‘History has no future without freedom of thought’

Upinder Singh, author, historian, and Head of Department of History, Delhi University, said on Sunday that history had no future without freedom of thought and expression.

Prof. Singh, who is also the eldest daughter of the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was delivering the Paduru Gururaj Bhat Memorial Lecture, organised by the Paduru Gururaj Bhat Memorial Trust and Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Samshodhana Kendra, here

Prof. Singh said that there was a resurgent interest in the epics. Historical ties with South East Asia were also very much on the radar. “What is important is that when we re-engage with the epics, when we re-engage with South East Asia, we should be careful about the perspectives through which we look at these things. We cannot go back to our old habits of cultural chauvinism,” she said.

She said that it was essential to identify new ways of exploring these issues. The general prerequisite for progress in writing history in general was the same as it was for the development of any discipline involving critical enquiry, and also it was one of the prerequisites for creative arts to flourish. “This is, the existence of an atmosphere where critical and creative thinking is given the space it deserves and an atmosphere where different ideas can flourish,” Prof. Singh said.

She said that this was very often described as an attitude of tolerance. “I dislike the word ‘tolerance.’ This is often traced back to the times of Emperor Ashoka. But my reading of Ashokan inscriptions is that Ashoka did not say that people should tolerate each other,” she said.

‘Ashoka talked

about concord’

She said the English word tolerance means “I may really dislike you. But I may just put up with you.” But Emperor Ashoka was emphasising on something much more positive. He was talking about how the relations between different sects should be one of mutual respect, mutual dialogue and discussion. Emperor Ashoka was really talking about concord, which was much more important. It was the kind of goal that everyone should be thinking of and not something as narrow as tolerance.

“For this kind of atmosphere to prevail, it is important for intellectuals and for sensible people to talk about these issues, to recognise, emphasise and claim the space for freedom of thought and expression, which is an important and essential part of any civilised society. And, without freedom of thought and expression, history has no future and neither do we,” Prof. Singh said.

‘Emperor Ashoka emphasised that relations between sects should be based on concord and not just tolerance’