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Historians urged to focus on contemporary India

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Well deserved: R. Champaklakshmi, former professor of history, Jawaharlal Nehru University, presenting the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award to Ramachandra Guha, historian and contemporary analyst, at a function in Chennai on Wednesday. C.T. Kurien, chairman, Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust, and Sashi Kumar, chairman, Media Development Foundation, are in the picture.
Well deserved: R. Champaklakshmi, former professor of history, Jawaharlal Nehru University, presenting the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award to Ramachandra Guha, historian and contemporary analyst, at a function in Chennai on Wednesday. C.T. Kurien, chairman, Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust, and Sashi Kumar, chairman, Media Development Foundation, are in the picture.

Special Correspondent

Capture events and processes that characterised the country from 1950s to 1970s, says Ramachandra Guha

Too early to write history of the rise of BJP or economic liberalisation

Too much attention given to colonialism

CHENNAI: Contemporary India should really be the growth area of the future for historians, as it has far too many stories to tell, Ramachandra Guha, historian and contemporary analyst, said on Wednesday.

Urging historians to come out with works on India since 1947, Dr. Guha said they could capture events and processes that characterised different aspects of the country in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s through well-informed and objective studies.

He also mentioned that it was too early to write the history of the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party or economic liberalisation, as historians needed a generation’s gap to write dispassionately and seriously about the past.

Delivering the Malcolm Adiseshiah memorial lecture at a function organised here by the Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust, he highlighted the challenges of contemporary history.

Earlier, R. Champakalakshmi, former professor of history, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, presented him the Malcolm Adiseshiah award, instituted by the trust, for distinguished contributions to development studies.

People knew very little about modern history of the nation despite India being “the most interesting country” in the world. “What we do know about independent India is chiefly the work of sociologists, economists, political scientists and journalists—not historians,” Dr. Guha said.

On India’s historiography, he said too much attention was given to colonialism, while the pre-colonial and post-colonial history had been neglected. Citing an instance, he said the two themes that defined Indian society in the last 60 years were elections and caste. But, not many books had been written on the social history of caste in independent India or the social history of Indian elections.

Lack of sources

He said the challenges faced by contemporary Indian historians were lack of density of sources, strong notions of the audience on the topics covered by them, biases and prejudices of historians themselves and the arbitrary definition of Indian history, ending on August 15, 1947. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and the press were among the sources that could be tapped by the historians to write on contemporary India, Dr. Guha said.

Prof. Champakalakshmi, who also presented the award for the best teacher in economics to S. Shyamala, reader in economics, American College, Madurai, said if agrarian history and the history of irrigation had been made available to all, including policymakers, numerous water bodies would not have become housing colonies. Indian history, be it contemporary or pre-colonial, was fascinating and challenging.

C.T. Kurien, chairman of the trust, recalled the contributions of Malcolm Adiseshiah to different fields, including education and development studies.

Sashi Kumar, chairman, Media Development Foundation; V.K. Natraj, trustee; and H.B.N. Shetty, executive officer of the trust, spoke.

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