By Soroor Ahmed

Newspapers, television channels, news-portals, radios, etc. are, in a way, every moment engaged in the compilation of history . But it is an established fact that we do not get totally unbiased news from most of these agencies spread across the globe. They are often flooded with distorted news based on half-truths. Some of the facts are given a different twist or slant to suit the owner of the particular media group or please the powers that be. If an incident is completely blacked out by a section of media, others would hugely exaggerate it.

So if one cannot fully trust the reporting of events or happening in one’s own town or village, how can any account of near or remote past be believed as gospel truth.

Here one can claim that newspapers or other modern means of information cannot be categorised as a part of history-writing, but it is also a fact that those engaged in history writing do rely on them to get an idea of the past. Of course, their presence since the 18th century facilitates history-writing.

From Herodotus’ The Histories in the ancient time to E.H. Carr’s What is History? in the 20th century, anyone who has written on the topic is of the view that subjective interpretation of any event matters much in history-writing.

For example, a German historian of 1930s-40s – even if s/he was not a Nazi – would greatly differ with his French, British or American counterpart in interpreting the happenings in Europe. Nine decades later the contemporary German historian may interpret the same tumultuous years in a very different way. His or her view may be very much similar to that of other European writers. Thus, this way history-writing changes from period to period.

Then there is the difference between scholarly history writing and the one prepared for school syllabi. Anything taught to school children is likely to have a much bigger impact on the society in the days to come.

Even in the case of scholarly writing, historians have, at times, deliberately or unknowingly lost objectivity. Many colonial European historiographers are the main culprits.

As history is often written by victors and not by vanquished, there is often a certain purpose in the whole exercise. The subaltern aspect is often overlooked. Many Orientalists – that is, western scholars who write on the East – for example on Islamic, Indian or Chinese civilisation – have consciously tried to tarnish the image of people living in this part of the world. They never miss any opportunity to promote the cultural supremacy of the West. At the same time they did everything so that they could consolidate their position in the countries colonised by them.

Take the example of their writings on two Mughal rulers – Akbar and Aurangzeb. Without holding any brief for any of the two, one can say that it was Akbar and not Aurangzeb, who killed much larger number of Hindus in pursuit of winning back Delhi and expanding his empire. Be it Hemu, Uday Singh or his son Maharana Pratap, they all fought and lost to the Mughal army of Akbar. He craftly used the Rajput general Mansingh and advisor Birbal, to tame the same Rajput rulers. Thus from scratch in 1556, he ended up establishing a huge empire by the time of his death in 1605.

But it is Aurangzeb, whom the European historians have dubbed anti-Hindu zealot. No doubt, unlike Akbar, Aurangzeb was a religious person. Yet it is a fact that he spent half of 49 years of rule – almost the same as Akbar’s – in fighting the Muslim ruler of Deccan. He almost spent 25 years of his life there and died in Ahmednagar. His army fought a bloody battle with Sikhs. In contrast, his generals had to briefly confront the revolt of Shivaji.

The British historians did all this to consolidate their position. As the British came to India within half a century of the death of Aurangzeb, their historians did everything to demonise him. As they wanted to establish their position in India, it was necessary to demolish the image of the last powerful Mughal ruler. Painting Akbar as anti-Hindu at this point of time would not have helped the British design.

This can be understood with recent examples. Chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar consolidated their position in West Bengal and Bihar by sketching a very bad picture of the Left Front and Lalu-Rabri raj in the respective states. Attacking the predecessors of Left Front and RJD would not have worked.

Notwithstanding the partisan attitude of the western historians, they still maintained a sort of decorum. Even in the post-independent history-writing in India, there was some semblance of order, though at times, a number of historians exhibited lack of professionalism.

However, it is in the recent years that in the name of history attempts are being made to spread and teach outlandish stories and myths. This is not happening in an isolated and haphazard manner, but in a very planned and organised way.

The medieval Muslim rulers are held responsible for whatever goes wrong. Muslims of today are targeted for whatever they did. By that logic Rajputs of today should be blamed for whatever Jai Chand and Rana Sangh did. They invited Mohammad Ghori and Babur respectively.

In that way attempts are made to distract attention from the failures of the government. Even for the practice of Sati, Muslim rulers are blamed by a particular group of historians.

The irony is that not to speak of Hindus, even in the case of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who died in 1839, four of his wives and seven other women in his life offered for Sati. Incidentally, this incident took place a decade after the ban on Sati.

As late as 1990 Roop Konwar committed Sati in Rajasthan. She was glorified not only by many people, but also by a minister in the then V P Singh government. There is a Rani Sati Mandir in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan.

Yet three centuries after the collapse of the Mughals, Muslim rulers are held accountable even for this religious practice of Hindus by a section of so-called historians. The sad fact is that such views are gaining currency for well-known reasons and may soon become a part of mainstream history.

The latest development on this front is somewhat absurd. It is being spread that the British had not given full independence to India, but it was given on 99 years lease. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress party are held responsible for it.

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