The Politics of Historiography – by Yvette Claire Rosser PhD
Yvette Claire Rosser, PhD – Curriculum & Instruction, University of Texas, Austin “Curricula as Destiny: Forging National Identities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh” comparison of Social Studies textbooks in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh Publications: Indoctrinating Minds, Politics of Education in Bangladesh, RUPA, New Delhi, 2004; Islamization of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks, RUPA, New Delhi, 2003
I am a scholar who investigates influences that impact the writing and rewriting of history in India. I am passionate about this topic, which I call the ‘Politicization of Historiography’, though there are other factors besides politics, such as social and cultural influences that can determine historical trajectories as well as socio-political theoretical constructs that can predetermine historiographical analyses. I am intrigued by this methodology of scholarly investigations.
I find it of great interest when politicians talk derisively about historians, or when government officials publically call a book into question. For me, personally and professionally, this is a never-ending source of academic entertainment – History in the Headlines.
Because of my fascination with the politics of historiography in the Indian Subcontinent, I took note when in August 2014, on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, while participating in a “Parliamentary debate”, Member of Parliament, Digvijay Singh criticized several little-known history-type books. His comments were reported widely in the media. The Economic Times titled their article, “Digvijay Singh Attacks Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Rajya Sabha“. India Today says: “RSS ideology damaging India’s peace, says Digvijaya Singh”.
The newspapers quoted Singh verbatim, taking his word for it, that the books he referred to “were spreading communal ideology”. Usually journalists, to feign objectivity, write that the books or authors in question were ‘accused of’, or ‘suspected of’ spreading communalism, or Fascism, or Marxism, or whatever ideology is being criticized. Here the journalists just unquestioningly mouthed the politician’s proclamations.
Though Parker’s books are available on Amazon.com, it is obvious that the authors of the newspaper articles did not take the time to read the books that Digvijay Singh critiqued in the Rajya Sabha. Oddly, on the floor of Parliament, for some reason, Singh admitted his lack of Internet savvy. It may have been politically expedient, that perhaps, prior to his rant, he needed to have asked his thirty-something aide (if he is lucky to have one) to use his or her cyber-savvy skills to do an Internet search for Brannon Parker and the India Foundation.
The newspaper articles noted that Digvijay Singh worried very vocally and at length about not being able to locate “The name of the publisher…” He claimed, as if it were a conspiracy, that the source of the controversial book was unknown, “We went to the address of the publisher, but the publisher was not found. On internet (sic) there is no information about India Foundation.”
He noted, conspiratorially, that the “foreword of these books is written by Cabinet Minister (As of 3/2021 h India’s Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, Nirmala Sitaraman.”) Singh “demanded ban on these books and an enquiry into the issue.” However, at the time of the publication of Parker’s books, Ms. Sitaraman was involved with a school in Hyderabad and not an official of the BJP. Nonetheless, conspiracies are so much fun! (2014 article)
When I searched the Internet for the India Foundation, I got over half a dozen hits. Such as IndiaFoundation.org and TheIndiaFoundation, and other versions for IndiaFoundation dot com or net, promoting various causes, such as feeding the poor or supporting the arts, mostly sponsored by NRI philanthropists. Among the various URLs, was the organization in question, Indiafoundation.in, [no .com]. It wasn’t the top hit, but it came up, with announcements of projects and publications and a video of a scholarly conference. A rudimentary search also turned up a lot of information about the mysterious author, Michael Brannon Parker, condemned by Singh, denounced in Parliament for writing books, “There are books like ‘Harvest of Hate’ and ‘Kandhamal in Crossfire’ authored by Michael Parker and another book ‘Orissa in Crossfire’ by Brannon Parker.”
Digvijay Singh was miffed because “there is no information about the publisher neither on the book nor on the internet.” Seemingly he hadn’t figured out that Michael Parker was the same person as Brannon Parker, though that information is online for anyone to see. I Googled Michael Brannon Parker, and through the convenience of the Internet, I discovered another book he had written in 2012, ‘The Serpent, the Eagle, the Lion and the Disk’. That’s when I realized that Brannon is Vrindaban, and I actually know him! He is Vrin Parker, whom I met when he was a young man 17 years ago! Vrin Parker! I was so excited! I’ve never personally known anyone mentioned by name, much less condemned in the Indian State House of Parliament!
I’ve not been in touch with Vrindavan for years, but after he was shouted down in New Delhi by a Member of Parliament, I found him on Facebook. I wasn’t surprised that he was taking up a voice for Hindus when he thinks that they are being discriminated against. Years ago I used to call him “Super Boy” because he was always rescuing the downtrodden. He was born and raised a Vaishnava and always felt it was his duty or dharma to defend faith. When I contacted him, last August, he was focused on the Yezidi crisis in Iraq.
Vrin (aka Brannon) was very busy working with Yezidi refugees whose relatives were trapped on a mountaintop in Iraq by Islamic radicals. Brannon Parker was working with Yezidi people to create the Yezidi Sanatana Dharma Society (YSDS). He was working with over a dozen Yezidis, founders of the American chapter of Yezidi Human Right Organization, who “are also members of the Ancient Order of Peacock Angel and … affiliated with the Yezidi National Union…..” The Yezidis explained, in an interview distributed by Vrin Parker, that their religion is a “mix of Vedic and Zoroastrian belief systems dating to 6000 years ago”.
The organization, promoted by Brannon Parker, the “Yezidi Sanatana Dharma Society”, of which he was founding member, was “seeking help from the Indian and Hindu community” to help rescue their old brethren, lost for centuries, now trapped on a mountaintop. This was the Super-Boy-Hindu-Activist I remembered from the nineties! [Note: Vrin’s efforts for the Yezidis is paying off.]
Throughout his life, Vrin would always hold high the little known lost tribes of Hindus, such as an article he wrote recently for Hinduism Today, which, according to their website, was a “rare look at the Balamon Cham, one of only two surviving non-Indic indigenous Hindu peoples in the world, with a culture dating back thousands of years… The Cham … endured in central Vietnam from the 7th century well into the 19th. Yet they are 60,000 strong, and they have kept their traditions alive for centuries, far from India’s shores.” See: Vietnam’s Champa Kingdom Marches On (written by Brannon Parker)
I asked him about his controversial Orissa books. Vrin explained that when violence erupted in Orissa’s Kandhamal district the mainstream media was more like anti-Hindu propaganda than journalism. Accounts about the Kandhamal crisis described it as “yet another case of Hindu extremist anti-Christian violence”. Vrin went to Orissa to research the crisis.
Interestingly, the next year, the US State Dept’s 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom, agreed with Vrin’s assessment, writing that, “…the underlying causes that led to the violence have complex ethnic, economic, religious, and political roots related to land ownership and government reserved employment and educational benefits.”
Brannon describes the struggles and triumphs of the local peoples in laudatory terms. In his books, now made famous by Digvijay Singh, Parker said he sought to highlight the “history of the indigenous people of the region. Long labeled as ‘a cruel human sacrificing tribe of ruthless savages’ it is time the truth be revealed.” Vrin feels strongly that “It is time for the world to learn about Kandha, the ‘God of Light’ and their Culture of Life.” Vrindaban Parker, directed me to a copy of his book about the crisis in Orissa, from which I have extracted quotes.
Parker begins with quite a sensational, pan-civilizational, genocidal warning, “A social chaos, similar to that experienced by American tribes threatened the cultural stability of the entire region.” He dwells at length on the background of the peoples who inhabit the area, writing, “It is important to understand the history of Kandhamal to get a perspective. Kandhamal has two distinct inhabitants — the tribal Kandhas and the Schedule Caste Panas. Their relations have a history of turbulence.”
Parker’s investigations in Orissa revealed that, “The problem arises, when Christian Panas are unwilling to forgo the benefits of being members of Scheduled Castes. Not only have the Christian Panas obscured their religious identities as Christians, they have submitted fake certificates identifying themselves as members of the Kandha tribal community.”
He explained that such certificates were used to “usurp land, government and academic opportunities reserved for the Kandhas.” It is obvious that “alienation of tribal land is the foundation of the Kandha-Pana turmoil.”
Parker’s soon-to-be-banned book continues, “Kandhas were blatantly disinherited from their lands for generations. Another major complication related to the land issue is that posed by Christians’ use of encroached lands to build churches.” Parker explains, “The Kandhas are understandably in an uproar over the loss of opportunity. A system that was designed to alleviate their poverty and social stagnation has been hijacked and their woes compounded.” Understandably, as Parker recounted examples of the causes of the turmoil in Kandhamal, he worriedly opined, “The dire consequences of a trauma denied and unresolved are always sudden and explosive.”
Regardless, even though Digvijay Singh wants Vrindaban’s books banned, a judicial commission headed by Justice Sarat Chandra Mohapatra, reported in 2009 that the same “socio-economic problems”, reported by Brannon Parker, were the “prime provocation for Kandhamal violence.”
The Justice SC Mohapatra report explained that, “The violence in Kandhamal was the result of concentrated discontentment prevailing among the people since long. They relate to conversion, re-conversion; land-grabbing and non-maintenance of land records; and fake certificate issues.”
Parker lamented that many public officials in India are clueless about the causes of the turmoil in Orissa. That “Kandhamal’s real problems are being disregarded and there is a deliberate miscalculation in handling the issue.” But Digvijay Singh is a man of his word, and will undoubtedly continue to believe that along with his favorite Taliban-type Maha-nemesis, the evil terrorist-producing entity, notorious Hitler-loving service organization, the RSS, Brannon Parker will forever be branded an enemy combatant whose works of history must be banned.
Digvijay Singh will remain committed to his convictions and will inevitably continue to believe, and proclaim, for the rest of his term, that the things he said about Brannon Parker at the Rajya Sabha in August, 2014, are true, and Vrin’s books are dangerous. No matter what details and facts Digvijay finds out in September or October and beyond…. he will remain true to his perspectives, spoken in August, whether they hold water or not… so committed is he to his proclamations.
After all, Singh continues to maintain that the Batla House encounter was a staged event and police conspiracy, and supposedly that the much-decorated police officer, Mohan Chand Sharma, was responsible for his own murder. No matter if the Delhi High Court and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found “no conspiracy or violation of human rights by the Delhi police or any violations of human rights in the altercation with suspected terrorists”. Digvijay Singh got this one wrong too, though he maintained his erroneous stance, long after it was proven to have been in error.
Wikipedia has a long narrative about the Batla House Encounter Wiki states that Mohan Chand Sharma “was a much decorated police officer and had won seven gallantry medals including the President of India‘s Medal in 2009. He was posthumously awarded India’s highest peace-time military decoration the Ashoka Chakra on 26 January 2009.”
Digvijay Singh continues to assert that Sharma died due to inter-departmental conspiracies and cover-ups. Though the Batla House encounter was proven to have been genuine, Singh continued to maintain that his opinion and demands were correct. The Times of India noted that, “The judgement has once again exposed the habit of Congress general secretary to give controversial and irresponsible statement. However, Singh refused to take back his words even after the court judgement.”
When he is not comparing the RSS to the Taliban, Digvijay Singh compares them to the Nazis even though years ago, the Israeli embassy requested that Digvijay Singh desist in calling his political opponents Nazis and comparing the situation in India to the holocaust. “Israel protests comparison of RSS with Nazis”, The Times of India, December 21, 2010.
FYI: I have added two things to this letter, first a description of Vrin Parker’s book that is not about Orissa, ‘The Serpent, the Eagle, the Lion and the Disk’, followed by a statement from the Yezidi Sanatana Dharma Society (YSDS).
‘The Serpent, the Eagle, the Lion and the Disk’ covers, “The preeminent symbols of the sacred in the ancient world. The Ancients associated these symbols with the Divine. Many theories have been developed regarding these symbols yet the mystery still remains. This is particularly true of the aniconic winged disk symbol. How and why does the same symbol have the same meaning to so many people of diverse cultures and civilizations? Was it the symbol of an all-conquering triumphalist Egyptian or Sumerian Empire or perhaps of a vanished race from beyond the stars? Or is it a representation of a universal transcendent experience? The pieces of this puzzle have long been scattered throughout history, hidden amongst the mystical traditions of the world. Unravel the truly astounding and majestic history of religion, civilization and God. This book represents a Startling Revelation and a Revolutionary New Look at the Origins of Humanity’s Common Mystical Experience, its Religion, Culture and the Rise of Civilization.”
Yezidi Statement: The Yezidi of Iraq are being genocided merely based upon our religion. The Yezidi religion is mix of Vedic and Zoroastrian belief systems dating to 6000 years ago. It is widely held by the Yezidi that we are ancient Aryans related to the Medes civilization.
Some of our short term goals are providing food and shelter for Yezidi who have been displaced. To achieve this we will start a fundraising effort specifically for the Yezidi-Hindu alliance. We will work with any and all aid groups providing food, clothing and medical supplies to the Yezidi. We want to work thru the Indian Embassy in Iraq to ensure that all Yezidi aid reaches Yezidis and not the Kurds.
LONG TERM GOALS
- Work with the Iraqi government and the UN to protect Yezidi rights. We also seek to establish a quota system within the Iraqi parliament which will allow for our people proper representation within the Iraqi government
- Support relocation efforts of Yezidi people who want to immigrate to non-muslim lands
- Support efforts to maintain Yezidi control and social and autonomous governing functions of current Yezidi homelands
- Urge the UN to establish Yezidi holy sites as National Heritage sites
- Grants for Yezidi Students to study in India
- Sister City arrangements between India and Yezidi towns
- Organize Yezidi tours of India
- Invite the Indian Govt to open a consulate branch in Shekan or Sinjar or any other town suggested by the Yezidi leadership
- Invite Indians to visit Yezidi towns and events
- Develop Student exchange programs when possible
- Organize Indian school kids to send care packages to Yezidi children
- Organize Yezidi-Indian get-togethers in towns where their populations overlap
- Declare mutual declarations of support for Yezidi and Hindu communities under attack
- Setup a website to coordinate and share relevant information
- Participate in the many Indigenous and Pagan events taking place around the world
- Formally join the ICCS as a member
- Fund Yezidis scholars and victims and activists to tour the world exposing their experiences with Islamists
- Work on a documentary on Yezidi and Indic relations
- Identify key Yezidi activist and leaders and invite their participation at the diplomatic level with the Indian govt. Arrange meetings between them and India’s leadership both at the Governmental and Societal levels
- Maintain a commitment to the Yezidi- Hindu alliance through interactive participation in each others causes and cultures
- Expand and consolidate bonds of sincere friendship between the Yezidi and Hindu communities.
- Develop cooperative efforts to achieve the basic interests of health, safety and freedom of religion and expression in order to achieve not just peace but prosperity for our communities
- Work towards easing international tensions and the elimination of religious persecution, neo-colonialism, Islamist terrorism and protect our people’s from the onslaught of religious chauvinism and predatory conversionary efforts anywhere in the world
- Demand that the basic human rights of both Hindus and Yezidis be protected and internationally recognized as non-optional
- Uphold the principles of peaceful coexistence and co-operation between the diverse religious expressions found within both our traditions. Publicly defend this multiplicity of expression as the foundation of harmonious civilization
- Attempt to resolve our crisis and all international problems through cooperation and supporting police actions, conflict and warfare only as a last resort in that order
- Confirm our determination to abide by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and demand full UN recognition of the Yezidi as a distinct community and civilization separate from the Kurdish, Arab, Turcoman and Persian communities
- Maintain the integrity of our bond by not entering into any obligation, secret or public, with one or more States, organizations or entities which are incompatible with the goals of the Yezidi-Hindu friendship and alliance
- Abstain from providing any assistance to any third parties that engage in the defamation, trivialization or denigration of Yezidi or Hindu cultures. Abstain from supporting any group that engages in terrorism or armed conflict against the other Party. In the event of either group being attacked in media or through warfare, terrorism or any such threats to our people thereof, we agree to enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threats. We also agree to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security for our communities
- The YSDS shall promote further development of ties and contacts between our communities in the fields of science, art, literature, education, public health, press, radio, television, cinema, tourism and sports
- Through the auspices of YSDS we will maintain regular contacts with each other in order to facilitate the preservation and enhancement of Yezidi traditions and cultures. We will work together on any related community and international problems that affect the interests of both our peoples. We will do this by organizing meetings, through visits by official delegations and special envoys from our two communities and by the sharing of and the wide dissemination and promotion of the perspectives, views and efforts of our leading activists, scholars, Govt ministers and statesmen
The group’s founding members are
Note: Digvijay Singh may indeed have something to fear, since calling out Vrindavan Parker, Super-Buoy-Indomitable-Defender-of-Hinduism! Though any perceived threats are all on the scholarly, intellectual, and metaphysical/esoteric level since Vrin Parker is living a humble yet ‘engaging life’ in Hawaii, much like a Sadhu. In between organizing cultural and academic events, he helps his parents in their various projects, works on his health regimen, pursues his hobbies all the while helping to educate the public and through it all, bravely defending the Dharma.