Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Archeological Survey of India has served the agenda of Hindu right for rewriting history ever since 1947: Scholar

Somnath in ruins
By Our Representative
In what appears to be one of the strongest critiques of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the huge organization which seeks to preserve the country's historical monuments, a London School of Economics (LSE) blog has found nothing new with regard to the reported decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appoint a committee headed by KN Dikshit, ex-Joint Director General of ASI, to "help" government rewrite "certain aspects of ancient history.”
If the aim of the committee is said to be to find "archaeological and DNA evidence" to establish the Hindus as the descendants of the original inhabitants of the territory and to make a case for factual proof for the existence of the Hindu myths, the blog, by Rachel A Varghese, a Jawharlal Nehru University (JNU) scholar, says that ASI was used immediately after Independence exactly for this.
Citing the case of Somnath Temple in Gujarat, the scholar, who studied archaeology in Portugal and Italy, andrecently submitted her doctoral thesis at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, says, the removal of the ruins of the temple to ‘reconstruct’ the temple in its ‘original’ form was "against the principles that govern protection of such monuments, one of the primary functions of ASI."
Pointing out that "there was resistance from some quarters of the archaeology department to the removal of the ruins", yet, "the ruins were replaced by a new structure", Varghese says, this was done to satisfy Congress leader KM Munshi's "Hindu nationalist view that the raid on the temple by Mahmoud of Ghazni in 1024 was a wrong done on the people (read Hindus) of India by the Muslims."
Drawing a parallel with the committee formed by Modi, Varghese says, "Soon after independence, an advisory committee was formed in 1949 which included the then Director General of the ASI to decide on the matter of ‘reconstruction of the temple’."
Calling it "explicit manipulation of history and archaeology by the Hindu Right in India", the scholar says, it was also meant to establish "intimate association that archaeology has had in the creation of a particular imagination of the nation based on religious identity in India." Thus, "the archaeology of Indus Valley sites" has been used for "identity assertions", with the pre-historic population "being dubbed varyingly as Indian, Aryan, Dravidian, Hindu or Tamil."
Calling it a "nationalist obsession of attributing ‘Indian-ness’ to the Indus sites", the scholar says, this prompted "large scale excavations for new sites in the western states of India following independence, the Tamil assertions of the Dravidians being direct descendants of the Indus population and the attempts to link the Vedic Aryans to the Indus Valley civilization."
Asserting that "this should be understood in the atmosphere of majoritarian and exclusionary politics of the Hindutva, whereby Aryan equated to Hindu becomes the original inhabitants of India", leading to "Muslims and the other minority groups being automatically cast as aliens", Varghese says, ASI's role becomes clear when it examined the Ayodhya case.
Thus, "ASI was asked to give a definitive answer to a legally formulated question of whether or not a temple existed at the site of the Babri Masjid, which was demolished to build the mosque. If one examines the excavation report that the ASI submitted to the court in the Ayodhya case, one finds that the institution also shares with the judiciary positivist notions of archaeology as a science which can make claims to such ‘truths’..."
Now, according to the scholar, things have gone so that ASI's projects include locating "the places mentioned in the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana." There is Saraswati Heritage Project "that aims to identify the archaeological sites on the banks of the mythical river Saraswati, mentioned in the Rigveda."
"In a more recent instance, ASI is reported to have allowed excavations at Barnava in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh at a site which is popularly held to be the ‘Lakshagriha’ (literally house of lac) mentioned in the Mahabharata", the scholar says, adding, earlier that were "excavations at Ayodhya by BB Lal as part of the Ramayana Sites Project" to "prove" that there existed a "temple below the Babri Masjid."
Emphasizing that this had "a direct influence on the right wing assertions in the early 1990s,that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992", the scholar believes, "The court-ordered excavations by the ASI at Ayodhya also have to be seen in the context of such established traditions of archaeological practice in India."

1 comment:

Uma Sheth said...

That K. M. Munshi was a right-wing Hindu is rubbish. What ASI does or does not do, I don't know, but our monuments and their suuroundings are in a sorry state and a shame for the country