During the first week of January last year, a group of Indian scholars gathered in a white bungalow on a leafy boulevard in central Delhi. The focus of their discussion: how to rewrite the history of the nation.
By Rupam Jain & Tom Lasseter
The government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi had quietly appointed the committee of scholars about six months earlier. Details of its existence are reported here for the first time.
Minutes of the meeting and interviews with committee members set out its aims: to use evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today's Hindus are directly descended from the land's first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.
The ambitions of Hindu nationalists now, it seems, extend beyond holding political power in this nation of 1.3 billion people with a kaleidoscope of religions. They want ultimately to reshape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus.
In doing so, they are challenging a more multicultural narrative that has dominated since the time of British rule, that India is a tapestry born of migrations, invasions and conversions. That view is rooted in demographic, archaeological and linguistic fact. While most Indians are Hindus, Muslims and people of other faiths account for some 240 million, or a fifth, of the populace.