What are the events that create trans-generational trauma? Genocide war, ethnic violence… many of them… Last century was a century of genocides. It went into denial when it saw its temples desecrated, when it saw its places destroyed. One could not express rage, for example in Aurangzeb’s time, could we? So, what happened to the grief? The grief stayed inside. We went straight to the phase of rationalization. Historical trauma that they have suffered and which the world hasn’t acknowledged, I believe the time has come and we must do that.
Namaskar. I am Rajat Mitra, a psychologist and this is my probably first foray into the art of talking about something which is part psychology, part literature. Our topic, today, is ‘Trans-generational trauma and Hindu resistance’. When I first wrote this topic somebody called me to say that why have you not written Indian resistance? Why have you written Hindu resistance? So, I said that I just want to be more specific. That’s the only reason. So, he said that if you write Indian resistance probably more people would come because it would mean more secular. So, why don’t you change the word? So, I said ‘NO’. I don’t think because I will be more honest and authentic if I write Hindu resistance and by writing Hindu, I’m not excluding anyone, I’m just talking about a group. I’m just talking about myself, my identity.
So, the topic “Trans-generational Trauma and Hindu Resistance” is a vast one. We can fill up entire textbooks on that, but I’m going to speak briefly about my experience, my journey as a psychologist about how I came across this topic. I first heard trans-generational trauma as a word around 30 years back. I was at a conference. It was in Europe and there were psychologists from across the world who were researching on issues like genocide, apartheid and there was no proper record or documentation of all these areas. So, it was on the fringe of psychology or mental health – genocide, apartheid, racism – they are by and large not discussed in mental health, but they are being discussed right now and as we grow in complexity and as we come in touch with our past, our heritage these topics are becoming slowly important.
So, I came across that topic and I realized that it has a close connection to our culture. As I listen to Jewish psychologists, as I listened to Armenian psychologists, I realized that in India, too, we have a lot of such issues to discuss – our heritage, the genocide that we have gone through, the partition, the mass violence that we have gone through – we don’t talk about. These are issues which are not discussed by the mental health professionals, by psychologists. So, I decided that this is something I would take on and since then it became a journey for me. The journey became stronger some time ago when I wrote a book called ‘The Infidel Next Door’. We all understand what the word ‘infidel’ means. It means someone who’s a non-believer. It was my attempt to explore many topics, many themes that I had come across in my work as a psychologist.
I’ll share with a story, because I think the best is to let people know that how I came across this. Any idea, what is this? This is the Kashmiri refugee camp. I was working there, and my wife is also here, and we used to, both, go to the camps to work with the trauma of the people and there were a number of camps. We had distributed our work. We used to go to the camp, discuss the symptoms people felt. Most of them could not sleep. Most of them had nightmares, most of them had many symptoms. We used to discuss this, help them with exercises, talks, to heal and then come back.
One day while coming out, there was this man, an old Kashmiri, a gentle man wearing a Phiran. He looked very elegant. He came to us and said, “Why do you come here?” So, I said I come here because I want to work with the trauma of the Kashmiri people. He smiled, looked at me and said, “Do you understand our trauma?” I said, now, where is this conversation going. I don’t want it to go in the way he’s taking it. So, I said, “Look, we are trying to understand.” He says, “What is the response of the people to your workshops?” I said, “It is not very good. It’s modest. People come. They sit, they listen, and they go away.” Then he again repeated his question, “Do you understand our trauma?” I said, “Well, I’m trying, but if you can suggest something I can do.”
He pointed his finger at the camp, we were at a slight elevation, and said, “do you know what this camp is called?” I said, “Muthi Camp”. He says, “No. Do you know what do we call it?” I said, “What?” He said, “We call it Aurangzeb’s Dream.” So, I was taken aback. I said, “Aurangzeb’s Dream!” He says, “Yes, we call it Aurangzeb’s dream, and do you understand why?” I said, “No”. He said, “Then go and search. When you understand why we call it, then probably you will get a better response from people.”
Now, to a Western trained mind like me, it was quite frankly insult. Okay, here is this person telling me that. Anyway, I went back. I started studying about Aurangzeb; I had vaguely known him as someone who was anti-Hindu, who was fanatic, this and that, nothing more than that. But I was curious to find out that why a school teacher came up to me pointing at the camp of Kashmiri Pandits and said this is called Aurangzeb’s dream. I studied about Aurangzeb. I discovered that in almost three hundred years ago, somebody had told Aurangzeb that if you can convert the Kashmiri Pandits to Islam, the whole of India will convert. So, if you can convert Kashmir to Islam the whole of India will follow through. So, hearing that he had asked his governor that convert all these people and don’t care about the methods.
And then, those people, they went along with Pundit Kripa Ram, who was a prominent Kashmiri leader, to the ninth guru- Guru Teg Bahadur- and asked him for support saying that “he’s trying to destroy us. Can you help us?”. So, Guru Teg Bahadur decided to sacrifice himself. He went to Aurangzeb. There was a dialogue between both of them. He refused to convert despite being threatened and Aurangzeb said, ultimately, “Kill him and his people”… and he could not convert him. So, he got saved, the Hinduism, as we understand as a religion. Many people say that they got saved because of that.
I was very touched when I read this. When I went back again into the camp, the group was sitting there, and I told them that I have studied about Aurangzeb. I understand what he did and suddenly I noticed a change in the group. This, I could see that they had become alive. They felt that we were connecting with each other. He says, “Now, you are understanding us”. They said in Kashmiri and a whole lot of disclosure followed. People started talking about themselves like never before. Some of the women came forward and said that ‘we were sexually assaulted’, which you could never talk about.
Things changed. It taught me a very important lesson that I had been in my life saying trauma as a group of psychological symptoms, but now, I began to understand trauma as also having a historical component, a historical nature. And since then, whenever I have worked all across the world, I have found that trauma has to be understood in its historical context.
Many years back I was taking an interview. It was a Sikh family and I had to take a case history. I asked the elderly man who was there, “I have to take your family history”. I have to take the family history. He looked at me and said, “What do you want to write? Just write, we are a partition family”. So, I said, “But I still want to write that what happened.” He says, “No, we are a partition family”. So, for him, the entire concept was that it’s a partition family. We carried trauma within ourselves and we carry it as a historical route. That is what I would talk about and how it is important for us to understand that all over the world societies are beginning to see their trauma as having historical roots. Today psychologists have done research and it has been found that we can see up till the five generations back as to how trauma took its origin and developed. So, what happened in your family, what happened in the extended family till five generations back can be understood. So, we will talk about cross generational trauma.
The second aspect I want to talk about is that… It sounds very interesting, isn’t it? Pattharbaz Gang. I have worked in Tihar Jail for many years and one of the groups there at that time when I was working was Pattharbaz gang. Very unusual name, but Tihar has many gangs like this and their activity as a group defines what they are called – Pattharbaz gang, so-and-so gang. These gangs are solidly ensconced with each other. They have a unity which is to be seen to be believed. They know everything about each other. That’s what they called their “Fatta”, their family.
Now, I started working with them. What I heard from them, they were all stone throwers from Kashmir… okay. Now, what is it that they said to me about stone throwing? We have all heard about stone throwers. Right? But do we really know them psychologically? Do we know them? What drives them stone throwing is part of jihad and will give Azadi. They say that one day every child of Kashmir will pick up a stone and will throw so many stones that the sky of Kashmir will turn black. This was said to me by one of the persons. I am saying it in Hindi. “I became man of the house after throwing the first stone at the army and breaking his skull and enemy however powerful can be brought to his knees by throwing stones.”
Stone throwing is not a mechanical thing. I mean today we hear about that they are given money to throw stones but behind that there is also a deep ideology that they carry, when they say that it’s a prayer that we aim at an enemy taking the name of Allah. Right. This is why we do that. It’s a spiritual thing for us. Stone throwing is not something where we mechanically pick up a stone and hit. We believe that the ground from which we pick it up, it becomes a force equal to hundred bullets, because it has got the power of the ground and this ground belongs to us.
So, I learned about stone-throwers. I learned about the trauma of Kashmiri Pandits. I learnt about ideologues and inspirations. Anyone has seen this picture? Sounds interesting in a talk on trauma and do we know this person? This is Sanjeev Kumar, one of the famous heroes of earlier days. And this is a song. Just listen to it for a minute.
खुदगर्ज दुनिया में ये, इनसान की पहचान है
जो पराई आग में जल जाये, वो इनसान है
अपने लिये जिये तो क्या जिये
तू जी, ऐ दिल, ज़माने के लिये
अपने लिये जिये तो क्या जिये
बाज़ार से ज़माने के, कुछ भी न हम खरीदेंगे
हाँ, बेचकर खुशी अपनी
लोगों के ग़म खरीदेंगे
बुझते दिये जलाने के लिये
तू जी, ऐ दिल, ज़माने के लिये
अपने लिये जिये तो क्या जिये
Anything special about this song? Anything that strikes you? Okay… What if I were to say that this song shaped and moulded someone whose name became a terror. His name was Afzal guru. This was the song that shaped him, moulded him and he called this song his identity. It made him what he is. I was a psychologist in the jail, and I was asked by him that…. [You met Afsal Guru?] Ya. I met. I met many people in Tihar. I worked for a long time, so. Being a psychologist in Tihar is interesting because people ask you a lot of questions. He asked, “Can you tell me why this song influenced me, affected me so deeply?” I said, “Yes.”
We talked about it and we identified a number of themes in this song that he identified with and made him what he is. In fact, he asked in his last days to everyone, who came in contact with him, to sing this song together with him. People who were in close contact, who came with him, he would say that. I’m not showing the full song over here. I’m just showing parts of it. I’m sure after seeing this you will go back home and see this. You have time for it. We don’t have so much time but the words of it, there were many themes inside that he said influenced him, affected him to be what he is: ideologues. Ideologues are people who affect others’ minds, other’s thoughts and I met a number of them all over the world. I met an ideologue in a prison in Thailand who was a mathematics teacher and he was a very powerful orator, spoke to people in a way that they got influenced and following a fanatic ideology, the way he portrayed them it to be.
So, I met these people and they shared with me many things and this book that I wrote is based upon many such people many such characters who shared with me their personal intimate details. I did it without sharing anything that would implicate them or that would in any way … But what they talked, it was in general. What they talked, it was about the movement, the people. So, I created characters in order to write this book and this book has been a journey. It has many themes inside which I will talk about now one by one. Okay.
What is trauma? People very often feel that trauma can be many things. Trauma is an overwhelming event that ruptures our sense of safety about the world. Rape, accident, disaster, riots. They’re all traumatic incidents. Trauma is not everyday event. Trauma is something that happens suddenly to us and our brain just cannot take it anymore, gets affected, sometimes for life. I can share with you an incident. Many years back I was in US in San Francisco. It was a conference and at the end of the day I was taking a walk. I was very heavy because the topics were very heavy, and I went out for a breath of fresh air. Suddenly, I was accosted by three men. One of them put a knife over me and said, “Your money.” Now, what do you do in such a situation? The first rule is giving all you have to save your life. Second is beg for your life because if you don’t have enough money, they are going to kill you or bash you up. So, all the time I was looking at them and saying, “Please let me go. I have only this much money. I don’t live here. I’m sure you’ll find more money with someone else.” Trying to get out of it. I had very few dollars. They took it, jabbed me and went away. I went back pretty shaken and the organizers called the police. They asked me to draw to help them recreate the face of the people and I thought that it would be easy for me. I’m a psychologist. I work with people. I register things. I sat there for half an hour without being able to recall anything. No… sorry… I made a mistake. I could recall only one thing. You know what was that? The handle of the knife. That’s it. I couldn’t recall the face. I couldn’t recall any detail, anything else because I felt so fragmented by that that my perceptions were fragmented.
Trauma is like that, it fragments us. So, for example, after a traumatic incident we don’t recall the details. That is because it is fragmented somewhere so deeply that it takes time and special help in order to recount to the issues. Right. It distorts our memory, recall and may surface years later, takes a long time to heal. For example, the ‘MeToo’ movement that we know about right now. There is a thing about that trauma surfaces many years later, five, ten, fifteen. So many people do recall traumatic details later but not everyone. Some people also take advantage of that and create fantasies which are not true. It has happened in many countries where people have suddenly recalled details that they say happen to them years ago and certainly there is an epidemic and it is found that many things are wrong, many people are wrong. Maybe some are true, and it has to be explored carefully. It is to do with the nature of trauma that trauma does not come out immediately.
Now our topic…sorry to give you this background but it is important to go through it slowly, step-by-step. Trans-generational trauma: the transmission of thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are passed on from generation to generation through silence, under disclosure, hyper-vigilance and re-enactment. Right. Okay.
I’ll give an example. I was once with a Jewish family. We had finished dinner. I was staying with them. I had to put the food back. We are actually going out, out to the conference later. So, I said I’m going to put the food back in the refrigerator. The lady immediately said, “no. no. no. no. Don’t. We don’t put food in the refrigerator.” I said, “You don’t put food in the refrigerator. What do you do with them?” She said, “No, we don’t put food in the refrigerator. Jewish families like us don’t do that.” I said, “What do you mean?” She says, “Our parents were in… grandparents were in Auschwitz concentration camp.” Most Jewish family still, today, don’t stuff their refrigerator. It’s a tradition. Right. It is enacted again and again. They enact their trauma. It is difficult for Jewish families even today to stuff their refrigerator, many of them. So, even though the trauma may have taken place 70 years ago they are constantly re-enacting that. We pass on trauma through silence. There are issues in the family nobody talks about. There are issues in the family we don’t disclose or we disclose so little that the children make up things to believe that, that yes, this is what may have taken place. That is how we pass on trauma and that’s the nature of trauma.
Next, what are the events that create trans- generational trauma? Genocide war, ethnic violence, many of them. Last century was a century of genocides. There were three major genocides in the last century. The Armenian one, the Jewish one and the last the Rwandan one. Millions of people died in the process. There were also purges which were done by Stalin, by Mao. But they don’t come under a genocide. They all create a trans- generational trauma that still exists today. I have friends who are Armenians. After hundred years they are going back to their roots to find out what happened to their society, their people at that time when 1 million people were killed. Today we have a renewed interest in partition, in the way people were killed. People go back to it. And I’ll come to it as to why.
There are groups which suffer transgender who have suffered and who have documented. People like Jews. I have many Jewish friends because Jewish people do a lot of research into trans-generational trauma. I was talking to one of them and I said, “Can you tell me how I can understand about what you people have gone through?” At once they said, “Just read the book- the last of the just. It talks about a history. We all have read it.” And then they asked me, “Do you have a book like that? You should.” I said, “Yes, I think we must go in that direction in order to create for us a literature, a story that also shows the trans-generational trauma that we have gone through in India, specifically Hindus.” The trauma of blacks, the trauma of Red Indians. It is ironical that Red Indians today find more supporters for their trans-generational trauma, the genocide that they have gone through, then we find for ourselves and it is important that we have to go ahead and tell the world about it, what we have gone. Has time arrived for Hindus to share the historical trauma they have suffered and which the world hasn’t acknowledged? I believe the time has come and we must do that. Okay.
Three most cherished institutions: temples, libraries and religious practices and festivals. The last one is taking place right now in Sabarimala. Hindus are being separated from their traditions, from their festivals and we will talk about this separation in Psychological terms, why it is so damaging. Will Durant (is) one of my favourite historians. I like his statement, “It wasn’t easy to be a Hindu during the last eight hundred years.” I find it very poignant that he wrote about it, but none of the historians here picked it up and said anything. Memory and space become intertwined in Hindu consciousness. We’ll come to it.
Now I’ll talk about Hindu resistance, a little the other part of the topic. What created the Hindu resistance? Did they surrender to the terror? How did they cope when their sacred places were desecrated? Conventional psychological theories cannot explain how people in large numbers resisted such brutality. I have discussed this with people many times that when the invasions began in the 11th century we faced a lot of brutality at a mass scale and it was similar to the invasions in Middle East in other parts. They changed their religion. They became completely different. But here it’s did not. And I’ve asked many psychologists that what can explain this? Answer again came from one of my friends who was a Jewish psychologist. We discussed this. He had read Gita and he said that one of your philosophy is that the detachment of the body and the soul being eternal. He said that you have a philosophy and I have seen many Hindu say “I’m not the body, I’m not the mind, I’m the ever pure ever glorious Atma. I am the soul that will never die. This is something deeply ingrained in all of you”. And he said, as we discussed this it came on that, I believe this is a philosophy that helped you to sustain unimaginable torture on yourself because the invaders, who are our rulers, they definitely created a lot of torture and abuse on ourselves. If we, for example, take the example of the pictures for which we have, for example the Sikh gurus. We have documented history of (Guru Teg Bahadur). Your flesh being torn out, your body being slowly decapitated. For example, when Aurangzeb ordered Teg Bahadur to be killed, he said, “You see to it that only one drop of blood falls at one time. When he asked his disciples to be killed, they were boiled alive. Now these were not exceptions. These were regular things in those times and yet there was something that helped many Hindus to sustain that.
And I had an interesting experience. I asked a Kashmiri Pundit whose temple was burnt down. The mob had attacked and desecrated it and destroyed it. I said, “What happened? How did you survive?” I mean he was badly injured. He said, “When I realized that I cannot save it, I did not want to run. I came, I sat in meditation quietly and I said now whatever they do to me they will not be able to do any further. I will die over here, and a calmness came over me. I put my hand around the deity and then I lost after that all consciousness because they beat me, and they left me for dead.”
Now this thing about going into a meditational phase, thinking that I am different from the body, thinking that I am eternal, I am a soul, this philosophy I believe and this is something that I find that with psychologists that being the core element of our philosophy, helped us to cope in a big way. Further research is needed on that but I believe that it is very much needed.
This is one of my favourite pictures of all times- Guru Tegh Bahadur just before he was killed by Aurangzeb. He’s sitting in meditation and as he was killed and as he was decapitated, he continued to sit in this pose and not move. He who has a ‘why’ to live for can survive anyhow. Victor Frankel, a psychiatrist explained in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ that when a man discovers (I am writing the word man in a generic sense. I don’t mean man or woman here.) only when why he exists at the deepest level, this is also the message of Gita. I feel that it’s time enough for us to think of how we survived, why we survived and how we have carried on despite all the atrocities.
I’ll come to Sabarimala Hindu resistance. It’s interesting for me as a psychologist to see this that never before in recorded history have Hindus come out unified in such large numbers to protect their temples. There is a simmering Hindu rage becoming a movement and I also believe that it will soon point to the time when we will be in one of the biggest transition periods of history of all times. To understand what is happening at Sabarimala I have drawn it psychologically. It is a separation that creates the resistance. At an individual level we don’t want separation, but as for societies, how do societies attach, how do societies become who they are? We all become a society through proximity groups come together. I mean anyone who has read Benedict Anderson would know that we come together, we create proximity. There is bonding and then when after the bonding, it gives rise to a phase of separation. And the separation in the world most of it is forced. Separation is not welcomed. Separation happens suddenly. If we look at the separation in our lives did any of the separation… if you see, 99% of separation happens suddenly. It came without a warning. The same is happening right now in Sabarimala.
Hindus are facing a separation from their tradition which has existed for 500 years. It’s the forced separation. Without going into the right or the wrong of it I can only say that this separation is sudden. It is forced and it is not something that they identify with or there is something that there is no victim in it, in order to say that, No, I want this. The separation is leading to what we call grief in psychology. Separation unlocks the grieving process always. Whenever there is separation there is grief. This is what is happening to us as a society. We are going through separation. Hindus have gone through separation in big ways for a long time. We have got separated from our temples, we have got separated from our sacred lands, we have got separated from our culture, we have got separated even, for example, our schools. So, the way we were running our schools… the British stopped it and said that “no, you have to study in these schools”. So, we went through separations continuously one after another, but we never grieved. We held the grief back inside and that the grief right now is emerging because of the nationalism. The nationalist feelings that are emerging in society.
Next, the stages of grief. I’ll briefly say the first stage is denial. We all know what denial means. When we hear a bad news or a tragic news what is the first reaction? “No! This is not true. This cannot happen”. We use denial to protect ourselves and then there is rage, there is sadness. But our society, the Hindu society, it went into denial when it saw its temples desecrated, when it saw its places destroyed and it could not express rage. Now, one could not express rage for example in Aurangzeb’s time, could we? So, what happened to the grief? The grief stayed inside. We went straight to the phase of rationalization by withdrawing into ourselves. (We became) We carried our activities within the parameters of our home. I’ll come to that later. So, we missed out all this – rage, sadness, fear. The separation happens again, all this will take place. There will be rage, there will be protests that we see, that we are seeing right now in Sabarimala.
The other phases are which something that comes later. This is from the works of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who was also one of my teachers and who was one of the greatest psychiatrists of all times, who worked with people, who were in the terminal phase and who showed that how people and then she surmised it and said that this is also applicable to systems and societies. We are in a separation phase right now, we as a society. It has unlocked our grieving process. We are beginning to see the assault and we also realize that a Hindu mass movement is probably the need of the hour and is the Dharma. I spoke to people many of them and they said that mass movement is not for Hindus. I always used to wonder why? And now it is not so. Many of them say, No, we need a mass movement. I was asking someone who believes that Hindus should become a political entity, they should become a social entity and he said, no, we must have a mass movement. So, I asked him, “Why do you think we need? I mean mass movement. Why have you changed your opinion?” He says, “For one reason, Hinduism core principle is self-renunciation and we have always believed that self-renunciation comes by withdrawing, by isolating, but mass movements also give a self-renunciation and that is what we need to realize.” That is an essential learning that all of us need to have right now, that a mass movement for your rights is also self-renunciation. I think that hit me very hard and I think that it is something for us to think about.
After centuries of denial and rationalization we are now in a stage of protest and I believe that our psyche will reborn to become a deeper unified human being. This is something I see coming about. Maybe in our lifetime but it is on its way. The Hindu of the present times (it was told to me by someone) can be said to be claiming and demanding that his sacred spaces taken away from him be given back. Religious sites in India have an absorbed memory that hasn’t been erased by time. I think we all know this picture. We know that this place was destroyed many times but yet it was still built up. Why? Because it had a memory around it that could not be destroyed. Religion and memory are together they cannot be separated. Religion, memory, space, place and time they all form an entity that together form a whole. It is not just a brick structure. It’s also what we call a memory that has not been destroyed. That cannot be destroyed. Every religious place is a space with the absorbed memory. These are from the works of people who have done research into religion, memory and space. So, I’m just writing the things. I think they are self-explanatory that a space brings us together us as a race.
I once interviewed a Kar Sewak. He told me, “Our goal is not to destroy the mosque (a very controversial statement) but our goal is to build a Hindu identity that was lost over there. If the temple is built (he said, “if”), and if he gathers around it, it will create a new Hindu identity. It’s an identity issue. Hindus, Buddhists have undergone a pain and suffering that other followers do not understand because it has not been part of their experience. This is not to say negative things about anyone, but Hindus and Buddhists have gone through desecration and destruction of their places and that is something that remains part of their psyche. It’s my favourite saying- a man who’s warm cannot understand the pain of a man who’s cold- Alexander Solzhenitsyn. What we have gone through and it is important that if others have to go through, they have to go through some of the same process. I don’t want any religious structure or anyone else’s religious structures to being touched or destroyed but it is important that they understand that what others have gone through in order to bring peace.
Do you see the two structures? I mean controversial but different. Do you see a similarity in them? Do we all know what the structure on the left is? Do we know what is the structure on the right? The structure on the right is Red Indians protesting about their sacred space where they used to pray, a pipeline being made through that. They are saying that this is something that we do not want to be changed and surprisingly they found support for it from all over the world. Intellectuals, professors, everyone said that, “no, their sacred space is important”. So why is it that there is a difference? I’m not saying that we destroy it, but sacred spaces are universal everywhere and it is important to understand that that it cannot be different at one place and different at another and it is important that all in religions we do understand the notion of sacred space. We have sacred spaces all over India. We have sacred spaces all over the world. We need to preserve their sanctity and when they have been destroyed it’s important to create a dialogue and understand the pain that others have gone through.
Shaun Launders, one of the top theorists, said memory surrounds us and defines us. It’s an essential dimension of religion and Milan Kundera said that the struggle of man against power is a struggle of memory against forgetting. Very powerful words. It is a memory that stops us from forgetting. Memory doesn’t die. That’s the beauty about memory. I may not even talk about it directly in words to my offspring, but I know that my offspring will understand what I wanted to convey and they will carry through, memory carries in silence. I think you all know this picture. Right? Okay. I have a story around it which was the first time probably I understood what trauma meant. My father taught in the school next door. Often Raisina. it was just.. Raisina Bengali School. So very often we as children used to go and play there and after playing take Prasad from the pundits like millions of children do all over the country. We all go to play, and we take the Prasad from Panditji after playing and we go back. I knew every nook and corner.
I remember one day I saw this white couple arguing with their guide. The guide was telling them this is the biggest temple, the most beautiful temple that we have over here. So, and they were consulting their books and saying but this is a very new temple. It was made in 1939. We want to show some more beautiful older temples like the way we saw in South India. When the guide said, no, we don’t have any. There is one temple called Yogamaya which is a very small temple. Then they said that Delhi was a Hindu city. We have seen mosques which are few hundred years old, for example Jama Masjid is almost 300 years old. We have seen other Sunehri masjid… this masjid, but we don’t see any medieval temples. So, does it mean that Hindus did not create any, build any medieval temples? So, the guide said, yes! Probably not. For centuries we did not build any big temple. The temples were small because there was a rule that the spire of a temple should not be seen. Then they asked and I still remember- then you mean to say that you were second-class citizens in your own country? How did you feel that? I mean he, I don’t know who asked the man or the woman, but how did you feel when you would go out and you see that you have no temples of your own when others had their big temples? How do you think the people must have felt then? The guide said, I can’t answer that. So, they went away. I don’t recall what happened afterwards, they got up, they walked away but this I discussed with my father.
My father was a school teacher and he said we don’t talk about such things! Don’t talk about this. So, I said, “Baba, is it true that we did not build any big, large temple for almost eight hundred, nine hundred years because they must have…people must have been scared that if they built it, it would… He said, “yeah, probably not.” But he said, “Don’t talk about this. Don’t discuss this with anyone”, and I also did. Why we are even so scared right now? When I grew up this issue never left me. I asked a friend of mine, a professor that what do you think, why? He said, “It was probably because of the nationalism. The feeling of nationalism that gave the courage to the Hindus to build a temple.” And then he said, “I have heard that the architect who built it cried with joy, when they realized that they were building a massive temple again after a period of many centuries.” What I feel deeply affected and touched is that we have all carried out without any sense of rancour or hatred towards anyone. We have sustained. We have had a resilience inside that it comes from our textbooks that comes from absorbing many difficult situations, many difficult challenges in life and we have absorbed a lot of pain but it is important for us to think about it, to understand and for the rest of the world to do so.
Why is today memory, becomes such an important subject? Memory becomes a subject of study when a great change takes place in society and ruptures the flow of events. Like 9/11 USA, it ruptured the society and because it ruptured the society, suddenly focus our attention towards memory. So, the importance of finding about who you are, why we are, it comes because there is a rupture in society and I believe that there is a rupture in our society right now, a big rupture that is taking place. Why? I don’t know but that is the reason why we are going back so much into our memory right now. All of these countries, if we study, they have a collective memory. Germany has a collective memory which is very strong. I mean I can only explain it through examples.
I was taking a workshop in Germany once but it was a workshop means where you are dealing with psychological issues and there was a young German girl who was in the audience and who was very withdrawn and I had given her some exercise. She was not doing. I went up to her I was with my German colleague, who was also a German, I told her, “I’m sure maybe you are finding this exercise difficult. I come from a country far away. I do not understand your culture that well. So, if I’m saying something and you do not understand, can we talk?” And I noticed she withdrew even further! She almost became like this. So, I said, “Have I said something wrong?” So, my German colleague Dr. Petri stopped me. She told her something in German and took me away. She said and I remember every word of her. She said, “Rajat, when you talked you became very hypnotizing for her. Your language was very hypnotizing. Do you notice that yours, Indians’ language is full of modulation? You go up and down.” I said, “Yeah, we do that.” She said, “Have you noticed how we Germans talk?” I said, “Well, now that you say it, you Germans talk straightforward. One tone, one level like you are going in one of your highways on a Mercedes at 200 km/h. No modulation, nothing.” She says, “Yes, in Germany if you talk in a hypnotic language or you with modulation we withdraw. We don’t trust that person anymore.” So, I said, “Okay, that’s a revelation for me but why?” She says, “you know what Hitler did to us? Hitler’s voice was deeply hypnotic and modulating. Since then we don’t trust anyone who talks in a modulating manner or in a hypnotizing way. So don’t talk like that again.”
So then afterwards I’ve taken numerous workshops in Germany. I always talk at one tone, at one level and don’t go above that and I’m very successful. Believe me, the German says, “Very good workshop! We enjoyed it very much. Thank you very much.” I say, “Yes, that’s right”. So, you see one person, even after 70 years, even before that, they say that ‘in our culture we do not allow anyone to take (advantage). We have made a decision, we won’t allow anyone to take advantage of us and that is why we prefer that we be this way.’
I believe that in India also the period of last 70 years has tried to rupture our relationship with our past through distortion and falsification. And that is why this rise of memory in our present day. This was a question we had a seminar on memory. Religion engages human conception of space and place. Somebody asked what would be Judaism without Mount Sinai and Moriah? I asked a Jewish friend. He says we can’t imagine. What would be Christianity without Bethlehem? We would die. What would be Buddhism without Sarnath? The Buddhist monk said, “I can’t imagine this.” He seemed to have got affected. What would be Islam without Mecca and Medina? I don’t think I should even say anything. On that what has been Hinduism without it, sacred places? Then a wound a grief that is something that we need to take note of heal and fill that… otherwise as time goes by it will be more difficult to fulfil that. Control over sacred places… I’m not saying that we do it forcefully or with violence but control over sacred places is necessary for rewriting the history of any country, its people, its development and its identity. It’s true all over the world. It’s not an exception here. This is something I already explained.
The present interest in memory and rewriting of history, it comes from the rise of nationalism. It’s true with many parts in the world. It may not have a reason because the falsehood built around the freedom struggle that whether it was violent or nonviolent. And lastly the defining the deaths of revolutionaries are the sacrifice and primary cause of freedom would have led to the birth of the idea of a new nation in very different emotional terms. That’s what I believe that is something that there is an issue about who gave us freedom. I feel it’s a very welcome debate because it opens us to a new possibility that did not exist before. Transition of society in the present is something I already said. I believe that the historian of the future will be one who can become a memory man to link us to our memory that is being suppressed so far. It is important for us that we find a bridge between the memory we are carrying and the history and the gap between that. And the task of history is to bridge that. Historians no longer have a monopoly over history. This statement was made to me recently by a professor from JNU. I have professors in JNU as friends. I get into vigorous debates with them and this was a statement made and I fell it was so good that I need to write it. They no longer have a control over writing of the past. People in India no longer trust what is written in textbook and past has ceased to have a single meaning. I believe these are very welcome developments for our country, for our growth, for new debate and dialogue.
Pierre Nora. I don’t think that many of you would know but (he was) one of the world’s greatest historians from France who wrote a history of France in seven volumes. He was bothered about the gap between memory and history. He wrote this very beautifully- ‘Memory is life borne by living societies founded in its name. It remains in a permanent evolution open to remembering and forgetting. Susceptible to being made dormant… history on the other hand is the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete. History is suspicious of memory and its true mission is to destroy it.’ So, it’s important to see that history and memory have been at loggerheads. If we ask, for example say, a victim of Sikh riots, “how was the rights for you?” And we ask, say, someone in the government in those times, “What is your memory?” We would find a complete difference. Right? So, it’s important to bridge that gap and writing history from the point of view of survivors is extremely crucial for us at the present times.
I almost come to an end and I will just share something about this. We all know about Adolph Eichmann. It’s been called the greatest trial of the 20th century. It was led by Gideon Hausner, a world-famous lawyer. Apart from this, only the Nuremberg trial, where the Nazi people were tried, was seen as a big trial. But this is regarded as the greatest trial of the 20th century because of the issues involved. During the trial they found that establishing the culpability, the guilt of Eichmann is not a problem. There is enough proof, enough evidence, and enough data against him. But the Jewish people, they felt concerned. They realized that if they have a trial based on documents, number and statistics, this trial will die out. It will be a big disservice to humanity. What they realized is that this trial is more than numbers or data or statistics. This trial is based upon an ideology of those people who believed that Jews had no right to live, on their annihilation. So, the trial should be on that, the annihilation of a race, not on facts, data or statistics. This trial is necessary for Jews to reclaim their identity.
When I read this, and I’ve read this several times because of part of my research and understanding on trauma. I also read the trial on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmbhoomi. I found there a lot of parallels in that. Ram Janmbhoomi, I find that it is becoming a trial about whether Ram was born there or not. Shri Ram. Sorry, I should say Sri Rama. I should not say Ram but place of Shri Ram. It’s about a temple or the birthplace of Ram, but it is not about Hindus trying to reclaim their identity. This issue as I see is not so much about whether it was the birthplace of Shri Ram or whether it was a temple but the identity that got lost during the time when the temple was desecrated. It’s a sacred space. It is linked to the identity of Hindus. That is what they are fighting for. So, I think it is important for those who are into this issue to understand that it is not just a temple structure or whether Shri Ram was born there, but it is about Hindus trying to reclaim their identity. The destruction of the temple, including this temple, was to destroy a civilization, a way of life and faith of a people who had built it over thousands of years. Right? I’m saying this because there is enough evidence right now to show that there was a temple below that or even if there are other temples where it was built. The goal was not that just a temple was destroyed. No. Yes, a temple was destroyed. The physical structure was. But it was also much more a destruction of a civilization, a way of life. Sacred spaces have an absorbed memory. When they are built again, they restore the memory to its people leading to closure.
In India we have had enough trauma. Enough! There is need for healing. We need closure. And I believe that a dialogue and a deeper understanding will lead to closure. Dialogue leads to closure. I have friends in South Africa who were part of (one of them was) part of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They say that they brought the persecutor, the perpetrators together, resolved the issues and came to a closure. We can do so over here. People are not the problem, it is the ideology. It is the belief system that you carry that is the problem. That is what I found in my career.
I come almost to the end of my talk. This place is Anandpur Sahib where Pundit Kripa Ram went to Guru Teg Bahadur to ask that Hindus be saved. When my book was finished, we decided to make a pilgrimage over there. We had both the Kashmiri Pandits, who went there at that time, and the Sikh priests over there who blessed us. And I felt a fulfilment, a completion of the work that I had taken upon myself to write this book and also to finish the process. That’s me. That’s my wife Nidhi. He is the president of Pannam Kashmir and they are the head priests over there who blessed the book and to whom I gave the chapters from the book about the dialogue between Aurangzeb and Guru Teg Bahadur. They read it. They okayed it and they said that this is the way the Sikh records, we imagined, would have happened. So, we bless this book. It was important for me to do so because I felt I must go back to the same sacred space about which I had been touched many years ago by that man at the Kashmiri refugee camp.
I’ll just give you the context. The protagonist of the book is Aditya Narayan, a priest’s son, who goes back to Srinagar where his temple was destroyed 300 years back. He goes there. He listens to a story from his mentor who is Gurudev and this is the story of Aurangzeb and Guru Teg Bahadur. He asks for the story… “How many times will you listen to the same story?” Gurudev shook his head and smiled. “I promise this is the last time.” He looked at Aditya. The longing gaze on his face and locks of hair that fell by the side together added to an expression that made it impossible for him to say no. With a sigh he asked, “There are so many other stories, but you only want to hear this one.” “I like it. That’s all.” Children say that very often. My daughter says that. “Why do you want this one?” “I like it. That’s all. Isn’t that enough?”
Gurudev began, “Over 300 years ago our country was ruled by a cruel Emperor Aurangzeb. He killed his own brother, imprisoned his father and became an emperor. Then he decided to convert India into an Islamic country.” “Why Gurudev?” “Because he thought that if other countries could become Islamic, why not India where he a Muslim ruler, ruled. He imposed heavy taxes on Hindus called Jazia and enforced humiliating conditions, so that they would give up their religion. He ordered his officers to bring one mound of Janeu and weight it every day by killing or converting Hindus. Many were killed but many gave in due to fear.” “Did he succeed?”, Aditya asks. “No, his cruelty frightened many as it is Hindu temples all over India. Wherever his armies went they would build mosques over them. It is said that his armies would throw the deities under the stairs of the mosque so that people trample on them.” “Did it break the will of Hindus.” “No, a large number of Hindus chose death over conversion and Aurangzeb faced a dilemma. If Hindus choose to die who would he rule over. He decided to try and convert all the pundits of Kashmir first. Why Kashmir? Because Kashmir was the seat of Hinduism and his belief was that if Kashmir could be converted the rest of India would follow. He ordered his governor that all the pundits of Kashmir be converted to Islam or be put to death. Hearing this, when death grip around, a prominent Kashmiri Pandit- Pundit Kripa Ram along with a delegation of 500 pundits went to Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth guru at Anandpur Sahib.” “Why did they go to Guru Tegh Bahadur?” “Because Guru Teg Bahadur was known as the protector of the weak.
When the Guru heard about their suffering, he said that a sacrifice was necessary to teach Aurangzeb a lesson. His son, Guru Gobind Singh who was only can do that sacrifice!” “He was my age and could say that to his own father!” Aditya said while widening his eyes. “Yes Beta, in olden time’s children took great responsibilities. Life was so brief.” I remember reading this part to my daughter one day and she said, “You mean to say that children at 10 could say that! That means that in olden times life must have been really difficult, that I feel so privileged that I don’t have to say something like that to you or to anyone. “Then what happened?” “The Guru told them to return and tell their governor, Iftikhar Khan, that he should send this message to Aurangzeb – ‘if you can convert the Guru to Islam then the whole of India will convert but if you can’t, you would have to give up your dream of making India an Islamic country.’ On hearing this Aurangzeb felt that he won. Converting a single person, which would not be any problem, his name would be written in golden letters.
First, the Guru and the disciples were brought in front of the qazi who threatened them with dire consequences if they didn’t embrace Islam. The Guru listened to him with amusement and refused. Then the Guru was brought to the Emperor’s court in Chains. His presence brightened the royal court making all the jewels look pale. Even though he stood on the ground he appeared higher than the emperor who sat above him on the throne. The Guru looked majestic with his flowing beard. His eyes so powerful that they could see through your soul. Aurangzeb could not look at him in the eye. ‘Teg bahadur, you came here to embrace Islam.’ One of the Emperor’s courtiers finally said to him. ‘No, I didn’t’, the Guru thundered. ‘I said if you can convert me to Islam then the whole of India will follow and if you can’t you will give up your dream.’ Let us see if you, Aurangzeb, have the power to do that. I dare you to convert me. If you fail, you will stop the forced conversion of Hindus and the desecration of their temples.’ The silence was deafening. ‘Do you know whom you are talking to?’ one of the courtiers asked, who finally found his voice. ‘If you embrace Islam the Emperor promises to give you a high post at his royal court and you will be given many jewels and have the biggest harem in his kingdom.’ The Guru laughed. The pillars in the Hall seem to shake with his laughter.
His laughter was like a lion’s roar. When Aurangzeb looked around he saw his whole royal court sitting there frozen. ‘You fool.’ The Guru thundered. ‘Do you think you can lure me in the name of God, the Almighty? You think if I call him by any other name saying that that’s the only right path then I acknowledge my path is wrong? Who lead you to come to this mistaken conclusion?” “How could the Guru speak like this to the Emperor?” Aditya asked. “Those who stand up for others and are the embodiment of Dharma develop such a quality.” his guru replied. “And he called the Emperor a fool in front of everyone!” Aditya laughed. Aurangzeb sat unable to utter a word. History will not forget this day, his courtiers thought, when the Emperor of India looked so pathetic in front of an obscure guru. The guru continued, ‘God is one. Whatever name you call him, he is the same. Our paths take us to the same destination. We can call him by whatever name but need to do so without pride, conceit or deceit and you Aurangzeb are full of all three.’ “Why did the Emperor remain so mute unable to say anything?” Aditya asked. “Proud men lose their tongue when confronted by someone who speaks the truth.” said Gurudev. “The Emperor said, ‘can you show me a miracle that you are a holy man?’ ‘No, I will not do something so foolish to convince you Aurangzeb.’ ‘Then this is the last time I ask you, will you convert or not?’ ‘No, I will not. Not now. Not ever, even if my body is cut into a thousand pieces.’ The Emperor had never felt so humiliated.
‘Tomorrow the whole of India would know how the Guru had refused his offer. Not only would his subjects laugh at him but also future generations.’ He spoke, ‘you fool! You stand in front of chains. I can put you to death before you can blink your eye.’ ‘Yes, you can Aurangzeb. You can kill my body but not the spirit of my people. I have never seen someone more pathetic than you are Aurangzeb. You, the Emperor of India, is acting like a beggar, begging me in front of your whole court.’ ‘Take him away, torture him for forty days until he repents. If he does not, behead him so that only one drop of blood drips at a time’, Aurangzeb screamed. ‘Then take the head of him around the town so that everyone can see.’ The Guru laughed. ‘Who lost today, Aurangzeb? With all your might you could not convert a single unarmed man.’ After several days the Guru was beheaded and his head paraded around the town. Finally some of his disciples managed to take his body away and performed the last rites. Today, that place where he was beheaded, is known as Gurudwara Sheesh Ganz. ‘It would be wonderful to sit at the feet of such a master even for a day.’ Aditya said, his eyes moist. “Today the world remembers the Guru as ‘Hind Ki Chadar’, Gurudev said. There is no other example in history where a prophet gave his life to protect the people of another religion.
The legend is that to avenge his humiliation. Aurangzeb wanted all Kashmiri pundits to be killed until they convert to Islam.” “Gurudev, each time I hear the story I try to imagine what Kashmir is like. O Kashmir! There is no place like that on earth surrounded by snow-covered mountains, its beautiful forests, rivers and lakes sitting by which you feel transported to another world. Hinduism reached its zenith here thousands of years ago. Saints came from far to meditate in its caves and wrote manuscripts. Did you ever go to Kashmir Gurudev?” “Yes, I meditated in a cave near Amarnath. It was surrounded by snow. As Aditya got up to leave he said, “Gurudev, can I ask you a last question?” “You may.” “The Guru was against all hatred, wasn’t he?” “Yes, he opposed hatred in the name of religion.” Why do people hate Gurudev?” “Hatred is never born in a day. It lives for many years in the human heart before it develops the face.” “Can I try and become fearless like the Guru.” “Yes, if you follow the path of Dharma and never hurt anyone, even an ant.” “Gurudev, Aurangzeb dreamed to make India Islamic. What happened to that dream?” “You will know it one day. It’s too late now. Go.” So this is the chapter on the dialogue between them.
And I think we have limited time so I just maybe just read. This is when Aditya talks to his mentor. He’s a professor. “Professor Beg, I have one question. Is the history of people different from the memory they carry of their past?” Professor big smiles. “History does die a thousand deaths but not memory. Memory holds us together and gives us hope. When wars, massacres tear our continuity apart. It’s our memory that keeps alive the story and sacrifice of our heroes.” “You are a historian. Don’t you find it a problem to trust memory over history at times?” “No, their conflict is eternal. It’s a memory that heals us, not history, from injustice is of the past. History puts our blind on us, making us believe we are prisoners. History is like an empress, angry with a whip in hand who demands obedience to the written words. Memory is the mother who holds us in embrace. Protecting us, when our soul needs answers.” “I thought holding onto memory is painful.” “Yes, sometimes it is not us who hold the memory. There the air, the mountains, the land hold on to the story of its people. If you are careful enough you will hear that.” I was on the verge of giving up. Aditya walked out after taking leave. He looked at the sky. He felt as if his thoughts had scattered into a million pieces leading to a warmth radiating inside him telling him not to despair. So I think these are two paragraphs and you’re welcome to read more. Thank you.