June 27, 1999
© Akhilesh Mithal

Euro Centric History is Lopsided


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The teaching of history in India since the British period has been linked with English and European chronicles while neighboring countries and civilizations have been ignored. The 20th-century history-educated Indian knows little about the heritage of important contemporary civilizations like Iran, Iraq, Arabia, Turkey and China. Or the ancient ones like Babylon, Mesopotamia and Egypt. In contrast, older Indians (those entrusted with decision making as well as opinion leaders), acquired detailed historical knowledge of European history including the Wars of the Roses or the Hundred Years War.
World War between 1939-45, became a well-known area and many Indians claim to have read all that Winston S. Churchill ever wrote. This is the direct outcome of the loss of Independence to a people of an alien as well as a lesser developed culture — the British. As other Europeans never tire of saying "the British contribution to painting, sculpture, music architecture cooking and the art and science of making love is insignificant."

The ignorance or lack of skills was matched by the arrogance and self-adulation seen in self-made rich men. After Plassey [Palaashee] 1757, a flood of bullion started flowing from India. The battle of Seringapatam (Karnataka) in 1799 and the capture of Oudh [Awadh] in the fertile doab region of India at about the same time, added to the riches and made the British rich beyond their dreams. The crass arrogance of 19th-century Britons is outlined and detailed in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s early Minute on Education. The result of the Minute was that the traditional studies of Persian Arabic and Sanskrit linking Indians to their past and their neighbors were starved of grants in order to fund "modern" education and English language and literature.

The object of Macaulay was to breed low-level functionaries for John Company Bahadur’s clerical needs. They were taught to reflect and echo the master race’s contempt for the natives and their heritage. Everything was to be in the image of the masters and ungreyziyat or being "English minded" was the key to success and for coming-up in life during British rule.
This attitude reflected itself in all aspects of life including town planning and architecture. For example, the Great War of 1914-18, was made central to the daily life of the people inhabiting or visiting the capital of undivided India under British rule by locating the War Memorial Arch in the heart of the "New" Delhi, built to honor the might and the glory of the great British Empire "on which the sun never set". This huge and ungainly structure accords neither with neo-classical arches like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or the classical ones like Hadrian’s Arch. It looks like a huge enlargement of a disembodied keyhole.

Despite its lack of grace style or beauty it was adopted by culture fractured free Indians as their own, and the Amar Jawan Jyoti (Eternal Flame honouring the soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed in the wars fought by India) is located here. The popular name for the War Memorial Arch is "India Gate".

The name "India Gate" links the Dillee structure to the Bombay or Mumbai building called "gateway" standing at Apollo Bunder. With its three opening design making a "tirpolia" the Bombay gateway is remarkably Indian looking (as against its nondescript Dillee cousin) and has a grace and charm. It was constructed to welcome George V on his India visit.

It is for consideration whether the isolation of India from its history or heritage and its geography or its neighbours is not somehow embodied in these two important centres of civic recreation being called "India". It is as if as a result of slavery and its sequel, a partition which excised the border areas from India, the country and its people have ceased to be outwards looking.

We shall ponder this problem again. Meanwhile, we can go back a few centuries to another gate which is today standing by itself, forlorn and neglected outside the Dillee (Delhi) gate of Shahjahan’s 17th-century city (Old Delhi). Our gate, called Kabul Darwaazaa was part of Humayun and Sher Shah’s Delhi (16th-century). It led to Kabul which was part of India until 1739 and beyond Kabul to Heart and Qandhar and Iran. This, once outwards looking gate has, miraculously, survived the ravages of time and the vulpine activities of builders of newer and newer and yet more new Delhi’s and their contractors.

To aborigine Dilleewaalaas this gate is known as "the bloodstained" or Khoonee Darwaazaa (gate). This new name for the building dates to September 21, 1857. Captain Hodson master spy of the East India Company tricked three princes of the defeated Imperial dynasty into accompanying him without escort or bodyguard. As they approached Shahjahanabad’s Dillee Darwaazaa the perfidious Britisher shot the trusting princes down in cold blood and stripped the corpses of all valuable raiment and jewels. Their heads were severed from the trunks for presentation to the captive Emperor.

The bodies were suspended upside down from the top of Kabul Darwaazaa so that the sight would terrorize the truculent and rebellious Dilleewaalaas. The blood that flowed from the headless trunks stained the stones at the base of the Kabul gate. Old Dilleewaalaas believe that the bloodstains would remain on the gateway until the Day of Judgement when the trump of doom would summon all who have ever lived to account for their deeds before the throne of the Almighty. Then the two sons and one grandson of the last Emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar would grasp the perfidious Captain Hodson by the neck and drag him before God and throw him down on the ground to arraign him of the crimes of perfidy and treachery and have their revenge in his consignment to Hell (Doazukh).

Thus we see India moving from a Kabul Gate in 1857 to an "India" Gate under British and "Indo-Anglian" rule. The change represents a transformation from outwards looking to inwards looking. The subjection to alien rule meant that external or foreign affairs and defense of the realm became forbidden areas for Indians. Thus for eight generations or two centuries no Indian represented his country abroad or dealt with an envoy from a foreign power. This made for isolation. In 1947 the overland links with neighbors were lost to what remained as "India".

The portions of Kashmir, which formed international borders like Gilgit could have formed a window to look out. This could not happen as they were seized by the British troops stationed there at the expense of the Maharaja and State of Jammu & Kashmir and handed over to Pakistan, which willingly became a client state of the Anglo-Americans and a forward post in the cold war. An American pilot shot down in USSR confessed to have taken off from an American manned underground air base in Sargodha Pakistan. Thus isolation is the fate wished upon India by history geography and the machinations of international powers. Perhaps the 51st year of freedom and the beginning of a new millennium is an appropriate time to address this problem.

During his time Nehru created the non-aligned movement. A "third" world of neutral countries to overcome the world dominance of powers representing the capitalist and the communist worlds. He omitted to take domestic action in the field of culture, the social sciences and the humanities. This is because of personal problems. Sent abroad to become a pukkaa feringhee saheb at age eight, Nehru experienced the brutal culture fracture only a British public school can inflict and make into a conditioned reflex. When he came to power he was an old man. In any case industrialization was then considered the panacea for all ills.

If, we are wiser now we have to accept that cultural regeneration is the most important area if we want to redress the iniquities suffered in the past. We need company in the world. The company of old civilizations like Iran and Turkey and China. Without these fresh and diverse inputs the Indian people will remain vulnerable to the blandishments of obscurantist neo-Hindus who create a make believe "golden" past where virtue, a monopoly of India prevailed.

A new millennium is approaching fast and it can be the occasion for a new beginning. Also a part return to Kabul Gate for example!

See related Itihaas articles on the need to rewrite Indian history.


© Anant Kartik Mithal, 1991-2000. All rights reserved.
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