January 28, 2023

The Tale of Two Committees

Listen to article

The story of two committees that derailed the objective study of India’s history.

Keywords: Indian History | Systematic disinformation | Indian identity | Prof. R. C. Mazumdar | Prof. S.L. Bhyrappa | Nationalism | Communalism | Objectivity 

Recent debates on Indian historical chronology, historiography and historicity of epics are arousing much interest in academia and also in the national public discourse. This debate acquires much significance as post-independence decisions on recording and educating the masses on Indian history greatly influenced general perceptions of India’s identity and culture. 

Yet, surprisingly the history text-books taught to millions every year have almost five thousand years’ of Indian history confined only to a few pages whereas hundreds of pages are devoted to a mere six hundred-odd years of medieval invaders’ rule geographically restricted mostly to the north of India starting from 1192 to 1857, and to the ninety years of colonial rule from 1857 to 1947.

Culture is the soul of any country and history is the spine of its legacy and identity. India’s history spans innumerable centuries. Yet, surprisingly the history text-books taught to millions every year have almost five thousand years’ of Indian history confined only to a few pages whereas hundreds of pages are devoted to a mere six hundred-odd years of medieval invaders’ rule geographically restricted mostly to the north of India starting from 1192 to 1857, and to the ninety years of colonial rule from 1857 to 1947. Since independence, almost three generations of Indian citizens have been exposed to ‘half-truths’ or fallacious historical knowledge concocted to suit particular narratives on India. Systematic methods have been used to destroy and distort a society’s established beliefs by embedding deceptive narratives and dwarfing, submerging, and even destroying geographical spaces of the legacies of antiquity. Traversing the geography of the country and finding scores of such historic monuments lying in ruins, one realises how playing with facts has adversely influenced objective scholarship and understanding of India. 

The post-independence tactful attempt to  suppressio veri, suggestio falsi’  or suppress the truth to suggest falsehood can be exposed and brought to the fore by analysing the tales of two committees set in newly independent India.   

Committee 1 – Politics in Penning History:

The post-independence tactful attempt to  suppressio veri, suggestio falsi’  or suppress the truth to suggest falsehood can be exposed and brought to the fore by analysing the tales of two committees set in newly independent India.  

Recent political discourse has drawn attention to investigate the retelling of Indian history in the highest official circles. We have two books titled ‘The History of the Freedom Movement in India’, written right after India’s independence which narrate different histories of the country and make for a great case study of the same subject. The official history of the freedom movement written by the government nominated bureaucrats starts with the premise that India lost independence only in the nineteenth century and had, thus, an experience of subjugation to a foreign power for only about a century. In contrast, facts enumerated in scholar Prof. R. C. Mazumdar’s ‘unofficial’ History of Freedom Movement in India, tell us that a large part of India lost independence about five to six centuries before the stated years to foreign invaders and rulers and merely changed masters in the nineteenth century. This one juxtaposition reveals how this fact has materially affected the course of imparting factual historical knowledge in India.

In 1948, Prof Mazumdar had approached the government of India to sponsor the writing of the history of India from an Indian perspective, justifying that free India should have history written by Indian scholars, unaffected by vested colonial interests. 

In 1948, Prof Mazumdar had approached the government of India to sponsor the writing of the history of India from an Indian perspective, justifying that free India should have history written by Indian scholars, unaffected by vested colonial interests. In 1952 the government established a committee comprising of scholars and politicians. Prof Mazumdar as Director was tasked to draft the Project. Prof Mazumdar’s draft did not find favour with some of the Board members including the then Education Minister under Prime Minister Nehru, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. The Board was unceremoniously dissolved and after some time a bureaucrat close to Nehru, Dr Tara Chand, was assigned the task of writing the ‘official’ History of the Freedom Movement of India. Prof Mazumdar was shocked at this move. Rather than accept manipulated subjective history, Prof Mazumdar initiated his own project with like-minded colleagues, to record the History of the Freedom Movement in India as per decades of his research and scholarship. His book had to be well in time to counter the official version of Dr Tara Chand. We are fortunate that we have such an authoritative source in Prof Mazumdar’s three volumes History of the Freedom Movement in India, published in 1962. The book is an eye-opener revealing the many realities of India’s long-drawn freedom struggles, and varied aspects of India’s chequered past. Attempts of ideologues to camouflage and submerge objective truths had encountered Prof Majumdar’s desire to ascertain, retain and reveal historical truths. 

Rather than accept manipulated subjective history, Prof Mazumdar initiated his own project with like-minded colleagues, to record the History of the Freedom Movement in India as per decades of his research and scholarship.

At midnight of 14th August 1947, the Parliament of India had reverberated with Nehru’s, famous speech Tryst with Destiny where he had mentioned ‘At the dawn of history, India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and ….we cannot encourage communalism’. Yet the actions of the former Prime Minister and his aids exposed their communal bent of mind and their facile loyalty to the search for truth. 

Committee 2: The Bhyrappa Case

Prof Bhyrappa argued that facts are sacrosanct to education, especially history, and if texts narrate Aurangzeb’s atrocities they would also have the balancing narratives of Akbar’s positive outreach towards Hindus and endeavours to take along all communities.

Prof. S.L. Bhyrappa, Reader of Philosophy of Education at National Council for Education Research & Training, was similarly ousted out of a committee formed for education reforms. During the year 1969-70, the Central Government under PM Indira Gandhi had established a committee under the Chairmanship of G. Parthasarathy, a diplomat close to Nehru-Gandhi family. Its task was to integrate the nation through education. At the first meeting Chairman Parthasasthy explained that it is their duty to weed out the seeds of thorns from school texts of history, social studies, languages etc. that act as barriers to national integration. The unstated objective was to remove specific historical facts such as Aurangzeb destroyed the holiest of Hindu temples, Khalji burnt the most ancient of universities, or that large communities of Hindus were forcefully converted to Islam by barbaric rulers in different parts of India. Prof Bhyrappa argued that facts are sacrosanct to education, especially history, and if texts narrate Aurangzeb’s atrocities they would also have the balancing narratives of Akbar’s positive outreach towards Hindus and endeavours to take along all communities.Unconvinced, Parathasastry tried to influence Prof Bhyrappa to accept his proposal. When the eminent scholar did not relent the meeting ended. Soon after a new Committee was created and Prof Bhyrappa was shunted out for standing firm on principles, upholding academic integrity and honesty.   

These decisive turning points in the subjective focus of Indian education changed the course of teaching and understanding of India’s past, and its cultural journey. Motivated partiality seeped to the roots of centres of learning from universities down to primary education. JNU (1969), ICHR (1972) and leading national institutes fostered and celebrated such approach in research and teaching of Indian history. 

These decisive turning points in the subjective focus of Indian education changed the course of teaching and understanding of India’s past, and its cultural journey.

It’s an opportune time to revise these blunders. The past decade in independent India’s history stands out for an awakened sense of Indian nationalism. Concerted efforts from the national leadership, the academia as well as the civil society are required to present an objective history of India’s past that will determine India’s future.

Concerted efforts from the national leadership, the academia as well as the civil society are required to present an objective history of India’s past that will determine India’s future.

3 comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Neera Misra

Neera Misra is an Independent Researcher focused on Vedic and Mahabharata period history and culture, and its socio-cultural impacts. She is the Founder Trustee and Chairperson of Draupadi Dream Trust

View all posts