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Call for ‘decolonising’ history

By Our Correspondent
August 06, 2021
Call for ‘decolonising’ history

LAHORE: Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest Conversations Online hosted the launch of ‘The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India’ on Thursday. According to a press release, in conversation with the author Prof Manan Ahmed from Columbia University was Prof Akbar Zaidi, Dean and Executive Director of IBA Karachi.

Explaining the premise of the book, Zaidi stated that the book focused on ‘decolonising’ history. Dr Manan elaborated that he started the work with a simple question: ‘Why do we tell the story always from a Western perspective? Is there no other way of looking at the past?’ he wondered.

‘If Farishta was used by Immanuel Kant to develop his ideas about the philosophy of history, then why is there no broader engagement with this work?,’ Prof Ahmed wondered. Thus, based the voluminous history of ‘Hindustan’ by Farishta this new book by Prof. Ahmed challenged the notion that there was no ‘India’—‘Hindustan’ before the British. ‘The word ‘Hindustan’ is itself a concept,’ exclaimed Prof Ahmed, ‘but it needed to be decolonized, in order for us to grasp its full meaning.’

Dr Ahmed noted that for the colonial project it was critical that India was shown to have five thousand years of history, where after a glorious period there was a long period of Muslim ruled despotism. Thus, the British argued that it is only under their rule that India could escape the rut it was in.

‘Colonialism was not just an occupation of place, it was as much a colonization of the past, as the present and future,’ he exclaimed.

Dr Ahmed further argued that today people were disconnected from their past as hardly anyone can understand history written in the vernacular: ‘We have literally been alienated from our history,’ he emphasized. ‘This alienation then leads us to find other avenues of inspiration, and hence our recent fascination with the Middle East is an example,’ he noted.

Prof Zaidi noted that people in Pakistan will continue to be alienated from their history till they are only taught an ‘official,’ sanitized and prejudiced, history. ‘We need to read books like Manan’s to really understand our past, and engage with it fully for the future,’ Dr Zaidi noted.