Ancient India as Hindu

There is a clear and underlying assumption that the popular faiths and beliefs of the vast majority of people who lived here before the ancient period were ‘Hindu’ as we understand the term today. The conflict or convulsions between the Dravidian and Aryan cultures and beliefs are not merely glossed over, they are presented as non-inimical to each other in the desire to substantiate the claim that  ‘Hinduism’ was able to absorb contradictions and conflicts “peacefully”. By implication or actual assertions the textbooks also state that the real conflicts came with the interaction with other faiths.


In this context, it would be educative to look closely at the prescribed textbooks for history and social studies teaching in Gujarat, with virtually no alterations since 1991, many books prescribed by the ICSE national board among others, and even some college level texts that contain these problematic formulations. 

One of the recurring myths about Indian culture, perpetuated ad noseum is that it is one of the most non-violent, peace-loving and tolerant

The state syllabus detailed in the texts being currently used by the Gujarat state board, outlines clearly for the teacher and student of history that when the author(s) of the text-book write about India they use the term for the modern nation as synonymous with “Hindu”. The student is instructed that the idea of studying social studies is to develop a true understanding of ancient India. The political implications of this assumption are significant and dangerous, because, immediately for the history learner paradigms have been drawn. It is only within these that adjustments are subsequently made for ‘synthesis’ or ‘syncretism.’

The syllabus for the standard five social studies text printed by the Gujarat State board, outlines the objective of the syllabus that has been laid out for the ten-year-old child:

‘Towards understanding the Indian Cultural heritage in a proper perspective’. 
This ‘perspective’, as described below in detail, outlines erroneously that the ancient age begins with Vedic times.It becomes clear from this introductory social studies text for the fifth standard child that no perspective of world ancient civilisations is given through the syllabus; that the desire is not just to begin and end with India, but ancient India has been made synonymous with the Vedic; and that values like ‘respectable status of women in Indian culture’ are rooted in the characters depicted through stories taken from the Vedas. There is no attempt to develop any sense of historical enquiry that could lead to a student understanding the quality of life and civilisations that existed pre-Vedas; the exchanges that took place between ancient peoples through river and sea routes etc. 

Not only is this kind of social studies self-limiting and restrictive, it is an approach that is set to stifle free thinking and enquiry. Here is how the objective of the syllabus is outlined: 

Ø  Ancient Age (From Vedic times to  Harshavardhan)

Ø  Is introduced to Vedic literature which is an expression of Indian Culture.

Ø    Knows about the respectable status of women in Indian culture. 

Ø Gets acquainted with the basic truths of life against a backdrop of Indian Culture.

Ø  Learns for himself the truth; that in the context of Indian culture a person acquires a high status not by right of birth but by merit.

Ø   Knows about how in the Indian Cultural context the rules were oriented towards the subjects. 
Ø   Imbibes the basic values of Indian Culture expressed by the narratives of the epics, Ramayana, Mahabharat, and by the main characters in it. 

Ø   For instance, the importance of 1) The purity of domestic life 2) Steadfastness in adhering to truth even at the cost of suffering.

Ø   Moulds the character which makes one abide by ones duty when there is a conflict between personal relationship and a sense of duty. 
(Social Studies text, Gujarat state board, Std. V)

Apart from the stated objective of portraying ancient Indian culture as synonymous with the Vedas, the Gujarat board texts also proceed to depict Indian culture as inherently superior to any other.

In the chapter titled, ‘The Cultural Heritage of Ancient India’, the child is told: “Ancient Indian history covers a period of about four thousand years. It can be divided into the following periods: The Indus valley civilisation period, the Vedic period, the post-Vedic period, the Epic period, the Age of Buddha and Mahavir, the Maurya and the Post-Gupta periods and the Early Muslim period.” The same text goes on to assert that from the beginning of the Indus valley period to the ‘end of Hindu supremacy’ the contribution of Indian civilisation was unique, implying that, thereafter, with the ‘Muslim period’ the contribution could not be measured in a similar fashion. 

“Right from the coming of the Aryans to India (around 2000 B.C.) to the end of the Hindu supremacy (around 1200 A.D.). The Indian civilisation made a unique contribution in many different fields of life, a contribution which includes certain high moral values. It is because of this reason that the ancient civilisation of India has survived today in the form of Indian culture while other ancient civilisation like those of Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and China have disappeared from the world. These countries do not have the continuity of culture, which is found in the Indian culture.”

The same, Std. IX text, that selectively excludes historical details like the Shaivite-Buddhist conflicts, oppression of women and the shudras, the state of Dalits even today, is however emphatic that “the inherent peace and tolerance of Indian culture” is one of its characteristics. This is one of the recurring myths that have been repeated ad nauseum about India and her ancient culture, the fact that it is “the most non-violent, peace-loving and tolerant”, a myth that is essential if the ‘Hindu’ is to be pitted as the quintessential Indian, a myth that sits well with the ‘others’  being labelled both ‘invaders’ and ‘foreigners’. It is also a myth that seeks to justify present-day violence against the country’s minorities, seeking justification for this in ‘the wrongs of yore.’

In a section titled ‘Tolerance and urge for peace’, the fourteen- year- old is told: “Tolerance and a strong desire for peace are two distinct features of Indian culture. Brahminism with its two main functions namely Shaivism and Vishnavism. Buddhism and Jainism were the main faith followed in ancient India. These faiths adopted a policy of tolerance towards one another. For examples the Satwahanas and the Guptas were followers of Brahminism. But they showed tolerance towards Buddhism and Jainism and gave financial grants to their places of worship.          

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 6



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