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March 19, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ K N Pannikker

'To reduce history to religion is distorting history'

But all these years the Marxists have been preaching their history. What is wrong if the Sangh Parivar preaches its history?

It is wrong to say that Indian history was dominated by Marxists. I think the prominent historians in India have been liberal historians.

One of our great liberal historians is Sarvepalli Gopal who was given a Padma Bhushan.

I feel that among Indian historians there always has been a contest between Marxist, liberal and conservative historians. Marxist historiography became more powerful because it had the ability to explain social reality better than the others. But, you see, Hindutva history means it looks at history only from a religious point of view and whereas Marxist history looks at the economic point of view.

If you see middle age history, Muslim rulers have destroyed the Hindu temples wherever they went. Be it Allauddin Khilji or Aurangzeb. Many Muslim rulers have played that role. So how can you say that India always had a secular fabric?

During the medieval period, all over the world, the attackers always destroyed places of worship. During Portuguese rule in Goa, they destroyed temples. You must ask this question: why?

I will give you a counter example from Latin American countries. You go there and look at the Aztec pyramid. You will find that the top of all these structures have been cut off. You know why? Because the top of these places were worshipped.

When the Spaniards went there they destroyed that and put their church symbol. So, the place of worship was symbolic of political power. And that is precisely what happened in India or any other country in the world.

Of course, some happened on religious grounds. Moreover, if you are looking for secularism in medieval times, you are looking for wrong things. Secularism is a modern concept and what happened in the medieval period was religious co-existence. And that religious co-existence was a need of the ruling group.

Isn't it true that the Muslim kings were communal?

No, look at it this way. Aurangzeb's chiefs and courtiers were more Hindus than Muslims. And the person who fought against Shivaji was Raja Jaisingh, a Hindu. So the entire history of Muslims, if you see, you will find that it was Hindus who fought for these Muslim kings.

Politics in India in medieval times was not decided on religious attitudes. To reduce history to religion is again distorting history. Forget about communalism; even those wars were not based on religion.

These kings were fighting for political existence. They were all regional chieftains. So all these wars were a struggle for power. In Bengal today, the children are put to sleep by saying the Maratha invaders are coming. So, it is not a religious or communal conflict at all.

Can you say something about the Christian attacks?

The recent attacks on Christians are very closely linked with power. A need of the Hindutva forces is to demarcate India but we are not living in medieval times. To my mind it is a very serious threat because they are shifting their target from Muslims to Christians.

Muslims have shown them that violence is nobody's monopoly. We have seen what has happened after 1993, and the Hindutva forces know that the Muslims have regrouped themselves. So they are targeting Christians because they are a small and unorganised community. And, moreover, they are not armed yet.

Could you recall if these kind of attacks had taken place against Christians in India earlier?

There were only one or two incidents in India. Even today, these are not communal riots. They are being attacked.

So when did communal riots start in India?

You see the general analysis is that it started in the middle of the nineteenth century. There was tension between different communities on different grounds. But what happened during British rule is not the simple tension between the two communities. It became a part of the political community. The number of communal riots increased and then it got linked with communal politics.

After 1947, the nature of communal riots was different from pre-independent India communal riots. Now, what is happening is that they are trying to homogenise Hindus to capture power.

Isn't it true that the differences between Hindus and Muslims have always existed? And there is nothing new about it?

(Angrily) What type of differences?

Communal differences.

No, it is not communal. If you are saying that you are a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu, it means that your religious belief is different. If you say you are a teacher and the other person says that he is a businessman, so it's a different lifestyle, isn't it? It does not mean it is antagonism that you fight against each other. But it has not led to riots which is a modern phenomenon in the way it has been taking place in India from the colonial times.

The critics of secularism always say that minority communalism has always existed in India. Then what is wrong in majority communalism?

I can give you an academic argument against it. But there is an ethical question. A killing takes place somewhere; you don't justify it by killing somebody else. If the minority communalism exists, then there is no justification in majority communalism.

I would say it is a wrong question academically. And that is why I told you about Partition -- that is when communalism started. The communal consciousness developed and that consciousness developed from the middle of the 19th century among the Hindus and Muslims.

It is not something which has happened now. And we had the unfortunate Partition, and what Hindu communalism is doing now is using this as a symbol for communalism.

They are doing it by stating, ''Who is responsible for it?'' They are projecting Muslims as responsible. But Hindus are equally responsible for it. Because Hindu communalism was equally there at that time. The Hindu Mahasabha was there and they were very active as early as 1914. But let us not forget that a large number of Muslims opted to be in India. Why? Because India took a conscious choice to become a secular state and not a theocratic state.

Why is there an inbuilt consciousness among Hindus, Muslims and Christians against each other in our country?

Where is the inbuilt consciousness? The inbuilt consciousness is being created now by the Right wingers. And the very fact that you are asking me this question is the success of the Hindu communal forces.

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