Nations need identities. These are created from perceptions of how societies have evolved. In this, history plays a central role. Insisting on reliable history is therefore crucial to more than just a pedagogic cause. Delicate relationships between the past and present or an exacting understanding of the past, call for careful analyses.
Understanding India's past is of vital importance to the present. Many popularly held views about the past need to be critically enquired into before they can be taken as historical. Why is it important for Indian society to be secular? When did communalism as an ideology gain a foothold in the country? How and when did the patriarchal system begin to support a culture of violence against women?
Historian Romila Thapar has investigated, analyzed, and interpreted the history that underlies such questions throughout her career. Through the incisive essays in The Past as Present, she argues that it is of critical importance for the Indian past to be carefully and rigorously explained if the legitimacy of the present, wherever it derives from the past, is to be portrayed as accurately as possible. This is particularly crucial given the attempts by unscrupulous politicians, religious fundamentalists, and their ilk to wilfully misrepresent and manipulate the past in order to serve their present-day agendas. The Past as Present is an essential and necessary book at a time when sectarianism, false nationalism, and the muddying of historical facts are increasingly becoming a feature of our public, private, and intellectual lives.
Romila Thapar is emeritus professor of history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been general president of the Indian History Congress. She is a fellow of the British Academy and holds an Hon D.Lit. from Calcutta University, Oxford University and the University of Chicago. She is an Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and SOAS, London. In 2008 she was awarded the prestigious Kluge Prize of the Library of Congress.
"Thapar ranks among the great historians of her generation. . . . What has always been regarded as Thapar's stellar capacity for systematic analysis, rigorous scholarship, and inspired insight has now been distilled into wisdom--the wisdom that can only come from a great scholar who remains engaged with her subject and has a political position from which she apprehends the world." --Livemint "The Past as Present presents a fabulous overview of a half a century's work by one of India's most eminent historians, running from ancient India to the charged debates over Indian identity that erupted in the 1980s." --Hindu
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