There is a special place in hell reserved for those who tell lies to small children. Of all the terrible things an adult can do, few are worse than this: you fill the minds of children with poison and hatred.
Pakistan has tried it. The late JN ‘Mani’ Dixit, a historian, once told me a story about a strange evening he endured when he was posted in Islamabad as India’s envoy. Invited to dinner by friendly and well-meaning Pakistanis, he was beginning to relax when the young daughter of his hosts entered the room. Her parents told her: ‘Uncle is from India!’ They got no further because the child immediately launched into a little dance.
She danced around the chair where Dixit was sitting, singing loudly “Hindu Kutta, Hindu Kutta. (Hindu dog, Hindu Dog)”
Dixit was shaken by the encounter but he did not hold it against the child.
“That is what they are taught in school,” he explained to me. “Even in textbooks for very small children, if they want to illustrate the world ‘Zaalim’ they carry a drawing of a Sardarji. Hindus are portrayed as shrewd, cunning and money-minded. In their minds, the word baniya is a synonym for Hindu.”
I was horrified by Dixit’s story, which is why it has stayed with me two decades later. And the lies that Pakistanis told children may help explain the mess their country is in today—full of hatred, conspiracy theories and misconceptions about the nature of the rest of the world.
It never occurred to me that something similar could ever happen here in tolerant, diverse and pluralistic India. This kind of behaviour — feeding hatred to children — was symptomatic of failed States like Pakistan. We were much, much, better than that.
But now I wake up in the mornings and ask myself: Are we better than that? Is what we are trying to do really so different from what the Pakistanis did?
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Rewriting of textbooks
Just as some Pakistanis taught their children to say ‘Hindu Kutta’, many in our educational establishment are trying to excise Muslims from our history.
The recent controversy about the rewriting of NCERT textbooks leaves no doubt about what their intention is. It is part of an initiative to deny India its history and to portray Muslims as barbarians who invaded India only to rape, pillage, plunder and murder. They are portrayed as people without culture or any civilisational values, who were incapable of building anything of beauty or artistic significance and whose rule in India was the darkest period in our history; so dark, in fact, that it deserves to be blacked out completely.
Education is one part of this indoctrination. The refusal to honour our shared heritage in states such as Uttar Pradesh is another. Monuments like the Taj Mahal are either not promoted or are described in a way that emphasises how much the workers who built them suffered.
When that doesn’t work, the lunatic fringe tries to claim the monuments for Hindus. Fatehpur Sikri was apparently a Hindu city stolen by the Mughals. The Taj Mahal was a Hindu palace.
These are not new ideas. When I was a schoolboy, we would amuse ourselves by reading the works of P.N. Oak, a historian who had advanced these outlandish theories in the 1960s. Never did it occur to us that they would survive well into the next century and gain such wide currency. The lunatic fringe is fast becoming mainstream.
The attempt to rewrite history books so that the Mughal period is either blacked out or portrayed without any positive attributes is just one of the initiatives of the fringe. But for me, it is the most dangerous one. You have every right to offer opinions on history. Perhaps Akbar was not so great after all. But a) you do this at a much later stage when kids already know the basic facts and b) if you distort or conceal even the basic facts, how is any kind of debate or discussion on whether Akbar was great or not-so-great ever going to be possible?
We have all heard the counterarguments. The writing of Indian history was handed over, in the post-Independence phase, to ‘Leftist historians’. They wrote a history that was coloured by their Marxist prejudices. And so on.
I do not dispute all of this. Nor do I dispute that anybody while writing history in the decades after Partition and the bloodshed that accompanied it may have tried to play down the extent of Hindu-Muslim enmity and may even have skimmed over atrocities committed by Muslim rulers in India so that communal passions were not inflamed.
And I am very happy to support a revisionist school of Indian history that offers an alternative view to those of the early historians who were paramount in post-Independence India.
But isn’t it odd how the only bits of our history they care about are Hindu-Muslim issues? Why does all so-called revisionism follow a predictable Bad-Muslim-Good-Hindu formula? Is this scholarship or propaganda?
And I draw the line at excising entire chunks of our history in textbooks meant for children. Anything that portrays India’s diverse heritage is rewritten to suggest that we were a glorious Hindu Rashtra right from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation (which was a glorious Aryan Hindu republic, we are now told) and everyone of any other religion who settled here was a barbarian with no redeeming qualities.
It is significant that, as The Indian Express has reported, even passages relating to MK Gandhi’s belief in Hindu-Muslim unity and the anger it caused among Hindu extremists have also been deleted. At this rate, I imagine that in a few years, we will be told that Nathuram Godse was a great patriot (that’s already happening), that the Muslim League killed Gandhiji and poor old, innocent Godse was framed for the murder.
Also read: Whitewashing with a vengeance: Cong over deletions from NCERT textbooks
Crime against humanity
There are many reasons for objecting to what is going on. The most important one is that an education system that tells lies to children betrays the trust parents have placed in it.
But there is another reason: these are not just lies. These are poisonous lies. The intention is to make children grow up with the view that Muslims are the enemy; that they have no place in India, which was and will always be a Hindu Rashtra.
Poisoning the minds of children approaches the level of a crime against humanity. But there is also a practical objection: how can you run a country with a Muslim population of at least 14 per cent if you teach the majority to hate them? Won’t the Muslims feel they have no stake in India? Isn’t this a recipe for civil war?
The teaching of hatred in Pakistan has already led to terrible discrimination against the few Hindus who still live there. What will it do to India? Can a nation built on diversity survive the indoctrination of hatred in our children?
Those who teach hatred and their political masters should ask these questions to themselves.
Vir Sanghvi is a print and television journalist, and talk show host. He tweets @virsanghvi
(Edited by Ratan Priya)