In Isaiah Berlin’s work called, “The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History”, he explains that Tolstoy was driven by a “desire to penetrate to first causes, to understand how and why things happen as they do and not otherwise.” If we know how the world really works, we know everything, but of course, it is not that simple. Tolstoy believed that the history does not reveal causes; it presents only a blank succession of unexplained events. This is why the Indian history bemuses me.
It is said that in any story there are many different ways of interpreting it. History is the same, in the sense that there are many perspectives to consider. Finding truth in history is about understanding that this truth is not absolute. In this sense, truth is based on perspective. The perspective of the person who captured it and the person interpreting it, and the perspective of the translators and editors and primary sources.
If you read the mainstream history textbooks, it will teach you about the Nationalist Movement and the freedom struggle in India. They also claim that the leader of the freedom struggle was Gandhi, and the perspective of the freedom struggle history is mainly offered to us from Gandhi’s point of view, with Gandhi being the central theme. The other important influential leaders would be the side characters.
Ramesh Chandra Majumdar was a historian and professor of Indian history, who is the author of the three volumes of the book “The History of the Freedom Movement in India.” When the Government of India set up an editorial Committee to author a history of the freedom struggle of India, he was its principal member. But following a conflict with the then Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, on the Sepoy Mutiny, he left the government job and published his own book, “The Sepoy Mutiny & Revolt of 1857.” According to R.C.Majumdar, the origins of India’s freedom struggle lie in the English-educated Indian middle-class and the freedom struggle started with the Banga Bhanga movement (first partition of Bengal) in 1905. His perspective of the History of Indian freedom struggle will be different.
Similarly, when you read the works of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, especially “Volume 9 – What Congress and Gandhi Have Done To the Untouchables”, you will get another perspective of the Indian history pertaining to the freedom struggle. After reading this volume, I realised and gained greater appreciation about history and how different perspectives make us re-think about what constitutes truth, when it comes to humans and their ways of conducting themselves. Dr. Ambedkar had great concern about the status of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), if the British were to leave India after bestowing independent status to the Country. It was evident that he openly opposed Gandhi and the Congress on this point, because they did not worry about what will happen to the SC/ST people in terms of their livelihood, their rights to basic necessities and their dignity, after the British left.
Reading different perspectives of the history gives you more room for thought and reflection. Yet it may also confuse you, and make you wonder which version of it is the truth. There are historians who claim Tipu Sultan a nationalist hero and the Peshwas who sided with the British as the villains who led the way towards India becoming a British colony. And then there are historians who list the atrocities committed by Tipu Sultan against the Hindus and Christians (non-Muslims), and the Peshwas as brave warriors who fought against the barbaric Mughal ruler. Eminent historians like R.C. Majumdar go a step further and analyse history. He claims that India was not under colonial rule for two centuries, but it was under colonial rule even about four centuries prior to that, since the Mughal rule started. The war between the Peshwas and the Tipu Sultan simply led to the transfer of authority to rule India from the Mughals to the British.
Currently, I am reading R.C.Majumdar’s “History of the Freedom Movement in India.” It is an interesting read, because the author provides his perspective of the history very clearly, with a nationalist touch. My strongest recommendation for his works to all of you who wish to get a clear perspective of our Indian history.