BJP v Romila Thapar

Hindu nationalists are still trying to bully the much-admired historian Romila Thapar.

Romila Thapar is the preeminent historian of ancient India, an octogenarian feted the world over for her scholarship excavating answers to questions at the heart of the country’s past. She holds honorary doctorates from top universities including Oxford, is the recipient of the Kluge Prize — akin to the Nobel in social sciences — and has lectured at colleges across the world.

All this makes her a fine target for religious fanatics.

At the age of 89, Thapar is the subject of attacks by supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, who view her as an opponent to be discredited.

“In the early days, I used to get a little upset,” she said. Accusations of ignorance about ancient Indian history quickly devolve into “pornographic and sexist” remarks. “But it’s happened so frequently and regularly that it doesn’t distress me anymore,” she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pursuing an agenda that emphasizes Hindu primacy in India — a vast, multireligious democracy founded on secular ideals. History is a key part of that vision.

For Hindu nationalists, India’s past consists of a glorious Hindu civilization followed by centuries of Muslim rule that Modi has described as a thousand years of “slavery.”

Thapar considers such assertions both simplistic and incorrect. Based on extensive research of Sanskrit and Prakrit texts and drawing upon archaeological data, she presents a more complex picture of Indian history. Her research and writings undermines the ruling party’s efforts to project a unified Hindu tradition stretching back thousands of years and to paint Muslim rulers of India as nothing more than invaders or tyrants.

This all too familiar brand of murderous bullshit is a powerful reason for thinking the very idea of a god or gods is absurd. What kind of god or gods would arrange things this way? With centuries upon centuries of inter-religious hatred and violence? Only a sadistic kind, in which case let’s stop worshiping them.

Thapar said attempts to humiliate her for her work have come from even trusted institutions. In 2019, Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where Thapar spent decades teaching, sent her a letter asking her to submit her curriculum vitae so officials could “review” her status as an emeritus professor, an honorary title normally given for life.

That’s grotesque, and disgusting.

(She didn’t comply, and the university dropped the “review” plan.)

Thapar and others said the incident is reflective of declining academic freedom as Modi’s party has sought to seize control of progressive, left-leaning institutions of higher education by appointing loyalists to key administrative positions.

You can see why Trump likes him.

Historians like Thapar have “undervalued and consciously rejected many of the achievements of ancient India,” said Rakesh Sinha, a right-leaning academic associated with Modi’s party. Sinha said Thapar was guided by Marxism and had a Eurocentric view. “They take only those parts of history which undermine India’s image as a cultural and intellectual society,” he said.

Uh huh, Marxism, right. Don Junior couldn’t have said it more stupidly.

But being a political target for over three decades has not slowed Thapar. In October, her 30th book title, “Voices of Dissent,” tracing the history and evolution of dissent in the Indian subcontinent, was published. Critics of the government, including Thapar, say dissent is increasingly being criminalized.

It’s a trend.

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