The Idea of India – Conference programme

14, 15, 16, 17 August, 2017 . ICCR and Tollygunge Club, Calcutta 



In Conversation: Prof. Romila Thapar and Prof. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. [6 p.m. – 8.30 p.m.]

Prof. Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India. She is the author of several books including the popular volume, A History of India, and is currently Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Prof. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is an Indian scholar, literary theorist, and feminist critic. She is University Professor at Columbia University, where she is a founding member of Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.


Registration and Coffee [10.15 a.m.]

Opening remarks: Naveen Kishore, Managing Trustee, The Seagull Foundation for the Arts [10.45 a.m. to 11 a.m.]

In Conversation: Prof. Romila Thapar and educators from schools. [11 a.m. to 1 p.m.]

1.30 p.m.- 1.30 p.m. Lunch

History Textbooks and The Idea of India [1.30 p.m. – 3.30 p.m.]

Prof. Krishna Kumar, Prof. Neeladri Bhattacharya*, Prof. Hari Vasudevan, Dr. Manish Jain

‘Textbooks need to open the minds of children, help them enter other worlds, other times, even as they seek to negotiate the boundaries of difference.’ —Neeladri Bhattacharya

Over the past seven decades, across the sub continent, we have witnessed the drama of textbook politics leading to writing and rewriting of school level history syllabus to suit political ends. With every change in government narratives have shifted focus drastically, across the sub continent. What is ‘The Idea of India’ that we are building through our history textbooks? In the politicizing, what are we choosing to remember and where are we inculcating deliberate amnesia?

* Yet to be confirmed

Prof. Krishna Kumar is an educationanist and author. He has used the school curriculum as a means of social enquiry.As a teacher and bilingual writer, he has developed an aesthetic of pedagogy and knowledge that aspires to mitigate aggression and violence. In addition to his academic work, he writes essays and short stories in Hindi, and has also written for children. He was former Director of the NCERT. 

Prof. Hari Vasudevan is Professor at the University of Calcutta and former Chairman, Syllabus Committees and Textbook Development Committees for Social Sciences, NCERT. He is a specialist in European and Russian History.

Dr. Manish Jain is an Assistant Professor at the School of Education Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). Before joining AUD, he taught at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and has a decade long experience as a school teacher. His teaching and research interests lie at the intersections of history, politics and sociology of education. His doctoral research was a comparative study of citizenship and civics curriculum in India and Canada. He has been awarded various fellowships for his research on textbooks including the Otto Bennemann Grant for Innovative Methodological Approaches in International Textbook Research at Georg Eckert Institute, Braunschweig (Germany).

3.30 p.m. – 3.50p.m.Coffee break

Q&A/Debate/Discussion between panelists and participants. [3.50 p.m. – 4.30 p.m.]

Opinions: Should history textbooks upto Class X cover post ’47 events? Why/Why not? What should be included? Why? Do they teach topics outside the syllabus? Why/Why not? What do they teach? How?

Presentation by EUROCLIO[4.30p.m. - 5.30 p.m.]

Presentation by EUROCLIO on regions that have included recent histories into their curriculum [South Africa/Bosnia] or PeaceWorks presentation of Colombia study visit.


Opening remarks [9.30 a.m.]

The Un-equivalence of Violence: The Communal Question in Janam’s Plays [9.45 a.m.-11. 15 a.m.]

An illustrated talk by Sudhanva Deshpande

From Hatyare (1979, about the communal riots in Aligarh) to Achchhe Din (2016, on Modi’s shenanigans) the Delhi-based street theatre group Jana Natya Manch (Janam) has done a large number of plays on the communal issue. This talk will trace the evolution of the communal question with examples from Janam’s plays. In particular, the presentation will focus on the difficulties and challenges of portraying situations of asymmetrical violence.

Sudhanva Deshpande joined Jana Natya Manch in 1987, motivated and inspired by Safdar Hashmi. Over the past three decades, he has been involved in the creation and direction of dozens of street, proscenium and other performances. As an actor, he has over 2,000 performances to his credit. He has led workshops all over the country, and in Palestine, South Africa, and in several countries of Europe and North America. He has co-directed two films on Habib Tanvir and Naya Theatre, and has edited two volumes of essays on theatre and politics. He’s involved in the running of Studio Safdar and the May Day Bookstore in New Delhi, and works as editor at LeftWord Books.

11.15 a.m.-11.30 a.m. Coffee Break

Documenting Displacement [11.30 a.m.- 1 p.m.]

A presentation by T. Shanaathanan

The Incomplete Thombu – is a book project by artist T. Shanaathanan on the plight of Tamil-speaking citizens who were displaced from their homes during the Sri Lankan civil war. It consists of ground plans drawn by those displaced (with interview notes on reverse), architectural renderings, and dry pastel drawings.

T. Shanaathanan will also present two other recent projects.

T. Shanaathanan  is a Sri Lankan artist who has worked extensively on matters of home, displacement, memory and loss.

1 p.m.- 2 p.m. Lunch

The Camera as Witness [2p.m. – 3.30 p.m.]

Prof. Joy Pachuau and Ryan Lobo. Illustrated talk.

Joy Pachuau will share her experiences of research on her book The Camera as Witness which lifts the veil off the little known world of Mizoram and challenges through unpublished photographs core assumptions in the writing of India’s national history.

The book urges us to probe deeper into the past that has created the present. From the late 19th century to the present, the photographs in the book show a remarkable openness to global trends in popular culture. The authors demonstrate how mostly amateur photographers used visual images to document a historical trajectory of heady change and continual reinvention, producing distinct modern identities.

Joy LK Pachuau is Professor of History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Her research interest thus includes the history of Portuguese expansion in Asia especially in relation to religion but also other socio-cultural aspects. More recently she has been working on the history of Northeast India with a focus in the history of identity formations. She is also interested in the visual history of the region. Dr. Pachuau’s recent publications include Being Mizo: Identity and Belonging in Northeast India, (OUP, 2014), The Camera as Witness: A Social History of Mizoram, Northeast India (with Willem van Schendel, CUP, 2015) and Christianity in Indian History: Issues of Culture, Power and Knowledge (eds with P. Malekandathil and Tanika Sarkar, Primus 2016).

Ryan Lobo is an award winning film maker and photographer. He has co-produced the 2011 Sundance film festival award winning film ,“The Redemption of General Butt naked”, the story of Joshua Milton Blahyii, also known as General Butt Naked, a former African warlord who terrorized a country for many years with his child soldiers. The film won for best cinematography and was nominated for best feature length documentary film. He owns Mad Monitor Productions, a film and photo production company based in Bangalore and has worked as a producer and cinematographer for more than 70 film projects for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, OWN and other networks, including shooting undercover for the Emmy-nominated film Child Slaves of India.

3.30p.m. – 3.50 p.m. Coffee

Bringing marginalised histories alive through literature [3.50p.m. – 5.15 p.m.]

Jerry Pinto

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.


Keynote address [9.30a.m. – 10.30 a.m.]

Prof. Vijay Prashad-Social Media and the Idea of India

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, journalist and commentator.He is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the Chief Editor of the Delhi based LeftWord Books.  He has authored numerous books and writes regularly for Frontline, The Hindu etc.He usually writes on the Middle Eastern politics, development economics, North-South relations and current events.

10.30 a.m. – 10.50 a.m. Coffee

Facebook/ Twitter/ WhatsApp and The Idea of India [10.50 a.m.- 11.20 a.m.]

Radhika Bordia

The impact of social media—particularly Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp—being our go to source for current events.

Radhika Bordia is a journalist with NDTV.

Social media as a primary source for future historians [11.20 a.m. – 12. 10 p.m.]

Ed Summers

Ed Summers is Lead Developer at the Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities. He has helped create the Twitter archiving application that has archived close to 500 billion tweets at the Library of Congress and the Chronicling of America project on the digitization of newspapers.

Students presenting their Idea of India followed by a debate/discussion on the importance of media literacy for students with all the participants. [12.15 p.m.- 1.30p.m.]

Facilitated by Radhika Bordia*

 1.30 p.m.-2.30p.m. Lunch

In Conversation: Ravish Kumar and Abeer Gupta [2.30 p.m. – 3.30 p.m.]

What is The Idea of India we created in the past three days?

Ravish Kumar is a television anchor, writer and journalist. He is senior executive editor at NDTV India. He has won multiple awards for his work in journalism.

Abeer Gupta is Assistant Professor, School of Design, Ambedkar University.

3.30p.m. – 4 p.m. Coffee

Concluding Keynote [4 p.m.– 5 p.m.]

Ravish Kumar

*Yet to be confirmed

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