Discover more from Learning by Proxy with Vivek Srinivasan
History of a Nation
As proud as we are of our nations and nationhood today, none of them were the same even 200 years ago!
Any of you who has had to travel overseas would have had to stand in a queue at an immigration counter, most likely at an airport and have your passport stamped. The passport did not exist until the First World War. It was created in order to restrict the movement of people (read spies) between countries during the First World War. It was formalised in 1920 during the meeting of the League of Nations and eventually became what it is today.
Before that if you had to travel to another country you just took off and landed there, most likely on a ship or by foot. A passport at the time, would often be a letter written by someone noble in the kingdom that would allow you passage through the port. Often the letters would read “Please let this person pass, otherwise…”
The concept of nationhood was rather evanescent at the time. Lands were ruled by rulers. Often they were ruled by someone who pledged allegiance to someone with a larger army and paid him some taxes. Hence a kingdom was a collection of fiefdoms. What limited people’s movement between fiefs was their ability to travel, the language(s) that they knew and the trade that they knew.
In those times lands changed hands regularly. If you take a country like Palestine, it becomes impossible to say who it belongs to because it changed hands so many times. Spain and Portugal were part of the Umayyad empire and were called Al-Andalus. The Southern province of Spain even today is called Andalusia.
India in its modern form did not exist before 1947. In fact, it did not exist in this form at any time in history before that. It was often divided into dozens of kingdoms and hundreds and thousands of fiefdoms. The only kingdom that came remotely close to uniting India in the form it looks today was the Mauryan Empire in 250 BC.
History is almost impossible to understand when it is told in a chronological straight line. But when you decide to erase parts of it as per your convenience in order to suit a narrative, it makes things near impossible.
A new set of textbooks, part of the “rationalized syllabus” by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)—an autonomous organization under the federal education ministry—omits chapters on Mughal rulers from Indian school textbooks.
Effectively, students can study some of the history of Mughals in Class 7 (around age 12), a little in Class 8, none in Classes 9 to 11, and a shortened version in Class 12, according to Indian Express, which inspected each textbook for chapters on and references of the Mughal era.
Supporters of the revamp argue the Mughals have been overrepresented in Indian history and this is all part of what they call “right-sizing.” But having reigned over the country from 1526 to 1761, the Mughal dynasty was one of India’s longest-lasting rulers, and hence has an outsize footprint in the nation’s history. The wealthy and culturally-rich set of Muslim emperors have also left marks from centuries to come, from Delhi’s Red Fort to Agra’s Taj Mahal.
The reason that the history of the Mughals is overrepresented is that our textbooks teach almost nothing about the Southern dynasties. There is no history in the books south of the Vindhyas. The Cholas extended their empire right up to what is modern-day Malaysia. You would be hard-pressed to find any details of this in the textbooks.
If the Mughal rule of 300 years is not worth talking about then the British rule of 250 years should also be erased. This implies that the students will go from 1500 directly to Independent India!
The Mughal rule stretched from Kabul to Bengal. What would be 4 different countries today? As I said, the concept of nation was rather different. Babar, the first Mughal hailed from Ferghana which is in modern-day Uzbekistan. He tried to capture Samarkand and lost control of Ferghana and vice-versa. He did this three times before turning his sights on Delhi. To paint the Mughal empire as just the Muslim rulers of India betrays the utter and complete lack of understanding of history.
The funny thing is parts of North India were ruled by Muslim rules since 1100. First by the Ghurid Dynasty, then by the Tughlaq Dynasty and then by the Lodhi Dynasty. If they wish to wipe Muslims from the history of India, they would have to clean out a thousand years of history. The fact that they have not gone after the Ghurids and the Tughlaqs and the Lodhis is a testament to their limited understanding of history.
For starters, none of the nations that exist today would have existed precisely the same way even 500 years ago, let alone 1000 years ago. Defining a land's history based on the present status quo is arrogantly stupid.
The history of every nation is the history of many other nations as well. None of them was what they are today. None of them arrived here in the same shape or with the same people as they have today.
All of this is being done to promote a Hindutva agenda by the BJP. The funny thing is that Hinduism and Sanskrit and all of the rest of the appendages came to India from what is Russia today. In the book Early Indians, the author provides genetics-based evidence of the arrival of the Aryan race and the languages that they brought along with them.
So let us go ahead and delete that part of history as well.
Soon all the history that we would be left with will be works of literature and we will be left to assume that religious epics describe the actual history of the country!