Interview with Romila Thapar

The problem began with the British periodising Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British and maintaining that Hindus and Muslims were always antagonistic towards each other. “This cannot be sustained historically. But now this ideology is used for mobilising political power. Basically, the mobilisation is through appealing to Hindu sentiment.”

Which raises the issue of her rebuttal of the “Golden Age” theory — another point that rankled with historians of a religious nationalist persuasion. “Golden ages all over world in various histories were a fashion among nineteenth-century historians. Most historians of present times have given up the idea. Nationalist thinking didn’t pay enough attention to the implications of the description nor was any attempt made to define it in detail. They just went on saying ‘it was a marvellous age of harmony and prosperity’. It’s like today when one hears talk about India Shining; few analyse what it means and what the implications are for the Indian citizen.”[Lunch with BS: Romila Thapar]

In this interview over a Rs. 3400 sushi platter, the Kluge Prize winner talks about Hindutva and Hindu-Muslim relationship. She also talks about her current work: to prove that Indian civilization had a sense of history.

16 responses

  1. JK:
    what is your opinion of Thapar? Is she a morbid frothing-at-the-mouth Witzel style anti HIndu, or is she a sly Ramachandra Guha style one?

    oops, I hope I have given you enough choices :)

    • Kedar,

      Thapar says, “The problem began with the British periodising Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British and maintaining that Hindus and Muslims were always antagonistic towards each other. “This cannot be sustained historically”

      In Timur’s memoir, Tuzk-e-Taimuriā€Ž.

      In a short space of time all the people in the Delhi fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers. They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground….All these infidel Hindus were slain, their women and children, and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors. I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death.

      As you can see, the primary sources don’t agree with what she is preaching and she gets $1 million. When you point out such data, you become Varun Gandhi’s cousin.

  2. Being interviewed while having lunch must be a very fascinating idea. The communalism in India has always been a controversial issue. It’s always been associated with blood. The British have played an important role in promoting it from their own side.

  3. As we all know there was no single political entity as India before British imperial rule. And we also know there was no ‘Hindu’ religion, only varied faiths, rituals, customs and beliefs. There existed numerous regional kingdoms (and ofcourse a few empires) who were always on the throat of each other for supremacy. In the age of emperors and kings the only thing that matter was power. Those who had power exercised it to expand their imperial ambitions during which people got massacred, migrated; empires and kingdoms; cultures and civilizations were changed, vanished or new ones built. Same story happened in the land that lies on the banks of Indus river and south of Himalayas as everywhere else on the globe.

    So the Hindutava argument – ‘India’ had been subjected to Muslim invasions and ‘Hindus’ suffered – does not make much sense.

    PS: Timur was opposed at Loni not by any ‘Hindu’ Raja but by the Sultan of Delhi, Mahmud Tughluq, a Muslim.

  4. One of the oft-repeated urban myths that sometimes pops-up in conversation even among many educated, well meaning Indians is that India as a nation is a British creation. The argument goes roughly as follows – India is an artificial entity. There are only a few periods in history when it was unified under the same political entity. It was only the British that created the idea of India as a single nation and unified it into a political state. A related assumption, in our minds, is that the developed Western countries have a comparatively far greater continuity of nationhood, and legitimacy as states, than India.

    This urban myth is not accidental. It was deliberately taught in the British established system of education. John Strachey, writing in ‘India: Its Administration and Progress’ in 1888, said “This is the first and most essential thing to remember about India – that there is not and never was an India, possessing – any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious; no Indian nation[1] .

    Read the rest at Why India Is A Nation

  5. @pippala leaf
    As we all know there was no single political entity as India before British imperial rule. And we also know there was no ‘Hindu’ religion, only varied faiths, rituals, customs and beliefs.

    OK! now, I get it! since there was no India before British, and since there was no Hindu religion, nobody invaded India and nobody attacked Hindus!

    n the age of emperors and kings the only thing that matter was power

    And now, what matters is… principles..! that’s why we never approach George Bush for anything…

  6. JK,

    The kind of thing Madhu Nair has written above worries me.

    To be sure there were atrocities by Hindu ( or as Madhu would say, historical Indic-faith-follower ) kings as well as Hindu quarrels with Buddhists and Jains.

    But as your Timur quote seems to indicate, there seems to be a stark difference in intensity of aggression and damage, as well as the degree to which religion was applied ( “putting all infidels to death” etc. ).

    However, it is very difficult to quantify these factors – the problem doesn’t lend itself to easy statistics, plus historical records aren’t widely accepted as reliable. Leftists exploit the qualitativeness we are forced to subscribe to and reduce questions of degree to those of existence, to assert moral equivalence between the two streams of atrocities, eerily parallel to Arundhati-types’ moral equivalence between Governments and terrorists.

    I don’t know what to do about that.

  7. froginthewell:

    In such situations, it is best of delve deep into your Indian psyche and ask whether such moral equivalences and existences can be acceptable arguments.

    It really boils down to this question: Are we what they say we are?

  8. @froginthewell,

    here is madhu nair’s argument

    So the Hindutava argument – ‘India’ had been subjected to Muslim invasions and ‘Hindus’ suffered – does not make much sense.

    all you need is ask him, why did certain people, lets pick one randomly, like aurangzeb, impose jaziya on hindus. also ask him to show where hindu rajas imposed such special taxes on muslim subjects.

  9. The Same Timur also invaded Damascus,Aleppo and Baghdad
    – largely muslim cities where he also massacred largw number of people. So how can he be claimed a champion of islam

  10. @ahmad, did he destroy mosques while invading damascus, aleppo and baghdad? did he impose a jaziya like tax on those residents?

  11. @ahmad,
    The Same Timur also invaded Damascus,Aleppo and Baghdad
    – largely muslim cities where he also massacred large number of people.

    Since Taliban is attacking Pakistan and killing many Muslims, can we conclude that Taliban is not an organization of Islamic bigots?!

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