Teen Murti: Nostalgia for ivory tower and a question of standards
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Why have 57 historians signed a petition calling for the "renewal" of the Nehru Memorial?
Discovering that is all-important because of the apparent political and personal diversity of the petitioners. They may stand together now, but one, Harvard's Sugata Bose famously accused another, Ramachandra Guha, in this newspaper of being "carried away in starry-eyed admiration" of Nehru; a third, Nivedita Menon, described Guha's analysis of 1950s legislation as "simple, feel-good, nationalist telling that is trite, conventional and utterly misleading."
While Guha called Indian historians in the US, who compose over a third of the signatories, "diasporic South Asians...whose penchant for posturing and
jargon-mongering greatly exceeds their capacity
for independent and original research."
These words only partially express deep divides in political orientation between those who favour "mainstream" histories, those who privilege the stories of others, such as Subhash Bose or Bhagat Singh, and those who focus on peasants' and women's contributions. So, when a group of scholars who seem so diverse attack a major centre of learning for lacking diversity, it is impossible to ignore.
But, while divided on politics, they have one thing in common: as young historians, they were star-struck by old NMML; and, since then, they have been in and out of the best institutions of the world. Which is puzzling, says CSDS's Madhu Kishwar in a letter to the Culture Ministry.
The NMML she recalls from the 1980s, she says, had no photocopying, slow responses to microfilming, and ill-trained staff.
That some resources for scholars are considerably better is a repeated refrain from many of the younger researchers and regular library users The Indian Express interviewed: from usable bathrooms and working air-conditioning to larger questions about scanning and ordering of books.
(No younger scholar was willing to go on the record; either way, they said, you could antagonise powerful academics.)
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