Clearing the Mists of Antiquity
ROMTLA THAPAR, THE PAST AND PREJUDICE, National Book Trust, New Delhi 1975, pp 70, Rs 5.
AMONG THE various sciences, or branches of knowledge, history is the most partisan. Every class, community, nation and even well-off families have used their own respective 'histories5 to bolster themselves and to degrade their rivals.
In our own case, Indian history, as has been correctly pointed out by the author of this book, "resulted in a number of interpretations of the past." The three Sardar Patel Memorial Lectures delivered over the All-India Radio in 1972 and brought together in this little volume are devoted to the negation of many of these "interpretations".Appropriately enough it has been given the title The Past and Prejudice^ since many of these interpretations' are prejudices which have been handed over through generations of historians to the common people.
These however have their origin in the self-interest of particular classes, communities or groups of people. Some of them, for instance, are "related to the needs of imperialism^ for economic imperialism had its counterpart in cultural domination." Historical writing coming from this source "aimed at explaining the past in a manner which facilitated imperial rule." *
Against this arose another school of historical interpretation which is connected with "the ideology of Indian nationalism". As the author goes on to peint out,
the national movement itself had picked up facets from the reconstruction of the Indian past. Those historians who were sensitive to the stirrings of nationalism also respond to these facets. Because of the cultural domination implicit in imperialism, nationalism of the anti-colonial variety had to incorporate a programme of cultural nationalism as well. ..The more persistent of the stereotypes have dominated