Fourteen faculty members of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNUs) Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) have written to the Vice-Chancellor against involving its name in a webinar on Saraswati Civilisation that is to be delivered by Major General (retd) G D Bakshi.
The student-faculty member (SFC) of the centre has also spoken out against the webinar.
V C M Jagadesh Kumar had on June 8 tweeted a poster of the webinar to be delivered by Bakshi on June 13 which read “Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, JNU invites you to a webinar on ‘The Saraswati Civilisation: A Paradigm Shift in Indian History’ by Retd Major General G D Bakshi. All are welcome.”
Expressing “grave concerns and misgivings”, a group of 14 faculty members wrote, “The tweet mentions the programme as being organised by the CHS and mentions you, Prof Heeraman Tiwari, Prof Umesh Kadam and as well as Prof Dipendra Nath Das, Dean SSS as organisers… Seminars, conferences, workshops, in fact all matters of academic functioning are a centre’s prerogative and are addressed by professional and eminent scholars who are invited by the faculty for this purpose.”
Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, JNU invites you to a webinar on “The Saraswati Civilisation: A Paradigm Shift in Indian History” by Retd. Major General G. D. Bakshi. All are welcome. Register at https://t.co/Jo4uv2e4tP pic.twitter.com/zxeCwVW7AJ
— Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar (@mamidala90) June 8, 2020
“To this end, the CHS has a set of nominated faculty members who coordinate the centre’s weekly seminars, usually held on Wednesdays at 3 pm. These members inform the faculty about designated programmes and also elicit names of speakers from them, which are then duly communicated and endorsed in a formal faculty meeting. The lockdown has given no reason to dispense with this system because the faculty has not decided to do away with this arrangement and faculty meetings have been conducted by the Chairperson on Zoom,” they said.
Excluding Tiwari and Kadam, there are 19 faculty members in CHS.
“It would be useful for us to know whether this procedure was followed in the present instance, and if not, we would like to know under whose authorisation was this bypassed? Since all faculty members are in contact on mail, and many on the WhatsApp group and other mechanisms, through which communications have been taking place, updating the faculty and seeking its endorsement on academic matters are possible, essential as well as desirable,” the teachers wrote.
“If this is an individual initiative on your part, then you are being requested to issue a clarification so that the name of the CHS is not used for a programme that has not been endorsed by the faculty,” they added.
The SFC of the centre also dissociated with the event. “The centre has always been committed to ensuring that all such speakers possess professional knowledge in their field and base their arguments on historically accurate facts. Scholars of early India have rejected the attempt to collate the Harappan Civilisation with Rig Vedic culture… Currently, this debate has no relevance, except in the minds of those who seek to advance their communal agenda, through an attempt to superimpose the mythical Sarasvati over the well excavated Harappan material culture,” they said in a statement.
“In this context, we vehemently condemn the organisation of this event as a move that can only be inferred as the administration’s blatant disregard for scientific principles, empirical evidence and the pursuit of truth,” they added.
Professor Kumkum Roy, one of the signatories to the letter and an expert on Anicent Indian history, said “Bakshi’s characterisation of the last 600 to 800 years of history in the subcontinent revives an old communalised understanding, based on assertions rather than substance”.
“He describes it as one of rape, plunder, loot, the destruction of temples and the abduction of women who were allegedly sold off to Bukhara and Kabul. He also mentions the “Hindu holocaust”, in which 80 million to 100 million people are supposed to have died—again unsubstantiated. Major General Bakshi seems unaware of the fact that warfare between states within the subcontinent was endemic much before the time so-called outsiders,” she said.
“Major General Bakshi’s agenda, evidently, is to try and equate the Harappan civilisation, which he insists on re-designating as the Sarasvati civilisation, with the evidence of Vedic texts… In his case, the argument seems to rely on invoking earthquakes, in pushing back the date of the civilisation to 8000 or 9000 years ago, and in assuring us that there is continuity between past and present in terms of the use of bindis, sindur, mangal sutra, bangles, yoga, meditation, the Shiva linga, boats, and pots, a random set of material and cultural traits etc. from the past to the present. Such comparisons of traits without placing them in historical context is not particularly useful as a historical method, irrespective of one’s ideological predilections,” she added.
VC Jagadesh Kumar, SSS Dean D N Das, and CHS teachers Heeraman Tiwari and Umesh Kadam did not respond to queries by The Indian Express.
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