Hinduvta History: Hey What's Going On Here?
Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002
by Occallaghan Marion, Oct 28, 2002, www.newsday.co.tt
Well I had written my column "Talking straight to the UNC" (October 14) with no idea that on October 15, also in Newsday, I would have a fine example of Hinduvta ideology.
It is Secular vs Religious," an interview with Dr Koenraad Elst appearing in the Maha Sabha column by Parsuram Maharaj: Dr Elst was to be one of the main international speakers at a conference on the Hindu presence in Trinidad, called to celebrate the Maha Sabha's 50th anniversary. That the co-host was the History Department of the University of the West Indies seemed to guarantee that the accepted norms of historical research would apply. What Dr Elst had to say therefore is likely to be taken seriously, the more so since he states that he was in India "to study philosophy" and was "phasing out" his "involvement with communalism studies." It turns out that Dr Elst is conversant in Sanskrit but has no disciplinary base on which to study communalism, a word which roughly means ethnic group conflict. But I can see my Ramesh of my former article quoting Dr Elst for me with the satisfaction of having got his information from philosopher - big thing here - and an 'expert.'
Dr Elst's 'involvement' has been as one of the foreign 'scholars' much quoted by the VHP and the RSS. He is Dutch-Belgian. This is not accidental. Curiously it is not Indian recognised scholars but 'foreign scholars' who have played an important part in Hindu Cultural nationalism, ie, Hinduvta.
It is a US scholar who would publish a claim from an unknown and unfound laboratory that a carbon-14 dating obtained for a door of the Taj Mahal suggested a pre-17th Century 'Hindu' construction. It is no one less than the incredible Dr Elst who would in his book Aryan Invasion Update announce that Proto Indo-Europeans "went out from what is now Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh" to the astonishment of archaeologists, linguists and ancient Indian historians.
To the astonishment of others too: it rehashes the Aryan race myth that has damaged beyond India. The evidence is of neither invasion nor of Aryans beginning in India. It is of groups speaking an Aryan language wandering across the Indian border and bringing with them a language which is afterwards adopted as the language of the Court and of Brahmin rituals.
This is grafted on to a much higher civilisation: the Harappa of Dravidians and not Aryans. But you know, this Aryan myth. is firmly believed in by my Ramesh right here in Trinidad. It makes Indians the real creators of European civilisation and incidentally justifies the disapproval of Indo-Afro Trini marriages while approving Indo-White marriages. Blacks ain't Aryan. Since this 'Aryan' had now to be justified, the Rig Veda dated by scholars to around 1500 BC was now pushed back to 5000 BC, making Indians the inventors of bronze and writing. Here too Dr Elst is properly involved. But this is based on no evidence except what has proved to be a fraudulent invention in the case of bronze.
VHP-RSS and Gurjurat
For readers who may not know about the VHP, the initials stand for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and is translated into English as the World Hindu Council. This is not to be confused with the World Council of Churches as a Hindu equivalent. It unites a minority of Hindus in India around Hinduvta, which became increasingly popular - as other cultural nationalisms - in the 1980's and 1990's.
The main support and financing of the VHP comes from the Hindu Diaspora and indeed one of their major international meetings was held here in Trinidad and given official recognition by the then Prime Minister, Mr Panday. The RSS, often linked with the VHP, is a militant Hindu Nationalist group which has been known to run quasi-military Hindu training camps and a number of Hindu schools in preparation for a Hindu Confessional State to replace the present Indian Secular State.
It has its adherents here too. Founded in 1925 it stayed out of the freedom struggle against the British. Its main enemy was Muslims. In charming Trini fashion, Gandhi here is solemnly garlanded even though he was killed because he had issued in exactly what VHP and RSS are opposed to - a Secular Indian State. Worse he had practised what Hindu nationalists now consider obscene: tolerance and non-violence. Note that Nehru is out of fashion although I have heard Sat Maharaj quote the famous Indian philosopher (secularist) Radnakrishnan who by the way was not of Hindu India - he was South Indian and Tamil speaking. Trinis are extraordinary.
It is these two organisations —the VHP and the RSS - which often quote Dr Elst. But these two organisations have also been at the centre of the conflict on Indian history which in the case of the Ayodhya affair led to massacre in Gurjurat and in the case of Ancient and Medieval Indian history has led to a bitter conflict between Hinduvta devotees - and India's major historians and archaeologists. Now both these examples must be well known by the Trini Indians in UWI's History Department.
Certainly the last is known: some of our Indo-Trini historians on the UWI staff have studied at Delhi University and at the Jawaharlal Nehru University under the same 'secularist' historians whom the VHP and RSS pillory as 'Leftists' and 'worse than cross border terrorists.' They are among the 'secularists' the self-same Dr Elst puts in question in his interview with Parusuram Maharaj. According to Dr Elst, they are 'willfully superficial,' 'shield from criticism the most obscurant religious beliefs or institutions provided they are non-Hindu'. Both the Ayodhya affair and the history controversy provide good examples of playing with fire when this mythical history is transmitted and used for ethnic mobilisation.
Christians killing Hindus —really?
On December 6, 1992 a frenzied Hinduvta mob pulled the Babri Masjid, a Muslim mosque dating to the 16th Century. Hinduvta history had designated this place as the birthplace of Ram and claimed that the Babri Masjid had been built by Muslims on the site of a Hindu temple that the Muslims had destroyed.
Ancient Indian historians underlined that it was unlikely that this was indeed the birthplace of Ram - there was no archaeological evidence to support this thesis. Hinduvta agitation continued however, in order to build a Hindu temple on the site of the now destroyed mosque.
This agitation was led by the VHP and it is the preparation for the instalment of the carved stones for the temple, in spite of the lack of Central Government permission, which led to the burning of the railroad carriage and the death of some 60 Hindus under circumstances that are highly disputed. Following this was the massacre of some 2000 Muslims at Gurjurat and the burning out of Muslim quarters in one of the worst communalist rioting since India's independence.
Thousands of Muslims are still homeless or in refugee camps. The statements made by VHP leaders hardly helped.
It is not only the Babri Masjid that was in question. Hinduvta history declared both the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal to be not built by Muslims, but by Hindus. If I repeat this history now - having studiously avoided doing so before this - it is that Dr Elst in his interview puts in question another minority often targetted by the VHP - Christians. It is the VHP which led the agitation against the Pope's visit to India some two years ago.
Dr Elst in his interview mentions "thousands of Hindus" killed by Christians in North East India. This is being said here in Trinidad where one of the Indian myths is that of oppression by Christians and oppression operated by Afro-Trinis and continued under the PNM. It is likely therefore to be accepted and to feed into the 'victim' cycle. Well Elst's statement is false. There is no killing of "thousands of Hindus" by Christians in North East India. There is conflict in North East India. There is the ongoing conflict in Nagaland between those Nagars who were always opposed to the boundaries of the Indian State established by Britain. The present BJP Government has in fact been negotiating a peace settlement between one of the largest Nagar factions - the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim - whose leaders have taken refuge, not in a 'Christian' country but in Thailand. There is a conflict between these Nagars and other 'tribals' as to the extent of a Nagar federation. There is ongoing conflict in two North-Eastern States of Meghalaya and Tripura where guerilla outfits have massacred a number of non-tribals and sometimes other tribals.
But these are not religious confrontations. They are part of complex battled in India's sensitive North-East which are sometimes separatist demands and sometimes battles between tribal groups and non-tribals, or between 'moderate' tribals and extremist tribals.
Now it is mischief to call these conflicts "Christians killing thousands of Hindus". In the same sentence Dr Elst absolves indirectly the VHP often blamed for the murder of the Australian missionary Staines. The problem is that Staines, a foreigner and a medical missionary has not been the only Christian killed. Indian priests and laypeople have been killed and Indian nuns have been raped and terrorised.
These are Indian citizens - they are not strangers - living in a secular Republic where secularism means exactly what it means here. Contrary to Dr Elst's self made definition, it means that the State is not a religious state and that neither citizenship nor rights within state or society is linked to religion. This also implies the freedom to convert or to be converted as it implies academic and media freedom.
When Dr Elst puts in question the earliest of Indian Christians whose origins are unclear but who have been in India for at least 1,700 years, one begins to wonder what is the agenda. When this is being co-hosted by the UWI History Department who must know of the VHP-RSS attacks on their fellow history colleagues in Indian, one asks: Hey what's going on here?
And a debate on Secular vs Religious in the secular Republic of Trinidad and Tobago? Hey, what's going on here?
There is much that is magnificent about the Maha Sabha - that for another article but not next week.
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