front cover of The Idea of India
The Idea of India
A Dialogue
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Romila Thapar
Seagull Books, 2024
A lively discussion between two eminent Indian academics that examines what it means to be an Indian.
Through a stimulating dialogue, two old friends trace the history of the idea of India through digressions, anecdotes, and observations. Historian Romila Thapar and theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak reflect on the challenges posed by essentialism and exclusion whenever cultures attempt to define and assert themselves. They also emphasize the role of education in fostering a more inclusive and accurate understanding of the nation’s complex history. Their conversation revolves around the narratives that have shaped Indian identity—from Vedic times to the present—and those whose voices and visions for this land remain unheard and unseen.
Ranging from nationalism to religion and beyond, TheIdea of India discusses an urgent question: What does it mean to be an Indian in contemporary society?

front cover of Our History, Their History, Whose History?
Our History, Their History, Whose History?
Romila Thapar
Seagull Books, 2023
An overview of nationalism and its impact on the study of history from one of India’s most prominent historians.
In this timely book, historian Romila Thapar delves into the complex world of nationalism and its impact on the interpretations of the past and on the discipline of history itself. History, she expounds, is no mere collection of information and chronology, and its purpose extends well beyond storytelling.
Recognizing nationalism as a powerful force that gives rise to various narratives that provide ancestry to communities and shape the direction of societies, Thapar explores how, in India, two conflicting notions of nationalism have evolved and shaped the idea of the nation. Today, one such nationalistic theory claims the victimization of one religious community by another through centuries of “misrule.” Such a claim willfully ignores ample evidence to the contrary to suit a particular political and ideological purpose. Thapar counters such attempts at misrepresentation by citing several historical instances of the nuanced interface and intermingling of cultures, as well as by showing how today’s conflicts have their roots in the British colonial construction of India’s history. She also addresses the recent controversy surrounding the deletions of sections of Indian history textbooks published by NCERT, the Indian educational council, and suggests that the intention is more likely to be the promotion of a particular reading of history that conforms to the ideology of those in power.
Engaging and thought-provoking, Our History, Their History, Whose History? invites readers to question the authenticity of historical narratives touted by one group of nationalists, and it explores the clash between professional historians who study the past to understand our inherited present and fabricators who wield history for political gain.

front cover of The Past Before Us
The Past Before Us
Historical Traditions of Early North India
Romila Thapar
Harvard University Press, 2013

The claim, often made, that India--uniquely among civilizations--lacks historical writing distracts us from a more pertinent question, according to Romila Thapar: how to recognize the historical sense of societies whose past is recorded in ways very different from European conventions. In The Past Before Us, a distinguished scholar of ancient India guides us through a panoramic survey of the historical traditions of North India. Thapar reveals a deep and sophisticated consciousness of history embedded in the diverse body of classical Indian literature.

The history recorded in such texts as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is less concerned with authenticating persons and events than with presenting a picture of traditions striving to retain legitimacy and continuity amid social change. Spanning an epoch of nearly twenty-five hundred years, from 1000 BCE to 1400 CE, Thapar delineates three distinct historical traditions: an Itihasa-Purana tradition of Brahman authors; a tradition composed mainly by Buddhist and Jaina scholars; and a popular bardic tradition. The Vedic corpus, the epics, the Buddhist canon and monastic chronicles, inscriptions, regional accounts, and royal biographies and dramas are all scrutinized afresh--not as sources to be mined for factual data but as genres that disclose how Indians of ancient times represented their own past to themselves.


front cover of Voices of Dissent
Voices of Dissent
An Essay
Romila Thapar
Seagull Books, 2020
Written by one of India’s best-known public intellectuals,  this book is essential reading for anyone interested in India’s fascinating history as well as the direction in which the nation is headed.

People have argued since time immemorial. Disagreement is a part of life, of human experience. But we now live in times when any form of protest in India is marked as anti-Indian and met with arguments that the very concept of dissent was imported into India from the West. As Romila Thapar explores in her timely historical essay, however, dissent has a long history in the subcontinent, even if its forms have evolved through the centuries.
In Voices of Dissent: An Essay, Thapar looks at the articulation of nonviolent dissent and relates it to various pivotal moments throughout India’s history. Beginning with Vedic times, she takes us from the second to the first millennium BCE, to the emergence of groups that were jointly called the Shramanas—the Jainas, Buddhists, and Ajivikas. Going forward in time, she also explores the views of the Bhakti sants and others of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and brings us to a major moment of dissent that helped to establish a free and democratic India: Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha. Then Thapar places in context the recent peaceful protests against India’s new, controversial citizenship law, maintaining that dissent in our time must be opposed to injustice and supportive of democratic rights so that society may change for the better.  


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