People's Democracy

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


No. 22

May 30, 2010


Indian History Congress Meets At Its 70th Session



From A Correspondent



THE Indian History Congress held its 70th annual session at the Delhi University on May 15-17, 2010.


These dates demand an explanation. The History Congress usually meets at the end of December. The 70th session was to be held at the Osmania University, Hyderabad. Owing to the Telangana agitation, the session had first to be postponed, and, then, the venue itself had to be abandoned. Recognising the importance of the History Congress in the academic world, Professor Deepak Pental, Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University, kindly extended an invitation on behalf of the university to hold the session under its aegis.  Over 750 delegates attended the session, of whom over 550 were accommodated in the Delhi University guest houses and college hostels.  That this large attendance should have been attained despite the hot weather speaks much for the interest members take in the History Congress sessions.


At the general session on May 15, the distinguished historian Professor Romila Thapar introduced the general president of the session, Professor R Champakalakshmi. Thereafter Professor Irfan Habib delivered the inaugural address in which he drew attention to the nationalist roots of the History Congress, which was founded in 1935. From the beginning it opposed communal tendencies and upheld a scientific and all-inclusive approach to history. After giving some early instances of such a stand in the early days of the organisation, Habib recalled the opposition to Emergency expressed in its resolutions at Aligarh (1975) and Calicut (1976) — the History Congress was the only academic organisation of note to voice its criticism publicly. From 1985, the History Congress year after year decried agitations over the religious use of monuments, especially condemning the campaign for the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. Among other concerns of the History Congress, he mentioned its opposition to the saffronised text books of the NDA regime, and to its campaign for improvement in teaching and research in History and in the work of bodies such as the Archaeological Survey of India. On its part by continuously improving the standard of its annual Proceedings through the establishment of prizes, awards, for high-quality papers and improving the rigour of editing and selection, the History Congress has made the Proceedings an important index of the rising level of historical research in the country.


Professor R Champakalakshmi, the general president of the session, then, delivered her address (already printed) entitled ‘The Making of a Religious Tradition: Perspectives from Pre-Colonial South India.’ Professor Champakalakshmi commented on certain biases in South Indian historiography, such as the emphasis on Brahmanism to the exclusion or marginalisation of the Shramanic religions (Buddhism and Jainism) in studies of the religious and cultural history of South India. She analysed the complex ways in which vedic and puranic influences successively spread and incorporated local deities, beliefs and myths. She also constantly related these processes to political and social changes. In the Vijayanagara Empire, she saw the development of ‘a pan-Indian tradition’, attested by a revival of both Shaiva and Vaishnavite temples and rituals, as possible sources of political legitimisation.


At the general session, the various awards and prizes were also announced and conferred. The Professor Barpujaree Award was conferred on the veteran historian, Professor Satish Chandra, on his extensive researches in medieval India as summed up in his book Medieval India. The Hira Lal Gupta Prize for a book published by a woman historian went to Dr Rochelle Pinto for her book Between Empires — Print and Politics in Goa.


The sectional presidents read their addresses (all of them printed) in the afternoon. Prof Sishir Kumar Panda (Ancient India) devoted his address to ‘Early State Formation in Orissa’; Prof NR Farooqi (Medieval India) to ‘Ottoman Documents on India’; Prof Rajen Saikia (Modern India) to ‘The Political Geography of Colonial and Post – Colonial Assam; Prof TR Ghoble (Countries other than India), to ‘The Dynamics of China’s Transition’; Dr Ashok Dutta (Archaeology) to ‘Cultural Development in the Post-Harappan Period’; and Prof Rajen Harshe (Contemporary India) to ‘International Relations Studies in India’.


In the evening of  May 15, Prof Aniruddha Ray delivered the Prof SC Misra Memorial Lecture on Changes in the Economy of the Bengal Sultanate, 1350-1575, the printed text of which was also made available. Prof Ray argued that the period saw an expansion of money economy and trade in Bengal, though these affected particular sub-regions to different degrees.


On  May 16, the History Congress symposium was held on Money and Credit in Indian History. Prof Y Subbarayalu spoke on Money in the Vijayanagara Empire and Dr Najaf Haider discussed the effects of the silver influx on money supply in the Mughal Empire. Professor Prabhat Patnaik explained in a most lucid fashion how under ‘globalisation’ a large inflow of money may take place without adding to a country’s real capital, while its outflow would entirely disrupt the economy. He, therefore, called for strict regulation over external speculative investments.


A very large number of papers (about 560 in all) were presented at the various sections of the History Congress. Modern India accounted for a very large number (221), while Ancient India and Medieval India Sections had about a hundred papers each. The section on Archaeology drew slightly fewer papers than expected (35) while the sections on countries other than India and contemporary India had about 50 papers presented at each of them. While the papers were naturally of a varying quality, it was clear that certain fields like agrarian relations, ideological change, colonialism and anti-colonial resistance, women’s history, and ecology, continue to attract research effort. A refreshing feature is the absence generally of regional or religious biases.


By the side of the sections, the Indian History Congress and associate organisations held three panels. One, on the History and Historiography of Dalits, was sponsored by the University of Calcutta and the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata (IDSK). The initial session on  May 16 was chaired by Prof Sukhadev Thorat, Chairman, UGC, who in his initial remarks stressed how research in Dalit history required a study of evidence with an absence of bias. Prof Amiya K Bagchi, Director, IDSK, and a renowned economic historian also addressed the panel.


Another panel was organised under the aegis of ICHR the same day to celebrate the 100th anniversary, (2009-10), of the Hind Swaraj of Mahatma Gandhi, with Prof Sabyasachi Bhattacharya as the main speaker.


The Aligarh Historians Society organised a two-day panel (May 16-17) on Economic Change in Indian History. Nearly all the 20 papers were pre-circulated, and covered all periods of Indian history. Participants included Professors Utsa Patnaik, Om Prakash, Iqtidar Alam Khan and Prabhat Patnaik. Some participants whose papers were received, could not be present. It was decided at the end of the panel sessions that the papers should be published as a volume at an early date.


The Indian History Congress at its business session passed two resolutions. By one resolution it called on the authorities of the Tirupati temple not to gold-plate the walls of the garbhagriha so as to cover up the numerous inscriptions the walls bear from the Chola to Vijayanagara times.


By another resolution the History Congress called on the Archaeological Survey of India to update its methods of excavation so that these cause the least destruction at sites, to publish long-due reports in a proper manner, and to speedily clear the arrears in its annual publications (Indian Archaeology and Epigraphia Indica) with its Arabic-Persian Supplement.


The Indian History Congress elected Professor Aniruddha Ray as the next general president of the Indian History Congress. The sectional presidents elected are: Prof RN Misra (Ancient India), Dr Imtiaz Ahmad (Medieval India), Prof Mridula Mukherji (Modern India), Prof H Vasudevan (Countries other than India), Dr V Shinde (Archaeology) and Prof Prabhat Patnaik (Contemporary India).


Professor Arun Bandopadhyay was re-elected secretary, Prof Rajsekhar Basu, treasurer, and Prof SZH Jafri, joint secretary (incharge, permanent office).  Prof V Kunhali was elected as the other joint secretary. A new 20 – member executive committee was also elected.


The next session is scheduled to be held under this aegis of the Gaud Bangla University at Malda, West Bengal.