People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 20, 2008

68th Session Of The Indian History Congress




THE Indian History Congress, the major organisation of Indian historians, held its 68th annual session at the Delhi University on December 28-30, 2007. About 1500 delegates — an unprecedented number — attended the session, where over 700 papers were presented in the five sections of the Congress and the three major panels held alongside of it.

The opening session of the History Congress was overshadowed by the news of the tragic murder of Ms Benazir Bhutto on December 27. Arjun Singh, minister for Human Resource Development was unable to attend owing to urgent political consultations, and sent a message of good wishes instead. The Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s speech was read out in her absence.

Upon her installation as general president, Professor Suvira Jaiswal delivered her presidential Address. She chose as her theme ‘Caste, Gender and Ideology in the Making of India’. She showed how the rise of social differentiation and class-exploitation in ancient times led to increasing servitude of women, and the division of society into castes designed to keep the outcastes and lowest castes in a state of persecution and humiliation. As the caste system established itself it won recognition and endorsement not only from Brahmanism and Jainism but also from Buddhism (despite an early contrary tendency within it). She rejected Dumont’s thesis of caste being the result of an ideology of pollution, rather than the reverse. Nor did she agree with some popular writers that the oppression of dalits dates only from the decline of Buddhism. She endorsed Dr Ambedkar’s call for the ‘annihilation of caste’, and thought that only a “strong movement around the questions of land-reform and primary education” could “transform the lives of the dalit masses.”

Prof Somasundara Rao, as sectional president of the section on Ancient India devoted attention in his address, to the resolution of certain problems of the early agrarian history of Andhra. Prof Rubi Maloni, presiding over the medieval section, discussed the effects of the arrival of Europeans on seventeenth-century Gujarat. She concluded that the European companies inducted “elements of monopoly and coercion… in the foreign commerce of India” and that “European presence interrupted the independent development of local productive forces.”

In his Address as president of the Modern India section, Prof Aditya Mukherjee took issue with the so-called ‘post-colonialist’ tendency to view British rule as a positive factor in India’s economic development. Professor Mukherjee refuted the argument in western academic that a process of decolonisation on Britain’s part began with World War I, of which 1947 was the natural product. He showed from both statistics and documentary evidence that quite the contrary was the case, and British imperialism had no intention to dismantle its economic stranglehold on India. The result was a negative compound rate of growth of –0.22 per cent.” This trend was only reversed after 1950 when free India began to try to achieve an independent industrial and technological base. He concluded by asserting that for India “answers to the future challenges would not lie on building continuities with colonialism but on the breaks” with it.

Prof Shamir Hasan, as president of the section on the History of Countries other than India, gave a narrative of the evolution of India’s Palestine policy. He drew a depressing picture of how India has abandoned one position in support of the Palestinian case after another, and cosied up to Israel, becoming under the present UPA government Israel’s major financial hacker after the USA. He said: “When tomorrow you read that an Israeli bomb or rocket has killed Arab women and children, do stop to think that part of the money for the killing weaponry has come out of your pockets as a tax-payer. When you, then, hear an Indian statesman saying how true we are to Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy, you can realise how far we have in reality fallen.”

The Indian History Congress has for the last many years seeking to improve the participation of archaeologists particularly in view of the communal overtones adopted by the Indian Archaeological Society. This year, the section was presided over by Prof K Rajan, who in his address dealt with the transition from the early iron age to the historic period with particular reference to the use of the Brahmi script. He pointed out that in the present evidence, the presence of this script in south Tamilnadu and Sri Lanka is pre-Mauryan, and a north-ward diffusion of it in Mauryan times is, indeed, probable. This requires an important revision of the current theory of Brahmi writing having originated in Ashoka’s time in North India.

The S C Misra Memorial Lecture, an important annual feature of the History Congress, was delivered this year by Professor Rajesh Kochhar, a physicist, who spoke on the travails of modern science in colonial India. After a critical examination of the “orientalist” thought promoted by British colonialism, under whose influence Indian interest in modern science took shape, Professor Kochhar concluded: “India may have begun its flirtation with modern science in the last quarter of the 19th century itself, but it was not yet ready for a serious affair.” In this he saw a message for contemporary times: Young Indians should take more to substantive scientific work than run after IT and out-sourcing.

The Indian History Congress holds a symposium on a major historical theme. This year the theme was ‘Forms of Anti-Colonial Resistance in India’. Professors Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Rajat K Ray and Irfan Habib were the three speakers.

As usual the section on Modern India received the most numerous papers. This has induced the History Congress to introduce a new section on Contemporary India from the next Year. The large numbers of papers makes discussion very difficult, and it may be desirable for some mechanism to be evolved under which adequate time could be obtained for discussion by themes, each discussion covering a number of papers.

There were very successful panels on “Sixty Years of Freedom”, and “Science and Technology in India’s Past”, the latter under the auspices of the Aligarh Historians Society. There was also a symposium on D D Kosambi, this year being his birth centenary year.

One regular (and distinguishing) feature of the Indian History Congress is the regular and punctual issue of its annual volumes of Proceedings. This year was no exception. The last year’s members received free a well-brought out 1170-page volume, containing as many as 97 full-length papers, along with the addresses of the General President and Sectional Presidents of the previous (67th) session. All papers are refereed and edited and so cumulatively add much new information and represents very well the current trends of historical research in India.

At the inaugural session it was announced that the Professor Barpujari Award for books on History published during 2005 and 2006 had been awarded by the Award Committee to Rajmohan Gandhi’s Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, his People and an Empire, New Delhi, 2006. The citation stated that the author’s “narration reaches its true climax in a quotation from a Pakistan leader, who said that whoever has raised his hands against innocent men, women or children or sympathised with such acts, ‘is a collaboration in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi’. The author serves the true purpose of History by bringing out this message in a violence-torn world, placed again in the shadows of an Empire.” The Hiralal Gupta Prize awarded for a work on History written by a woman author in the last three years went to Ms Meera Nanda for her book Prophets facing Backward: Post-modernism, Science and Hindu Nationalism (Delhi, 2004).

Professor B P Sahu, secretary, Indian History Congress, in his report to the General Body meeting of the session on December 30 thanked the ministry of Human Resource Development and the ministry of Culture, government of India, the state government of Delhi and the Indian Council of Historical Research for the various grants which made a successful holding of the session possible.

The Delhi University being the host University put in enormous effort to make the session possible. Much credit goes to the authorities and students of the colleges which made their hostel rooms available for the delegates’ accommodation. Local secretary, Prof SZH Jafri and his team of teachers and students of the University looked after the delegates’ comforts most conscientiously. The Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee too made available not only its guest houses, but also fleet of buses.

The Business Meeting on December 30 unanimously passed two resolutions. One, expressing dismay at the news of Ms Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, declared that “acts of terror and intolerance are alien to the best traditions of our subcontinent’s civilization.” The second appealed to the government of India “to desist from letting government officials take over autonomous academic organisations by appointing them to posts identified as those of chief executive officers.”

At the same Business meeting it was announced that the following office-bearers and sectional presidents have been elected by the executive committee for the next session:-

General President : Prof K N Panikkar

Vice presidents : Professor J V Naik (Bombay)

Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan (Aligarh)

Secretary : Professor B P Sahu (Delhi)

Treasurer : Dr R P Rana (Delhi)

Joint Secretary : Professor K K Sharma (Muzaffarpur)

Professor A Bobbili (Warangal)

Sectional Presidents


Ancient India : Prof Kumkum Roy

Medieval India : Prof Afzal Husain

Modern India : Prof Arun Bandopadhyay

Contemporary India : Prof R. Tanwar

Countries other than India : Prof Harprasad Ray

Archaeology : Prof U S Moorti


A 20-member panel of members of the executive committee was elected unopposed. This is taken to be a measure of satisfaction felt by the delegates with the way the Indian History Congress has been functioning.

From a Correspondent