Saying that efforts were being made to “obfuscate nationalism”, historian Romila Thapar Sunday said nationalism could not be the identity of one group and universities are “obvious places” for conducting “incisive debates on the nationalist enterprise”.
The historian was addressing students at the 14th nationalism class at JNU.
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“At the time of independence and soon after, we had no problem in defining nationalism. Today, efforts are being made to obfuscate the definition. It has to be remembered that nationalism is based on facts of history and not anyone’s fantasies,” said Thapar. She added, “Nationalism draws on identities of citizens, but it cannot be the identity of one group… We have accepted the Constitution and should be committed to making India a secular space.”
“Nationalism has a lot to do with understanding your society and finding your identity as member in that society… History is essential to a national ideology, but it has to be a shared one. It cannot be a history based on one identity…” Stressing that colonial rulers were responsible for creating a narrative of a Hindu-Muslim nation, Thapar said, “Colonial scholarship talked about the Hindu and Muslim nation and how the two were permanently hostile to each other and required the British to keep the peace. Interpretation of history came to be based on the two-nation theory, and from this perspective Hindu-Muslim antagonism became a given.”
Professor Harbans Mukhia, who teaches medieval Indian history, also spoke of how colonial history looked at “essentialising” the identities of rulers and kingdoms to Hindus and Muslims, thereby providing “a distorted and false picture of Indian history”.
Activist Teesta Setalvad also addressed the students. She lauded the teachers at JNU and said if the administration in Hyderabad Central University had been as sensitive and supportive of students, perhaps Rohith Vemula “would have been here”.