ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Towards a Future of the Past

Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories: A Festschrift for Romila Thapar edited by Kumkum Roy and Naina Dayal, New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2019; pp xxxvi + 539, 667.


In July 2019, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) asked Emeritus Professor Romila Thapar who taught at the university for over 20 years to submit her CV so that the administration could decide whether Thapar should continue in her honorary role at the university. Thapar, whose work has redefined Indian history, was subjected to this as part of the ongoing right-wing assault upon higher education in India. Central to her scholarship has been the project to use critical social history to evaluate fact and fiction, and discern truth from lies. Critical understanding of past and present realities is a challenge to those in power. Rationalist and critical thinkers have been subject to increasing attacks and political assassinations along with ongoing police campaigns of harassment and intimidation. In this world, Thapar’s work seems more urgent, now more than ever. Hers is a scholarship that is based on critical analysis of the past, rigorous teaching, and public-facing writing that rejects lies and myths that have taken the place of truth and history.1

The present volume is a collection of 27 essays that were first presented at a conference held in Thapar’s honour in 2018. The essays, however, as Thapar herself wanted, are less praśhastis or praise poems and more critical engagements with her scholarship on Indian history, ask novel questions and break new ground in historical research. The essays are divided into five parts, each dealing with a single theme that capture the range and depth of Thapar’s interests and writing over a span of nearly six decades. While space does not permit me to discuss all 27 essays in the volume, I discuss one essay each from the five parts to illustrate significant themes within her scholarship.

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Updated On : 9th Mar, 2020
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