The Idea of Nationalism-Programme plan

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10,11,12 November 2016

Venue: The Harrington Streets Arts Centre

‘a nationalist discourse in a time when there is no longer a national liberation struggle against an external power, and oppression where it exists has become internal.’—Perry Anderson

 Day 1 (10 November)

 The Idea of Nationalism

  • Keynote Address by Sadanand Menon [9.15 a.m.-10.30 a.m.]

Sadanand Menon explores the charged space linking politics and culture through his work in media, pedagogy and the arts. He is Adjunct Faculty, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai; at IIT-Madras and at Presidency University, Kolkata. Along with Romila Thapar and A.G.Noorani, he has contributed an essay to the book ‘On Nationalism’ (2016), published by Aleph. He is currently managing trustee of the Arts Foundation, SPACES, Chennai.

  • Irfan Habib—Special paper [delivered in absentia] [10.30 – 11.10 a.m.]

 COFFEE BREAK [11.10a.m. -11.30 a.m.]

  • In Conversation: Rajni Bakshi and Gulan Kripalani [11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.]

Rajni Bakshi is the Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House and a Mumbai-based author. She published a Research paper in October 2012 titled Civilizational Gandhi. Rajni has a BA from George Washington University and an MA from the University of Rajasthan. She is the author of Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom: for a market culture beyond greed and fear (Penguin, 2009) and Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi (Penguin, 1998) inspired the Hindi film Swades.

Gulan Kripalani is Transformational Leadership Development facilitator and Development Communications professional. She is also a part of the advisory board of History for Peace.

Both Rajni and Gulan are Trustees of Citizens for Peace, a Mumbai based non-profit organisation.

This conversation will focus on Nationalism as it was during the freedom movement, post independence and what it means now.

LUNCH [12.30 p.m.- 1.30p.m.]

  • Reflection[1.30 p.m.  – 2.30 p.m.] 

Nationalism and the school curriculum

  • Panel Discussion chaired by Mrs. Devi Kar, Director of Modern High School for Girls [2.30 p.m. – 3.45 p.m.]


Professor Anil Sethi is Professor of History and History Education at the Azim Premji University, Bangalore where one of the courses that he teaches is Discourses of Nationalism. He was earlier Professor of History at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi. He has taught at various universities including Delhi University and the Osaka University of Foreign Studies. He has helped develop various history textbooks published by NCERT.

Prof. Sethi will primarily focus on how the History as well as the Social and Political Life textbooks of the NCERT, developed after 2005, ‘subvert’ two pre-existing models of nationalism: not just the Religious-Nationalist model of the Hindu Right but also the Nationalist-Marxist model of the Indian Left. What do these “new” narratives of school History and Social Science seek to do? Do they criticize ‘nationalism’ and debunk it as dubious?

Professor Nilanjana Gupta has been teaching in the Department of English, Jadavpur University since 1991 and served as Director, School of Media Communication & Culture till 2010 when Professor Gupta was elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts, a position she held till 2012. Nilanjana Gupta’s publications include Switching Channels:  Ideologies of Television in India (OUP: 1998) the first academic study of television in the country.  Her  book Reading with Allah: Madrasas in West Bengal (Routledge: 2009) was based on extensive field studies and surveys and raised questions about the role of education in a fast –changing society.

Through her talk ‘ Why teach history at all’; Prof Gupta will address the issue of teaching history in a world of media saturated discourses.

Joyeeta Dey currently works as a researcher at Pratichi Institute focusing on the public education system in West Bengal. She has a Bachelors degree in Philosophy from St. Stephen’s College and a Masters in Sociology of Education from University College London. She has also contributed as a content writer for The History Project: a school textbook for Indian and Pakistani students on partitioned histories and as a researcher for the History for Peace project.

Joyeeta will examine the scholarship on current Bengali literature textbooks for class six to twelve of the West Bengal Board examining the multiple nationalisms in the prescribed texts. Alongside, Joyeeta will be seeing what political forces were in power at the time of those texts being adopted. She will close with providing conflicting analysis as provided by eminent historians about the nature of the impact a textbook’s politics has on students and the classroom space.

COFFEE BREAK [3.45 p.m. – 4.00 p.m.]

Presentation on EUROCLIO, The European Association of History Educators, by Catharina Veldhuis-Meester. Euroclio ambassador Ms. Veldhuis-Meester worked as an assistant professor in History and Civics Education at Groningen University, the Netherlands. In that position she conducted the Postgraduate Teacher Courses in History and Civics and she taught History and Civics in Dutch and International Secondary Education. She is a former constructor of the National Exams for History and Civics for Secondary Education at the National Institute for Assessment and Measurement, CITO; she served as Board member of the Dutch Association of Teachers in History and Civics, VGN.

 Nationalism and Identity [4.15 p.m. – 5.15 p.m.]

  • Film screening  followed by a conversation between filmmaker Bani Abidi and Prateek Raja

Bani Abidi uses video and photography to comment on politics and culture, often through humorous and absurd vignettes. Her work has been exhibited widely in solo and group shows internationally. Her work is in collections of the Museum of Modern Art- New York, Guggenheim Museum, The British Museum and the Tate Modern. She was artist in residence at DAAD Artists Residency, Berlin in 2011/2012.

The News- A mock news program being broadcast on either side of the Indo-Pak border. The Pakistani and Indian news presenters relate separate versions of the same news event. The script, adapted to sound like a news event is based on a common joke about an Indian and a Pakistani.

Anthems- addressing the role of music in the creation of patriotic sentiment, the video shows a split screen image of two young women dancing to popular Indian and Pakistani songs.

Mangoes- Two expatriate Pakistani and Indian women sit and eat mangoes together and reminisce about their childhood. An otherwise touching encounter turns sour when they start comparing the range of mangoes grown in either country, a comment on the heightened sense of nostalgia and nationalism that exists in the Indian and Pakistani diaspora.

Day 2 (11 November)

  • Keynote Address by Professor Janaki Nair- ‘What the Nation Really Needs to Know about JNU: Dissent, Sedition and the Difference it makes’ [9.15a.m. – 10.30 a.m.]

Professor Janaki Nair teaches History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

 Nationalism and the Left 

  • Paper presentation by Meher Ali [10.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m.]

Meher Ali is a Fulbright research scholar from Brown University, where she completed her BA with honors in history. Her senior thesis, entitled The Hidden Left: Communist Activity in Pakistan, 1948-1951, received the distinguished senior thesis award, as well as the Marjorie Harris Weiss memorial prize and the Samuel Lamport award for promoting international understanding.

Meher Ali will discuss her ongoing Fulbright research, on the history of 1960s radical student movements in Kolkata. While much has been written and said on the significance of the Naxalite movement during this period, a closer look at the role of students provides an opportunity to examine the roots of activism and the ideological pull of ultra-left politics. How did the educated youth of that time view nationalism and the state? What can their stories teach us about the relationship between student activism and the Indian nation state project today?

COFFEE BREAK [11.00 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.]

  • In Conversation with Tikender Panwar, Deputy Mayor of Shimla, Janaki Nair, Professor, JNU and Meher Ali [11.15 a.m. – 12 noon]
  • Is Nationalism a Dubious Construct? – a workshop by Professor Anil Sethi, Azim Premji University [12 noon- 1.00 p.m.]

Historians and social scientists have serious misgivings about nationalist thought today for nationalism must create its others and cultivate intolerance. Nation-states tend to discipline and punish, they demand unqualified obedience and loyalty. Even so, is all nationalism ‘a dark, elemental, unpredictable force of primordial nature threatening the calm of civilized life’? As History teachers, teaching topics as diverse as the French and American Revolutions, Fascism in Europe, the Indian National Movement, the creation of Pakistan, the history of modern China, and dealing with textbooks produced from national frames, what should be our position on nationalism?

 LUNCH [1.00 p.m.- 1.45 p.m.]

  • Reflection [1.45 p.m. – 2.30 p.m.]

Nationalism and Popular Culture 

  • Bollywood as National (ist) Cinema [2.30p.m. – 3.30 p.m.]

The winner of the Windham-Campbell Prize 2016, Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai-based Indian writer of poetry, prose and children’s fiction, as well as a journalist.

COFFEE BREAK [3.30 p.m.- 3.45 p.m.]

  • Sculpting the citizen: History, Pedagogy and the Amar Chitra Katha [3.45 to 4.45 p.m.]

Deepa Srinivas is Associate Professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of Hyderabad. She received her Ph.D. from the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in 2002. Her research interests include childhood studies, critical pedagogy, visual culture and gender studies. She is the author of Sculpting a Middle Class: History, Masculinity and the Amar Chitra Katha in India (Routledge, 2010), a work that examines the relationship between history, popular culture and the emergence of the masculinized middle class in post colonial India. Deepa also the Series Editor for Different Tales, a series of illustrated books for children reflecting the lives and perspectives of children from marginalized backgrounds.

Public lecture- Jawhar Sircar, Chief Executive Officer, Prasar Bharati, Government of India at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Museum.

Dinner for participants and delegates at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Museum.

Day 3 (12 November)

  • Keynote Address by Dr. Malini Sur‘ The 1960s: Thinking Beyond Borders’ [9.30 – 10 a.m.]

Dr. Malini Sur is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. She holds a PhD from the University of Amsterdam (2012). Her research interests address three broad areas — borders, mobility, and citizenship — with a focus on South Asia. Malini ethnographically and historically studies South Asia’s longest international boundary, the Bangladesh-India border.

Nationalism, Borders and Construction[10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with coffee break in between]

Borders are political constructs of nation states—what is the experience of researchers and artists engaging with the idea of the nation? Rather than looking at history as a history of nation states, what happens when histories are looked upon as history of civilization and culture and is there a conflict between the two? Using examples of unwritten, unacknowledged and contested histories, this session will begin with a presentation on oral histories and move onto a visual exploration by artists who have worked with such narratives.

Extracts from Prof. Romila Thapar’s speech at Ambedkar University. Rethinking Civilization as History followed by a discussion moderated by Abeer Gupta.

  • Voices from the ground—Looking at Oral History and Graphic novels. Panel discussion with Zainab Akhtar, Parasmita Singh and Malik Sajad.

         Chaired by Abeer Gupta, Assistant Professor at the School of Design, Ambedkar University, Delhi.


Zainab Akhter is a Research Officer with the Centre for Internal and Regional Security at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. She has worked as a reporter with Hindustan Times and has been awarded the Ladakh Women Writers Award for the year 2008 by Charkha, a Delhi based NGO. She is currently a Ph.D. scholar in the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University.


Parismita Singh’s work has appeared in various publications including Time Out, the Sarai Reader and Katha Prize Stories 13. She was shortlisted for The Little Magazine New Writing award, 2006. She also works in the field of education.


Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir is Malik Sajad’s first book-length graphic novel. The book is a coming-of-age narrative, a personal account as much as it is the story of what Sajad calls the ‘conflict generation’—women and men who have only known conflict, or the lulling of conflict, but never a full season of peace. From the pages of the book, it emerges that in Kashmir curfews, crackdowns, disappearances, mass graves and concertina wire are both internalized in the ordinariness of daily language and inescapable elements of the landscape.

LUNCH [1p.m. – 2 p.m.]

  • ‘Khayal Darpan – Impact of Partition on Hindustani Music’, a presentation by Yousuf Saeed [2 p.m.- 2.30p.m.]

While the Partition of India led to large-scale violence, it also led thousands of people including artists and musicians to migrate across the border and settle in unfamiliar lands. In 2006, Delhi filmmaker Yousuf Saeed spent over 5 months in Pakistan to explore the impact of Partition on the music world there. The documentary film Khayal Darpan (resulting from his documentation) looks at the development of classical music in Pakistan since 1947. The presentation will show clips from the documentary Khayal Darpan.

Yousuf Saeed is a filmmaker, author and archivist of random ephemera based in Delhi, India. He has been a Sarai Fellow (2004), Asia Fellow (2005-06) and the Margaret Beveridge Senior Research Fellow (Jamia Milia University, 2009). Yousuf’s most recent work is a feature length documentary Khayal Darpan about the state of classical music in Pakistan. Yousuf recently wrote and published an illustrated book Muslim Devotional Art in India (Routledge, 2012) that explores the history of Islamic poster art in India.

 Nationalism, Religion and Iconography

  • ‘Popular Art of the Two Nations’, a presentation by Yousuf Saeed [2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.]

South Asia has been home to many kinds of popular art and visual culture such as posters, calendars, advertisements, billboards, street graffiti and religious iconography. While much of this printed images has a syncretic nature – i.e. Hindu and Islamic symbols and mythology going together in hybrid images, even their artists and publishers had mixed or pluralistic identity. Early 20th century, when they evolved, is also the time when sentiments of freedom (from the British) and Indian nationalism were high on the minds of Indians. Such sentiments were depicted profusely in the printed images available in large numbers, showing political leaders and ‘freedom fighters’. But many such images depicted an Indian nationalism that went hand in hand with Hindu revivalism. Similarly, after the Partition, similar popular art in Pakistan depicted its own ‘Islamic’ heroes to justify the two-nation theory. This study looks at examples of popular art from India and Pakistan dating 1940s and 50s to see how nationalism was defined in the minds of people through popular images.

COFFEE BREAK [3.30 p.m.- 3.45 p.m.]

  • Reflection [3.45 p.m. – 5 p.m.]

Conclusion [5 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.]

Way forward, launch of the History for Peace website and the first History for Peace journal.

Concluding remarks by Meena Malhotra, Director, PeaceWorks.