?No study has so potent an influence in forming a nation'smind and character as a critical and careful study of its past history,? writes the famous Indian historian R.C.Dutt. And yet generations of Indians have grown up in this country in ignorance of their past and have been fed on distorted history.
Have we overcome this curse on this nation? We have not. Perhaps we cannot. How can we write of our common experience of history when the Muslims treat the heroes of the Hindus as their enemies and the Hindus have greater reasons to reciprocate? Unless we resolve these fundamental problems, we will continue to fool ourselves that we have a ?common history?.
Be that as it may, there are other things of which we are equally ignorant. For example, we do not know what the children of the world read about India'shistory in their schools. We do not know the extent of the distortion of India'shistory in world history, mostly written by imperial powers.
To project a truer image of India, it is, therefore, necessary to institute a study of what the world reads about India in its schools. This is the least we should do to prepare the country for its great power status in the world.
The fact is: our government and our universities have never wanted to know what students in America, UK, Europe, Russia, China and Japan read about India. And not knowing what they read, how can we know what they think of this country?
Dorothy Woodman, an English sociologist, writes: ?Our (western) system of education and our philosophy, which too often continue to assume that all civilisations are based on Greece and Rome, induce us to treat Indian and Asian civilisations as nothing but a series of cul-de-sac. This distorted, unbalanced, arrogant view of history will change slowly when Asian writers reveal not only their own cultures but unfold, as in a Chinese scroll, the long landscape of East-West relations. Asian historians can help us to see ourselves as thay see us.? True, but have we got the historians, who can undertake these tasks? I have my doubts.
If the western view of Asian history is ?distorted, unbalanced and arrogant?, have our own historians?the Marxists, above all?done a better job? They have not. They have made it even worse, for love of country, they say, is an un-Marxist failing of the bourgeoisie!
But they are in good company. Conservative historians of America objected to the inclusion of the Indus Valley civilisation in the teachings of world history to American students! And yet the discovery of the Indus Valley was of such momentous importance that it compelled the rewriting of world history. But, then, it is for Indian historians to insist on the inclusion of the Indus Valley in the history of the world and to see that it is correctly interpreted. Have our historians taken up this work?
Of course, there are sane historians in the West, who are for setting more rational ?standards? in the writing of history. But to enforce sanity has not been easy. For example, is the history of Europe more important than the history of Asia? Does the ?Magna Carta? call for greater attention than the Gupta Empire of India with its great achievements in mathematics and cosmic sciences?
Prof. Rose Dunn, who was the coordinating editor of Standards in America, asserted that ?India was where the fundamentals of modern mathematics started.?
Perhaps the problem lies with us. How can foreign academics take us seriously when our own academic community is not insistent in promoting India'simage?
In the over half a century of our Independence, Indian historians have done little to change the image of India in the world. And there is much to change. There is little of historical writing in Sanskrit. The first historians of India were Muslims?Persians to be precise. These court historians were expected to extol the royal regimes, whatever the truth. Thus, what they wrote during the Muslim period are false, unreliable, biased. The British, however, found this useful to impress on the British back home that the Hindus were a primitive people, who needed to be civilised. So, whatever history the British wrote was undertaken to justify British rule in India.
Did Indian historians correct these errors? How can they? They were mostly Marxists, who were hostile to the spiritual civilisation of India. Naturally, they did great damage to our image.
It should, therefore, be very clear that there is immense work to be done to correct the three great distortions of our history?by the Persians, the British and the Marxists.
Western historians have naturally given little importance to Asia and Africa. Between 1750 and 1766, 58 volumes of Universal History were produced in London. Of these, four volumes were devoted to the Biblical lands, 11 to Greece and Rome, 27 volumes to Europe, and 15 to the rest of the world. It is clear that only Europe was important to them. That tradition has continued to our times.
This contempt for non-European peoples?it is nothing less?is inherent among historians and intellectuals of the West. This is no longer acceptable to India.