Thursday, September 22, 2011

“How Deep Are the Roots of Indian Civilization -An Archeological & Historical Perspective?”

Sent to Ms. Neera Misra on May 16, 2011 for publishing

Address by Shri Ajit Doval to seminar on
“How Deep Are the Roots of Indian Civilization -An Archeological & Historical Perspective?”
at Vivekananda International Foundation on Nov.25-27, 2010

Esteemed Prof. B.B. Lal, Shri K.N. Dixit, Ms. Neera Mishra, dignitaries on the Dias, Distinguished Scholars, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is indeed a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to the Vivekananda International Foundation.

It is most heartening for the Foundation to have such a galaxy of eminent scholars from India and abroad congregating here to deliberate on issues which are of great vital importance – both academic and empirical. Its import transcend from scholars like you to the common man like me, from present to the coming generations and from cradle of this ancient Indic civilization to human heritage of which we are a part. Though seized of its importance, let me confess that when it comes to history and archaeology I am no authentic voice on the subject and least qualified to address this august gathering. Nevertheless, I bring with me the perspective of a common man – least informed as a civilizational inheritor the primacy stake holder.

I earnestly believe that the only way to handle the future is to understand the past- its achievements, failures, thought processes and events that influenced the course of history. But all this is possible only if we knew the history right - the right facts, the right cause and effect relationships and the right interpretation of events, devoid of bias and subjectivity. ‘Learning lessons from history’ may will be a worthless cliché if history that we are made to read and imbibe if it is distorted, motivated or based on selective half truths. Half truths are more vicious than ignorance as people often find themselves sticking to the wrong half.

One is often dismayed by controversies surrounding restructuring of history curriculums in India, England or other parts of the world, revisiting standards of National History in the USA, disputes over the contents of history textbooks in Japan, China, Korea, Pakistan, Israel, Germany etc. Why the invasion of Latin American countries by the Europeans, the development of new curricula in the successor states of the former USSR or rewriting of history textbooks in Russia following collapse of the former USSR have generated raucous voices among the scholars, thought leaders and political elite alike. It’s because, across the board, there is a realization that the way the past is seen and projected is going to have a bearing on the future. It has a relevance for the nations and societies not only in the contemporary context but more so for their progenies. Unfortunately, India appears to be oblivious to this realization and, at times, some scholars pride themselves in reinforcing motivated stereotypes without striving to find truth and counter what I may call psy-war through distorted history.

There is a popularly held view that antiquity lends respectability and sense of continuity to human societies. The contrarian view that grandeur of the past neither provides panacea to problems of the present nor is a guarantier of better future tomorrow is advanced by utilitarian thinkers with equal vehemence. Both these viewpoints have some arguable justifications but suffer from the infirmity of evaluating contribution of history from scholar’s point of view and not the common man and the civil society. History provides people a mindset through which they consciously or otherwise navigate themselves, individually and collectively, in seeking answers of who they are, why they are, what they are and where will they be should the history repeat itself. In answers to these questions lay the whole spectrum of collective and individual experience of the past on one hand and their choices of the future on the other. The triumphs and tragedies of societies, failures and successes of governments, political ideas, religious beliefs and practices, art and architecture, cultural practices and rituals, educational systems, customs and traditions etc. are few among the endless list of domains – that influence and get influenced by the historic process. This connection between the past and present has been aptly brought out by noted historian E.H. Carr who in his book What is History asserts that: “The past is intelligible to us only in the light of the present; and we can fully understand the present only in the light of the past.” He further adds that history is needed to increase his mastery over the society of the past and to increase his mastery over the society of the present.

Historical and civilizational issues are not exclusive preserves of scholars and historians as it has equal relevance and utility for the common man and civil societies. The human societies - the way they think, resolve or sublimate their conflicts, interact with other societies, their faith systems and beliefs all are largely conditioned in the incubator of history – whether conscious by or otherwise. Even when one is not a part of the intellectual exercise one compulsively remains part of civilisational and cultural process – their DNA imprints are indelible?

For me the idea of importance of history and heritage comes from yet another vantage point. Often I wonder if the historical and civilizational issues were not all that relevant why some people in a systemic and painstaking manner take all the trouble to distort it. The importance of history and its linkage to a society and also the causes why people resort to distortions has been best summed up by historian, Arthur Marwick, who says: “Individuals, communities, societies could scarcely exist if all knowledge of the past is wiped out. As memory is to the individual, so history is to the community or the society. Without memory, individuals find great difficulty in relating to others, in finding their bearings, in taking intelligent decisions–– they lose their sense of identity. A society without history would be in a similar condition. A society without knowledge of its past would be like an individual without memory. It is only through a sense of history that communities establish their identity, orientate themselves, understand their relationship to the past and to other communities and societies. Without history (Knowledge of the past), we, and our communities, would be utterly adrift on an endless and featureless sea of time.”

I hardly need to explain or to elaborate the above quotation. Historical distortions are resorted to by the interested parties because they know that distortions are necessary to achieve something to sub-serve their interests of today and agenda of tomorrow. They deliberate with diligence to conjure up contrived images of the past and make them appear as real – particularly in the minds of those whose history stands mutilated. It allows manipulation of the minds of those who are wronged in a manner that suits vested interests of the intellectual manipulators. Their self view of who they are, their ethos, identities, values, beliefs, failures and achievements renders vulnerable to manipulation by others.

It is also important to flag that the way people define their identity, existence, world view and creation stories, and how they value, interpret, manage and transmit their past differ from society to society. The method of recoding and interpreting the past also differs. No set of subjective yard sticks and a judgmental approach to evaluate other societies- could be justifiable. Can a s huge treasure of civilizational and cultured wealth declared as untrustworthy and worthless just because it does not conform to some set of arbitrary parameters set up by alien cultures and civilizations. Can few victories in the wars or temporary political controls be justifiable reasons to condemn the wealth of human heritage as non-existent?

I am greatly delighted that VIF is organizing this three day international seminar on “How Deep Are the Roots of Indian Civilization - An Archeological & Historical Perspective?” Indeed it will be a matter of great privilege to hear the discourses from eminent scholars and others participants. In terms of time and space we shall be talking about the continuity of people living in this geographical region and how deep their historical and civilizational roots are?

I would like to thank Neera Misra ji and her Draupadi Trust for their untiring efforts, Ministry of Culture, Government of India for their support, and Archaeological Survey of India for their deep involvement in this effort. I do hope that as suggested by Dr. Lal, Archeological Survey of India will undertake an intensive five year research project to explore new findings along the course of forgotten river Saraswati. Thanks are also due to my colleagues here in Vivekananda International Foundation, especially my colleague Mr. Mukul Kanitkar, for making various logistic arrangements. My special thanks also to Prof. B.B. Lal whose presence here provides us a great motivation and sense of purpose.

Last but not the least I thank all the participants, from India and abroad, who have taken all the trouble to come here from distant parts of the world and submitted valuable papers for discussions during the seminar.

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