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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Historian Vikram Sampath: “History taught in India is extremely Delhi centric”

The need to decolonize Bharat’s history was raised by historian Vikram Sampath at the India Today Enclave. Speaking at the Enclave, Sampath pointed out how Bharat’s history is taught from a third person’s perspective and continues to suffer from a colonial hangover.

Vikram Sampath on Bharat’s history

Vikram Sampath raised the issue of how despite political independence the minds of Bharatiyas continue to be colonized which manifests itself particularly in scholarship and historiography where we are adhering to Macaulay’s 1835 minutes. Macaulay wanted ‘brown sepoys’ who would be “Indian in appearance & English in thought”.

The historian also highlighted how we are being faithful adherents of Macaulay and this is very much apparent in Bharat’s academia and historiography. The first brush that a student has with history is the school textbooks that are told from the perspective of a third person rather than making the student feel one is reading about one’s own country.

History in our textbooks is written from the invader’s point of view thereby present Bharat as a nation of losers. However, the fact that the Bharatiya civilization has survived for so long despite its long history of invasions indicates that there has been resistance from Bharatiyas which is never spoken of in the textbooks.

History-writing in Bharat suffers from a constant sense of apologia being instilled in the readers. He also rues about the lack of debates and discussions in present-day historiography while highlighting the space afforded to nationalist historians such as Jadunath Sarkar and RC Majumdar among others even at the height of the British rule. He says “post-independence Congress unwittingly gave away the space of historiography to the stranglehold of Marxist historians”.

He also raised the point of how history thrives on the multiplicity of views, debates, and healthy discussions. But since academic history writing has been controlled by a clique of leftist historians it has led to distortions in history and created several faultlines.

One of the faultlines pointed out by Sampath is that the story of Bharat has been reduced to a story of invasions. On this occasion, Sampath also raised the issue of the Aryan invasion myth while talking about the truth of the brutal Islamic invasion being swept under the carpet as it ‘might upset some’. Sampath said that American historian Will Durant had termed the Islamic invasion of Bharat as the bloodiest chapter of human history.

He also said that the history of Bharat has for long been Delhi-centric. While there is talk of the Lodis, Khiljis, and others who reigned in Delhi stories of dynasties such as Cholas, Rashtrakutas, Vijayanagara Empire, Pallavas, Satavahanas, Ahoms, Tripuris, and so many others.

Sampath made a pertinent point when he said “the edifice of national unity and social cohesion cannot stand on the shaky and false foundations of whitewashed history”. He also pointed out that Bharat has not made use of the opportunity by history to make peace with one’s past and move on after having faced the truth.

History of Bharat suffers from colonial hangover

It is after seven decades of Bharat’s independence that the UGC has taken the first steps towards decolonizing Bharat’s history. The UGC’s BA History syllabus now focuses on indigenous history.

The discussion on myths of Aryan invasion, the focus on indigenous dynasties, and inclusion of historians such as RC Majumdar, CV Vaidya, KA Nilkanta Sastri who have done significant work in the field of history are some of the welcome changes in the updated syllabus.

While the UGC has taken a laudable step, the history textbooks of schools and colleges need to be similarly updated to make space for Bharat’s actual history.

(Featured Image Source: India Today)

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