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History can’t be dominated by one identity: Romila

It was a full house at JNU on Sunday, with historians Romila Thapar and Harbans Mukhia delivering the much-talked about lecture on nationalism. Their lecture was followed by social activist Teesta Setalvad addressing the crowd.

Regarding herself as “one of the dinosaurs of JNU”, who joined the varsity in November 1970, Ms. Thapar said she was deeply depressed after the immediate incidences that followed the pro-Afzal Guru event held on campus.

Historians Romila Thapar and Harbans Mukhia look on as JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar speaks in New Delhi on Sunday.— Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

“I thought it was an attempt to break JNU,” the renowned historian confessed, adding that it is expected of a varsity to critically enquire into what’s happening in society.

Speaking about the nation and history, she said: “History is essential to a national ideology, but it has to be a shared history that binds people together. It cannot be a history dominated by only one identity because nationalism does not exist on only one identity. It is all inclusive.”

She traced the Aryan race and noted that it was a theory on which much of the Hindutva ideology hinges. Going beyond anti-colonial nationalism, which was secular and thus inclusive, she dwelled upon the Hindu and Muslim saying that both endorsed the two-nation theory aimed at establishing two separate nations.

“Unlike anti-colonial, these communal ideologies excluded everyone, except those of their own religion. They were not anti-colonial, they were simply hostile to each other. The two such organisations were the Muslim League and the Hindu Maha Sabha. The Hindu Maha Sabha was gradually superseded by the RSS and various organisations of that kind with its ideology Hindutva,” she said.

The students seemed quite pleased with her ideas.

“I liked the part where she said nationalism draws on reliable history and not just on anyone’s fantasy of the past,” said Nisam Asaf.

Beginning on a lighter note, Mr. Mukhia said: “Debating in JNU is like an anti- ageing treatment, as the institution was set up decades back with an idea of producing students who can question the established truth.”

Warning against the habit to “essentialise” things, he added: “Whenever we talk of Kanhaiya Kumar, we tend to essentialise him as a Hindu boy above anything else. Umar Khalid has been declaring from the house tops that he is an atheist, but we connect every dot with him being a Muslim because of his name.” The lectures, moderated by Mr. Kumar, had Ms. Setalvad next.

Saying that JNU had become a “beacon of hope” for students across the country, she called for creating a “coalition” to defeat the RSS and the Right-wing agenda.

“They want 15 years so they can make India a Hindu rashtra. It may be difficult, problematic or complex, we will have to come together to create groups to fight this agenda.”

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