Conclusion or Breaking free of past

 Rohit Dhankar

[In continuation of yesterday’s post titled Fallacious logic cannot kill Facts]

Minds of Indian Hindus and Muslims are shackled by their history. It is not only a restraint, but is a violent grip that squeezes all sense out of them. Hindus have a sense of shame and anger for atrocities (real and imagined) perpetrated on them by Muslim kings, this anger unjustly turns to Muslims of today. In addition for the period under colonial rule they have a sense of betrayal and antagonism for Muslims. Muslims have a sense of pride for the rule of Muslim kings, sense of profound loss that that rule was destroyed by the resurgent groups among the Hindus and British rule. Earlier they expressed this pride in the suppression of Hindus by Muslim kings openly, now spend all their energies in denying atrocities perpetrated by them. Muslims also have a sense of anxiety of assimilation and of majority in a democratic country.

Another angle of grip of history on Hindu mind is the divide between upper castes on one side and Dalits on the other. The historical atrocities perpetrated on Dalits rankle them. The upper casts want to deny that anything of that nature happened, exactly as Muslims want to deny that any atrocities happened on Hindus during the so-called Muslim era.

Any nation to create a unified and just society needs harmony and mutual cooperation between its population groups. The above-mentioned rifts colour our vision and we start interpreting everything in a communal manner due to this grip of history on our minds. We are also unfortunate because most of our political leaders and intellectuals took a route to create this desired harmony that leads exactly in the opposite direction. Rather than developing a historical sense and looking at the truth in eyes, they started creating a past that denies atrocities of Muslim era and exaggerated atrocities on the Dalits. This attitude consolidates in blaming everything on Hinduism and particularly on upper castes among the Hindus. Of course, there is much that should be rightfully blamed on the Hinduism and on the upper castes. But admitting that does not require denying the horrendous Islamic past.

We can not break away from the shackles of history by creating history of our imagination and whitewashing it of all wrongs of our chosen community; the upper castes chosen by the right-wing and Muslims chosen by the left. The whitewashing simply increases impunity in Muslims and anger in Hindus. It works to increase antagonism rather than mitigating it.

We need to develop a ‘sense of history’, and accept the truth. A historical truth is simply a reasonable picture of past created on the basis of available evidence, informed interpretation and logic. It admits variance and fallibility but not baseless imagination.

But more important is development of ‘sense of history’. What I mean by this phrase here is a cognitive attitude to past which has the following characteristics:

  1. Being aware of the GAP: there is and always remains an unbridgeable gap between us as we are today and the past societies and communities we study in history, in other words, our supposed to be ancestors. This gap is caused by time and space. Humanity, its purposes, values, understanding and entire world view undergoes constant change. When we study the time of Harshvardhan or Akbar or Aurangzeb we need to remember that the people in that era and those historical figures had their own values and purposes; and real-life pressures and contingencies. They were not acting according to our values. Of course, we can evaluate and discuss their actions according to our values today; but identifying with them or seeing our immediate enemies or alter egos in them would be a failure of reason on our part.
  2. Realisation by the Hindu that today’s Muslims cannot be held responsible for the actions of Muslims in the past: most of the antagonism and hatred is rooted in the irrational impulse to see today’s Muslim as somehow responsible for what Mahmud Ghazni or Aurangzeb did to Hindus. This impulse is completely stupid. I cannot reasonably hold responsible the Muslim sitting next to me in the bus for destruction of Somnatha temple. In the same Similarly, he also has to realise that he is not the worshipper of Somanatha that suffered that atrocity. It was a condemnably barbarity, and can be a matter for objective analysis; but the personal hurt and identification is illusory and harmful.
  3. Realisation by the Muslim that it is not incumbent on his to feel responsible for the past atrocities of Muslims: The other side of the same understanding is the Muslim sitting next to me cannot see himself as the butshikan that Ghazni was. If he takes pride in the acts of Ghazni and Aurangzeb he is not only living in illusion but is also bounded in medieval anti-humanity Islamic attitude. It makes him a stunted human being and bigot. We both have to free ourselves from our respective past-bound identification and see ourselves as independent individuals today, who are capable of forming our own opinions and making our own choices.
  4. Understanding the continuity and change: yes, we are partly a product of our past, our culture, the knowledge and literature our ancestors produced. But we are not completely fashioned out of our past as a robot or a zombie. We have our own minds and, as said above can make our informed choices. History is necessarily intertwined with our cultural heritage and religious views. Unless we are able to look at our cultural heritage and religion critically, there is no hope of freeing ourselves from the shackles of history. A Hindu who cannot admit that Rama might have committed dozens of mistakes in spite of being considered maryadapurushottam, and a Muslim who cannot admit that Muhammad might have equally mistaken in spite of being considered the ideal for Muslims; are both surely indoctrinated and are likely to be bigots as well. We have to take what supports justice and equality in our heritage and ruthlessly discard what goes against these values.

The problem at this moment is that we are not able to distance ourselves from our pasts. Distancing does not necessarily mean disowning. It only means critical appreciation and appropriate rejection. This kind of attitude to history cannot be developed in one community alone. It either happens simultaneously or does not happen. When we take pride in historical figures who were perpetrators of atrocities, we rankle the other community. When a reputed Muslim Imam calls Mahmud Ghazani his “wali” (a divinely inspired leader, saint) on national television he is aligning with him, appreciating his acts of temple destruction and is indicating that he remains in the same tradition of idol-destruction and spreading Islam by all means. When a modern Muslim student declare Ali Muslyar as her hero and role model, she is appreciating killing, rape and forced conversions in Mopla rebellion. When a Hindu justifies Rama’s killing of Shambuk or Sita’s agnipariksha he is showing his attitude to modern Dalits and women as inferior. This owning of historical figures together with their atrocities does not allow the required distance from the past. And infuriates the community against whom the atrocities were perpetrated.

The path to create harmony between communities goes though creating distance and critical reading of history. And not through whitewashing the historical wrongs through spinning spacious theories. The creators of spacious theories and authors of articles like Ms. Subramanya’s might be well meaning people who may believe themselves to be working for harmony. But they are actually creating more antagonism, and their acts are like putting vinegar in the wounds. This kind of history destroys harmony rather than helping it; simply because facts can not be killed by fallacious logic. The quote on the title page of Ambedkar’s “Thoughts on Pakistan” is still relevant with a change of tense: “More brain, O Lord, more bain!! Or we shall mar, Utterly this fair garden we might win”. Well, we have won the ‘fair garden’, Ambedkar’s lord didn’t listen, and we have marred the garden.


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