Fury over rewriting of history

February 25, 2000

Historians have accused the state-funded Indian Council for Historical Research of intellectual fascism and academic censorship.

The row blew up after the council abruptly suspended a history project that was to counter the colonial British view that India's independence was achieved by voluntary transfer of power rather than by a freedom struggle.

The Oxford University Press has been asked by the ICHR to stop printing the two volumes and return the typescripts to it for "review". One is edited by Sumit Sarkar, professor of history at the University of Delhi, and the other by K. N. Pannikar, a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The council, controlled by the nominees of the BJP-led central government, called it a general review of all its projects. But the academics say it is a pretext for targeting left-wing historians.

"It obviously has something to do with our reputation as liberal and secular historians," said Professor Sarkar, who is regarded as a doyen of modern Indian history. Professor Panikkar termed it an "extra-academic" decision amounting to "intellectual fascism".

The two professors have pointed out that there is no modern Indian history expert on the committee that has been asked to review their work. The general editor for the Towards Freedom Project, Professor S. Gopal, a distinguished historian, sent the volumes to OUP after he had approved them and the changes suggested by him were included.

"It is disturbing and unethical that a purely academic exercise should involve intervention by officials," he said.

Academics marched to the council offices in New Delhi to protest at the decision, calling it part of the BJP's "hidden agenda to "rewrite" history. They claimed the two professors were being victimised for opposing the BJP campaign that led to the destruction of a mosque in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya.

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