April 09, 2005

An Aim of Writing History: What is it? !

A View during the Course of Reviewer’s Reading: Akali : A Short History by J. S. Garewal

A need is felt to make this statement. It is an exercise of a teacher only in his own field of study. There is not other goal in writing it. It should be read with essays being written at http://reviewviewanalysis.blogspot.com/.

I am placed in India and born in an Indian family of Punjab. My family is a Hindu family but quite liberal as compared to Hindu families of Ganga doab. There is no regular yajgnas, observance of Hindu festivals or insistence of Yajgnaupvita (Janiyo) in the family. In short, my family is quite secular and liberal in attitude.

The family background is that of a middle class. The family members are well educated. Both on maternal and paternal side, all the family members are well off. If ever the family faced poverty, it was an old story but even in those days, as it is told by elders, the family was living a respectable life. I have lived with this background.

My father was a government official and during the eighties, which were quite sensitive years, he held a post of senior police officer in Punjab government. There was fear of terrorist threats for all the police officer in those and as a young child I had felt that when the terrorist threats were becoming a real fear, the near relatives had started turning their faces away from us. There was some type of morbid satisfaction on their part because they felt jealous of the status of my father. It reflected on my career making years. However, I am thankful to god that I have lived up to this day regardless of the undesirable experiences. Even they are nothing much because such are the ways of life and life is bundle of mixed experiences. It is rather more enjoyable like that and I am thankful to God for what he had given to me and to my family.

I remember those days, when after 1982, my father was transferred from a prestigious posting to some lesser important postings. The political situation in Punjab had started deteriorating. The Khadkus ( militants) and Khalistanis had suddenly become part of daily news, consciousness and vocabulary. As a young child of nearly fifteen years, the friends wearing patkas became aliens. We met and talked. But somewhere, deeper in our thoughts, a feeling had started finding grounds that they were the Sikhs. The numerous uncles and aunts, who were so loving and caring, suddenly became cause of concern only because they were wearing turbans. The neighbours, whose presence was always assuring, suddenly became cause of threat. The friends, who visited different Gurudwaras, were seen preparing secretly for their visits to Gurudwaras. If they were asked that we should also accompany them for example to Alamgir Gurudwara, they would politely refuse to take us along. One of them was somewhat more forthcoming and clearly told that it would be risky to take us along to some Gurudwaras.

In 2005, the days are totally different. I do not know if the people remember that how a decade back, they were thinking of shifting to Ambala, Sonepat or Panipat. They talked about dying here but some said they would move out. After 1984, the situation had become more grave and alarming. But today, it seems that nothing had happened like that. Every thing is so normal and simple as if nothing had happened.

Now with this background and four decades of life behind me, and as a teacher, while reading a book on history when the subject of my study is history, if something is said, it is bound be evaluated from different angles. How far History can be a science, is an issue, which can be debated. But, after reading history books for twenty years, and with a philosophical bent of mind which has subjected itself more on the issues of the treatment of the subject matter by a historian than reading and writing research papers, any work of history in my hand is always treated with an outlook wherein I am more concerned about my understanding of the topic. I am very particular about evaluating any given statement. Any statement is valued and checked for learning that whether it is an assumption, or a deduction based on an ideological background, or it can be treated as a fact and reality.

With all the above stated premises, I am made to place some statements, which are prompted by reading the book titled Akalis: A Short History by J. S. Garewal. I am not reviewing it. I have called it Reviewer’s Reading. I am doing it with a purpose. I am undertaking that analysis for my own benefit, for the benefit of my students and for learning about my subject. I am also reading some more titles on Sikh history. That is the ideology behind my work and that is the motive. I have taken liberty in writing whatsoever comes to my mind while reading it. I am reading it for the third time. This time, I am doing it for the above mentioned purpose. It is during the course of the reading that a feeling and view have developed. I state it as follows.

Now, firstly, a feeling and a biased view: I call it biased, because it has come to me while reading the book along with some other titles on Sikh history and two titles on eighteenth century period. It may be result of my background which I have stated above. I do not consider it scientific because it is a view that is not checked. I would called it a scientific view if I find that some other person undertaking a similar exercise, with somewhat similar background as I have given above, have reached the same conclusion or a conclusion which totally contradicts my view. Yes, even if such a second view would contradict my view, even then, I would call it an established fact though I will then qualify it in different style and under a different term. But for now, I will term it only as a biased or one-sided view.

The view is that in the book under consideration, there is pre-conceived conclusion that the Sikhs are exclusive historic growth. There is reference to non-violent activities of the Akalis. But that activity is not evaluated as the general political growth of the Indian masses. They are shown as exclusive activities of the Sikhs which worked in a vacuum. Such an interpretation on the part of the Sikh scholars is not right. The social reform movement was an activity which was a historic development of the nineteenth century. However, during the course of the whole thesis in the book, no attempt is made to find cause and effect relation between the masses on the Indian continent and the Sikh community in Punjab.

There is one reference in the book of Gurbachan Singh Talib, published in 1969 and titled Guru Nanak, His Personality and Vision. He writes in introductory, "Sikhism, the personality and vision of whose founder, Guru Nanak is presented …, is till a little known faith, and very often misunderstood. For such ignorance and misunderstanding, several historical and sociological factors, and in part certain disabilities from which Sikhs have suffered are responsible." Now this is what had been written in 1969 after the reorganization of the state of Punjab. However, later, the trend of showing one direction movement of Sikhs as a nation and exclusive growth, untouched by the all pervading forces which became active in India and effected other communities and regions, had become the sole motive of all the writings. They are becoming more loud now.

There is no objection to what one community feels and desire to do with the future of the community. However, the issue here is that how the history is being used to achieve motives which may not be cherished by the rest of the community.

There is a slogan that "Raj Kare Ga Khalsa". In year 2005, if the "Singhs" are ready to accept the Carpenter class (Tarkhan) of Sikh community of Punjab as Singhs represented now by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Arora Khatri Sikhs represented by the Chief of Army of India, General J. J. Singh Narula, the illustrious Karal, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy Chairman of Planning Commission as the true Sikhs, then, the Raj of Khalsa is already there and India as an one community with her pluralistic religious groups is proud of them . But, if there is tendency to project the working of the Sikh community as something which is self-programmed to achieve one goal of having a distinctive identity and distinctive political existence, and history is being built around that goal, then there can be objections. It would highly delight the Cambridge historians who have themselves projected an unscientific version of India. You can not be absolved of other motives only because you have given good amount of facts and references. History is not only a science; it is an art and literature also. But, the latter two aspects are misused the most.

There is every possibility that there may be a big number of members of Sikh community which will never desire such a goal. But, when the community meetings are stage managed, a simple householder never likes to speak out his or her mind. It is not that the person is a coward. There are some practical truths which every person learns about in his or her day to day life. That is why, they may not speak out and on the other hand, show total support to such activities. But in heart of heart, they do not approve such a goal for the community in the name of religion. The ‘historical and sociological factors’ about which G. S. Talib had referred to as being the handicap of the Sikh community are not the handicap but are the truths and grounds realities of the people of this region. These are the truths which are being interpreted to suits the goals of a group within a community which believes in taking political benefits out of a group of people that has lived and grown as a brotherhood community.

The book in question, which has prompted all the above comments, is a book which can be classified as work on contemporary history. The author of the book is already an established authority in the field of knowledge. But, some thing, which being objectionable, can never escape criticism. It is not that he is the only person to put out such works. There have been such claims by many others. One of his other books on Guru Nanak written in 1969 stands out totally different from what he has done in this particular book. But, herein, the other aspect of life has taken better of the historian in him. This is an argument which I have raised in Philosophy of history in Education Forum. Apart from fineness of the facts provided here, the book suffers because of the pre-conceived notion of presenting the growth of Sikh community as an exclusive growth. It is not that it is they only, who are doing such a thing. The Indian history, especially the modern Indian history and Freedom struggle movement of India written during the rule of Congress government is also histories of the same category. Even, BJP tried to do the same thing. It is here that the Marxist and Subaltern scholars have always won points and scored over them. They are also guided by ideology. But their economic analysis has proved that the national movement was not the work of miniscule minority of elite class. The anti-forest acts movement, the tribal revolts and the methodologies adopted by them had provided lessons to the leading leaders to frame their movement and decide their agenda and goals. The mill workers of the Bombay achieved in 1926, which the latter leaders just tried to re-enact. The Jaito Morcha was a lesson for the satyagrahis of Salt revolt. Gandhi might have watched them and desired that his volunteers should also learn lesson from the activities of Akalis. It seems that they followed Akalis in Darshana Salt satyagraha. The Sikh scholars feel pride in claiming such achievements for the Akalis and the lesson it taught to the rest of the nation, but stop from accepting that anti-conversion lessons were learnt from Arya Samaj. They were perturbed when Maharaja Dalip Singh and Kunwar Harnam Singh were converted to Christianity. But they are not ready to accept that the feelings were similar to other communities also. In the similar way, the social reform movement of Singh Sabhas, the support of English education by the Sikh reformers, the insistence of Punjabi language and Gurmukhi were the activities which were first tried by leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Rai, Ishwar Chandar, Sir Sayed Ahmed, Swami Dayananda Saraswati. It is also a fact that Arya Samaj flourished and became popular in Punjab. But Sikh scholars try to show that all such activities of Sikhs were exclusive to them and do have their background in the milieu in which they developed. They would not include the surrounding areas in the milieu. Somewhere, their milieu aspect begins and ends with their Gurus and religion. It is a myopic view. They may feel bad and should feel like that. But if they want to live by the rules of intellectual world which only rational approach decide, then they have to consider the effect of other forces also. Hence, such type of ideological and motivated writings are things which should be avoided. The role of Akalis are well brought out in the book. However, the treatment of the subject is such that it has again activated a dormant question in me concerning the aim of History.

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