AMU Faculty delivers presidential address in Bihar History Congress

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Aligarh : Prof Mohammad Sajjad, faculty member, Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) articulated the many layers of Bihar’s history after independence—to ensure that the state’s history remains seen and felt in the present.

He was speaking on ‘Challenges of Writing, Disseminating and Consuming Contemporary Histories of Bihar’ in his presidential address for Contemporary Section, at the ‘Xth Bihar History Congress’ held at Bhagalpur today.

Prof Sajjad called for each province in India to have stand alone volumes of historical accounts pertaining to Post-Independence period.

He stressed, “There have been instances of a possible disinterest and indifference of the senior organizational functionaries in Ministries, Departments and executive agencies to the need to preserve important historical records, in the archives, for the use of historians working on post-independence period of India”.

“There is also a lack of historical perspective even among the top management and neglect by professional historians and archivists”, he pointed out before suggesting workable remedies.

Prof Sajjad pressed for looking at life-writings and fiction as supplementary sources of contemporary history and discussed the need for looking deeper into historical fiction books that present a wide array of time periods, places and characters—giving us a broad view of the past.

“So far as memoirs and autobiographies are concerned, I can submit with some degree of confidence that most of the existing Urdu and to some extent Hindi memoirs are very less helpful for historians to reconstruct an informed history of contemporary Bihar. I do not know how many and what kind of memoirs have been written in Maithili, Magahi, Bhojpuri, Vajjika, Angika, Surjapuri, Santhali, and other languages and dialects of Bihar. Historians need to look for such accounts”, he said.

Prof Sajjad pointed out biographical writings must be based on archival research, interweaving historical categories and methodologies. This genre challenges the analyst to move beyond easy platitudes and the historian to produce lucid writing.

Bihar’s contemporary history, he said, is particularly more deficient at researches in gender histories. He insisted that one of the ways of approaching gender history could be through rigorous biographical writings.

Stressing the necessity for writing microhistories of regions and sub-regions, Prof Sajjad emphasised that the Urdu newspapers, despite many pitfalls and precariously managing to survive, would be better source of studying the Muslim communities of Bihar for understanding their mindset, socio-economic location, (misplaced and skewed?) political and socio-economic priorities, patriarchy, sectarian and sub-sectarian (maslaki) divides and their urge to educational uplift and political empowerment among other things.

Prof Sajjad urged the historians, engaged with researches in modern and contemporary periods, to explore and expose the state’s failure in dispensing criminal justice, particularly in the cases of group violence against the landless labourers (mostly Dalits), against the tribes, and against the religious-linguistic minorities. Intermittent agrarian and communal massacres need special attention of historians where, quite often, the perpetrators, aided by the state machineries, are often let off due to so called lack of evidence.

He called for procuring database from the Municipal and Panchayat administration to know about the problems and aspirations of the huge masses and to awaken people and policy-planners against terribly unplanned urban development and environmental destruction.

“The folklores, folk songs, popular sayings and phrases, little vernacular magazines, mouth organs of the radical political movements, memoirs of freedom fighters, political activists, politicians, litterateurs, academics, administrators, jurists, and others are some of the many primary sources without which professionally credible history-writing cannot be done”, said Prof Sajjad.

He added: Of late, judicial verdicts have gone online and besides websites of the High Courts and the Supreme Court, the indiankanoon.org is another website which should be referred to as primary sources by the professional historians.

He further insisted that given the recurrence of flood in Bihar, hydraulic and riparian histories of the region are necessary to be explored in order to make people rise against Bihar having been reduced to an internal colony. He also insisted that besides inter-regional imbalance, there exists intra-regional imbalance too, in terms of public investment and the two phenomena are starkly evident in Bihar.

Prof Sajjad drew attention to the professional perusal of a combination of police-records, newspaper reports, legislative debates and judicial verdicts, besides memoirs, diaries, correspondences, travelogues and fictional depiction as important fields of historical researches, particularly for modern and contemporary period.

He called for regular sessions of the Bihar History Congress and online (and print) publication of its proceedings to aid Bihar’s contemporary history writing.

“I urge the Bihar History Congress to make a sincere move in this direction. Besides fulfilling the conventional professional responsibilities, this would also be one of the steps towards minimising the academy-society disjunction, and thereby making the case for public funding on higher education and research stronger than it has ever been”, said Prof Sajjad.

“Thus far, public universities of Bihar have been devoting least or inadequate attention to research on oppressions based on caste, gender, religion and language”, he added.

He also pressed for rendering the conversations, writings, researches and talks of the Bihar History Congress into Hindi, Urdu and other local languages of the region.

Prof Sajjad has published his books, on modern and contemporary Bihar, from globally renowned publication houses and has published essays in the top-tier academic journals, besides writing columns in the national English dailies and portals.

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