Hindu Revisionists Target Western Missionaries: Groups Rewrite History Textbooks, Plan Reconversions to Save Values

By Lloyd, Marion | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

Hindu Revisionists Target Western Missionaries: Groups Rewrite History Textbooks, Plan Reconversions to Save Values


Lloyd, Marion, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


NEW DELHI - Homer's "Iliad" was actually written by an Indian. And the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan was part of a Christian plot to divide and conquer Hindus and Muslims.

At least that is what is some Indian children are now being taught. With the goal of "recouping lost cultural values," the Hindu nationalist governing party and its allies have set out to rewrite history.

The project is part of a broader campaign by Hindu revivalists to counter the influence of Christian missionaries, whom they accuse of converting Hindus by force or trickery.

Hindus make up about 80 percent of India's nearly 1 billion people, compared with just 2.3 percent who are Christian. Though Muslims comprise a much larger minority with 12 percent of the population, Christians have borne the brunt of the Hindu fundamentalists' latest campaign, which many blame for dozens of attacks on Christians over the past year.

Nearly half of the violence has occurred in the past month, when Hindu zealots torched churches in tribal areas in western Gujarat state and attacked Christian priests and nuns with rocks.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose Bharatiya Janata Party leads the governing coalition, has condemned the violence.

"Neither the government nor my party . . . has anything to do with the perpetrators of these acts," Mr. Vajpayee said in a statement last month. "I strongly denounce them." The party's more radical Hindu allies also deny a role in the attacks, blaming them on illiterate Hindus who, they say, are reacting against pressure from Christian missionaries to convert.

Instead, the party and other groups are promoting an education campaign to counter the missionaries' influence by teaching Hindu values and culture. One ally, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, plans to launch a nationwide "reconversion" offensive in Christian areas next month.

The history project is a major tenet of the cultural campaign, which also includes proposals to make Hindu religious texts and the study of Sanskrit mandatory in state schools. The groups have commissioned hundreds of scholars to create pro-Hindu histories.

While Hindu fundamentalists have long produced histories of their own, the movement gained a new thrust when the BJP took power in March. Since then, the party has been filling national academic bodies with historians sympathetic to its cause.

Critics have attacked the project, saying it will fuel violence against minorities.

"History is a powerful weapon. When you change it, you change the fabric of a nation," said K.N. Panikkar, a cultural historian and the author of a book on secularism.

One text disseminated in the late 1980s by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the BJP, helped trigger the 1992 demolition of the 16th century Babri mosque at Ayodhya. More than 1,200 people died in the ensuing violence.

Citing disputed archaeological research, the text claimed the Babri mosque was built atop the ruins of a Hindu temple erected on the site of the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

Most archaeologists say there is no evidence such a temple ever existed, much less that it was sacked by Muslim invaders 70 times as the text claims. …

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