Looking back into the future book by MS Prabhakara – Book review (The Hindu)

Abir Phukan, The Hindu, July 30, 2012

Living in times where you can ‘dial an expert’ for an opinion on any issue, you may find M.S. Prabhakara’s approach in analysing issues that have gripped the North East a little too meticulous and perhaps too studious. However, when the missing pieces of the puzzles that have baffled the north east over the years seem to disappear without a trace, you realise such a task could not have been undertaken by the special correspondents of today.

The book, a collection of Mr. Prabhakara’s essays/articles written in a span of almost 40 years, will take the reader through a brief account of some of historical, political and social changes as a result of which “Kamrupa” shrank in size; language and even script became a contentious political issue; the claims for the status of “scheduled tribe” multiplied, demands for sovereignty and/or “greater autonomy” overflowed in the region and amidst all this communities looked for ways to preserve their identities.

The British had adopted Bengali as the official language after annexation of Assam in 1826. […]

The creation of Nagaland in 1963 “fed the craving of the other tribal people for separation” from Assam and ultimately led to the passing of North-Eastern Areas (Reorganization) Act, 1971 giving the status of Union Territory to Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram (before they eventually became states) and of State to Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya. However, as in the case of Government of India Act, 1935 and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, this Act granted constitutional protection only to the hills tribes and not to the tribal people in the plains. Though “numerically the largest tribal community in the whole region” and “constitutionally classified as scheduled tribes”, the tribal people of the plains did not get the protection given to the hills tribes on the basis that there existed no distinction between them and the non-tribal communities. […]

The book offers a brief historical account of the political movements in Manipur and Nagaland in the context of demands for sovereignty by various outfits and organisations. […]

Though some of the articles were written several years ago in the context of circumstances that do not exist now, and political scenarios which have completely changed over the years and may have little significance today, the sound analysis of many of the issues that gripped the region in the past may offer valuable lessons to those entrusted with powers to deal with the present.

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his foreword to the paper-back edition of his autobiography, wrote that sometimes it is worthwhile knowing the past in order to know better the present.

LOOKING BACK INTO THE FUTURE — Identity & Insurgency in Northeast India: M. S. Prabhakara; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17 Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 795.

Source: The Hindu : Arts / Books : In support of an obscure people in an obscure land
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/article3704463.ece?homepage=true
Date Visited: Tue Jul 31 2012 19:18:01 GMT+0200 (CEST)

While academic historians try to meaningfully understand how the past differs from the present, pseudo-historians want to realise the political ambition of projecting their version of the present onto the past.

WhatsApp University continues to bluster forward and even flourish. A full curriculum too seems to have taken shape, with majors in ‘fake news’ and minors in paid-for-journalism. Then there is the rapidly growing field of pseudo-history, which is the exact opposite of academic history.

Academic histories are produced chiefly by professional historians within university settings and can be written only by following disciplinary protocols. Such protocols require that arguments, claims and publications are subject to peer review and must pass muster under the intense scrutiny of subject experts.

To earn your wings as an academic historian, there are a set of unwritten but widely accepted rules. Publish articles in peer-reviewed journals. Books based on research in the field should preferably be published from an established university press. And claims should be vetted by discerning and informed audiences in academic seminars, conferences and workshops. Of course, shoddy research can and does often squeeze past the array of disciplinary gatekeepers. But you most certainly cannot fool all the historians all the time, even if you can fool some of the people some of the time. […]

For pseudo-historians, therefore, understanding India’s past is essentially about trumping the idea of measured reason by tapping into extreme emotions. In such a schema, no quarter is given for nuance or doubt, disagreement or contemplation. The intended outcome, moreover, from this highly mediatised exercise is to somehow assemble the mob, who are forever angry about something and someone.

A second key feature of the pseudo-history project is how they invariably craft a sense of paranoia and sustain a siege mentality towards any likely criticism. […]

While academic historians are involved in trying to meaningfully understand how the past differs from the present, for pseudo-historians, in sharp contrast, it is about realising the political ambition of trying to project their version of the present into the past.

Rohan D’Souza is professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University.

Source: “The Risks of Looking at India’s History Through the Eyes of Pseudo-Historians” by Rohan D’Souza, The Wire, 20 October 2021
URL: https://thewire.in/history/india-history-pseudo-historians-risks

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