Does it matter now if someone was an Aryan: Romila Thapar

Historian Romila Thapar said that in the current context, attempts were being made to follow two directives — the rewriting of history and the “cleansing” of institutions with “cultural pollution”.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi | Published:October 2, 2015 3:10 am

In the backdrop of the shocking murder of Kannada scholar and rationalist M M Kalburgi, public intellectuals from various fields, under the aegis of the Indian Writers’ Forum Trust, organised a discussion on ‘Revisiting Cultural Resistance’ at the India International Centre on Thursday.

Speaking at the function chaired by writer Githa Hariharan, historian Romila Thapar said that in the current context, attempts were being made to follow two directives — the rewriting of history and the “cleansing” of institutions with “cultural pollution”.

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On the rejection of the Aryan invasion theory by speakers at a seminar by Delhi University’s Sanskrit department, Thapar said the issue was “complex” but becoming “less crucial”. She also criticised the seminar’s efforts to push back the date of the creation of the Vedas. “The issue of Aryan invasion is very complex but I think the matter is becoming less and less crucial with time. Does it really matter now if someone was an Aryan? With regard to astronomy as a historical tool, I think only a historian of astronomy can comment on its reliability. Sanskritists — no matter how good their Sanskrit is — cannot determine it,” she said.

Thapar warned that in their efforts to push out “western history”, proponents of “indigenous history” were basing their theories on accounts by colonial historians. “It was James Mill whose periodisation of history into Hindu, Muslim and British periods is followed by many Hindutva ideologues. It was also theosophist Colonel Olcott who had first said that Aryans were indigenous to India,” she said.

Ambedkar University Vice-Chancellor Shyam Menon claimed that there was a “chronic tendency on the part of the State to assume control over institutes of higher learning”. “Among those who consider that the most important function of the State is to be the guardian and preserver of the social order, there is always a fear that the university, through its very nature and conduct, might unleash ideas that would be disruptive of such an order,” he said.

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