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.
Digital Readings @ Seagull
Our theme for this month – Mythmaking and History
Looking Back through our Identities – Itihāsa Purāṇa
Aloka Parasher begins this month’s thematic readings with a session that looks at how Myth and History are commonly understood—juxtaposing this with what is meant by Itihāsa Purāṇa.
Having explained why in the Indian ethos this composite term is preferred Aloka argues, surely myths cannot be seen as proof givers of history nor can they be seen as ‘truths’ of the past in absolute terms.
Presenting extracts from Romila Thapar’s writing that looks at Time to locate human interventions in defining themselves; and Badrinath Chaturvedi’s text that looks at the human condition—Aloka will share her own perspectives with examples from research on how identities were formed.
The focus here will be on looking at the transmission of myths into regions and localities. She argues that once this is done, a historical evidence is produced that then edifies the myth to create new meanings. Modern history writing—she posits—needs to be in a continual dialogue of negotiating plurality with what modernity understands as myth and thus we see a dialectical relationship between various pasts and the innumerable presents that continually look back for sustenance.
ALOKA PARASHER-SEN has been teaching at the University of Hyderabad, India since 1979 where, since 2018, she is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sanskrit Studies.
Her main area of research interest is in the social history of early Indian attitudes towards foreigners, tribes and excluded castes and different aspects of the history and archaeology of Early Deccan.
Her major writings include Mlecchas In Early India (1991); Social and Economic History of Early Deccan – Some Interpretations (1993); Deccan Heritage, Co-Editor (with Harsh K. Gupta and D.Balasubramanian), Universities Press, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2000, KevalaBodhi, The Buddhist and Jaina History of The Deccan (2003) Subordinate And Marginal Groups In Early India Up To 1500 AD, Oxford in India Readings Themes in Indian History (2004; 2nd Paperback edition 2007), Religion and Modernity in India, (with Sekhar Bandhyopadhyaya) (OUP 2016), Settlement and Local Histories of the Deccan (Manohar 2020 in Press) among others.
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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.
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’.
Our Managing Trustee Naveen Kishore discusses how the pandemic is growing in India, new normalities, humans communicating in fundamentally different ways and the hope for instinctive compassion.
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.