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India: Replacement of History as Social Science, by "History" as Fantasy and Myth | editorial, The Hindu

22 April 2015

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The Hindu, April 22, 2015

Editorial

History as mythology?

History, they say, is always written by the winners. But could this be by even winners of elections? So it would seem from the workings of India’s premier institute of historical research and funding, the Indian Council of Historical Research, which sees a reshuffle of people and priorities every time there is a regime-change in New Delhi. Senior historian and former Chairman of the ICHR, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, who recently resigned as the Chief Editor of Indian Historical Review , the ICHR journal, has delivered a sharp indictment of the competencies within the ICHR in its present avatar after a new family of historians was appointed by the present government. He said: “I doubt whether you would find instances of persons, nominated by the government in power, regarding their position pro tem as a franchise to fantasise about history.” The comments of this reputed historian reinforce the concerns that many professional historians have warned of, namely, the dressing up of myth and religious belief as history. This can be seen in the priorities set by the ICHR Chairman, Y. Sudershana Rao, who is from the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, affiliated to the Sangh Parivar. Professor Rao has directed the focus of the ICHR to the Vedic age, which is certainly no less important than any other period. But surely this has to be subject to rigorous tools of historical analysis and verification. What is, however, striking in this focus is the express intent to establish a “golden age” and the superior antecedents of Hinduism. This is a standpoint the Chairman summarised in a presentation at a recent international seminar thus: “Indian history is set with [a] higher goal for which our sages delved deep into the remote past.” It is perhaps for the first time since its establishment that the prestigious ICHR Foundation Day lecture was delivered by a non-historian, a certain David Frawley, whose Facebook page describes him as “a western born teacher or guru in the Vedic tradition”.

The discipline of history, in India and elsewhere, has been enriched by different and competing interpretations because they are premised on well-established standards and practices of the historical method, what the historian Eric Hobsbawm once described as the “absolutely central distinction between establishable fact and fiction”. The problem in the ICHR today, as Professor Bhattacharya’s comments suggest, are serious precisely because of attempts to render factual evidence irrelevant. The Bharatiya Janata Party established a questionable record with regard to rewriting history textbooks during its first stint in power at the Centre. Its current efforts highlight the dangers of which many historians have warned: the replacement of history as social science, by “history” as fantasy and myth.

P.S.

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