By Dhurjati Mukherjee
A section of accomplished scholars have accused the Centre of its ongoing attempts to distort history. The recently held Indian History Congress at Jadavpur University where eminent historians from across the country participated, adopted two significant resolutions which clearly bring out the Government’s attempt to force scholars to toe its line of thinking, favour only a section close to the ruling class, an indifference to fund independent research and free thinking et al.
The first resolution, which delved on following an objective method in history and moved by noted historian Prof. Irfan Habib, pointed out: “There has been a displayed tendency among responsible persons, including ministers and legislators, to speak as if they can ‘change’ history by a fiat. There have been particular attempts to run down figures like Akbar and Tipu Sultan, while fictitious achievements are attributed to favourite or fictional heroes. . . . There is widespread expectation of changes made in syllabi and text books to impose prejudiced versions and false narratives in the teaching of history”.
Thus, the IHC called on historians and public spirited citizens to defend the cause of objective history and to “stand up for freedom of speech as an essential part of this effort”.
One may be constrained to mention here that it was indeed ridiculous to hear that some politicians, ‘ignorant’ or ‘biased’ were maintaining that the Taj Mahal was earlier a Hindu monument and that the Uttar Pradesh government had dropped the iconic monument, one of the seven wonders of the world, from its latest official tourism handbook! As is well known, people from all over the world visit India to see the Taj Mahal and to delete it from the list of touristic sites only speaks of the misplaced arrogance of those in authority.
The second resolution is also quite important as it deplored discrimination against those that do not necessarily support the favourite credos. While there has been sharp decline in assistance to the IHC from the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the same body announced “an ambitious project to prove a manifest fantasy, namely, the alleged building of the islands of Adam’s Bridge”. It added “not only is such a project an insult to human intelligence but would involve a huge waste of public funds, should it be undertaken”.
It was ascertained from former President of the IHC Prof. Shireen Moosvi that the ICHR has withheld funds for publication of the volumes prepared of martyrs of the freedom movement and deplored such indifference of the authorities.
All this clearly reveals that the government has been acting in a partisan manner and is not allowing an objective assessment of history. Many historians lamented such discretionary manner and forcing scholars to toe its line of thinking. One may recall here the killing of some scholars and some others being threatened for being critical of the policies of the government.
Similarly, there are allegations that reconstitution of the Indian Council Social Science Research (ICSSR) has been loaded with Hindu upper castes after rejecting recommendations of the search committee. The names of Vice Chancellors of Jadavpur University, Manipur University and Former Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University as also many other eminent scholars have been rejected. According to former Council member Prof. Kancha Ilaiah “those wedded to the ideology of the BJP and RSS have found a place but they cannot build social science that could be understood by the world at large”. It is widely believed that the Council should have better representation of dalits, backward classes and minorities.
The current trend clearly points to the fact that the Government is trying to throttle freedom of speech and independent research work in various ways. One cannot deny that attempts to curtail the right to free speech in the hands of academic scholars as also of sections of citizens and marginalised groups is trend never witnessed before in the country, except during the emergency.
Funds are being curtailed for research in social science, specially history, in the universities and other academic institutions. This would definitely go against the proclaimed policy of enduring autonomy in higher education institutions, which is a definitely a prerequisite for these becoming centres of excellence.
The current state of affairs has, feel the historians, never been witnessed in the country. Over the years, the ruling party has never interfered in such naive manner and encroached in the internal matters of such institutions or organisations such as IHC, ICHR or ICSSR. Though there are protests all over the country by eminent scholars, the Government has been turning a blind eye to their criticism and grievances.
Freedom of speech and expression is rightly located as a critical medium in the agenda of radical social, economic and political transformation of Indian institutions, practices and character, envisaged in the country’s Constitution.
Moreover, in most if not all countries of the civilized world, political interference in academic institutions is minimal and a lot many more funds are made available. Funding of academic institutions say in countries such as Brazil, South Africa not to speak of China, is way ahead compared to India. The obvious question which arises is the motive of the ruling dispensation and whether its current activities will help the nation, in any way.
There can be no doubt that the question of merit must be given top most priority and any sort of interference by political parties needs to be firmly stopped. Unless there is academic freedom, research simply cannot prosper. It goes without saying that new areas to study and research have to be opened in institutions of higher learning and necessary funds must be made available.
Only emphasising on science and technology would not do. Emerging areas in subjects such as history, economics, sociology and geography, which are linked to the most discussed subject i.e. environmental studies, have also to be given due attention, not to speak of priority and research needs to be encouraged. One cannot deny the fact that science leads to innovation while for understanding and promoting society these subjects of social science have equal importance.
A word of caution is also necessary. The way a section of politicians in the Government has been thinking aloud will not only bring disrepute to the country, but will also have an impact on the party’s poll prospects, at least in the cities. It is time the Government seriously stops distorting history and considers the question of autonomy and non-interference in the research of scholars and institutions as also make requisite funds available in tune with global standards.
The much talked about ensuring free speech and expression in tune with transformation in education has to become a reality at any cost, if India wants to establish itself as an economic powerhouse. Translating this realisation as quickly as possible would do well for the political masters of the country. Else, history will not spare them.—INFA