The project runs counter to the right-wing establishment’s push for a singular narrative.
Several prominent scholars on October 9 launched a 600-page report on 12,000 years of Indian history and civilization, prepared by a collective of more than 80 scholars from around the world, including experts in genetics, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy and history.
Renowned professor and literary critic GN Devy, who conceptualized the project, said there has been an increase in attempts to rewrite history in India in recent years. “When the government appoints a committee to redefine history so that there is no room for Dalits, Christians, Muslims and women, the next generation of Indians will grow up thinking very differently “, did he declare. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly appointed a committee in 2018 to rewrite Indian history as part of a “wider plan” to revise “certain aspects” of Indian history.
According to Devy, history should not be viewed as static. He said: “The story keeps changing. As a discipline, it was born only in the 19th century. Nor is there a story, there are only stories. India is a republic of stories. For a lie to be considered truth, the magnitude of the lie must be mind-boggling.
Renowned academic Zoya Hasan, writer and poet Ashok Vajpeyi, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, historian Narayani Gupta and political psychologist Ashis Nandy spoke at the launch.
Referring to the committee formed in 2018 to “rewrite” India’s history, Ashok Vajpeyi said it was an attack on India’s diverse languages, cultures and peoples. He said: “This is a direct attack on India’s democratic values. The problem is that it’s done in the name of nationalism, the kind where someone can be killed for not chanting “Bharat mata ki jai”.
Zoya Hasan said that lately a singular and monolithic Hindu identity has been pushed into the country in the name of nationalism. “This majoritarian project is problematic in a society as spectacularly diverse as India.”
The report, titled India since the Holocene: the last twelve millennia of environment, people, life, thought, expression, formations, movements, traditions and transformations, presents a comprehensive picture of Indian civilization and history. It will be published in English as well as Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi and Bengali.
The report covers important themes such as population migrations, the emergence of social organizations, the evolution of the state system and the development of philosophies and languages. It also introduces India’s major social movements and the impact of colonialism on Indian culture.
The Indian subcontinent has had a human population for 45,000 years. As the climate here slowly became more favorable for human life, it became a hotspot of activity and movement around 12,000 years ago. This period is called the Holocene.
Narayani Gupta said it is important for students to learn a rich history of pluralistic and diverse Indian culture instead of a singular narrative.
Ashis Nandy said history, like all disciplines, should always be open to criticism. “All history is contemporary history, it is never independent of the present. All the meaning of the past and the future is in the present,” he added.