Writing Early India:
Conversations with Romila Thapar

Developing sound historical consciousness is critical in our ability to effectively respond to the realities we are faced with. Active reading of a vast multiplicity of narratives, critical thinking and analysis, and questioning existing knowledge opens up our sensibilities to the pasts.

How do we write history? How has it been written so far in relation to early India? How do we bring the complexities of multiplicities in everyday classroom? How can we oppose any one linear narrative?

In this conversation, Professor Thapar responded to pre-submitted questions from teachers across the country based on her lecture titled Conversations with India’s Ancient Past (available at https://bit.ly/3j88fH9) and on her work titled Talking History: Romila Thapar in conversation with Ramin Jahanbegloo, with the participation of Neeladri Bhattacharya.

17 September 2020 marked 72 years since the princely state of Hyderabad was annexed to India through military force, known as Operation Polo or Police Action.
Much like Punjab and Bengal this region was also marked with violence, especially against Muslims,  largely owing to communal elements.
The last state to be annexed to India, Hyderabad at that time was spread over 82,000 square miles and had a population of over 16million people. Osman Ali Khan—the last Nizam—had wished to stay independent—the option given to princely states by the British.  What transpired then? How and why did the annexation happen?
Around the same period—1946-51—Telangana, which was part of the Hyderabad state then, also witnessed the Telangana Armed Struggle—aCommunist Party of India-backed peasant rebellion against state-appointed landlords. One of the first instances of freedom from bonded slavery. 
Yunus Yacoob Lasania shares his research on the forgotten histories of Hyderabad—an important aspect of the history of the 1947 Partition—on Saturday, 26 September 2020 at 5 p.m.

Yunus Y. Lasania is currently a special correspondent based in Hyderabad with Siasat.com, which is the English website of Siasat, one of the city’s oldest vernaculars. Prior to that, he worked as the state correspondent for the business newspaper Mint (HT Media), covering AP and Telangana, and also with The Hindu and The New Indian Express.  He conducts weekly heritage walks around the city to engage people with Hyderabad’s  history. Yunus also documents the city’s lesser known history on The Hyderabad History Project‘s blog and Instagram account and is currently working on a book to document the oral history of ordinary people who lived in the erstwhile state of Hyderabad, when it was annexed to India by the Indian army in 1948. 

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Meeting ID: 896 4896 3802
Passcode: 249892

Untold Stories and Other Early Works

Mahmud Husain Laskar

an online exclusive show on Artsy.net

The canvases of Mahmud Husain reach out to all of humanity. They are an entirely new and incredibly vibrant rendition of stories about the common man and his dreams, unburdened by any larger claims of emancipation or representation. Mahmud sets afloat a series of unreal figures; they wander across surreal landscapes at the same time as they call to us, to listen to their lives. He creates a new mythology, drawing upon a multitude whose stories, dreams and hopes often remain unhear, even unvoice. Combining memories, experiences, dreams and fables, Mahmud presents canvases that are full of drama arising out of the tension between the various protagonists and the circumstances of the worlds they inhabit. The voice of the protagonist is free, and Mahmud is carefully to resist assuming their authorship. His compassion for humanity is like a breath of fresh air at a time when so much of our lives and circumstances are dogged by hostility and conflict. —Premjish Achari

View the online exclusive exhibition here

Ebrahim Alkazi

[18 October 1925 –
4 August 2020]

A Tribute by
Samik Bandyopadhyay

There was providence in that he did not live to see the bhumipuja at Ayodhya, the culmination of a years long trajectory of brutal majoritarianism, vandalism, violent divisiveness and genocide. Ebrahim Alkazi passed away the day before. He loved to talk about his growing up in Pune, studying at an English medium Christian school, with a young private tutor teaching him Arabic and, reading the Koran with him at home; taking legitimate pride in being as much an Arab as an Indian. A Nehruvian to the core in his temperamental and cultural inclusiveness, Alkazi was Nehru’s choice for the position of Director of the National School of Drama two years before his death. Meanwhile Alkazi had made his choice between his two early passions, preferring theatre to painting, but retaining his eye for the visual throughout. A course at RADA, a series of productions of European classics covering the entire range from the Greeks to the Moderns had given him a rich feel of, and sensitivity to the poetry of theatre from deep within.
Read full tribute here

The quarterly History for Peace Newsletter is out!

Three months into an unprecedented lockdown in living memory, the need to remember that physical distancing does not need to be at the cost of social solidarity, is ever important. The anti-racist protests that have swept across so many parts of the world in the aftermath of the brutal police killing of George Floyd have brought inspiration, but with it the urgent need to introspect, question and address our own convenient silences and everyday unseeing of injustices we as a society are complicit in. This edition of our newsletter is a reflection of these deliberations.

New teaching/learning resources 

How does one define someone who assumes an identity different from yours? This could be in terms of race, caste, class, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and most importantly culture. One would usually call them the Other—other nations, other cultures, other genders, and the list goes on, as long as the power structures live on. The term ‘othering’ was coined by Gayatri Spivak for the process through which imperial discourse creates its ‘others’ as subjects to be mastered upon by the colonial ruler. How would the process of ‘othering’ then be understood and translated in everyday discourse?
This is exactly the question we hope to help you address with our multimedia lesson plan.

The notion of superior and inferior colours both racial and caste discrimination—a link social reformer and educator Jyotirao Phule wrote about as early as the second half of the 19th century. In light of this link, what questions does the current renewed momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement illuminate for caste?
This forms the basis of this two part teaching/learning module. ‘Shades of Resistance’ attempts to introduce high school students to specific significant moments and movements from the 20th century against racial and caste discrimination, through interactive multimedia activities that encourage critical thought and engagement with the ideologies of these resistances.

There’s a world of difference between the truth and an understanding of something. Can we ever find out the truth about the past? This is a very, very difficult question, because ideally what it means is that you go into the past . . . . The past unfortunately happens and disappears because the present takes over. So, you cannot enter the past, you cannot demonstrate the past. Therefore, what do you do?—Romila Thapar

It is this crucial and deceptively simple question with which History for Peace—an initiative of The Seagull Foundation for the Arts—works to critically engage the social science teaching community. 

A subcontinent-wide network of social science teachers History for Peace has organized several conferences on themes of ever-increasing relevance that demand a space in the classroom. 

Seagull Books now brings you the History for Peace Journals—meticulous compilations of the content of these conferences, which include lectures by Romila Thapar, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Irfan Habib, Krishna Kumar, Audrey Truschke, Sundar Sarukkai, Jerry Pinto, Vijay Prashad, Naeem Mohaiemen, Anam Zakaria, Sohail Hashmi and Aanchal Malhotra amongst many others. An invaluable resource for anyone who believes in the importance and persistence of asking ‘why’.

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Learning to Live with Difference

The PeaceWorks Human Rights Defenders Programme

In 2015, PeaceWorks, as India partner for The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, developed a resource on human rights stemming from the Anne Frank: A History for Today travelling exhibition. The resource, ‘Learning to Live with Difference’ moves from an understanding of rights and identity to looking at genocides from across the world, acknowledged and otherwise, using the arts to question and explore the mindsets that ultimately become apathetic to, or even support genocidal violence. You can access the resource here.

We have been taking this programme to schools and 2019 – 20 has particularly been a busy year.
With every new batch of this programme, the resource comes to life differently, guided as it is by our volunteers’ subjective ideas and responses to the content. Interested in how improvisations in the classroom have gone? 

This year began on a busy note, with two History for Peace conferences back to back.

How do we equip our teachers to become enablers of life affirming education? How do we create classrooms that deal with ideas and teachers who nurture intelligence plus character, wonder plus amazement, curiosityplus questioning, thought, reflection, creativity and imagination.These were some of the questions that were explored with over 130 teachers from across the country.

In July 2019, Romila Thapar opened the first chapter of The Idea of the Indian Constitution, a conference for teachers, in Calcutta, with the question: When does a constitution become a requirement? What followed was an explosion of ideas and thoughts from some of the finest minds in the country over three days. Read the report here

This was followed by chapter II of The Idea of the Indian Constitution in Pune with fresh insights and new voices.