Teesta Setalvad: What are the real reasons behind the antagonism between your historical research and findings on the Lifestyle of early India and its Dietary Traditions and supremacist forces like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its parliamentary wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? What sort of threats have you had to face?
Professor DN Jha: They (the RSS/VHP/BJP) have attacked me. They have threatened me and filed a (false) case against me in 2001. The root of the issue is the fact that the RSS-VHP wants to declare India a vegetarian country. Someone even recently suggested that “Cow should be declared the national animal”.
Their main aim is to project the country as a vegetarian country, whereas this does not reflect the truth, the historical reality. We have large sections of Indians who are non-vegetarian: Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar, Bengal, North East, this entire region is where large sections, the majority of the population are non-vegetarian by cultural habit. This includes both Brahmins and non-Brahmins. It is therefore utterly incorrect to say, or to project that Indians, or large sections of Indians are vegetarians. That is the first point. The second point is that the ‘Cow’ is a part of this imposed food culture. This leads to another of the dictums that they want to promote, “Cow is our Mother and therefore should not be killed, or consumed.”
Teesta Setalvad: There was an attack on you in year 2001 after which a Hyderabad Court issued a two year injunction against the publication of your book. Thereafter you had it published from London. What were the reasons for the antagonism against this book?
Professor DN Jha: In this book, I had specifically argued, that Indians consumed beef long before the arrival of Islam in India. This was specifically crucial to present, and argue because a common notion perpetuated by the propagandists of the Sangh Parivar is that it is only Muslims who consume beef. Long before the coming of Islam on the sub-continent, beef was widely consumed. In the Vedic period it was particularly widely consumed. This is what I have argued with evidence, in my book.
The sacrifices were so many and frequent during the Vedic period which involved the sacrifices of many animals including the cow. Yagnavalka, the sage in fact expressed his preferences for the meat if it was tender (Taittiriya Brahman categorically tells us: `Verily the cow is food' (Atho annam via gauh) and Yajnavalkya's insistence on eating the tender (amsala) flesh of the cow is well known.). This is what the forces who wish to declare India a vegetarian country tried to suppress. There was a many pronged attack on me: physical threats, attacks and a case. Their (intimidating ) tactics did not work, however.
Teesta Setalvad: Are you fearful of yourself and security with the brute majority of these forces, the RSS and this government?
Professor DN Jha: The fear and insecurity is always there. They have in the past targeted other persons like MF Husain also.
Teesta Setalvad: Last year, you questioned Arun Shourie’s rendering (interpretation) of Allauddin Khilji’s attack on the Nalanda Vihar. What is the politics behind this attempt?
Professor DN Jha: One thing is clear, that in the Medieval period, both Temples and Buddhist Vihars were sacked, and attacked, and damaged. I simply and firmly controverted that the attack on Nalanda Vihar was not conducted by Allauddin Khilji because there is no historical evidence that he went there, on that route, at all. Maybe if he had reached there, he would have attacked the university. He certainly attacked Bihar Sharief and ransacked the Monastery there and also the shrines near Bhagalpur. There was no question or attempt to deny that in certain areas some rulers, who were Muslim, did in fact ransack some places of worship. But the point (in my rebuttal) was that Nalanda Vihar, regarded as an ancient university that housed learning and scholarship in the early Indian period – a symbol of knowledge – that particular University was not attacked/sacked by Khilji.
Teesta Setalvad: What were the motives behind such raids, attacks, and sackings of religious places of worship during the Medieval period?
Professor DN Jha: In the medieval period, within India and outside there have been attacks and raids on religious institutions, Church(es) sometimes, Mosque(s) sometimes. And there should be no question of concealing this. But it is important to understand that the motive behind this destruction was not always religious. There were political reasons and other motives too. This complexity needs to be understood. The raid and sacking of the Somnath Temple was motivated by the wealth amassed there. But this was not always the case behind other incidents and raids. Often the motive was to get at/destroy the idol of the kul devata in the shrine who the local Rajah/King worships and who/which provides legitimacy to the rule of that king. There are several such examples un South India, where temple idols were the motive and were sought after and destroyed.
The other thing is, that it was not only rulers who happened to be Muslim, who had used this strategy (in medieval times) Even Hindus used it, Hindu rulers in Kashmir for example. Kalhana’s Rajataringini provides evidence of this, where the Hindu kings caused immense damage to the Buddhist Viharas. There are also many instances where the loot from the Buddhist Viharas (by Hindu rulers) was used to build temples. This kind of evidence turns their (the Sangh Parivar) ill-conceived argument in Ayodhya regarding the Babri Masjid, on its head. (Their propaganda is that only Muslims destroyed temples because they wish to cast the Muslim as the enemy).It is critical to study and learn history from a rational and independent perspective.
Teesta Setalvad: Professor Jha, we are witnessing a discourse today, from the Prime Minister downwards, from persons in official positions officially promoting an irrational and non-scientific approach to the learning of history. I refer specifically to utterances like there was ‘plastic surgery in ancient times’, the ‘evidence of stem cell research in the Mahabharata’, aircraft technology in early India are being made by persons in responsible, official positions. (Official) Books in the schools of Gujarat and Haryana (by Dinanth Batra) are actually officially promoting an un-scientific and irrational temper among the young. How grave is the danger of this to future generations of young Indians in the 21st century?
Professor DN Jha: The danger is very grave. I believe India under Modi rule is living in a dark age. It is shocking that the Prime Minister of a modern country should be making statements of the kind he has done: statements that legitimise superstition and irrationality: that there was plastic surgery, stem cell research and aircraft technology in early India.
Being a Prime Minister he simply must not make such statements. By doing so he is facilitating an age of superstition, irrationality and ignorance. Source(s) and Evidence in the understanding of History will now have little place and Faith will replace Reason, Source and Evidence. This is a battle between Faith (Vishwas) and Logic (Reason, Tarq) that we are witnessing.
Teesta Setalvad: There is now an (official) obsession under the Sangh Parivar’s rendering of History, with pushing back the date of the Vedas (Rig Veda) and the Mahabharata and Ramayana by hundreds of years if not thousands, to enable a crass labeling of all that is Indian as ‘Hindu.’ How should this misuse of the state machinery by this ideological rendering that includes the re-writing of official texts based on this irrational history be countered?
Professor DN Jha: The RSS (and its Parivar) has been propagating that the Adivasis (indigenous peoples) are ‘Hindu’ and Muslims are the invaders and outsiders. Behind this is the motive to claim original inhabitant status for the Hindus. It is therefore an obsession for them to prove the antiquity of the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The American based Global Hindu Foundation in fact states so on its website that the ‘Hindu’ civilization is One lakh 18,000 years old!! This is an obsession to prove original inhabitation status.
Teesta Setalvad: How should the ordinary citizen counter these moves?
Professor DN Jha: There is an overall atmosphere of irrationality and intolerance that prevails today. Protests of writers have been called “manufactured protests and manufactured rebellion.” Is the RBI Governor also part of this manufactured rebellion is a moot question! Protests are important. But only protests will not make a dent any more. It is critical that we do more; all academic groups of History, Science and Literature should come together and mobilize the people.
Teesta Setalvad: There has also been a systematic assault on our institutions of learning as well; unqualified persons have been appointed to positions who have nothing to do with the disciplines of History or Science. I refer to the appointments to the Indian Council of Historical Research(ICHR), the National Book Trust (NBT), the Children’s Book Trust (CBT) and even the Science Congress. There is a calculated move to erode Institutions of Learning, from within. What will be the consequences of this erosion of institutions of research and learning?
Professor DN Jha: This is part of a calculated agenda. The Assault on Reason. Part of this agenda is to completely and utterly ruin and destroy Institutions like the ICHR, the NBT and other institutes founded with a vision and that ensured independent, rational thought and quality. This is part of a clear-cut agenda of theirs, towards un-Reason that they are pursuing. Their goal is what their Gurus have written or decreed, be it Guru Golwalkar or Savarkar. What they do not understand is whatever their Gurus have stated in their time, it was ridiculous enough in the early 20th century, it is now even more outdated and narrow (these articulations). There is a serious threat to this country. This country, Indian society has already and will, in future, suffer great damage from this. People need to fight this firmly and re-invent methods of struggle.
Teesta Setalvad: Last question, Professor Jha. What would be your message to the young person, with what approach should he or she approach the learning and study of History?
Professor DN Jha: History must be read with a critical analsysi of Sources and Evidence. The approach must be critical and scientific. It cannot be, ‘whatever is written or stated in the Mahabharata is true.” If this latter (irrational) way is promoted and if that is the approach, then we will come up with the statements of the kind that the Prime Minister made on Karna, Stem cell research and Plastic Surgery in ancient times!
We must analyse critically all Sources, cross-check /study different Texts; have a Multi-Disciplinary Methodology all of which are critical to the learning of History: Archaeology, Economic and other disciplines also provide an insight. We must enrich our understanding of history through this approach.
The interview is a joint production of CC, Newsclick and Hilleletv, the interview took place at Delhi in early November 2015.
1. One Man’s Beef http://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jul/13/historybooks.highereducation
2. Rightwing historians are obsessed with Rigveda because of their anti-Muslim stance: DN Jhahttp://scroll.in/article/752993/rightwing-historians-are-obsessed-with-r...
3. Hindu right wrongly says Muslims brought beef-eating — Hindutva history is a mystery: D N Jha; http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/the-interviews-blog/hindu-right...
 Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Traditions.
 References in the book: Many gods such as Indra and Agni are described as having special preferences for different types of flesh - Indra had weakness for bull's meat and Agni for the meat of both the bull and cow, It is recorded that the Maruts and the Asvins were also offered cows. In the Vedas there is a mention of around 250 animals out of which at least 50 were supposed to be fit for sacrifice and consumption. In the Mahabharata, there is a mention of a king named Rantideva who achieved great fame by distributing food grains and beef to Brahmins. Later day, Brahminical texts also provide the evidence for eating beef. Even Manusmriti did not prohibit the consumption of beef. As a medicine: In therapeutic section of Charak Samhita (pages 86-87) the flesh of cow is prescribed as a medicine for various diseases. It is also prescribed for making soup. It is emphatically advised as a cure for irregular fever, consumption, and emaciation. The fat of the cow is recommended for debility and rheumatism.
 Family/Community/ Deity (of a lineage)
 Indian prime minister claims genetic science existed in ancient times, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/28/indian-prime-minister-genetic-science-existed-ancient-times; PM Modi takes leaf from Batra book: Mahabharat genetics, Lord Ganesha; http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/pm-takes-leaf-from-batra-book-mahabharat-genetics-lord-ganesha-surgery/#sthash.V7LdaNIb.dpuf; Fears grow in India about Hindu 'Modi-fication' of education; The Prime Minister and Early Indian Science http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/the-prime-minister-and-early-indian-science-686506; Fears grow in India about Hindu 'Modi-fication' of education http://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-religion-education-idUSKCN0J50BZ...