People's Democracy

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


No. 02

January 08, 2012


Indian History Congress Holds Platinum Jubilee Session


From a Correspondent


THE Indian History Congress met for its 72nd annual session at the Punjabi University, Patiala (Punjab) from December 10 to 13, 2011, when it also celebrated its Platinum Jubilee. The organisation was founded in 1935 at Pune by historians from all over India who wished to apply what was then styled an “integrative” approach to Indian history, and develop Indian historiography on nationalist, but not chauvinist, lines.




The inaugural session at Patiala on December 10 was addressed by the vice president of India, Shri Hamid Ansari, who in his speech dwelt on the importance of rigour and vision in the application of historical method. He underlined the need for Indian historians’ working on the history of neighbouring countries and of West Asia, where he felt a deficiency on our part had to be recognised. (Fog prevented his personal presence; and his speech was read out.)


Professor B B Chaudhuri, an eminent economic historian, was elected general president of this session. He devoted his presidential address to a detailed analysis of “Radical Adivasi Movements in Colonial Eastern India, 1856-1922.” The importance of this study is manifold. One conclusion Professor Chaudhuri drew was that ever since the Santal Hool of 1855-56, ‘radicalism’ grew among the adivasis, the demand for rectification of specific grievances increasingly turning into a demand for self-rule. This had its accompaniments in, first, an overhaul of customary beliefs and rituals and, on the other, a unification of different tribal streams. Without explicitly so stating, Professor Chaudhuri thus offered a totally different interpretation of tribal movements from those adopted by those historians who tend to assume an unchanging “subaltern” ideology.


The governor of Punjab, Shivraj Patil, also addressed the History Congress, and extended his appreciation of its effort to develop a non-sectarian, scientific approach to history.


Dr Jaspal Singh, vice chancellor of the Punjabi University, warmly welcomed the delegates on behalf of the Punjabi University, which was hosting the session.




After the general session, the Congress broke into its six sections.


The sectional presidents’ addresses were a mix of the scholarly and the topical. Professor Ranabir Chakravarti (president of the Ancient India Section) highlighted the  importance of the coast and oceanic trade in influencing polity and economy during the late ancient period. Professor Pushpa Prasad (medieval India) presented mainly epigraphic evidence to trace the position of artisans in medieval times; Professor N Rajendran (modern India) analysed the rise of the consciousness of both national and regional identities in Tamilnadu. In the section on history of other countries, Dr Madhavi Thampi in her presidential address discussed the appeal of Asian solidarity made by early Chinese nationalists, until Japanese aggression made it a suspect ideology in China. Professor M S Mate (president, archaeology section), who could not attend owing to ill-health, made a strong plea in his written address for developing medieval archaeology and offered a number of illustrations of the kind of information it can yield. N Ram, editor of The Hindu, presiding over the section on contemporary India, presented a very reflective study of the role of news media abroad and in India, giving some very disturbing instances of ‘manufacture of consent’ on the part of a segment of the media.


From the report of the secretary, Professor Arun Bandopadhyay, delivered at the end of the session, one learns that over 1000 delegates attended the session, and some 650 research papers were presented at the different sections. As the printed list of papers shows there is an increasing interest among historians in areas like intellectual history and gender relations, showing a shift away from purely dynastic or religious themes, though economic and social history as well as the National Movement continue to hold their ground. After a process of refereeing and editing, over a hundred of the papers are likely to be published in the Proceedings of the session. The Indian History Congress has rigorously maintained the tradition of publishing the Proceedings annually. The thick volume of Proceedings of the previous session, including all the presidential addresses and over 100 papers, were made available to delegates free at the Patiala session.


The major lecture at the session, the S C Misra Memorial Lecture, was delivered by Professor Mushirul Hasan, his theme being Gandhi and Islam. On the second day, a symposium was also held; it revolved around the theme of “Heresies in Indian History,” the participants being Professors Kum Kum Roy, Farhat Hasan and Bhaskar Chakrabarty.




A sub-conference on Aspects of India’s Composite Culture was organised on December 11-13 as a special additional feature of the session, to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of the organisation. Professor Michael Pearson, noted historian of pre-modern Indian Ocean trade, came from Australia to attend it and gave a paper on the collaboration of mercantile communities in the Indian Ocean in medieval times. Professor J S Grewal considered Guru Nanak’s perceptions of Islam, and there were naturally a number of papers considering inter-religious relationships, including such questions as the character of the Matiya sect in late Mughal Gujarat (Dr Samira Sheikh) or the effect of Hindu Reform Movement on India’s composite culture (Professor Indu Benga). Professor B P Sahu considered the issues of caste and region in ancient Orissa, while Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan touched on the dimensions of community relations as affecting the polity of the early Sultanate of Delhi. In his keynote address, Professor Irfan Habib raised the question whether in history a composite culture is to be identified as such only when a country’s or region’s culture lacks the capability to fully absorb or adapt new or external influences.


A special two-day panel entitled “Architecture and Artisans in India: The History of Design, Technology and Labour” was organised by the Aligarh Historians Society along with the History Congress session. The themes of the papers presented ranged from caves to temples in Orissa (Professor B P Sahu), to pre-colonial Sikh architecture (Dr Karamjit Malhotra), and to the pre-Mughal townships at Delhi (Professor Sunil Kumar, Dr Najaf Haider). Dr Rajsekhar Basu traced modern measures of planning the city of Hyderabad under Visvesvaraya. Professor Shireen Moosvi explored material on the housing of ordinary urban people of the Mughal period.  Dr S Ali Nadeem Rezavi studied the actual work of conservation undertaken by Archaeological Survey of India at the World Heritage site of Fathpur Sikri, and pointed out the many wilful violations of basic principles of conservation committed here under the influence of various biases.


At the business meeting, held on December 12, the delegates mourned the passing away of Professor Ram Sharan Sharma, who had been, for over five decades, an incomparable practitioner of the scientific method in history and a consistent supporter of the Indian History Congress.


The meeting also adopted an important resolution on the work of the Archaeological Survey of India. It is being printed alongside.


A report of the session will not be complete without a mention of the excellent arrangements for hospitality made by the authorities of the Punjabi University, especially under the care of the vice chancellor, Dr Jaspal Singh, and Professor J S Grewal, the local secretary, an eminent historian himself. The staff and student volunteers won the particular appreciation of the delegates.


With this session, Professor Arun Bandopadhyay, as secretary, and Dr Rajsekhar Basu, as treasurer, completed their very successful terms of three years; and as required by the constitution of the History Congress a new set of office-bearers was elected.


The new office-bearers include Professor Y Subbarayalu as the general president, Professor Satish Chandra and Aniruddha Ray as the vice presidents, Professor S Z H Jafri as the secretary and Dr (Mrs) Tripta Verma as treasurer.        


The sectional presidents elected for the next session are: Ancient India: Professor Snigdha Tripathi; Medieval: Professor M Ashraf Wani; Modern: Professor Basudev Chatterji; Countries Other than India: Professor Sneh Mahajan; Archaeology: Professor R C Thakran and Contemporary India: Professor Ramachandra Guha.


An executive committee of 20 members was also elected unopposed.



Resolution on ASI

FOR a number of years this congress has been expressing concern at the state of affairs at the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Of its major journals, Ancient India has long ceased publication and the Epigraphia Indica and Epigraphia IndicaArabic and Persian Supplement are in arrears by decades. Even its annual review of Indian Archaeology is now appearing with a delay of some eight years, shedding much of its value thereby. We urge that the assurances of their revival, now being given, would be honoured, and the periodicals would be issued after duly ensuring that they follow the minimum standards expected of them.


This congress has had occasions to express concern also at the lapses in according protection and preservation to monuments and antiquarian remains. Many, though duly recorded or observed in the past, are no longer traceable on the ground. Equally serious is the misuse of work undertaken under the colour of restoration. Even ASI’s own photographs, as in the case of the Stone-cutters’ Mosque, Fatehpur Sikri, show the original structure to have been so reshaped through ‘restoration’ that its historical significance is lost. The congress is of firm opinion that such restoration work should not be undertaken without scrutiny by independent historians and archaeologists. Moreover, the work done in the last two decades ought to be examined by a committee or committees of independent experts, in order to ensure that such misdemeanours are prevented in future. The ASI’s own journals, as they are revived, should be thrown open to studies or critiques of its work from scholars outside the ASI so that there may be some sense of accountability introduced through that means as well. This would also be in accordance with the old traditions of the Archaeological Survey.


The Indian History Congress hopes that due consideration would be given to this proposal by the authorities concerned.