Towards a People’s History for a New Earth – By Lesley Whiting

Towards a People’s History for a New Earth

By Lesley Whiting

“Yesterday I said something about history; I said that modern history usually deals with certain very common events such as when a certain king succeeded to the throne, or plundered a neighbouring country, or perpetrated atrocities on his subjects, or died, and so on. What benefit could common people possibly derive from studying such useless information? This is why they have no interest to study this sort of history at all. True history should be a faithful record of the entire human life. The recognized definition of history is: Iti hasati ityarthe itihásah. That is, history is a resplendent reflection of collective life, whose study will be of immense inspiration for future generations. “Iti hasati” literally means, “the glowing example of glorious human dignity.”
Shrii P. R. Sarkar

After the “coronavirus” lockdowns, as many have pointed out, things will not return to normal. We are living through a transformation, whatever the nature of it, and things will not be the same. The slate is being wiped clean, and is now to be co-created by conscious humans. This applies in the sphere of education as much as any other sphere of life. My particular interest is in the transformation of the method and content of teaching history

That history is written by the victors is a well known fact. I was astonished, whilst teaching at an American school in the Middle East, nearing the end of the Iraq war, to open a brand new student’s history book and find a photo of an American soldier carrying an injured Iraqi child. Reading the paragraph it spoke in the past tense about how the Americans had liberated the Iraqi people from an evil dictator and brought freedom, justice and democracy to Iraq. The war had not even ended, yet this was clearly a minor detail of no importance to the writers of US curriculum. “The required version” was already written into history.

For future generations of students, there will be no alternative narrative. No mention of the fact that Iraq never had the weapons of mass destruction (which was the accusation that justified the war), was not involved in 9/11, that the war was based on lies, nor of the million Iraqis died in that bloodbath. The NATO countries were already portrayed as saviours, and 20 years down the line, who will remember the hideously deformed children of Fallujah, the victims of depleted uranium bombs, the millions of dead, the masses of refugees, or the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction? The dead cannot speak. The inconvenient truths will be erased from cultural memory.

Countless examples exist throughout world history. Certain kings and leaders are elevated to glory, while the fates and struggles of ordinary people have been deleted. Empires and colonialists have written their versions of history, while ignoring or belittling the rich histories, cultures and achievements of the people they conquered, for it does not reflect well on colonizers to admit that the countries they colonized may well have had civilizations, arts sciences and technologies far more advanced that their own. Indeed the whole justification for colonizing a country rested on bringing development” to “backward” or “undeveloped” peoples.

Kings often had their glorious exploits carved into stone for future generations to marvel at. However, if truth be known, not all of them were based on fact, some were seriously overrated and propaganda at best, while the true heroes lie buried under the ruins of the battlefield without mention, in order to avoid unfavorable comparisons.

Archeologists decipher and record these carvings but no-one records the voices of the indigenous peoples, the other classes, the women or the silent heroes of the people. Did they not have a history worthy of recording? Of course they did. It is also well known that women, with a few exceptions, are rarely recorded in history. Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt, after an incredibly tenacious battle to claim her right to rule over Egypt (and save Egypt from the disaster of inept ruler by the unfit) ruled successfully for over 40 years. However after her passing, all of her statues, depictions were systematically broken, defaced or entirely removed. Egypt did not want to remember that the all male line of Pharaohs, had been interrupted by the incredibly successful rule of a woman pharaoh.

The Romans did not give any credit to the darker skinned Etruscans, from whose comparatively advanced civilization they learned architecture, technology, arts and diplomacy

In very recent times entire villages have been razed to the ground and the entire population driven out at gunpoint. Their legitimate rulers demonized, histories deleted and their peoples dispersed as refugees, whilst the new settlers renamed and rebuilt the territory in their own image. Who records the history of those displaced peoples? Whose narratives will the future generations of refugees grow up with?

Sifting out some of these hidden and suppressed histories has become one of my passions, and something I dream of sending forth into the new era of neohumanistic thought and knowledge.
But, I wondered, how should such knowledge be presented? Who would entertain such information and what would attract them to learn more about it?

How could such alternative histories be presented?

“……..only that treatise which increases human beings’ arena of spiritual awareness and thus renders the intellect more subtle, which enhances the knowledge of various branches of art and science – such as literature, fine art, pure science, technology, social science, etc – and which places human beings on a firm foundation, deserves to be called genuine history.”
Shrii P. R. Sarkar

Didi Anandarama and I decided to collect, write and illustrate as many beautiful historical stories as possible to enrich the neohumanist curriculum. The idea is to take a step toward righting some historic injustices while creating a more inclusive and multifaceted history of humanity. Our goal is to invite students to fall in love with the human story, to ignite their interest and passion to benefit from the deep knowledge of the struggles and efforts of untold souls over eons in order to establish the glory of human civilization in all areas of life. Here are two stories we started with.

Agnimitra, the military general who sacrificed his life to save Magadh)

A Tale of Ancient Maghad

While searching for the evidence of advanced civilization in India’s ancient history, I discovered numerous mentions of the ancient kingdom of Maghad with Pataliputra (now Patna) as its capital. First mentioned in the Mahabharata, it later became the administrative centre of the great Mauryan Empire. Intrigued, I searched for Sarkar’s references to it and came across an extraordinary story about ancient Magadh. He narrates the story through the anguished voice of a military general of the time, who died protecting his beloved Magadh from invading kings and armies who sought to plunder her glory for their own. The fascinating point is that Sarkar’s narrative turns the generally accepted history on its head, and exposes the shameful neglect of a king whose exploits are generally praised, but who in fact sat by, intoxicated, and allowed Maghad to fall from glory without taking action.

In the course of narrating the story, a wealth of other facts come to light, such as the unique cultural legacy bestowed by the non-Aryan renunciate community, who were averse to the showy rituals of the Vedic priesthood. Sarkar mentions Magadh being the birthplace of Buddhism and Jainism, as well as the place where the Buddha attained Nirvana. Its unique geographical location and abundance of resources facilitated the development and transportation of trade and commerce. He mentions the dignified position of women in a system that was still matrilineal, local traditions and habits, the spiritually and intellectually advanced souls who took birth and bestowed their gifts and teachings on this soil. Magadh was once a great centre of knowledge and learning housing the world’s first successful international university on its soil. Masterfully, a colourful tapestry is woven of a vibrant and thriving centre of politics, culture, learning, commerce and spirituality, spanning the pre-Mauryan era to the Gupta Empire.

As with all great empires, the cycles of time and change flow in their due course and Maghadh also fell on times of great hardship and suffering. At the end, one cannot help but love this kingdom and its pageant of peoples that have dwelt on her soil, and the brave soldiers that gave their lives for their beloved land, while, as usual until today, the leadership takes the credit. Due to having successfully awakened this love for the subject, the information will not disappear easily from the mind of the readers. Stories with a heart stirring, emotional content, are not easily erased from memory.

Indigo: a short story of the Indigo workers of Bengal

The other story of Sarkar for which I have just completed the illustrations is a tale of the author’s being forced by adverse weather to stay in the mysterious and long abandoned house that once belonged to a Niilkar Saheb – a British colonial plantation owner of the indigo plant used for dye. The story is rich with multilayered lessons, from the historical facts of the production of the dye to the bitter struggles of the exploited Indigo farmers and the agrarian revolts, a significant part of India’s war of Independence. Lessons of history, social justice, morality, and the karmic consequences of brutal exploitation of the colonialists are all skillfully interwoven throughout the tale, narrated through the troubled voice of the repentant plantation owner, seeking final release from the unbearable burden of his karmic debt.

The mysterious atmosphere and the drama of the story has a strong emotional content which keeps one suspended. One can’t help but identify in profound sympathy for the tortured lives of the voiceless indigo farmers, long forgotten by history. Moreover, and even more strangely, perhaps, is that one finds compassion evoked for the plight of the cruel plantation owner, karmically suspended and bound in utter loneliness and isolation to the place of his crimes for indefinite time, and desperately seeking redemption. The student learns about the British Rule in India, and events that contributed to her independence in an engaging context difficult to erase from memory.

While using the story as the main theme to stimulate interest and emotional participation, a skillful teacher could easily encourage students to research and assemble an entire picture of different aspects of life in a project based approach.

The mysterious house of the Niilkar Saheb (Indigo Plantation Owner)

The two mentioned stories are fully illustrated in colour and await publication.

“You people of today are more enlightened. Your intellectual capacity is no less than anyone else’s. That is why you should write a new history of the human race by your collective endeavour. The history that you will write in future must unequivocally reflect such important factors as how human society has evolved through trials and tribulations; what difficulties were confronted and how human beings overcame them and moved towards their goal with firm steps; and how even today they are advancing by solving numerous problems”.
Shrii P. R. Sarkar

We Invite Your Participation in the Itihasa Project

Itihasa – stories of educational value that tell about historic events in the past and present for the purpose of education for a bright future.

Stories drive society and carry humanity and civilization over hurdles and struggles towards a better and benevolent future. We invite writers and story tellers to write new stories in the spirit of “Itihasa’. We are extracting the stories of Shrii P. R. Sarkar from his writings to study and get wonderful examples of what “Itihasa’ stands for. We not only want to rewrite history but also to rewrite it in a way that is delightful to read and therefore we focus on “Itihasa’ the real essence of the times. Litterateurs for children and youth carry the responsibility of depicting the desired future and its idealistic and realistic features. As litterateurs we are in the past, present and future. New stories are needed to help us overcome the difficulties of the present.

Please join us and be part of our Itihasa team to discuss and create new stories. Contact: didianandarama@gmail.com

“Sá vidyá yá vimuktaye - Education is that which liberates”