19 November, 2018

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“We Have To Be Secular, There Is No Choice”

Romila Thapar on history and politics of India – Interview by Zaman Khan – The News on Sunday

Professor Romila Thapar, 83, needs no introduction. She is known among intellectuals of the world for her path-breaking work on Indian ancient history. She has memories of old Lahore where her grandfather used to live at Lawrence Road. It was her father, a doctor in the Indian army, who made her go through old manuscripts, thus developing in her an interest for history.

More recently, Prof. Thapar has been in the news for her third Nikhil Chakravartty Memorial Lecture “To question or not to question: That is the question” where she said that and experts shied away from questioning the powers of the day” and that they must question more.

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  • 10
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    Secularism cannot be achieved through deep down prejudices, discrimination and hate.

    Secularism is tolerance. What was done to achieve this in Sri Lanka?

    Romila Thapar cannot solve the deep down hate problem in Sri Lanka.

    • 3
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      Hey Foxy Lady!, It is not a HATE PROBLEM that we have in Sri Lanka, it is a FOOLISHNESS, IDIOCY and INCOMPETENCE problem that we have here.

    • 2
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      Secularism is much more than tolerance. when we tolerate some one, group or ideology we find all those a nuisance but lets tolerate. Secularism means much more than that. It means we do not think the other group is a nuisance or a problem.

  • 4
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    Professor Romila Thapar,

    RE: “We Have To Be Secular, There Is No Choice”

    Yes, have to be secular. Otherwise will become a madhouse controlled by Priests, Monks, Mullahs and their cronies.

    That was recognized by Thomas Jefferson and John adams and went into the U S Constitution
    Thay went into the Russian and Turkish constitutions as well,

    “Good people do good things. Bad people do bad things. In order to get good people to do bad things, it takes religion.” -Stephen Weinburg, Nobel Physics Laureate.

  • 2
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    Professor Romila Thapar,

    See this is the Problem Sri Lanka Had.

    Mahinda Rajapaksa Family Dictatorship and Corruption. No democracy.

    Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s first public speech after defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa

    [Edited out]

    • 1
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      [Edited out]

  • 1
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    Herein lies the dilemma.

    Democracy is best. Democracy is majority rule. The best option of getting a majority is not by professing seculer politics but creating a seige mentality on narrow race, religion or language issues. The latter has been the path to success of successive governments in Sri Lanka or for that matter India as well.

    So how can such an anomaly be overcome.

    We all know what politics is best for mankind. But we always choose what is worst for mankind.

    • 5
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      BBS Rep

      “Democracy is best. Democracy is majority rule.”

      Here is something for all of us to ponder:

      Tony Benn’s final speech to the House of Commons as MP was an appropriately eloquent farewell, in which he talked widely on his view of the role of parliament and the wider question of democracy. As Hansard records, he said:

      In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person–Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates–ask them five questions:

      “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”

      If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.

      http://www.theguardian.com
      Guardian readers and James Walsh
      Saturday 15 March 2014

      • 1
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        Native

        Here is some interesting discussion on spread of buddhism, various buddhist schools and languages of various areas before the dawn of first millenium.
        http://www.academia.edu/1417367/On_the_Vibhajjav%C4%81dins_The_Mahi%E1%B9%83s%C4%81saka_Dhammaguttaka_Kassapiya_and_Tambapa%E1%B9%87%E1%B9%87iya_branches_of_the_ancient_Theriyas,

        Author elegantly describes the different schools of buddhism and spread of pali in unadulterated fashion as well as preservation of dravidian languages.
        Ken

        • 2
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          ken Robert

          Thanks a lot.

          I will read this book by the end of this month.

          On racism please read

          Ethnic and Class Conflicts in Sri Lanka

          by Kumari Jayawardana

          http://noolaham.net/project/19/1811/1811.pdf

          You will see lot of interesting pieces of history.

          • 1
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            Native
            Thank you.

            Prof Romila Thapar’s greatest achievement seems her pan south asian recognition, inspite of her being labelled as pro Aryan and socialist.

            This is where understanding, tolerating other people’s views are paramount in ethnic reconciliation.

            I was touched by the story of her father offering either dowry or education. I shared the story with my young ones.

            • 3
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              Ken

              I have a collection of Thapar’s papers and you can access them on:

              Hindutva and history
              ROMILA THAPAR

              http://www.frontline.in/arts-and-culture/heritage/hindutva-and-history/article6805140.ece

              Fallacies of Hindutva Historiography

              Vol – L No. 1, January 03, 2015

              Economic and Political Weekly

              Would the Hindutva historians, who claim that the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are true historical records needing no further interpretation, be able to tell us which of their versions are we to read? This response to Rajan Gurukkal’s article, “A Blindness about India” (EPW, 6 December 2014), argues that not only is this an impossible claim to make on our ancient texts, such “historiography” will lead to the destruction of the social sciences in India.

              Romila Thapar (romila.thapar@gmail.com) is a leading historian of India.

              Rajan Gurukkal raises a number of extremely important issues concerning the social sciences and more particularly history. I would like to add my comments to what Gurukkal has written. He has, quite rightly, questioned the generalisations that Indian historians merely collect factoids, and that their historical explanations draw on a Protestant Christian understanding of the past. The first of these activities may partially be applied to colonial writers on the Indian past but went out of fashion and usage half a century ago. As for the second generalisation, given the absence of a monotheistic god and a church it would be impossible to apply a Protestant Christian framework to Indian historiography. Such a framework has also long since been discarded by European historiography. To argue that there are secular versions of this framework would require a different discussion about the validity of this argument before it can even be applied to Indian historiography.

              Ignorant Criticism

              These two generalisations that he has rightly questioned, frequently take the form of opinions expressed by those who are unaware of the historiographical changes that have taken place in the study of Indian history. These changes have occurred primarily in India but also in universities outside India that teach and research Indian history, such as in Japan, Europe and the United States. Historians of the 19th century may have been searching for “the truth” about the past, but we no longer do so. We cannot arrive at the ultimate truth of what is not fully accessible to us. This is even more so in the study of ancient history. What we try to do is to analyse the evidence that we have and attempt to understand and comprehend what the many pasts of a complex Indian society may have been, and how they may have been interrelated.
              Diversity is a given, both in the use of sources and in the reading of events. The degree of certainty and uncertainty in the reading has been an issue for discussion. Even the natural sciences do not search for a singular truth as there are varying degrees of certitude. This is in part why familiarity with the knowledge produced by a discipline is important to the understanding of a subject. Existing knowledge is consistently questioned in the process of discovering new knowledge. The latter cannot be dismissed as being unacceptable without knowing what it is.

              Those who study early history have to be well aware of these processes and perhaps even to a greater degree than those who work on modern history. The Greeks wrote their history prior to the rise of Christianity, as did Sima Qian in China. They did not see their past through a Protestant Christian framework, nor for that matter did Livy, Tacitus or Josephus in Roman times. A historical consciousness existed in texts from early times in India and we need to know which are these texts and the form in which this consciousness is expressed in them. This is a different exercise from that which has become more frequent these days, and more so among non-historians, namely, to repeatedly say that we must turn to the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas in order to know our real history, and discard what western scholars, Nehruvian secularists and Marxists have reconstructed as our history; and that the above-mentioned texts contain our true history.

              Which Text Is History

              When we turn to these texts for their ideas on history, and this has been done and is continuing to be done, various problems have surfaced. Among them, are the problems of the range of versions of the texts, and of their periods of composition. There are many versions either of an entire text or of segments of the texts. Even if we take what are regarded by some as the earliest versions of the epics, each was put together over a period of a few centuries. The period of composition is debated, some taking it from about 400 BC to AD 400, others arguing for one century but the particular century remains uncertain.

              Composition over a period of time means diverse authors, so we need to ask who they were and what were their frameworks of reference? The Valmiki Ramayana, in the period between 400 BC and AD 400, had at least two contenders – the Buddhist version, the Dasaratha Jataka, and the Jaina version, Vimalasuri’s Paumachariyam – both contradicting the Valmiki version. In the Buddhist version Rama and Sita are siblings, and in the Jaina version Ravana is not a rakshasa but a respectable member of the Meghavahana lineage and the fantasies of the other Ramayana are given rational explanations..

              Narrative segments from the Mahabharata, some linked to the main events, when narrated in the Jatakas are not always in agreement with the epic. Yet the way in which the narrative is told and events explained gives us a glimpse of a sense of history in historical texts. The Buddhist and Jaina versions are alternate texts to the Valmiki and Vyasa versions. Should we just ignore these or do we ask why are they saying something different? What does this mean for historical reconstruction?

              Each century produced different versions of the epic stories, some with significant variations. They were composed in a variety of languages by a variety of authors all over the subcontinent. And then the Mahabharata and the Ramayananarratives spread to south-east Asia and, apart from being sculpted as panels on temple walls, were also rendered into epic texts in various local languages by local authors. Are these still to be treated as the authentic histories of India, conveying the Indian sense of history?

              Which Purana do we take as representing an authentic view of the Indian past? The structure and contents of theVishnu Purana are quite different from the Skanda Purana written at very different periods – so which is an authentic history? Those that advocate these texts as their preferred history of India are perhaps unfamiliar with the text and its variants. By what methods do we decide on the historicity of these texts? Or are we supposed to argue that historicity like history is irrelevant? However, we can at least see how these historical texts have represented their own society and the society that preceded them, if we are to treat them as historiography. This has been done and is continuing to be done by historians of early India. But it seems that those wanting to write history from the epics and Puranas are unaware of this research and the publications that have followed.

              Reading Historical Texts

              Texts are not read as an exact rendering of events. The need to go beyond the text in order to understand its meaning was a recognised procedure in literary criticism and in textual readings. Hence the extensive commentaries on these texts, the glossaries and the analyses of grammar and style that came to be written from the end of the first millennium AD onwards by various Sanskrit scholars. The technicalities of reading texts have become more intensive and sophisticated in recent times. We now have to also correlate the context of the author, the audience, the purpose and the patronage of the text.

              From this perspective the epics and the Puranas are only a segment and constitute two distinct categories of texts. Apart from these there are multiple other texts that are being analysed for historiography, as has been mentioned by Gurukkal. There is also the massive corpus of Buddhist and Jaina literature. The epics and Puranas are only a small part of such texts that are being consulted and analysed.

              Inscriptions as texts are significant to any discussion on historical perspectives. If we only look at the epics and Puranas we are left with their selection of events whereas often the inscriptions provide a different picture. For example, the Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, is merely one name in a list of Mauryan kings that has been included in a couple of Puranas. Nothing further is said about him. The information that he himself provides in his edicts and the details of his reign as given in Buddhist sources finds no reflection in these texts and he is not even mentioned in the epics. From the post-Gupta period onwards the script of the edicts could no longer be read, and the king went into oblivion, as did his message of tolerance and non-violence that we so often quote today in our claim to both these values. It was not until the 19th century that the script was deciphered. By this point no one knew who this king was. His identity had to wait until the Buddhist texts were read, and it was finally confirmed in one of his inscriptions, discovered and deciphered in the 20th century. So reading history from the epics and the Puranas does have some obvious limitations.

              The Danger

              The social sciences began to be established in India a century ago and about half a century back history moved from being a part of Indology to interacting with the social sciences. From this point on there have been attempts to denigrate those that treat history as a social science and particularly historians working on early India. Their work, where it questions the Hindutva version of Indian history, is dismissed either as “Marxist” and therefore ideologically tainted, or as is now becoming fashionable, as imitations of western historiography. However, to write the history of India through a literal reading of the epics and the Puranas has so many inherent deficiencies that, if it is to be pursued true to the original, it will undermine historical and social science research in India.

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                Native
                This is a fantastic article. Reminds me of your advice on how history should be taughr in schools many months ago.

                • 2
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                  ken Robert

                  Do you think sach, Banda, Lal, Ram, Thondamanaru, Cholan, wathie, nuisance, HLD mahinda, Bandu de Silva, Michael, …………. Dayan, should read this article?

                  I don’t think they are interested in article such as this.

  • 2
    1

    SL had it’s own version of Romila Tharpar in Kumari Jayawadena. Both these ladies from SE Asia have taken their positions on secularism in the context of freedom of the individual in a truly democratic society sans religious fundamentalism which is a sine qua non for that society to remain so.
    Religious fundamentalism is a manifestation of the sense of insecurity in a society when it is assailed by volatile economic conditions causing the rich to get rich and the poor to suffer the thraldom of poverty and degradation.

  • 2
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    Definition of race is based on former civilisation that made governing rules and religion. Thats what Sinhala Buddhist race is. Buddhism is about human suffering and decency and living within your means.
    Just because some countries that just came from a tree and for control purpose they got Roman Catholic to subjugate other races and created western so called civilisation. Whole RC religion is false ideology based organised violence same as the western countries.

    India is a paradox and they need to start from the basics, such as remove caste system within legal frame ( India refused this when UN try to enforce this) and then have strict anti discrimination laws.
    India has created human super hero like Lord Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and other religious leaders but politically and moraly bankrupt leaders are completely below par with compared to the rest of the world similar to what we have in SL.

  • 2
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    ‘Religion makes good people do bad things’. A truth we often forget.

    • 1
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      essie

      “‘Religion makes good people do bad things’. A truth we often forget.”

      Steven Weinberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Weinberg

      His views on religion were expressed in a speech from 1999 in Washington, D.C.:

      “‘Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”[15]

      Al-Maʿarri http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ma%CA%BFarri

      His religious skepticism and positively anti-religious views are expressed in a poem which states, “The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains, but no religion, and those with religion, but no brains.”[17]

      Al-Maʿarri taught that religion was a “fable invented by the ancients”,[11] worthless except for those who exploit the credulous masses.[11]

      Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.[12

      • 1
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        Yet religion thrives when their is so much evidence to refute the claims religions make.

        The most deadly, intolerant and bloody place on earth is the one most religions claim to be holiest.

        Does’t this say something about the intelligence of the human species.

        Many great species that evolved on earth have come and gone for good. I can’t wait for the day when the most horrible evolutionary parasite, the homo sapiens become extinct.

        • 0
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          I hope Baboons like you should thrive in final days of Armageddon to fight against the evil One-Eyed Cyclops.

  • 1
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    Secularism has ultimately handed over the moral aspect of society to the politician. Polticians of today is a despicable group of people immoral,criminals ,drug dealers etc and not trusted by the citizens. Romilar Thapar and the likes promoting secularism are remnants of colonialism who leap harking on a european idea that is out of reality in S Asia. No society institution that lacks moralism be it in a open economy,globalised economy can never succeed. This is the true nature of this europeanised vision promoted by these remnants on an unsuspecting south asian society.

  • 0
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    Secularism doesn’t refer to the Society but to the State which is really nothing more than the government. a government is expected to treat all its citizens as members of the State. In a plural state this cannot be done if the government were to favor any group or community. The functions of the State ( government) must be limited in a plural state which implies secularism since if the State were to champion the religion of the majority it cannot treat all religions and their followers equally. Theoretically this may be possible but it would require enlightened statesmen who can control extremists who demand preference. The State must have the allegiance of all its citizens including those from minorities. The problem arises where minorities are not willing to allow more rights and privileges to the majority. If they agree there would be no problem. For a long time in the Turkish Empire the ethnic and religious minorities agreed to the privileges given to Muslims because there was no interference with the practice of their religions. So the other religious minorities were also allowed their rights to practice their religion. It is when such rights of minorities are not accepted by the State ( because of pressure from the majority) that the pluralist State faces problems.
    Secularism has no handed over the moral aspect of society to politicians the religious leaders can and should look after this aspect.

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