ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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History of the Undoing of History

Despite the recent controversy that has dogged history writing in India, since ancient and even pre-modern times, patricians and rulers have used history for control as well as for moral/administrative education and entertainment. This apart, historians too have been guilty of focusing too much on empiricism rather than seeking to dwell on the nature and philosophy of history.

On the sidelines of the ‘War against Terror’, a war of words has also broken out in the ‘republic of learning’. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) recently circulated a statement about the ‘communal onslaught on history’. According to SAHMAT this attack is serious as it has been mounted from the flanks of the same ministry which is entrusted with the duty to protect and promote, inter alia, different forms of learning. Yet this kind of action is not unprecedented. R S Sharma’s Ancient India was done the honour of being ‘withdrawn’ by fiat in 1978 during the Janata Party rule. Scholars like Ashis Nandy, then, blamed both the sides in the conflict for encouraging and justifying as also later condemning (depending on who was at the receiving end) ‘state interference in intellectual affairs’ [ Rudolph and Rudolph 1984: 28,33-34].

<p align="left> This view of blaming all sides would seem simplistic today due to two reasons. Firstly, history has been only as much enmeshed in the power/ knowledge nexus as any other discipline in the social sciences. Yet, whenever (and indeed wherever) BJP is in power, only history has been singled out for interference; projects get commissioned to distort, delete and redo history. In 1978-79, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) coup in Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) resulted only in the translation of the series The History and Culture of Indian People (published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan under the general editorship of R C Majumdar). These books (particularly Volume VII) had a ‘frighteningly outspoken communal approach’ to medieval history that was untenable, according to established scholars of the time. For instance, it treated the resistance of Muslim and Hindu satraps to the Mughal empire separately. So, while the Muslim satraps were shown to be resisting Mughals for power, the Hindu satraps were said to be fighting the same rulers for their faith [Habib 1979: 56-60].

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