Dear Chetan Bhagat,
I was leading a normal life on Friday, when I suddenly chanced upon your tweet on Historians.
And then, the tweet after that.
A believer in free speech, I won’t say I would like you to take off your tweet. I don’t even want to get into your opinion on other things in general like intelligentsia returning their awards, nor will I comment on your ‘political affiliation’. You already must have faced flak for such a thoughtless statement and I would like to tell you that your statement comes at a time when History and Historians are being targeted the most in India. Join the brigade, maybe?
As an ardent reader, I have somehow not strayed away from reading your work. While I realise that your educational background is from an elite engineering college, where admission is difficult and close to impossible, I would also like to tell you that the tweet that you tweeted is something I have heard from many other students of that institution before. So, as I basically understand, the feeling of considering the humanities and social sciences ‘useless’ is pretty much an institutional issue.
Now, I do know that the IITs have been trying to inculcate ‘holistic’ knowledge of the social sciences in their institutions through the study of humanities. Many students huff and puff and prance and go to study Humanities courses at IIT. Now, let me point out which humanities courses are taught at your IIT- i.e, IIT Delhi. Economics, Linguistics, Philosophy, Sociology, Policy, Psychology, Literature and some multidisciplinary courses that include Communication skills, Art and Technology, Social Science Approach to Development. I can see that History isn’t a part of the Department courses, forget even being offered as a course within the Multidisciplinary ones.
So, I think, I am not surprised at your little and petty understanding of the discipline, and why historians can’t take a ‘joke’ right now in this country, like the “holy cow”. In fact, while I was in college, I was told by some very distinguished students of that very institution you studied in, “what’s the point of reading History in college? Anyone can do that. You can read those same history books in your pastime and know as much as any history student!”
But what I am worried about, is the implication of your tweet. Because there are people who read and worship and follow Chetan Bhagat and now all they need is your tweet to brandish in people’s faces that History or the study of it, isn’t needed.
Do you know Mr. Bhagat, that for the past one year, Historians are being targeted for the same thing you have said? – What do they really do? Some of them have been asked to rewrite a Hindu version of history, after all, what’s the point of reading the same history again and again and again? Right?
The advisory council of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was disbanded this year in March, because these very historians were responsible for ‘reviewing’ the articles that will appear in the IHR journal. Some of these historians were, namely, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Muzaffar Alam, JS Grewal, Richard M Eaton, Satish Chandra, to name a few. Now, why would anyone bother about this? After all, these are the same people, who are wasting Government money to research on something that is constant across time and space- history. What is new to dig up in it?
Added to this, the new Chairman of the ICHR is now Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, who holds the view that Indian intellectual, spiritual and scholastic achievements have no parallel. I am wondering, Mr. Bhagat, how you will react if one day your sons come home and claim that the Taj Mahal is actually a Vedic temple? After all, that’s what’s written in their textbooks, isn’t it? And don’t worry, we already have people in this country claiming so.
Soon, our Vedas will be considered the most important and ‘oldest’ text in the History of mankind. Manusmriti might just come back into vogue! I hope you are aware of the things the Manusmriti states? According to the Manusmriti, as a woman, I shouldn’t even be countering you right now, because that is not what I am supposed to do!
I am surprised that a man as “learned” as you, after studying at two of the most elite institutions in the country, could not even understand the political scenario of the nation, before making a tweet in “good humour”? I think you are the same learned person who wrote a book called, ‘What young India wants’? Do you really feel, Mr. Bhagat, that ‘Young’ India doesn’t need historians? Or do you feel that those currently in the profession aren’t really needed in the country?
Let me enrich you with information on another incident. Recently, actually this week itself, Prof. Romila Thapar was at KC College, Mumbai to deliver a lecture on secularism. A police van had to stand vigil outside the college to “provide protection in case there was any problem.” As a writer who is quite vocal about his views, do you feel that a historian, however useless she may be, needs police vigil to be protected for talking about secularism?
Your tweet isn’t just a joke in good humour. In the larger paradigm, your statement is taken seriously by a lot of people. It is unfortunate that as a public figure, you couldn’t keep in mind a simple, rational fact that people, who are right now agitated at even the mention of ‘objective’ history will simply use your tweet as a starting point to agitate even more against those who are the only people in the country right now there to save your future from being re-told in a format suitable only for the current political opinion.
As a responsible citizen, and unfortunately, a historian, I must say, today, I am ashamed that the IITs couldn’t create conscientious thinkers. Because not only does their institution not teach one of the most important disciplines of the social sciences, but its students are also passing statements on the non-necessity of free speech and debate, and opinionated thinking. I wonder whether you are planning to write a book on a historical event in the future? Please don’t let your tweet be the deciding factor for you to pick up your pen and pen down history. We have too many unnecessary people wanting to do that already.
A Very, Very, Not-So-Angry, And Not-So-Surprised Historian.