This module focuses on history writing in colonial and postcolonial India and particular uses of the past at various moments in Indian history. It stresses that the nature of history being written is determined substantially by its particular contemporary historical context. We will see how the writing of history has been used, both to arbitrarily validate contemporary agendas, as well as to acquire an understanding of the present through more insightful explanations of the past.
To draw from one of the most glaring examples of recent times, the violence triggered by the Ramjanmabhumi movement reached its climax on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was destroyed by thousands of angry volunteers eager to avenge what they believed was a historical wrong. The ongoing debate about the ‘truth’ about the Ramjanmabhumi has thrown up several questions that require us to understand the nature of history and its uses in contemporary times: What is the nature of the history around which so much bloodshed has already happened and what is the status of the concept of history so frequently invoked by Indian historians to clinch the argument of Ramjanmabhumi one way or the other? Why didn’t the same history move millions of Indians over hundreds of years—not even the first generation of Indian nationalists in the 19th century?
This module will explore these and other questions, including the relationship between the past and the present as reflected in the project of history writing in India.