – the history of India is the history of Delhi. It is “Delhi-Centric”. We are taught about the greatness of Akbar, Shah Jahan, of insignificant dynasties like the Lodhis, the Sayyids, etc. How many of us have heard of the Satavahnas, Chandelas, the Kalachuris of Mahishmati, the Kaluchiris of Tripura, the Pandyas, the Cheras? Numerous other dynasties were extremely powerful and contributed to what India is today. Why are we not taught about them? (At best, only lip service is paid to them.)
Have we ever been taught about the history of, let’s say, Goa, Sikkim, or even our own Garhwal? As far as I can remember, there wasn’t even a passing reference to the history of any of these states in our syllabuses.
Secondly, we are taught year after year that we lost in the first, second, and third battles of Panipat, we lost in the Battle of Tarain, Ghazni came 17 times to India and looted, plundered, raped, and converted, Timur ransacked us… we are taught that we are losers.
How many of us have heard of the battle of Bahraich, or the battle of Saraighat, or the battle of Colachel? These are extremely important battles but find scant mention. In the battle of Colachel in 1740, the forces of Martanda Varma, the ruler of Travancore, defeated the Dutch East India Company which was the most powerful company in the world, thereby becoming the first Asian ruler to defeat any European power. The next time anyone could defeat a European power was the Japanese when they defeated the Russians more than 160 years after the Battle of Colachel!
Similarly, ‘The Battle of Saraighat’ was a naval battle fought in 1671 between the Mughal Empire and the Ahom Kingdom led by Lachit Borphukan on the Brahmaputra River at Saraighat, now in Guwahati. Although weaker, the Ahom Army defeated the Mughal Army by brilliant uses of the terrain, clever diplomatic negotiations to buy time, guerrilla tactics, psychological warfare, military intelligence, and by exploiting the sole weakness of the Mughal forces—its navy. Closer home, Rani Karnawati, the Queen of Garhwal, successfully defended the kingdom against invaders and repelled an invasion of the Mughal army of Shah Jahan led by Najabat Khan in 1640. Over time, she earned the nickname ‘Nakti Rani’ (Nak-Kati-Rani) as she had the habit of cutting the noses of the invaders, as the Mughal invaders of the period realised.
Is it fair to teach how we were defeated time and again and NOT dwell on our great victories?
Not only are the histories of many states, dynasties or individuals ignored – even a mighty empire like the Maratha Empire does not find its place in the sun, as they say. We eloquently mention the British Empire, the Mughal Empire – but not the Maratha Empire! To put it into proper perspective – the Maratha Empire was larger and bigger than Akbar’s Empire!
Another very serious and deep faultline in the way we teach history is how we have ignored the role of women. Yes, we have popularised the valour of Rani of Jhansi and Rani Padmavati of Mewar, but how many of us have heard of Akka Mahadevi (c.1130-1160), Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922), Dr Rukhmabai (1864-1955), Bhikaiji Cama (1861-1936), Gaidinliu (1915-1993), Tarabai Shinde (1850-1910), Abbaka Chowta (1525-1570) and many, many more? Our women stood up and fought and defended our country with valour. Yet we consider their bravery very lightly.
Finally, the deepest faultline is our interpretation of our Freedom Struggle. But that needs to be dignified in an article separately.
The important thing is that history is taken too lightly and casually by politicians, students and teachers. We must never do that. We must always remember what George Orwell wrote, and I quote, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their history.”
Wise words from a very seminal mind!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)