Attempts are being made to obfuscate definition of nationalism: Romila Thapar on JNU row

New Delhi: Amid a raging debate on nationalism in the wake of the JNU row, noted historian Romila Thapar on Sunday said efforts are being made to "obfuscate" the existing definition of nationalism, which is based on "reliable history" and not just on "anyone's fantasy about the past."

Romila Thapar said an attempt was being made to obfuscate the definition of nationalism.

Romila Thapar said an attempt was being made to obfuscate the definition of nationalism.

"Today efforts are being made to obfuscate the existing definition of nationalism. The nationalism draws on reliable history and not just on anyone's fantasy about the past.

"Critical enquiry as we all know is essential to the advancing of knowledge, it is expected of the university to critically enquire into what public may claim this knowledge to be," she said in her address to the students at JNU.

"Nationalism draws on the identity of a citizen which is pre-eminent but cannot be an identity claimed as superior by any single group, it has to include equality of all the equal rights of citizens. Incisive debates on this are part of the nationalist enterprise which is part of the ongoing enterprise of the relationship between history and nationalism and universities are obvious place for such debate," she said.

Thapar's lecture titled "History and Nationalism: Then and now" was part of the "nationalism teaching" series which are being conducted at JNU which is caught in a row over a 9 February event.

The classes are being held at the varsity's administration block.

"Nationalism doesn't exist on one identity, it is all inclusive. National history of course has its moments of joy, it goes to the past and golden age and utopian age but whatever national identities superseded existing identities, if it is inclusive it is generally much healthier but if it pretends to be much exclusive then it could be a disaster," she said.

Thapar, an Emeritus Professor at JNU, referred to herself as "dinosaurs of JNU" talking about how she joined university in 1970.

"Various theories have been put about origin of Aryans. Max Mueller said they came for central Asia. Dayanand Saraswati said they came from Tibet. Tilak as we all know was much more adventurous and suggested the Arctic regions. When it became fashionable in the 1920s to talk about Aryans being indigenous to India. It was little embarrassing to have Tilak talking about Arctic circle and someone had the bright idea of saying that in those days in Vedic times, the north pole was actually located in Bihar," she said, with a touch of humour.

Thapar has been maintaining that the current nationalism at JNU over an event against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in 2013, will not have an impact on the varsity's future as there is lot of intellectual support for the institution from across the globe.

Thapar also said that even though she was "deeply depressed" since the last one month over "attempts at breaking JNU" she was feeling much better now.

Tracing the early history of nationalism, Thapar went on to differentiate between inclusive and exclusive nationalism by giving examples of African nationalism and German Nationalism during the 1930s respectively.

"Nationalism has a lot to do with understanding your society and finding your identity as member if that society. History is essential to a national ideology, but it has to be a shared history. It cannot be a history based on one identity, but has to be all inclusive.

Stressing on the fact that colonial rulers were responsible for creating a narrative of Hindu-Muslim nation, Thapar said, "colonial scholarship talked about Hindu nation and Muslim nation and talked about how the two were permanently hostile to each other and required British to keep peace.

"Interpretation of history came to be based on the two-nation theory and from this perspective Hindu, Muslim antagonism became a given."

The theory of an Aryan race, she said, was also useful in projecting that India had a single history, one that she added, posed problems to it's believers when the Indus Valley Civilisation was discovered.

"It was anti-colonial nationalism which first claimed Indian nationalism. The primary identity was Indian, an overarching identity where everyone was equal with equal rights. This was new," she said.

The historian then went on to describe how nationalism and communalism became important concepts for the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha which still used concepts like two-nation theory.


Updated Date: Mar 07, 2016 07:43 AM

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