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A pit with no bottom

History is an academic discipline that turns into chaos when politics drags it into streets
12:00 AM Feb 04, 2024 IST | Mehmood ur Rashid
a pit with no bottom

In his Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,  Yossi Klein Halevi  rues the fact that for the Muslims and Jews living in Palestine/Israel the “safety is measured by the distance between” them.


The same seems to apply to Hindus and Muslims living in sub continent at the moment. The way Muslim history in India is portrayed as destruction of Hindu history, chances of the two sitting comfortably side by side are fast diminishing. Any physical proximity between a Masjid and a Mandir is enough to turn the spot into a bloody dispute.


And it is not just one or two or a dozen, it must run into thousands. So is this earth, God forbid, seeing blood. In this clash of histories are we breathing life into uncontrollable monsters. Whose place of worship was destroyed by whom, when, and where; and what new place of worship was built over it? How deep do we have to dig into these layers of history?

And where does this underground architecture of history touch the base? God save all Hindus and Non-Hindus, all Muslims and Non-Muslims, all Sikhs, all Christians, all Jains; all those who hold one religious identity and not the other.


This campaign into past, with a holy vengeance, reclaiming a religious geography, is scary. No matter who does it, to what proclaimed end, in the name of  a nation, or a religion or a mix of the two – it runs a danger of going out of hand. Once passions are stirred, and emotions are set on fire, frenzy sets in. When hysterical, people turn completely blind. Reason, relationships, and law – everything is drowned in this darkness.


In this darkness, where we forget the human face of a neighbour next door, we claim to see the times hundreds and thousands of years before in all its detail. In the name of correcting the historical wrongs, new wrongs are credited to the grand account of history.


In the name of creating a seamless and fault-less human geography, where everyone is like us, new walls are raised. What we think of as a beautiful ideology, a comely religion, or an enchanting political ideal, finally gives birth to ugly. God save us all from this ugly!


For last many years the atmosphere of fear is building up in India. Regardless of who is culpable to what degree, it is time all the saner elements in this country refused to be imprisoned by a particular version of history. History is a dangerous pit with no bottom.

History is an academic discipline, let academics use their specific tools and dig into this territory.  It waters our understanding of human journey on this planet. But whenever politics brings history into streets, it is a deluge. We all drown.

In search of geographies where only one kind of people live, or in search of historical periods that can be replicated to create a political glory, people have suffered. It is the ability to live together and a willingness to accomodate different narratives about history, that societies flourish. And this applies to all, regardless of the faith we uphold.

History and geography don't offer clean divisions to us. There are overlaps, where one runs into the other. The challenge for both Hindus and Muslims is to understand the overlap, and live it. The safety bestowed by proximity is better than the sense of security offered by distance.

Our insistence on neat and clean divisions means shrinking the space where both could live. Again Halevi, from the same book: “I honour history – upto the point where it no longer inspires but imprisons. Accommodating both our narratives, learning to live with two contradictory stories, is the only way to deny the past a veto over the future.”

In this war over history, everyone has a claim to the first. Who came to the country first? Whose religion came first? Whose god is the earliest? Whose king ruled the first? Whose form of worship is the original form of worship? This merit list in the national eligibility test of History is already decided by each in his own favour.

Who came first is a matter of claim, matter of faith, matter of narrative, and not of evidence. And even if there is evidence what does it amount to. Are the late comers less of a human that the earlier ones. History is a mathematics  with no certain answers, and any attempt to turn history into science is a nuclear holocaust.

In a situation where matters are decided on the bases of whose history runs deeper in the land, and whose numbers are more, a minority that has a relatively recent history automatically turns into an aberration.

In such a situation one can only sense how dangerously we are placed if we are sucked into a contest where the characters are historical, and we have no control over who did what hundreds of years before. We have no authentic way to determine, who is believed to have done how much wrong, against whom, in what circumstances.

In a situation where history is more about chosen 'facts', and politics implants new facts over that choice-of-facts, we are at the mercy of God. And God alone knows what happened hundreds, thousands and millions of years before. He alone knows what is right and what is wrong in the realm of religion. He alone knows history, and He will tell us all one day.

We seek refuge in Him.