Thursday, November 12, 2015

Monolithic, flattened view of India’s history "not supported" by sources, or by any serious historical inquiry

A demonstration in London against Modi's visit
By Our Representative
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaches England, around 300 historians and social scientists around the world “expressed deep” concern over what they called “recent happenings in India, which are affecting freedom of artistic expression and historical and social science inquiry, and serving to produce a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry.”
In an open letter addressed to the President, the Prime Minister, the Governors and Ministers of different state governments, and the Chief Justice and other Justices of the Supreme Court and High Courts of India, the 300-odd historians and social scientists at academic institutions overseas said, “Currently reigning political attitudes and actions have seriously harmed the tradition of critical inquiry into the condition of India’s past and present that undergirded the country’s reputation of tolerance and democracy.”
Supporting 50-odd distinguished Indian historians who had said that the current political climate was damaging “the traditions of tolerance, and freedom of speech, belief and practices, for which India was long applauded”, the academics said, “Irresponsible statements by political leaders, declaring that India is finally free from eight hundred or one thousand years of slavery, and that the glory of the Hindu nation will shine anew, are creating a sense of fear among millions of citizens now being defined as outsiders.”
“What the present regime seems to be promoting, as our colleagues in India note, is a legislated account of the past, glorifying a homogenized and inflexible ‘Hindu’ tradition. This denies the very inheritance that made the tradition exceptional: ongoing debate, a remarkable range of accepted beliefs and practices, and the necessity of change over time. Such a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history is not supported by the sources, or by any serious historical inquiry”, they said.
“It is a sad commentary on proclaimed traditions of tolerance and democracy that a family or individual can be lynched or burnt alive for an alleged social transgression (whether this be the eating of particular kinds of meat, or the forging of social relations across certain caste barriers) – without any formal charges being brought, let alone a trial being held in court”, the statement pointed out.
Especially expressing concern over “well-known and respected scholars” being killed for their “intellectual opinions, research and writing because these do not fit with a particular political group’s view of the ‘real’ history or condition of India”, the statement condemned Modi and other leaders of the government for not feeling “necessary to speak out promptly and strongly against these acts of criminal violence”.
The academics include scholars from such prestigious academic bodies of US, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Australia and other countries. 
Those who signed it are associated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, New York University, University of Tokyo, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Columbia University, Georgetown University, University of Cambridge, Yale University, National University of Singapore, London School of Economics, Australian National University, University of Pennyslvania, Cornell University, , University of Oxford, Max Planck Institute of Berlin, among others.
The historians whom the statement has sought to cite had earlier expressed concern about the “highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country”. The historians – including leading names like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, M G S Narayanan, K N Panikkar, BD Chattopadhyaya, D N Jha, Neeladri Bhattacharya, Shireen Moosvi, Indu Banga and Upinder Singh – had said that that “differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence.”
Earlier, artists expressed their concern about the existing political and social climate. Those who had protested included Vivan Sundaram, Sharmila Samant, Inder Salim, Gigi Scaria, Atul Bhalla, Amitava Das and art critic Geeta Kapur.

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