India and its history is something like the definition given by an Irishman
when he was asked what the word “trousers” would be- singular or plural. Loud
and clear came forth the answer, ‘It is singular at the top and plural at the
The self-understanding of India and its history is undergoing today precisely
this experience of singular and plural. But unfortunately, instead of arriving
at a balance between unity and plurality, the developments at the political,
cultural, religious, economic and ideological levels are tilting towards a
singular view of India. Consequently, what is projected as the history of India
is a history that presents itself, in fact, as a view from the top, unmindful
of the plurality and diversity at the bottom.
we, as a nation, are involved in a struggle for the past. This struggle in
great part also defines our different conceptions about the nation. Even more,
it portrays the conflicts of power among different segments of the people.
communities comprising the nation may have different backgrounds and origins.
But the point is that today they are a nation together, and none of them could
be excluded. It is in their mutuality and interchange that they produce meaning
and significance of the nation. When the attempt is made to define the nation
and its history in majoritarian terms, it raises the critical question: Whose
Nation? Whose History? Faced with the ideology of majoritarianism, marginal
groups like the Dalits and tribals raise critical questions, so too other
linguistic and ethnic groups.
we have attempted then is to shift the attention to the everyday life of the
people and to break out of the frame of reference in which the past is created to
serve a political, social and cultural agenda of domination. The interaction
and transactions of the past in which identities were not rigidly defined and
the borders were open and flexible. Further, the interactions among communities
were never solely reduced to religious identity; instead there were many layers
of identities with which to relate and interact. Moreover, there were many
regional and local narratives and histories. These have been an integral part
of the life of the marginal people like the Dalits and the tribals. A
reconstruction of the past taking into account all these aspects, is the
necessary condition for the diverse groups to own the nation and its history.
The reconstruction of history will go a long way to remove the alienation and
exclusion being practiced today in the name of majoritarianism.
everyday approach to the history of nation serves also to draw out the ethical
implications of historiography. Besides respecting professional propriety in
historical enquiry, which is an ethical demand, the reconstruction of the past
should have as its interpretative key the building up of communities. The
social and communitarian responsibility on the part of historians is an ethical
obligation as well. Consequently, the manipulation and exploitation of history
for communal conflicts is an unethical practice. Any imputation of guilt and
accusation drawn from an ideological reading of the past and levelled against
particular groups or communities is not ethically justifiable but politically
we are at the moment of re-defining both the nation and its history. We cannot
allow the nation and history to be hijacked by any one single group, community
or religion. To create a nation of communities is a long-term project which
requires new criteria and new terms of reference.   

[1] The
anecdote is from A.K. Ramanujan Cf. Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India, Penguin
Books, Delhi, 1999, p.6
This Article Is A Part Of The Utopia Series. Utopia is not an unreal figment of imagination, or a chimera we chase in futility. It is the projection of another real order of things, a different set of values, and a new shape of the world and society. The suppressed identities, women, minorities, Dalits and tribals and all those who are marginalised in any way project their utopias. Utopia leaps out from the shoulder of may struggles to glimpse and experience the new and the different. Critique is indissociable from utopias.
Collected & Contributed By- 

Agriti Shrivastava,

Article Analyst, FSA
CNLU, Patna

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