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This And That of History: The Concern of Contemporary

By Parvez Alam

23 September, 2015

We already know that how archives, libraries and universities are so important. The universities and libraries were always the backbone of the critical societies. The fascist forces always burned libraries and demolished the structures of previous regimes because that symbolized something alien to their regimes. The historical buildings as part of colonial legacies are the reminder of past as well as the fact of reconciliation. The regimes are always torturous as they monopolize authority and violence. The shifting authority of violence from state to organizations has been visible in past in several countries. We have also seen that how cultural organizations had issued their dictums overriding the sovereign states, on which state had only legitimized them by accepting their dictums. The meat ban, beef ban, book ban, film ban, banning individuals, dress ban, banning festivals, banning ideas, banning expressions and keep counting and adding, keep documenting because this is going to be our history from now.

There are two things which are very important to look at. The documentation of current history in our world is cheap and easy, which was very rare one two decades ago, and it was the States who had to document the histories in archives and libraries. Also striking fact is that everyone can write their history in their own way and mobilize the others to read them, which was again rare and costly business and official historians had privilege to document and publish whatever history they liked.

And the most important thing about contemporary time is that not only documentation is easy and cheap but there are varieties of ways to do documentation. Such as one can write the contemporary history, one can document through videos, audios, and photography. The beauty of these histories would be that it will have less scope of rewriting or overwriting and always if in any case it is done one can produce the original sources and any individual can raise the contention without even having training in historiography. So the traditional historiography is also shaken as well as the distortion of facts could be minimized because of the revolution in ICTs.

What is also important is that the vigilantism of one kind should be always countered with the vigilantism of other. If one is silent seeing the distortions, and not suspicious and doubtful about the ill intention of others then there is less chances of countering them in future. There are two examples of the recent history which could be kept into the consideration.

One is of Nathuram Vinayak Godse standing in the courtroom against the charges of murder and found guilty of murdering Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. Some section of society (mainly Nationalists rather pseudo type) doesn’t claim and accept this title for Mahatma. Though he is considered father of nation, the nationalist are trying to juxtapose another father called Nathuram Godse with Mahatma.[1]

Now the coming generation will have the visibility of the bust or statues of Nathuram and not Gandhi but if and if the killers and conspirators of Gandhi would be in the history textbooks with proper photographs leaving to the kids and students to interpret whatever they like rather in very obscure manner writing something extraordinarily in favor of Godse with the intention of indoctrination.

Another site of historiography which is contentious in Indian historians and much debated is of Aurangzebs reign. On one hand if someone cherishes the Sanskrit too much, why it is not documented that the Sanskrit proliferated and got due attention during the time of Aurangzeb.[2] As this is really of not much interest for them which will clearly jeopardize the only figure on which one can prove that Muslims have done something bad against Hindus and Sikhs. Now as it is quite clear that we have read the massive killings of innocents by Ashoka in Kalinga, and still he falls into the category of the great.

We have also read that Akbar had lots of issues with Mullahs and he killed them too and he is also the great because he had very good settings with Hindus and likewise all the rulers killed their subjects in one way or the other. We select few as our heroes and dub others as villains in history textbooks. It is very interesting to see that how violence travels from one age to another and becomes violence of necessity. This is contradictory in nature that the man of peace (Mahatma) shares the place with Ashoka stambh (which is mix of himsa and ahimsa). But we have imbibed too much goodness of Ashoka that we tend to forget what he did in Kalinga. Can we forget Aurangzeb in that way? No, I am suggesting let’s remember both historical figures equally with equal disrespect.

So, why it is so that we become so selective in choosing something from the history if at all that is genuine history and not the official one. Why it is possible to distort the history of the past is also because firstly, there were no other archivers or alternative documentors other than the official one. And secondly there was no image or still photography as such to say that see this is how Aurangzeb killed Hindus and Sikhs and hence he was cruel and so we should not name any road in his memory. For an example, lets imagine that in 2092 on 6th December, if some handful of seculars would be celebrating the centenary of Babri demolition, they could show the pictures and videos to the young generation that how our leaders (Advanis, Sadhvis, Bhartis and Togadias) who are eulogized in our memories were part of snatching the pious place for our holy Lord Rama from the alien ‘brethren’ Muslims. Well that’s also sad story that, the messiah of Dalits in India, Dr. Ambedkars death anniversary falls on this day and Dalits are snatched the right to take out procession in memory of Ambedkar because of law and order issues.[3]

Not stretching too much of what I have to say, I will stick to the history and how the political class of one kind chooses the selective memory to woo the one sections of society and antagonizing the other. In case, if tomorrow one sees Nathu Ram Godse Road, Godse Bhawan and Godse Club or whatever manifestation of the name, it should not surprise us. The syncretic culture of this land is under threat and the narratives of venom and hatred are celebrated in open place. I am quite amazed that the literate masses are also supporting in the name of this issue and that. The civil society is worried about their own interests of losing fund, this and that. Instead of cherishing little histories, we are aligning with mega histories which are always exclusive.

Parvez Alam is a Research Student at Department of Political Science University of Delhi, New Delhi-110007. He can be contacted at parvezalam43@gmail.com.

[1] ‘Godse was a patriot just like Mahatma Gandhi: Sakshi Maharaj’, The Hindu, December 12, 2014, URL: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/uproar-in-rs-over-eulogising-godse/article6682464.ece (accessed on 23 September, 2015).

[2] Anuradha Raman, Interview of Audrey Truschke, ‘Aurangzeb is a severely misunderstood figure’, in The Hindu, URL: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/scholar-audrey-truschke-aurangzeb-is-a-severely-misunderstood-figure/article7648723.ece (accessed on 23 September, 2015).

[3] A.G. Noorani, “How a mosque became a temple”, Frontline, March 8, 2013, URL: http://www.frontline.in/books/how-a-mosque-became-a-temple/article4430814.ece (accessed on 23 September, 2015).


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