"Science" in India

Samira Sheikh samirasheikh at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 23 20:05:00 UTC 2000

I have followed with interest the lively debates in Indology and it seems
to me a shame if academic discussion were to be divorced from its political
manifestations. Serious scholarship is worth defending. It is heartening
that Indologists are being forced to speak out against the abuse and
appropriation of their discipline. It is certainly a mystery why acolytes
of Rajaram et al, many of them engineers, presumably scientifically
trained, react so violently to scientific applications of history or
archaeology, as demonstrated by the responses to Witzel and Farmer. Perhaps
the answer lies in the fact that the Indian educational system (in common
with many others, I am sure) gives minimal importance to any scientific
questioning of culture and tradition, and places the study of history at
the bottom of curricular choices. Matters are not helped if, as is the case
at present, government-prescribed curricula begin to insert spurious claims
for ancient Indian culture and praises of Hitler (see Communalism Combat,
Dec. 1999, also http://www.sabrang.com), as in history textbooks for

Taking issue with all the points made in the debate is hardly possible, but
the ill-informed insinuations about senior scholar Romila Thapar need to be
countered. (Sundaresan, Oct. 19) Professor Thapar, in her long career of
teaching and research, has been one of only a handful who has stood up to
be counted. She has become synonymous with ‘leftist history’ largely
because she has consistently tried to counter pesudo-history and make the
best of serious academic research available to a larger audience. She has
authored school history textbooks (an important factor in drawing at least
one person to the study of history), and the indispensable and highly
accessible (and recently revised) History of India, vol. I. She regularly
lectures and writes, combining original research with unvarying acuity and
patience in taking on ill-informed and malicious attacks on professional
historical scholarship. She taught for two decades at the Centre for
Historical Studies, JNU, and before that at Delhi University, training
scores of students. She has used every bit of whatever ‘position and
influence’ she has had to promote the serious and unbiased study of
history. While most other scholars prefer to avoid setting themselves
against the abuse of their discipline in public, she is the last person who
can be faulted on that score.

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