'No future for history without freedom of thought'

Without freedom of thought and expression, there is no future for history,” opined renowned historian Upinder Singh.

Upinder Singh is the daughter of former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Speaking at the Padur Gururaj Bhat Memorial Lecture, she said there should be space for freedom of thought and expression, as these ideals were an essential part of civilised society.

Stating that history was always connected with politics since its inception, she said India should expand the scope for liberal and non-aligned history, one that was not tied with any political agenda. Noting that the challenge lies in bring textual and archaeological sources together, which are indispensable for writing history, she stressed that archaeology should not be ignored. Archaeology is the only window for that part of human history where writing was not known, for instance, Stone Age. Besides, archaeology is the only source for Harappan and Indus valley civilisation, where the script has not been deciphered.

During the last half century, the great achievement is that the marginalised and subordinated groups like women, lower class and caste are brought into history, she said and added that historians were no longer satisfied to look at the surface of political events, instead they want to understand the political process to bring out textual, cultural and historical development in the region of the sub-continent. Stating that women have to be part of any good social history, the historian said the researchers cannot leave out at least 50 per cent of the population in their analysis of past. Although importance of gender and women in ancient history is acknowledged by all, the gender history has become small and ghettoized area. "We have a long way to go to incorporate gender history into mainstream history,” she said.

Asserting that debate plays a crucial role in the development of any discipline, Prof Singh said there would be no growth in knowledge unless there is no disagreement, dissent and debate. She lamented that the present-day debate on history outlast their utility, as they end up preventing rather than promoting fresh thinking.

Pointing out that archaeological and linguistic evidences do not support the existence of two great epics, the historian said literary imagination has proved the major role to support the existence of the epics. The archaeological evidences are rather drape and unexciting remains of the age. She added that epic seems to be story belonging to the Stone Age. She added there should be focus on trying to understand and investigate further the central ideas on religion and Dharma. Besides the thought on how and why the influence of ideas traveled to other parts of Asia, especially South East Asia should be embarked upon.

She opined that the area of great challenge is reconnecting the histories of South East Asia. Indian influence led to extension of civilisation of South Asian land. She added Indian history was a sum total of history of its various region. Looking beyond the country is important to have the histories of Indian sub-continent. There are plenty of evidences over interrelationships between India, Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia. She said the narrow meaning of tolerance is absurd, instead the broader perspective is based on mutual respect, mutual dialogue and discussion. ‘We cannot go back to the habit of cultural chauvinism’.  The oral tradition should be documented and preserved as it is very imp part of history, she concluded.

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