Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from sacw.net | @sacw
Home > History Writing at Risk > India: Rewriting history - On Amit Shah’s call | Editorial, The Hindu (19 (...)

India: Rewriting history - On Amit Shah’s call | Editorial, The Hindu (19 Oct 2019 / The ’sangh parivar’ ignores the diversity that makes India - Letters to Editor, The Telegraph (29 Oct 2019)

30 October

print version of this article print version

The Hindu, October 19, 2019

Editorial

Amit Shah’s call to “amend history” militates against rigorous historiography

The study of history has always been contested territory, as it should be. There are always multiple interpretations of the past, and most professional historians would often have disagreements on the interpretation of an event or a phenomenon from the past. But what they would agree upon is the need to establish the facts about the past through a rigorous methodology that bases itself on social science approaches. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in a seminar at Banaras Hindu University, on Thursday spoke about the need to “rewrite history” from an “Indian point of view” and went on to ask, “who is stopping us from amending history”. Historical events can indeed be rewritten if new facts emerge about the past or there is new evidence that challenges previous interpretations. But Mr. Shah’s call to “rewrite history” is predicated on specific, pre-determined outcomes and cannot be seen in isolation from his regime’s and his political organisation’s overall world view. The Hindutva-oriented right wing glorifies India’s ancient past, largely through a literal reading of epics and religious texts, and views the “medieval period” negatively as little more than a narrative of invasion by outsiders. This blinkered view of the past actually flows from a reductionist approach to the world in terms of religion-centric identities based more on faith than on facts.

True, other approaches towards history are not without ideological moorings. But modern historiography must be aligned to social science where methods rely on evidence to build upon findings and interpretations to reconstruct the past. In historiography, new interpretations are created by consistently questioning extant scholarships. Unfortunately such rigorous methods that base themselves on social science are anathema to those promoting the Hindutva world view. Modern historiography views epics and scriptures as just one part of the vast corpus of material open to scholarship, which include, among other things, inscriptions and archaeological findings. This is perhaps why Mr. Shah asks for history to be rewritten without getting into a dispute with other existing approaches. His exhortation to historians to create more knowledge on the legacies of the Maurya, Vijayanagara and Gupta empires, and the rule of Maratha warrior-king Shivaji, among others, could indeed be well taken if the exercise engages with existing historiography without promoting a free-floating alternative narrative formed around pre-conceived notions of past glory and civilisational hubris.

o o o

The Telegraph

The ’sangh parivar’ ignores the diversity that makes India

Its rewritings of history are dishonest and dangerous

By The Telegraph

Published 29.10.19

When Union home minister Amit Shah asks historians to rewrite Indian history, he seems to have an exercise of fabrication in mind

Sir — The call by the Union home minister, Amit Shah, for rewriting the history of this country from an ‘Indian point of view’ seemed to be clear in its intent — comprehensively amending history to serve the political and ideological goals of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the sangh parivar (“New reading”, Oct 23). History must, of course, also be viewed through an Indian lens for perspective. But the problem lies in what the sangh parivar defines as ‘Indian’.

The sangh parivar’s idea of India lies in glorifying the country’s past by focusing on the history of Hindu society and politics, thus ignoring the diversity of the nation and contributions of other communities. Subaltern histories or those of minority communities are often erased. Endeavours such as these tend to establish the history of the majority community as the historical truth while excluding or denigrating others. Myths are presented as reality and unscientific, distorted claims are promoted as ‘science’. Such rewritings of history are dishonest and dangerous.

When Shah asks historians to rewrite Indian history, it is this exercise of fabrication that he seems to have in mind. This, combined with the right wing’s intolerance of different opinions, will lead to the erasure of competing views. While there might be some truth to the notion that historical writing in India has been predominantly left-wing, multiple strands of history have emerged and flourished in post-Independence India. An investigation of historiography thus far will attest to this. While history is often written from the victor’s point of view, other versions are equally valid and must exist in democratic societies.

Shovanlal Chakraborty,

Calcutta

Sir — It is a mystery why the Union government and its ministers are portraying themselves as experts in history. It is impossible to claim absolute truths in history since several facets of any historical event remain unearthed. By projecting the sepoy mutiny of 1857 as the first war of independence, the government is undermining the historical significance of the battle of Plassey and the defiance of Siraj ud-Daulah against the British in 1757.

Nevertheless, these determinations should be left to historians. It seems that the claims of the home minister, Amit Shah, is premised predominantly on the views of V.D. Savarkar. Several ministers have displayed their ignorance in matters of history and science by their statements. The home minister must refrain from making demands for rewriting history and focus on credible work produced by established historians.

Abhijit Chakraborty,

Howrah

P.S.

The above content from The Hindu is reproduced here for educational and non-commercial use