Social Scientist. v 15, no. 165 (Feb 1987) p. 1.


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Editorial Note

WHAT WE call our tradition is often enough determined by our contemporary concerns and has little correspondence with what actually happened in history. We read into our history what we wish to, in the light of our contemporary requirements ; we select from our past certain normative values which have a contemporary appeal. But precisely because history is invoked to legitimise our perceptions of tradition, and such perceptions in turn enter into the construction of our contemporary identities, ignoring the historical verisimilitude of our perceptions is fraught with danger. The question of the historical validity of our perceptions in other words acquires particular significance. The task becomes not just to counterpose a 'wholesome' reading of history against 'repugnant readings of history, but to strive towards a truthful reading of history, warts and all. No doubt, the notion of historical actuality is problematical, but surely it is meaningful ; at any rate, the door has to be kept open for the historian to enter the scene and command attention.

In making this point, Romila Thapar, in her Qureshi Memorial Lectures, which we publish as the lead article in the current number of Social Scientist, draws attention to several instances of divergence between what we believe to be our tradition and historical actuality. Against the belief that early India had a well-regulated society characterised by strict observance of caste-rules, she provides evidence of considerable flexibility and non-observance of such rules. Against the belief that tolerance and non-violence constituted essential features of the practice of the 'Hindu Community" she cites evidence of considerable persecution of the Buddhists and the Jainas, in particular by the Saivas. Indeed she questions the appropriateness of talking of a 'Hindu Community' in the context of early India. The separate identities of the diverse sects and groups, which later came to be characterised as 'Hindu', cannot, in her view, be legitimately clubbed together under an all-encompassing Hindu Community, once we go beyond "recent centuries'. She also draws attention to the complex social interactions which underlie cultural categories, and how these categories themselves mutate through time in accordance with the changing historical contexts. Her paper, in articulating these positions, provides rich insights into the socio-cultural life of early India, which readers should find extremely interesting.

Sukumari Bhattacharji's paper deals with the theme of prostitution, also in the context of ancient India. When exactly prostitution emerged as a recognised profession in India is not known, but references to a regu-



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