July 06, 2020
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Rich History, Poor Historians

Rich History, Poor Historians
outlookindia.com
1970-01-01T05:30:00+0530

 

Swapan Dasgupta in the Telegraph:

The troubling feature of India is the growing chasm between popular historical memory and the officially endorsed ‘nation-building’ history. In the popular perception, there was widespread medieval vandalism and India is dotted with physical evidence of a shrine that was either destroyed or whose denominational character was changed. Yet, since the early 1970s, historians whose works are deemed ‘respectable’ have wilfully glossed over themes that apparently run counter to an idyllic syncretic or composite culture. In schools and universities, narrative history has been junked in favour of a crude economism. It is somehow felt that ‘nation-building’ will be better served by focussing on the economic intricacies of feudal societies rather than the bigoted excesses of Aurangzeb. Outright denial or obfuscation has become the hallmark of a country with a rich history and poor historians.

Unfortunately, the experiments with disingenuity have not really worked. Academic historians constituted themselves into a cosy club during the Ayodhya agitation claiming that the whole Ram Janmabhoomi belief was an elaborate hoax and, most likely, a sinister colonial creation. No shrine, they insisted, had been destroyed to make way for a mosque in 1528. Far from neutralizing the Ram bhakts, this negationism actually drove the devout into greater bouts of frenzy, culminating in the demolition of the 16th-century shrine. Had the more pertinent question — Must India spend its energies overturning medieval wrongs? — been asked, it is entirely possible that society would not have been so damagingly polarized. The battle to set back the clock of history was actually a crusade to right the wrongs of historians.

Read the full piece: Remembering Right

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