Free Expression

Current regime wants a 'legislated history': 53 leading historians decry 'vitiated atmosphere'

Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and DN Jha are among the star academics who express their concern about recent attempts to rewrite history.

Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib are among 53 historians who released a statement on Thursday expressing their anguish at the "highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country, characterised by various forms of intolerance".

They decried the climate in which differences of opinion are met with assault, and were particularly pained about the Bharatiya Janata Party government's attempts to rewrite history.

"What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history," they wrote.

Here is the full text of their statement.
"After concerned at the highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country, characterised by various forms of intolerance, we, as academic historians and as responsible citizens of a democracy that has greatly valued its inherited traditions of tolerance, wish to express our anguish and protest about the prevailing conditions.

Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets. When a poor man is suspected to have kept a food item that certain sections do not approve of, his fate is nothing short of death by lynching. At the launch of a book whose author happens to be from a country disapproved of by certain groups, the organizer is disfigured with ink thrown on his face. And when it is hoped that the Head of Government will make a statement about improving the prevailing conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty; and it takes the Head of the State to make the required reassuring statement, not once but twice. When writer after writer is returning their award of recognition in protest, no comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest; instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest.

This is particularly worrying for us as historians as we have already experienced attempts to ban our books and expunge statements of history despite the fact that they are supported by sources and the interpretation is transparent. What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history.

We would therefore urge the state to ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to free and fearless expression, security for all sections of society and the safe-guarding of the values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past. It is easy to trample them down, but it is important to remember that it will take too long and will be beyond the capacity of those who are currently at the helm of affairs, to rebuild it once it is destroyed."

1. Romila Thapar (New Delhi)

2. Irfan Habib (Aligarh Muslim University)

3. MGS Narayanan (Kozhikode)

4. KN Panikkar (Thiruvananthapuram)

5. Y Subbarayalu (Pondicherry)

6. BD Chattopadhyaya (Kolkota)

7. DN Jha (Delhi)

8. BB Chaudhuri (Kolkota)

9. JV Naik (Mumbai)

10. KM Shrimali (Delhi)

11. Neeladri Bhattacharya (JNU)

12. Kumkum Roy (JNU)

13. Shireen Moosvi (Aligarh)

14. Indu Banga (Chandigarh)

15. Rajan Gurukkal (Bangalore)

16. B Surendra Rao (Mangalore)

17. A.R.Venkatachalapathy (Chennai)

18. MR Raghava Varier (Tirur)

19. Arun Bandopadhyaya (Calcutta Univ)

20. KL Tuteja (Kurukshetra)

21. Sanjay Subodh (Hyderabad Univ)

22. Nayanjot Lahiri (DU)

23. Upinder Singh (DU)

24. Amar Farooqui (DU)

25. Gopinath Ravindran (Jamia Milia Islamia)

26. Farhat Hasan (DU)

27. Sunil Kumar (DU)

28. RP Bahuguna (Jamia Milia Islamia)

29. Ruby Maloni (Bombay Univ)

30. Kesavan Veluthat (DU)

31. BP Sahu (DU)

32. Manjiri Kamat (Bombay Univ)

33. Anshu Malhotra (DU)

34. Aditya Mukherjee (JNU)

35. Mridula Mukherjee (JNU)

36. Rakesh Batabyal (JNU)

37. R Mahalakshmi (JNU)

38. Radhika Singha (JNU)

39. Biswamoy Pati (DU)

40. Suchandra Ghosh (Calcutta Univ)

41. Sushmita Basu Majumdar (Calcutta Univ)

42. Bishnupriya Basak (Calcutta Univ)

43. Radhika Seshan (Pune Univ)

44. Prabhu Mohapatra (DU),

45. Charu Gupta (DU),

46. Sanghamitra Mishra (DU),

47. Aparna Balachandran (DU),

48. Rahul Govind (DU)

49. Yasser Arafat (DU)

50. Manu V Devadevan (Mandi)

51. Ranabir Chakrabarti (JNU)

52. Rajat Datta (JNU)

53. Umesh Ashok Kadam (JNU)

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.