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

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Documents from an Extraordinary Year

Towards Freedom: Documents on the Movement for Independence in India, 1947 by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, General (ed), and Sucheta Mahajan Volume (ed), Part 1, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013; pp clv + 1,318, Rs 5,495. 


At times it seems easy to be a historian these days, especially with some sections turning history into a set of wonderful imaginaries. Some of these imaginaries, as newspapers tell us, include the idea of locating the Aryans as the predecessors of the Indus people, with some of the pastoralists settling down as the Indus people at a later phase—a formula that might sound “logical” but goes against any sense of history—the “presence” of aeroplanes that could not only fly, but could go backwards and sideways; the developed forms of surgery in ancient India, where a helpless god’s head could be replaced by that of an elephant.

In the “wonderland” of colonial Indian history battles are fought over non-verifiable facts that are based on un-reason and a lack of any logic or analysis. Thus, what seems vital is the religion of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, or making Tipu a nationalist, a secularist and a patriot—and on occasions all at the same time—who fought the English. Tipu is upheld as a “liberal” ruler who made donations to temples, evoking a sharp reaction from those who demonise him for destroying places of worship of the kafirs. This debate echoes colonial and nationalist historiography, with scant regard for locating Tipu to a context wherein some of these attributes were distinctly associated features, but most of the labels meaningless.

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