Several eminent scholars on October 9 launched a 600-page report on 12,000 years of Indian history and civilisation, prepared by a collective of more than 80 scholars worldwide, including experts in genetics, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and history.
Noted professor and literary critic G.N. Devy, who conceptualised the project, said that there has been an increased attempt to rewrite history in India in recent years. “When the government appoints a committee to redefine history in a way that there is no space for Dalits, Christians, Muslims, and women, in it, the next generation of Indians will grow up thinking very differently,” he said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly appointed a committee in 2018 to rewrite Indian history as a “larger plan” to revise “certain aspects” of Indian history.
According to Devy, history should not be seen as static. He said: “History keeps changing. As a discipline, it was born only in the 19th century. There is also no one history, there are only histories. India is a republic of histories. For a lie to be seen as truth, the scale of the lie must be mind-boggling.”
Noted 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 2018 committee formed to “rewrite” Indian history, Ashok Vajpeyi said that it was an attack on the diverse languages, cultures, and people of India. He said: “This is a direct attack on the democratic values of India. The problem is that this is being done in the name of nationalism, the kind where someone can be killed for not chanting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’.”
Zoya Hasan said that in recent times, a singular, monolithic Hindu identity was being pushed in 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 past Twelve Thousand Years of Environment, People, Life, Thought, Expression, Formations, Movements, Traditions and Transformations, presents a comprehensive picture of civilisation and history in India. It will be published in English as well as Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, and Bengali.
The report covers important themes such as population migrations, emergence of social organisations, evolution of the state system, and the development of philosophies and languages. It also features major social movements of India and the impact of colonialism on Indian culture.
The Indian sub-continent has had a human population for the past 45,000 years. As the climate here slowly became more favourable for human life, it became a hotspot for activity and movement some 12,000 years ago. This period is referred to as the Holocene.
Narayani Gupta said that it is important that school students are taught a rich history of the pluralistic and diverse Indian culture instead of a singular narrative.
Ashis Nandy said that history, like all disciplines, should always be open to criticism. “All history is contemporary history, it is never independent of the present. The whole significance of the past and future is in the present,” he added.