Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Good And The Bad

I had a Political Science class yesterday. We started discussing how the same concepts impact different countries differently. The talk came round to India. Since I was one of the two Indians in the class, the prof chose me to talk about (among other things) the reasons behind Indira Gandhi's assassination.

I didn't know too much about the topic, so I stuck to what I'd studied in Political Science in class 11 and 12. The book had stated that she was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards because of Operation Bluestar and the damage done to the Golden Temple, so that's what I said in class yesterday. When the prof asked me to elaborate on Operation Bluestar, I started talking about the separatist movement and amassing of weapons in the temple. But the prof interrupted me, saying "Yes, please do go on. Let's see how you're going to tell us about the torture and killing of the Sikhs. Let's see how you're going to put that".*

I didn't know what to say. I had no intention of trying to twist the facts to make them sound favourable to Indira Gandhi's actions. I didn't even know the facts well enough to even attempt to twist them, even if I had wanted to. My stammered explanation that I had no intention of trying to manipulate the issue in any direction was laughed away, and the prof moved on to talk about Rajiv Gandhi.

I was still lost. I didn't know much about Operation Bluestar or Indira Gandhi's assassination, but with two sentences, the professor had made me doubt my Political Science book. I don't think that this while incident was written in a blatantly pro-government, or pro-Indira Gandhi way in my textbook, but was it tilted towards supporting Indira Gandhi's Operation? Did my textbook gloss over the "torture and killings of the Sikhs"? Have I learned about the political history of my country from a very biased point of view?

I remember reading about how history is always written from the point of view of the victors once in an article somewhere. I've always been aware that the history of the same place, same incident, written by two different people or two different governments, will probably be very different. I've always known that the Pakistani textbooks talk about the Partition in a different way than the Indian textbooks. But this impersonal knowledge had never struck home. I'd never made the connection that the things I studied in school, what I was taught, might be biased and inaccurate. What in the history of my country has been deliberately left out of the school textbooks and what deliberately written wrong? How much of the true happenings do I really know?

*In that class, the prof also talked about Gandhiji. She talked about nonviolence and the freedome struggle, then mentioned his difficult relations with his family. She talked about Nehru and his years as Prime Minister, then mentioned his affair with Lord Mountbatten's daughter (wasn't it his wife, not his daughter, that Nehru was involved with?). Again, I was slightly surprised. We're all so used to hearing only about the good in Gandhiji and Nehru; when have we ever heard about the bad?