History Optional Paper- 2 Solution- 2012: Q.1 (a)
Q.1 (a) The current practice of categorization of ‘Early Modern India’ is based on a shift from the old imperialist periodization of ‘Muslim India’ – ‘British India’ to the more secularist one of ‘Medieval India’ – ‘Modern India’, which puts Indian history in a Universalist chronological structure. Critically examine.
Historians divide history to different periods when they intend to highlight the central characters of a certain period. From this angle, breaking down a country’s history to different periods appears logical and appropriate. Such description helps the reader to understand how the society, its customs, economy, religion and art changed as the country passed from one era to the next.
The imperialist historiography had divided period of Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British period which was clearly based on communal lines and supremacy of British Crown over India (in case of British India). Famous 19th century utilitarian philosopher and historian James Mill in his book &A History of British India&, had for the first time divided India’s history into three period:- Hindu, Muslim and British. Muslim period was considered as dark period while glorifying Hindu period was glorified but it was an imperialist design to legitimize the British rule while claiming to liberate ancient India civilization from medieval dark period. This periodization was also favored by Hindu nationalist historians.
This kind of periodization is criticized due to the following reasons:
- This type of historiography was done simply on the basis of the fact that rulers were Hindu, Muslim and British in the respective periods and irrespective of the fact that Indian masses did not conform to such description. This kind of historiography was tilted heavily in the favor of ruling class and common man was virtually absent from the field.
- The Hindu Period was not homogeneous in tradition and cultural pattern. Also, these Hindu traditions did not disappear when Islamic rule spread in India.
- Islamic rule in India was very heterogeneous character and cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in many spheres of social, political and cultural aspects was in more important than a well defined Islamic period.
- Not whole India was ruled anytime by Islamic rulers or British rulers.
- This kind of historiography lacked an evolutionary explanation to the changes that took place throughout history.
A secular historiography developed as a response to the communal categorization of Indian history that preferred dividing the history into ancient, medieval and modern period. Against the conception of conflicting separate and homogeneous communities, it emphasized the porosity and open-endedness of the boundaries between communities, their fragmentation and heterogeneity. It underlined elements of concord, harmony and togetherness. Many secularists claim that the classification of the population into the categories ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslims’ dates back only to the end of the 19th century and that these separate identities did not exist earlier. A secularist conception of history was advocated by Marxist scholars. They focused on the subaltern approach to Indian history where for the first time peasants, tribes, poor and the disadvantaged were given more emphasis than the privileged.
Marxist historian D.D. Kausambi’s &An Introduction to the study of Indian History& was amongst the first history to focus on common man with periodisation of history in terms of ancient, medieval and modern period. Marxist historians like R.S. Sharma tried to draw parallels of Indian feudalism with European feudalism and in a way brought Indian history closer to the Universalist chronological structure.
But this type of classification also has some problems:
Ancient, medieval and modern history cannot be clearly identified in India like European countries. Medieval Europe is considered as feudal but in India feudalism was not clearly defined and had different characteristics.
Secularist methods of periodization were borrowed from Western concept and it was easy to adopt and interpret. As per this methodology, history in ‘Modern’ times was marked by science, rationality, democracy, egalitarianism, liberty and Industrial Revolution and during British rule, we will be assumed to have lived in a ‘Modern’ era. But, Indians had no equality, liberty nor democracy and India underwent de-industrialization.