In 2011, there was an uproar in Delhi University, when an academic article by linguist A.K Ramanujan (no, this is not the mathematician), was removed from the B.A Program course, because it hurt ‘religious sentiments’.
The article was called, ‘300 Ramayanas, five examples and three thoughts on Translation’. It was about the various interpretations of the Ramayana and how the Ramayana did not belong to just one community. Though the removal didn’t directly affect the students of the History (Honours) course, there was an uproar in the History faculty. This move was labelled as an attack on education, especially restriction of the social sciences, that questioned basic things like religion.
This was the first time I had seen such a huge academic uproar against a small move, and I was also surprised to see the huge amount of support the removal had amongst certain groups of people. I distinctly remember reading the statement of a Hindi Honours professor – “This article says that Hanuman is a playboy and Ram and Sita are brothers and sisters – we can’t let our students read this.”
Of course, we can’t. After all, how many students will be able to accept their Gods as playboys and incestuous couples?
For me, Ram is an incarnation of Lord Krishna. I have grown up reading Tulsidas’s Ramayana, which talks about an evil Ravana, who kidnaps the innocent Sita and how Ram saves his wife by killing the invincible Ravana, with the help of Monkey warriors, Sugreev and Hanumana. But, has any one ever given a thought as to why this is the only version we read? Why didn’t we grow up reading the Thai version of the Ramayana? Or the Buddhist one?
Knowledge spreads. It can’t be bound to a root, like our thoughts. Our stories/mythologies have crossed borders, entertained various people beyond India, but why is it so hard to accept that?
I decided to read up some more on this ‘Ramayana’ problem. I went and accessed academic books, took out the first book I found on the library shelf on the multiple interpretations of the Ramayana.
The first version hinted about a relationship between Lakshmana and Sita, while Ram was away in his ‘harem’, and the second version talked about how Lakshmana had actually cut of Surpanakha’s (Ravana’s sister) breasts instead of her nose.
I had to keep the book down and breathe. Because I was scandalized.
It’s natural to be unable to accept the truth when you have been fed a lie for your whole life. And it was very, very difficult for me to accept the various versions of the Ramayana. I somehow connected to the surging anger of the people on the ‘other side’. I understood their viewpoint that only those people should read this article who are able to read it, it shouldn’t be shoved down the throats of ‘innocent’ students.
Of course it shouldn’t. Freedom is a personal choice. But what I understand is – If an article like this is included in the syllabus, it is actually an eye opener for people like me disillusioned about life. This kind of article is related to life in general – we perceive life as a bed of roses, only to discover thorns in between.
Schools are the first pogrom of manipulations. Subjects like science and maths don’t shape plurality in opinion – politics and history do. And some people have already understood that generations ago, because of which history textbooks have become the subject of propaganda.
Take for example the Palestine crisis. How many school students know that Palestine as an issue is not just related to the Jews cry for a homeland, but also the slow eviction of Arabs from their own lands since the 18th century by the Jews themselves? How many school students know that the 1857 revolt of Indian ‘independence’ is actually just a small revolution, centered around certain areas of India like Awadh, and is not exactly a national event? Ravana was a great scholar, the Mahabharata is a classic text of manipulation mastered by Krishna – how many students are willing to stand up and claim that they know this?
No, no student is taught so much, because these kind of things are dangerous. It can force a student to form multiple opinions. Sadly by the time a child reaches college level- most of them abandon Historical research and end up formulating absolutely biased opinions about most of the world – because their foundation is biased in the first place.
I believe education can really help a child. But education can also ruin a child, making them corrosive, adamant and biased. All those psychologists looking for tips on understanding children – check their textbooks in the first place.
There is a saying – History is a biased form of storytelling. But honestly, a historian’s lens is a big responsibility to handle, as it requires absolute impartial, objective views. Those who are accused to be historians affiliated to the BJP, Congress, and other parties are not really supporting anyone – they are simply presenting facts of History. But those manipulating these facts and projecting themselves as “official historians” of a particular political regime – aren’t historians, they are academic cheats.
In India, the biggest field of concern right now, is ancient India. India has been looking to its past for inspiration for quite some time now, and Ancient India is a dangerous and volatile field. We attribute hero status to King Ashoka, we aspire to be scholars like Chanakya – and there are people working hard to prove these points of theory correct. Harappa and Mohenjodaro – the biggest Harappan civilization sites are actually located in Pakistan, but India, in a desperate attempt to declare one of the world’s ‘first’ civilizations its own is trying to find newer and ‘bigger’ Harappan sites within India.
But what if the Harappan script is someday deciphered and it is found out that this civilization is not really a civilization in the first place? How many people will have access to that information?
Information should be freely available in this current cyber age, but what is astonishing that we tend to rely on Google search that turns up what every other biased personality – like you and me is looking up over the internet. We are losing our originality, and relying on agents that will misuse our ignorance.
My fellow friends who are not Historians – please don’t treat History as something that can be learnt by just reading multiple books. Sometimes our clouded understanding disillusions us to such an extent that we end up reading only those things that we ‘believe’ in, and leave out the others that ‘challenge’ our thinking.