History must be retold, not re-invented, for each new generation: P. Sainath

In a discussion laced with sarcasm, Mr. Sainath took a dig at the government website celebrating 75 years of independence for not having any quotes from freedom fighters or any mention of British colonialism

Updated - February 25, 2023 09:28 pm IST

Published - February 25, 2023 08:53 pm IST - CHENNAI

 P. Sainath speaking at The Hindu Lit For Life, Music Academy in Chennai on February 25, 2023

P. Sainath speaking at The Hindu Lit For Life, Music Academy in Chennai on February 25, 2023 | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

History needs to be retold for each generation as new evidence or knowledge comes up, but rewriting should not involve inventing history, author and columnist P. Sainath, who is also a former Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, said on Saturday.

He was speaking at The Hindu Lit for Life 2023, during a discussion of his latest book The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom. It is people’s duty to remember and embrace the freedom struggle for it is a magnificent and romantic chapter of Indian history, he said.

Raising questions on who actually led India’s freedom struggle, Mr. Sainath noted that the book was written for a younger generation that has been robbed of its history. But while history needs to be retold for this new generation, it should not be re-invented, he cautioned.

This is Mr. Sainath’s second book in over two decades, and has a theme vastly different from his first book dealing with poverty in rural India, noted independent journalist Kavitha Muralidharan, who introduced the author at the event.

‘Freedom still a struggle’

Taking a dig at the government website celebrating 75 years of Indian independence for not having any quotes from freedom fighters or any mention of British colonialism, Mr. Sainath said that his book depicted many ordinary people, particularly women from rural India, who had stood against the British.

In a session laced with sarcasm, Mr. Sainath narrated the stories of fascinating characters depicted in the book: Mallu Swarajyam who took part in the Telangana armed struggle; Hausabai Patil of the Toofan Sena; Salihan, an Adivasi freedom fighter from Odisha; Shobharam Gehervar, N. Sankaraiah and R. Nallakannu in Chennai.

They fought for freedom and independence; freedom is still a struggle, Mr. Sainath said.

A fractured history

Earlier, a panel of authors on ‘Punjab: In a Fractured Land’ discussed the misconceptions and divided perceptions of Punjab and the different conflicts and challenges the State has faced over the decades.

Navtej Sarna, author-columnist and former Indian ambassador to the U.S.; Ramesh Inder Singh, former civil servant and author; and Amandeep Sandhu, Punjabi writer and journalist were in conversation with journalist Mandira Nayar.

The authors discussed the caricatures and stereotypes of Punjab and its people and the role of their books that have helped build narratives and contextualise history right up to the recent farmers’ agitation. Punjab’s peace has been ruptured decade after decade and the onus of peace lay on both the State and Central governments, they said.

The conversation dealt with pages from history from the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Gurdwara reform movement, and Operation Bluestar to the current political status. Noting that Punjab needed justice and governance, the panelists said that no political party seemed interested in the welfare of the State, where unemployment has left youngsters disgruntled.

The session ended on a positive note of hope for the resurgence of Punjab despite the many aberrations, with the panellists noting that Punjabis have gained global recognition for their spirit of service.

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