An interview with Dr. N.S. Rajaram


           ( “History books need to be rewritten because they are both obsolete and have material that are inappropriate for schoolchildren,” says Dr. N.S. Rajaram. “Books written 25 or 30 years ago are using discredited material like the Aryan invasion. In all this there appears to be a consistent anti-national, colonial bias masquerading as ‘objective,’ and even ‘Marxist,’ as if they have a monopoly on objectivity and scholarship. The truth is they have produced nothing original in more than 30 years, with most important advances coming from outsiders. We need a change of guard. Navaratna S. Rajaram is one of the most influential historians of our time. In his work he brings to bear his scientific training along with knowledge of several Indian and European languages, including Sanskrit and Dravidian languages. He is best known for his work on Vedic India, especially the decipherment of the Indus script with Natwar Jha, which they have now extended to all the seals. He has worked with David Frawley showing that the Vedic civilization had a southern component, which contributed significantly to its language and literature. V.A. Gopala  interviewed him in Bangalore).


Gopala: We are hearing that the NCERT guidelines amount to Talibanization of history books. What do you feel?

Rajaram: This is typical of the hyperbole and scare tactics used by people when they run out of facts and logic. Then they try to shout you down with slogans. If there is any Talibanization, it is coming from the ‘secularist’ side.

  Gopala: How do you mean? Can you give any example?

Rajaram: In Bangalore, every English daily has been vandalized by Muslim activists on one pretext or another. And each time the newspaper management has come out with an apology. Can you imagine-- the victim apologizing to the attacker? In a recent incident, the children’s section of a national newspaper had a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed. A local ‘minority’ politician used it as a pretext to incite violence. Some ‘secular’ MPs even wanted the paper banned! The really absurd thing is that the front page of the issue, which contained the apology to the vandals, also had a column attacking re-writing of history. And the same week, a Russian film depicting the last days of Lenin was banned in Kolkotta following violent objections by Communists.

These ‘secularists’ were the same people who defended the ‘artistic freedom’ of M.F. Husain’s paintings of Hindu goddesses and Deepa Mehta’s film insulting Hindu widows. Apparently this artistic freedom doesn’t extend to the artist who drew the cartoon of Mohammed or the maker of the film ‘The Last Days of Lenin.’

Gopala: What is behind such behavior?

Rajaram: There are two causes. First of course is legitimate fear— that it is safe to insult Hinduism, but Muslims may get violent on the slightest pretext. And they have encouraged violent reactions by buckling to the demands each time. Fear of violent backlash makes them bend over backwards, pandering to anti-social elements. When editors and writers take such positions, people assume that it is guided by fear.

Gopala: What is the second cause?

Rajaram: Alienation brought about by colonial mentality of intellectuals. Most of them were educated at so-called ‘Westernized’ institutions, which are not Westernized at all. They are really seminaries that project a colonial view of their own history and culture—that Indian people (including themselves) and their culture are inferior to the West. This was created by European rulers to make Indians, especially the elite feel inferior.

Gopala: This is a very strong charge. Can you give any examples?

Rajaram: Certainly! You remember the recent controversy in Leftist circles following the publication my book with Jha on the Indus script. It was mainly a personal attack with charges of fabricating a horse seal. It is a different story that horse remains have been found at Harappan sites all over the place. But the interesting thing is that this secularist historian, who is presented as India’s foremost authority on ancient India had to drag in two Westerners, one of them a California computer programmer to attack me! Why couldn’t she do it herself in a proper, scholarly manner?

            It was the same story with another secularist eminence. He went to Canada and America to complain about ‘saffronization’ of history. They still think that the West should tell Indians how to write their history. Because they are trapped in a colonial mindset and inferiority complex, they feel everyone should be the same way.

 Gopala: Has this led to a Marxist bias in history books?

Rajaram: Their Marxism is just a cover. What is really at work is a slavish mindset that wants to retain their umbilical cord to colonial masters. Note that Indian Communists—both politicians and academics—have always been anti-national and pro-colonial. They accepted money from the British Government to spy on national leaders like Subhas Bose and Jayaprakash. They supported Pakistan and even the Razkars in Hyderabad. Later they supported China’s attack on India. They supported Chinese nuclear tests but opposed India’s Pokharan tests. Now their main agenda is to sabotage India’s improving relationship with America in the war against terrorism.

            These people cannot be compared to other Asian Marxist leaders like Ho Chi Min or Mao who fought against European colonialism. Indian Marxists are anti-national parasites always looking for a host organism to feed on. Their history is of the same kind— always glorifying invaders and colonial rulers resulting in low standards.

 Gopala: How do you mean?

Rajaram: Just look at their contribution in ancient history. Their leading light doesn’t even know Sanskrit. The whole group has made no significant contribution to ancient history in forty years. The last significant scholar was the late D.D. Kosambi and he was an outsider. The others are rehashing old stuff like the Aryan invasion with new names like the Aryan migration. They have totally missed the Vedic-Harappan connection that unifies Harappan archaeology and the Vedic literature. This is the major development of our time but the ‘secularists’ have nothing to show.

            Even their criticism is political and colonial rather than scholarly. International conferences have been organized to discuss the Vedic-Harappan connection, but they avoid them. They should present concrete evidence to support their viewpoints. Instead they run to political platforms like SAHMAT making political statements or get foreigners to attack Hinduism using slogans like ‘saffronization’ and ‘Talibanization.’

 Gopala: What about the NCERT controversy, about negative portrayals?

Rajaram: It is an extension of the same mindset—placing self-preservation above scholarship and education. Note that NCERT is concerned about school curriculum—not college or research issues. So we should take into consideration that we are dealing with young minds that are sensitive and impressionable. We should be careful to balance the good with the bad, but at the same time avoid issues that are controversial or unnecessary. To take an example, is it proper to teach children that the Vedic people ate beef when the issue is still controversial? As far as I am concerned it’s trivial. On the other side, it would be proper to talk about the discovery of the Vedic Sarasvati and the Vedic symbols found in Harappan archaeology, but premature to discuss the decipherment of the Indus script. These are topics for special projects and research.

            What concerns me even more is the deliberate campaign to hurt Hindu and Sikh feelings. It is OK to point out drawbacks like untouchability, destruction of temples by Islamic invaders and the Goa Inquisition. It is part of history. But to attack the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur based on a single dubious source shows a meanness of spirit with the intent to hurt children’s feelings. In that case why not bring up negative things about Prophet Mohammed? Like how he had the poetess Asma bint Marawan murdered when she was sleeping with her child for criticizing him? Or how he made his adopted son divorce his young wife so he could marry her? Similarly, why not highlight the fact that some Renaissance Popes led horrible lives and were guilty of incest? Should we tell all these to children?

            The basic problem is that the history establishment has fallen into the hands of self-serving people of weak scholarship but bitterly resentful of losing the privileged positions they enjoyed because of their colonial orientation. Now with the national spirit on the rise, political freedom is being followed by intellectual freedom. These people, always used to protective political masters are unable cope with the change.