Editorial – A Relook at History


History like beauty, we suppose lies a lot in the eyes of the beholder. This is why its interpretation has been often subject to such drastic shifts in the course of time.  Yesterday’s villains have been known to become today’s heroes and vice versa. These shifts have been most radical in the case of ideology oriented visions of history. The manner in which this historical vision oscillated between the extremes in the former Soviet Union, is the most prominent example of how history is not an absolute. This may also be an indicator that a larger part of the study of history is not just a chronological recording of events in the annals of a nation or people, but arranging these events into a pattern that makes sense, as well as pleases the arrangers’ sense of historical purpose. The powerful idea floated by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, that we are all prisoners of our perspective is most pronouncedly at play here. The implication here is, every once in a while, it is essential to deconstruct our perspectives so that we can reconstruct them after taking into account the current levels of understandings of the problems before us, as well as after factoring in new data that may have come to light. Our perspectives need constant refreshing, just as our knowledge bank needs constant upgrading.
It is refreshing that we too are indulging at least in some bit of such deconstruction and reconstruction exercises in our study of our own history. We would even define true scholarship in this ability to deconstruct deeply held visions and beliefs in order to give the same problems fresh perspective. This rather cerebral exercise does not necessarily have to involve disregarding of previously held interpretations, but on the other hand, the premium should be on contributing to the sum total of our understanding of the subject. The thought of deconstructing history comes to mind for instance in a consideration of Zeliangrong leader Haipou Jadonang. For decades, this man who led a rebellion against the imperial power of Britain at the peak of its colonial glory was long in the blind spot of history. Today not anymore, and all the better for that. Every people, every community, every nation needs icon around which to build its pride, and Haipou Jadonang, the uncompromising rebel against external subjugation, fits the bill for the Zeliangrongs as much as for the entire state and the country.
There is however a danger in the creation of icons. As much as these larger than life men and women are sources of pride for many, they can also be the symbols of prejudices and oppressions for others. There is always a need for extreme caution while attempting to create centres around which to build ideas, for, to refer to Derrida again, when there is a centre, there has also to be a periphery, just as when we construct a “mainstream” the obvious outcome would be the emergence of the “non-mainstream”. This caution must be exercised, be it in our interpretation of the symbolic significance of the Kangla to the identity and history of Manipur, or the projection of our historical figures. We must not allow the binary opposition of the “centre” and the “periphery”, the ruler and the ruled, the oppressor and the oppressed, the mainstream and the non-mainstream, to develop. The debate once over NCERT history textbooks where a section of the Indian academia inclined towards a rightwing ideology tried to paint all Muslim bashers as national heroes, and the attempt by another left leaning section to undo this trend, is a lesson. Mixing ideologies and history can make for extremely explosive situations. Our prescription is simple. Never try and severe historical figures or events from the time frame they belonged to. Their behaviours and outlook to life was determined by the historical forces of the time, and any study of them must never lose sight of that time frame as the reference point. While we must pay our respect and gratitude to great men of the past, we must equally learn to value and respect our own present and future. Let us not allow our past to come into conflict with our present or future.


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