Alternative Histories

Achuthan M Kandyil served as an engineer with All India Radio for 18 years until 1972 when he joined the faculty at Grambling State University, Louisiana.

He is not a historian. He has not used primary sources. However, he joins the illustrious list of Samya, Kolkata authors this month, with the new book Writing Indian History: A View from Below.

"Challenging orthodox interpretations, and more radical ones, Achuthan raises many key questions on what is history and how it is written. This comprehensive history of India, from ancient to modern times, presents an alternative, even iconoclastic, view. Arguing that the history written by professional historians has been strongly influenced by their concept of Hinduism, caste and its implications, or by an over-dependence on Marxism, and their upper caste status, Achuthan M. Kandyil urges that it is time that the counter view of the lower castes be considered.

[Kandyil suggests that a] major reason for the perpetuation of the caste system was identified by the Mandal Commission Report, 1987: the unquestioning adherence to irrational, anachronistic ideas and beliefs that conditioned ‘the consciousness of the lower castes in accepting their inferior status in the ritual hierarchy as a part of the natural order of things’. He has set out to lay bare historical truths in an accessible way for those who have acquiesced in this discrimination.

As the caste system had severely limited access to education, most Indians had no way of questioning what was presented as knowledge or as religious beliefs and customs. Achuthan deconstructs the intellectual labour of iconic scholars and personalities like S. Radhakrishnan, M. N. Srinivas, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, among others, to show how they supported the caste system, albeit condemning its excesses.

Arguing against the prevalent distortions, the author talks of how the destruction of non-brahminic literatures has been the key to wrongful interpretations of ancient India, and to the way Dravidian culture was undervalued until the discovery of the Indus Valley civilization in the early twentieth century. Similarly, Buddhism had flourished for a millennium, BC 250-AD 800, bringing forth astonishing cultural achievements that travelled beyond India to the rest of the world. Yet this has not received its due; instead the glories of a golden age that mirrored Buddhism’s decline at the hands of a violent resurgent Brahminism were emphasized. The latter with its rigid caste system and orthodoxy maintained by the Dharmashastras, reinterpreted extremely narrowly, led to India’s long-term decline, its absence of unity, its vulnerability to invasions and its loss of creativity. The first glimmers of modernity based on equality before the law with attendant social reforms appeared only under British rule."

In our Dalit Studies and History sections. Hardcover, 465 pages, Rs 700. ISBN: 9788185604725