'Nationalism draws on reliable history and not on just anyone’s fantasy about the past': Watch Romila Thapar's lecture
The renowned historian talks about how the colonial version of Indian history has been appropriated by Hindutva groups.
On Sunday historian Romila Thapar addressed the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University at the ongoing campus teach-in on nationalism.
Thapar spoke on the connection between history and nationalism, where history is the source for the identity of the nation. "History is essential to a national ideology, but it has to be a shared history that binds people together... it cannot be a history dominated with only one identity because nationalism does not exist on only one identity, it is all inclusive."
"The evolution of nationalist ideas in India was tied to colonialism, and therefore the influence of the colonial interpretation of Indian history is there in all kinds of nationalism, to a lesser or a greater degree."
Diversity, which was characteristic of India in its various religious sects, she says, was tidied up by the British into distinct monolithic religious groups. The British version of Indian history had two main strains, one of the periodisation, where Indian history was split into three distinct groups, based on the religion of its ruling class – the Hindu nation, the Muslim nation, and then British India.
Alongside this version of history, it propagated the infamous "two-nation theory", which averred that the so-called Hindu and Muslim nations were permanently hostile to each other, and that it required the intervention of the British to keep these hostilities in check.
While opposed to the British version of Indian history on other aspects, Indian historians accepted the theories of periodisation without any questioning. The periodisation was later updated to include ancient India – the old Hindu period, medieval India – the old Muslim period, and modern India – the old British period.
Here's the part of Thapar's lecture where she details this appropriation of the colonial version of Indian history by groups such as the RSS:
"This movement has its own history; it took shape from the 1930s, reflecting some influences of Italian fascism, they were very close to Italian fascism. As with all nationalisms of any kind it turned to history, but interestingly it appropriated the two dominant colonial theories – the Aryan foundations of Indian civilisation, and the two nation theory.
"These are now described as the indigenous history of India and are said to be the theories that have been cleansed of the cultural pollution of the Indian historians' influence by Western ideas. They are rooted in colonial theories, but that doesn't seem to bother them at all.
"The core of the ideology is the identity of the Hindu. The Hindu is the one who can claim the territory of British India as the land of his ancestry, pitrabhoomi, and the land of his religion, punyabhoomi. Muslims, Christians, Parsis are presumed to have come from outside this territory as their religion originated in other lands, outside of the territories of course defined by British India. Therefore since they come from outside and their religion comes from outside they are foreigners, the Hindu therefore is the primary citizen.
"The true claimants to Indian civilisations can only be Hindus descended from the Aryans, and this is one reason why the Aryans have to be treated as indigenous to India, whether they were or not, because that also makes them the inheritors of the land.
"There are, of course, glitches in this argument and those of us who have pointed out the problems get our daily dose of abuse on the Internet and we are described as ignorant JNU professors, even if in fact most of us are not of the JNU."
Also, points out Thapar, "It is commonly said by people... that for the last thousand years, Hindus have been enslaved and victimised by Muslims and now finally they are free. That is not what history tells us.
"In the last thousand years, if you look at the history of Hindus on the subcontinent, very interesting ideas, events, people emerge. Sanskrit learning was located at many more centres in the subcontinent than it had been before, because Sanskrit learning spread and it had a very impressive patronage of maharajas, sultans and wealthy land-owners...".