The Idea of India | Bangalore

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An International Conference on Teaching History

In 2015, at the annual conference that launched the History for Peace project, Dr Barbara Christophe delivered a powerful keynote address that has since served as a prism, refracting ideas that strengthen our objectives. Speaking about memory, history and history textbooks and the ambivalence inherent in these, she elaborated on the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to the use of history teaching as a resource for reconciliation and thus for ‘teaching history for peace’.

Traditionally, history has been defined as the study of the past as it is recorded in documents. However, in recent years, Memory Studies has become an integral part of the historiographical landscape.

Urvashi Butalia, speaking at the same conference, discussed how marginalized histories emerge when we record oral narratives. Thus, textual, visual and oral representations of the past have gradually gained equal importance among historians as source and evidence.

This year, as we complete 70 years of Independence, the History for Peace annual conference, held in Calcutta from 14 to 17 August 2017, looked at India’s engagement or its lack thereof with institutionalized, collective and individual histories that make up the ‘Idea of India’. The many scholars, arts practitioners and intellectuals sharing their views on the subject included Prof Romila Thapar, Prof Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Prof Krishna Kumar, Prof Vijay Prashad, Sudhanva Deshpande and Ravish Kumar, to name just a few.

We are pleased to carry the conversations further in Bangalore with a conference organized in association with Vidyashilp Academy.

Conference Programme

5,6 December 2017

Vidyashilp Academy, Bengaluru

To register, fill out: registration form for conference

5 December 2017

Registration [8.15 a.m. – 8.30 a.m.]

Opening Remarks [8.30 a.m. – 8.45 a.m.]

Kalai Selvi, Principal, Vidyashilp Academy

Meena Megha Malhotra, Director, The Seagull Foundation for the Arts

Keynote Address [8.45 a.m. – 10 a.m.]

Geetha Narayanan

Geetha Narayanan has over four decades of experience as a teacher, an educator, a curriculum and instruction designer. At all times a catalyst, Narayanan has tried over the years to evolve paradigms of learning that integrate the mind, body and consciousness, and, over the last few years, has worked at creating collaborative pedagogical frameworks for the teaching of mathematics, science and languages within the Indian educational system at both informal and formal levels of schooling. Narayanan is currently Founder Director of Srishti Institute of Art Design & Technology; Principal Investigator of Project Vision; a Director’s Fellow at the Media Lab, MIT, USA; and visiting faculty at the Future of Learning Institute at Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA.

Coffee break [10 a.m. – 10.15 a.m.]

History Textbooks and The Idea of India: Cross Border Perspectives


Culture and School: Padma Sarangapani [10.15 a.m. – 11.15 a.m.]

Human formation requires each of us to be grounded in specific cultures. But why does culture seem to become a point of attention, discussion and concern only when we examine school experiences of marginalized groups, including schedule tribes and castes and minorities? Why does the ‘absence of culture’ in middle-class schools not bother us in the same way? Why does culture not come up in considerations of education of the poor? Padma Sarangapani proposes to take up these questions in relation to the diversity of cultures in India, the idea of India and of modern school and schooling, and then examine the implications of taking cultural grounding seriously, for what we expect from, and what we do in school.

Padma M. Sarangapani is Professor of Education at The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and chairperson of the Centre for Education, Innovation and Action Research. She was awarded the Indira Gandhi Fellowship of the IGNCA in 1991–2001 and the Commonwealth Academic Fellowship in 2014. She has been involved in developing the B.Ed programme at Delhi University; the MA Education now offered at TISS; new programmes of teacher education (B.Ed & M.Ed) and a practice-based Doctoral programme which will be offered at TISS from 2018; and in several collaborative programmes with state governments, including the establishment of the still-active Teacher Resource Centre at DIET Chamarajangar in 2005–06. She is currently part of the Connected Learning Initiative aiming to develop meaningful technology-enabled interventions in secondary-school education quality and teacher professional development and in developing a centre of excellence in teacher education at TISS Mumbai. Her most recent publication School Education in India: Market, State and Quality (forthcoming, Routledge) is based on a collaborative exploratory research study.

Pakistan | Collective History and Identity: Anam Zakaria [11.15 a.m. – 12.15 p.m.]

How is 1947 used to instil patriotism in Pakistan? How is Partition taught across schools and remembered in the collective history of the nation? How are histories filtered and distorted to fit national projects? How are contentious issues like the Kashmir conflict and the creation of Bangladesh taught to young students? How are local voices silenced in favour of meta narratives? And how important is India in the nation-making process of Pakistan today? Anam will take up these issues using textbook excerpts, anecdotes from classroom interactions and oral histories to explore how state sanctioned narratives often shape individual identities and Pakistan’s ongoing relationship with India.

Anam Zakaria is an author, development professional, psychotherapist and educationist with a special interest in oral histories, identity politics and conflict narratives. Her first book, Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians, explores the shifting inter-generational perceptions of the 1947 Partition through 600 oral histories and won the German Peace Prize 2017. Her second book investigates the impact of the Kashmir conflict in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and will be released by HarperCollins in 2018.

Anam is now working on her third book, focused on the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh. She has an academic background in International Development from McGill University and has previously worked as a director at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, collecting oral histories from the Partition generation and religious minorities of Pakistan and connecting thousands of school children in India and Pakistan through a cultural exchange program.

Bangladesh | History in the Shadows of Giants:  Manosh Chowdhury and Naeem Mohaiemen [12.15 p.m. – 1.15 p.m.]

Manosh Chowdhury of Jahangirnagar University, anthropologist and co-editor (with Rahnuma Ahmed) of Bangladesh’s first textbook of anthropology Fundamentals of Anthropology: Society and Culture, 2003 will discuss the ways in which India continues to haunt Bangladesh history-writing.

After his talk, he will be joined on Skype by Naeem Mohaiemen. Drawing upon Zafar Sobhan who described India as the ‘third rail’ of Bangladesh politics, Naeem Mohaiemen has written about the invisibility of Bangladeshi faces at the surrender ceremony (16 December 1971) between India and Pakistan that gave birth to Bangladesh.

Manosh Chowdhury is a professor of social anthropology at Jahangirnagar University. He has also written works of fiction, edited Bangla academic titles, acted in a few films by feminist filmmakers and served on the editorial board of Depart, the first art quarterly in Bangladesh. His publications include Practice: A Collection of Writings in Anthropology (with Zahir Ahmed, 2001), Discourses on AIDS and Sexuality: Marginality of the AIDS Patients (with Saydia Gulrukh, 2000), and Master’s House: A Collection of Feminist Writings (with Saydia Gulrukh, 2000). His works of fiction include Moinatodontohin ekti Mrittu (2010), and Panshala Kingba Prem Theke Polayon (2014).

Naeem Mohaiemen combines films, installations and essays in order to research failed left utopias and incomplete decolonizations, framed by Third World Internationalism and World Socialism. His work has explored a hijacking of a Japanese plane (United Red Army, 2011), the historian mistaken for Marx in Dhaka (Afsan’s Long Day, 2014), a Dutch journalist caught up in the 1975 sepoy mutiny (Last Man in Dhaka Central, 2015), and the slippage between Algiers 1973 and Lahore 1974 (Two Meetings and a Funeral, 2017). Editor of System Error: War is a Force That Gives us Meaning (Papesse, 2007), Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism (Drishtipat, 2010), he is also the author of Prisoners of Shothik Itihash (Kunsthalle Basel, 2014).

Lunch [1.15 p.m. – 2 p.m.]

World Café. Roundtable discussion among participants [2 p.m. – 3.30 p.m.]


Much of our knowledge of the past that is not ‘institutionalized’ comes from sources outside the educational institutions—from collective and individual memories, from the arts, from conventional as well as social media.

This conference also seeks to explore how history is narrated (texts and the arts), memories are created and events are remembered.

Showcasing a few well-researched art projects, the conference will consider the role of art as a function of preserving memory and explore possibilities of cross disciplinary links between arts education and history education.

6 December 2017

Keynote Address [8.30 a.m. – 9.30 a.m.]

Gaps, Erasures and Silences: How the Arts Can Provoke History

Arundhati Ghosh

History is complex. What is it, what is it not, who is it about, who makes it, who writes it, who decides what to eliminate? These are questions that complicate both history and the way it is studied. In that context, the arts enables us to enquire into our history and ask critical questions about the gaps, ruptures, erasures and silences within the trajectories of the past. The arts seek those stories that have been made invisible by dominant narratives. The arts have the possibility to disrupt hegemonies of caste, gender, religion, race and sexualities among others, by speaking truth to power. John Berger once wrote, ‘Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one,’ and the arts empower us to ensure the multiplicity of such voices in our histories.

With examples from various research and practice projects, Arundhati will illustrate not only some of the ways in which the arts investigates, unearths, explores and reimagines marginalized stories that are ignored, censored or expunged from ‘history’ but also how it contributes to the making of history in the here and now.

After spending a decade in the corporate sector, Arundhati joined India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) as its first fundraiser in 2001 and assumed office as the Executive Director in 2013. In 2010 she received the Global Fundraiser Award from Resource Alliance International, the same year IFA won the ‘India NGO of the Year’ award in the medium category. She is a recipient of a fellowship under Chevening Clore Leadership Awards (UK) in 2015–16 and has worked with the National Theatre (UK) to recommend a strategy for their national reach over the next 3–5 years. She is also a recipient of the Chevening Gurukul Scholarship for Leadership and Excellence at the London School of Economics in 2005. She often speaks and writes on arts and philanthropy for leading Indian and international non-profit and cultural networks. Arundhati has an Economics degree from Presidency College, Kolkata; a postgraduate degree in management from the Mudra Institute of Communication Ahmedabad; and a degree in classical dance. She is also a published poet in Bangla.

Challenges of Staging Communalism in Present Times: Aesthetics of Janam’s Plays

An illustrated talk [9.30 a.m. – 10.45 a.m.]

Komita Dhanda

The purpose of street theatre is/should be to describe and unravel hegemonic narratives and ask difficult political questions about the inevitable contradictions in society. It is this nature of street-theatre content that often leads to the unfortunate juxtaposition of political content versus aesthetics. While the politics remains at the core, street theatre cannot be used only as a sloganeering device—it must also attempt ‘the production of a new consciousness in the spectator’. This task becomes even more—artistically and intellectually—challenging in times when a particular type of collective consciousness is being forced upon artists through various other propaganda mechanisms. In that case, how does one derive material for a play? How does one create a desirable affect through a play when the social binaries are being aggressively dwelled upon? Should we circumvent the ‘controversial’ and ‘too political’ in order to play safe, especially in times of mob justice? In that case, what happens to the very purpose of street theatre?

While focusing on some of these questions, this illustrated talk will lay out the concerns about the form and content of Jana Natya Manch’s plays produced on the issue of communalism after the mid-90s, and explore the question of preserving content within the transient form of street theatre.

Komita Dhanda is a street-theatre practitioner and has been working as an actor, director, writer and organiser with Jana Natya Manch since 2004. She is currently pursuing research in Theatre & Performance Studies at the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has also been guest faculty in the Department of Development Communication & Extension, Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi.

Coffee break [10.45 a.m. – 11 a.m.]

How To Draw Histories? Art as Method [11 a.m. – 12.15 p.m.]


T. Sanathanan

The Sri Lankan civil war that came to a violent end in 2009 was, in a way, a product of ideological fix and the methodological limitation of the written history of the island. In the post armed–conflict context, historical narratives of dominance have been further strengthened by monumentalization / memorialization projects of military victory. In the process of narrating this victory, the history of civilians who carried the burden of the war has been completely erased.

This presentation discusses four art projects created by T. Sanathanan since 2004: History of Histories (2004), Imag(in)ing Home (2009), The Incomplete Thombu (2011) and The Cabinet of Resistance (2016) that dealt with the memory of the civilians caught in the civil war. These works employed art as a tool of collecting, archiving and narrating the experience of war through ordinary and mundane material.

T. Sanathanan is a visual artist living and working in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. His work has been exhibited widely in Sri Lanka and at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Museum of Ethnology, Vienna; Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi; Asian Art Archive, Hong Kong; Kochi Art Biennial; and elsewhere. His artist-book projects include The One-Year Drawing Project, The Incomplete Thombu and A–Z of Conflict (forthcoming). He is currently Senior Lecturer, Art History, Department of Fine Arts, Jaffna University, and co-funder of the Sri Lankan Archive for Contemporary Art, Architecture and Design.

 Oral History project at Vidyashilp Academy [12.15 p.m. – 12.45 p.m.]


Students from Vidyashilp Academy

Lunch [12.45 p.m.- 1.45 p.m.]

Heritage, Conservation and Pedagogy [1.45 p.m. – 2.45 p.m. ]


Abeer Gupta

Achi Association was founded by people dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage and scholars specializing in the early art and architecture of the Western Himalayas. The main objectives of the association are to contribute to the preservation of Ladakh’s outstanding but endangered heritage; to enhance awareness about earthen architectural heritage and the need for its maintenance; to strengthen local capacities in traditional building techniques and preventive conservation.

In this quest, Achi Association has also been focusing on education projects which aim to develop a deep understanding of Ladakhi culture and practices which are being lost or replaced at a fast pace. Several initiatives by professionals have been undertaken in the past, but a more comprehensive and sustainable approach is necessary—one that fosters the coordination of resources and capacities, involves the communities, and ultimately empowers the local population.

Over the years, a need has also been felt to develop a platform for young professionals from Ladakh so that they can be involved with various aspects of their own cultural heritage and eventually become opinion- makers.

The Education Outreach Programme (EOP) has been developed keeping these needs in mind. This presentation will include the research and design initiated around pedagogy and report the activities of the first season of workshops conducted with primary- and middle-school children in 2017.

Abeer Gupta is a filmmaker and anthropologist. An alumnus of the National Institute of Design, India, and Goldsmiths College, University of London, he has directed several short documentary films and has lived in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir and worked with oral histories, material cultures and visual archives of the western Himalayas.