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History Burns Badly

History Burns Badly

By Samira Bose

Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

There is this great proverb — that “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
– Chinua Achebe

“Where is this History? Why can it not be seen or felt? What is the point of History in the present?” History has its poetry; it weaves with wonder whispers from the past that swirl silently around us every day. It mixes in the threads of your clothes; it creaks in your shoes and casts shadows on your fingertips. History presents itself at the breakfast table like a buttered toast, and it can be the hot flame of the lighter that singes your eyebrow. History is a sense within us, it is constructed and de-constructed every day and we all are submerged in our own historical realities. In our country, the ancient dictums still burn brightly, with a thin ozone layer of time that perhaps prevents a concrete recognization of the mere delusion of ‘today’.

 The acknowledgement of the power of history is something that politicians have realized as much as academicians and romantics. The murmurs in the Media about the ‘destruction’ of historical documents by the newly formed government via the Indian Council of Historical Research have thus left me dumbfounded. The statement of Yellapragada Sudershan Rao (the newly appointed head of the Indian Council of Historical Research) regarding his desire to re-write Indian history with a nationalist perspective stirred within me an unpleasantly familiar reminder. This constant reminder, as one studies History, isof the recurring patterns of historical manipulation.

 The past is one that is re-written and revaluated constantly and herein lies both its ephemeral attraction as well as its ever-increasing threat. The very concept of identity (and in this case, national identity) is shaped especially as we try to learn where it is that we have come from i.e what are our ‘roots’? In a country seeped in traditions that are as variable as its topography, this comprehension and emphasis on our ‘roots’ can be used by a government in political manoeuvres to secure certain motives. For those who seek to examine the past, historical archives are crucial and a manipulation of them is a modelling of our thought processes especially through education.

 It has been shown again and again how human beings, for this sense of ‘identity’ and ‘nationalism’ have been at each other’s throats regarding protection of their apparent historical rights. Walls of monuments silently witness the slapping on of ownership; boundaries are re-drawn and we are all seen to experience today the results of the actions of their ancestors. Thus, when people are told about their past, they are told how to act according to it in the present. Every account is loaded with its own biases, yet historical objectivity is an aim that one at least tries to reach through examination of a multitude of sources. If the sources are tampered with (and especially destroyed), then we are all at the mercy of those who are currently in control of those sources. The influence of racial, nationalist and religious history especially is immense and one does not even realise when the invisibility cloak of power shrouds us in believing what it wants us to believe.

 Where there is fire, there is smoke and the even a whiff of burnt paper should stiffen us as a nation. Apart from indignation, perhaps we all should practice caution while attempting to gain information and analyse occurrences. Most importantly, we need to question instead of directly seeking answers, and try our best to prevent an arbitrary tying of wedding knots between the past and the present by those in power.

Samira Bose is a student of History and Mystery. She questions incessantly, revels in the rain and listens to the breeze. She yearns for clarity but at the same time seeks confusion and she wants her life to be analogous to the sea. She wants to become many people and wishes to be overwhelmed by experience. Most importantly, she hopes to become a story-teller. Tell her your thoughts and stories at [email protected]

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