Esteemed Indian Historian Delivers Stirring Speech
By S. Roy

Professor Romila Thapar, Emeritus Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, gave a lecture on Monday titled “The Writing of History and Contemporary Politics in India” at the Craig Auditorium as a part of the Oberlin Shansi Distinguished Lecture Series. Professor Thapar is perhaps the most admired historian of Ancient India in the world today. Much of her work deals with the ongoing controversy over the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) dominated Central Government’s changes in the Indian Education System, especially the re-writing of Indian history. Thapar’s lecture brought forth the current political situation of India leading to the restructuring of a very communal Hindu identity.
Since coming to power, BJP, the Hindu Nationalist Party of India, has given rise to a religion-based nationalist movement whose ideology is that of India being a nation for Hindus.
The Hindutva movement, as it is more commonly known, is now focusing mainly on the rewriting of the history books and changing the Indian state school curriculum to promote its agenda that India has always been for the Hindus, Thapar explained.
They argue that India is the land of the Hindu religion as well as the Indian identity. Indian history, therefore, is a history of Indian Hindus. Muslims, Parsis and Christians are all foreigners.
The government recommends that these “foreigners” return to their land of religious origin. This sense of where the Hindu identity originated from is heavily underlined by the notion that Hindus are Aryans.
Thapar pointed out the irony of this claim because it has been derived from the James Mill’s 19th century third volume colonial history of India, which states that Muslims and Hindus are inherently antagonistic to each other.
History has “moved right back into the traditional periodisation of the Hindu period and the Muslim period,” Professor Thapar explained. The Hindu period is written as the golden period, whereas the Muslim period constitutes an interregnum defined by oppression and hostility.
The discussion on changing the history books has been going on for some time, the texts being drawn from those taught at the schools of the Hindu political group, Rashtriya Samayksheva Sangha (RSS) in Gujrat.
Thapar also critiqued the Central Government for basing their reconstruction of ancient Indian history on no real research and academic ventures. “It’s the kind of thinking about history that has been going on for sometime but it has always been treated more or less by mainstream historians as a lunatic fringe...,” Thapar said.
“The danger now is that it has become a part of the curriculum for the state schools,” she continued.
When asked about the relationship between the rise of this communal education system and the part it plays in the political strategy against Pakistan, Professor Thapar stressed that the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan is an overwhelming factor in this rise of the Hindutva movement.
She also explained that, “this kind of violence assumes in important aspects in periods of transitions and change… India is a society going through a tremendous change…It is a society where the middle class is bursting out.”
After the legal suit filed by concerned individuals and the public against the government’s change of the curriculum, the Supreme Court of India issued a stay order, but that quickly changed, with the Court going against its own decision. The Court simply sees the curriculum change as providing value-based instructions that are anchored in religion.
In the larger schema of South Asia, Thapar sees religious nationalism will only create more confrontation, especially with the production of nuclear weaponry. She also said that “the brinkmanship will increase as long as America is playing this role of [pretending] to be the peacemaker.” In relation to the changes India is undergoing in this global world, the Indian Diaspora is also financially supporting the Hindutva movement.
Thapar also answered questions relating to a more micro-level recognition of history at Oberlin College, where until today there is no Ethnic Studies or Asian Pacific American Studies and Comparative American Studies have not launched off yet.
She stressed the importance for diasporic studies which is crucial for the diaspora itself as well as South Asia. Diasporic studies interweave South Asians together instead of constantly separating them.
Thapar voiced concerns on the ways in which Indian professionals are constantly leaving the nation for greener pastures. Unfortunately, the professionals are not demanding the similar facilities in India that they would ask abroad. But at the same time, Thapar is not very optimistic for the future South Asians, the kinds of exchanges that are made among South Asians of the region and South Asian Diaspora.
“In the mixing up, what has happened is that the sign posts have got lost… people really don’t know why they are rushing east and west,” Professor Thapar said.
Thapar does not particularly see anything optimistic about the future but that the course of future depends upon the type of ideologies this generation will be adapting to.
Professor Thapar’s lecture, overall, created curiosity within Oberlin College about the circumstances in India, the manipulation of religion and education for the legitimacy of the BJP government. The lecture also presented a range of questions on the education system as a whole, all over the world and how education is manipulated as a tool for retaining status quo.
October 4
October 11

site designed and maintained by jon macdonald and ben alschuler :::