How do you view India?
Taking a hard look at reality and without being cynical, renowned historian Romila Thapar believes, “we are at the moment in a kind of mid-life crisis.” According to her, the past has faded, the present is uncertain and the future, even more so. Whether you agree with her or not, there’s no denying her logic and thought-provoking analysis.
She was in the city on Monday as chief guest for the XIVth Convocation of the University of Hyderabad. Addressing the students, she dwelt at length on the changing Indian identity, poor education facilities, reservations and of course, the role of universities.
She began with the observation that this is a moment to pause for all Indians as “neo-liberalism has been adopted by those in government and aspiring to govern” and pointed out that ideological differences are becoming invisible. “Criticism is seen as anti-national, as sedition,” she regretted but underlined that space for dissent is the spine of democracy.
In an engaging lecture, she opined that the definition of Indian identity has changed over the years and confessed that she and her like-minded friends are alarmed by it. Before independence, there was broadly an all-inclusive Indian identity, she recalled and said the sub-identities of religion, caste and tribe were subordinated to the identity of being Indian. “The change over the years is that the limited identities are now taken as primary identities,” she said and reasoned that it was one of the reasons for the repeated recourse to expressions of “hurt sentiments” by persons claiming to speak for a community. She further pointed out that such limited identity becomes a ploy to ban books that present alternate views.
She expressed her disappointment with present day politics stating that it has become the play of communities and vote-bank numbers. “We have forgotten that governance, by whichever party, implies an ethical and developmental purpose,” she added. But the historian felt all was not lost. Educated citizenry could help mend matters she opined. “Why governments of all political parties have been lethargic in this matter. Perhaps, there is a fear of an educated electorate as that would upset vote-bank politics.”
She also touched upon the issue of reservations saying that quality education, if made available to all, could solve several problems. “Legitimate demands from under-privileged groups cannot be met merely by increasing the quota,” she said and suggested that policies by reference to poverty line would be more rational.
On the universities, she aired her views against axing certain courses/subjects from the curriculum. Thapar said that central universities were originally established as pace setting universities, but by now so many extraneous factors have intervened that only a few have any pace to set. “Indian scholars working in Indian centres have not produced a Nobel laureate in decades, and yet when Indian scholars work abroad, there are some laureates.” she pointed out adding that this had to do not just with facilities but also the ji-hazur culture.