V.29: No.1-2 Jan-Feb. 2001 #332-333

Editorial Note, p. 1-2.

"History and the Enterprise of Knowledge," Amartya Sen, p. 3

"State in the Mughal India: Re-examining the Myths of a Counter-vision," Iqtidar Alam Khan, p. 16

"Imaging River Sarasvati: A Defence of Commonsense," Irfan Habib, p. 46

"The Hidden Violence of Faith: The Widows of Vrindaban," Note / Malini Bhattacharya, p. 75

BOOK REVIEW, p. 84. Convincing Message
Manjari Katju's review of A.G. Noorani's The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labour, New Delhi, Left World Books, pp. 112, Rs. 75

Editoial Note

Much of the current number of Social Scientist is taken up by three papers presented at the recently-held session of the Indian History Congress at Calcutta. Though the papers cover a range of diverse themes, an underlying unity is provided to them by the fact that each contests in its own way the communal-fascist positions that are being propagated at present in the realm of history through the active deployment of state power. Since even the note by MaliniBhattacharya constitutes an engagement with the Hindu Right, this engagement can be seen as the defining characteristic of the current number.

The lead article by Am artya Sen,whichisthetextofhisinaugural address at the Congress, while roaming felicitously over a wide terrain, makes the extremely significant point that the "positionality" of observations and perceptions does not do away with notions of truth and falsehood: the fact that each observer has a particular perspective and point of view does not constitute a case for relapsing into relativism, for treating all perspectives as equally valid, and for denying any objectivity in the writing of history. He goes o n to emphasise the role of heterodoxy and methodological independence for scientific advance, tracing the remarkable achievements of early Indian science to the prevailing atmosphere of tolerance for heterodoxy, which unfortunately is being undermined in contemporary India.

Iqtadar Alam Khan takes up the claim of the Hindutva forces that MughalIndia represented the rule of the "Muslim community". He argues on the basis of a wealth of evidence that the Mughalstate was neither a Muslim state, where the "Muslim community" in its entirety constituted a part or the whole of the ruling class, nor an Islamic state where the Shari'a prevailed. While it was a state based on class antagonism, the ruling nobility was a composite one in which the Rajputs,the Marathas,the pre-M ughalIndian Muslims, the Shias from Iran, and the Turanis were all represented; in fact in the last twenty years of A urangzeb'sreign the proportion of the Hindus was about a third among the nobles of the highest category. At the same time, the oppressed included the peasants, the labourers and the artisans among whom again there were both Hindus and Muslims. The composite nature of the Mughal nobility was parallelled by a supra-religious concept of sovereignty which held that "the


benevolence and protection of the Emperor should be equally extended to all the subjects without making any distinction on the basis of religion or race." Such a concept left little scope for the operation of the Shari'a. The Mughals might have been oppressive, but they contributed to the formation of the idea of India.

Making the "Indo-Europeans and other Aryan people" migrants from India, indeed from the banks of the "Saraswati",appropriating the Indus civilisation for the "Aryans" by renaming it the "Saraswati civilisation", and, towards this end, pushing the date of the Rigveda back to the early Holocene period, has been one of the long-standing projects of the Hindutva groups. A recent attempt to identify a horse in the Harappa seals to prove the Aryan origin of the Harappa culture was part of the same project and was shown up for what it was, a crude dissimulation. Social Scientist has made every effort to keep its readers informed about these issues, and has accordingly published several pieces in this area in past numbers. Irfan Habib's paper belongs to this genre. It is a detailed and painstaking effort to follow the course of the "mighty Saraswati river" which no longer exists, and reaches the conclusion that it never existed. It follows that "all claims built upon the greatness of the River Saraswatiare nothing but castles in the air."

Finally, Malini Bhattacharya's note discusses the case of the Vrindavan widows to reach a wider conclusion, namely the sharp distinction drawn by the "anti-secularist" critics of communalism, between "religion as faith" and "religion as ideology", lacks substance: "religion as faith" provides the social substratum out of which "religion as ideology" emerges.

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