Panel to study Ancient Indian History causes outrage

On 14th September 2020, the Minister of State for Culture & Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel gave a written reply in the Lok Sabha to an unstarred question (which requires a written reply instead of an oral one) regarding the “Constitution of Committee to Review Aspects of Ancient History” raised by a few MPs. The answer has understandably ruffled a few feathers.

Question & Answer:

Will the Minister of culture be pleased to state: (a) whether the Government has constituted any committee to review aspects related to the ancient history; (b) if so, the details thereof; (c) the details of the members of the said committee; (d) whether these members aptly represent the diversity of India; and (e) whether the report of the said committee is likely to be mentioned in text books used for the purpose of educational research and if so, the details thereof?

(a to d) Yes, Sir. An expert committee has been set up for conducting holistic study of origin and evolution of Indian culture since 12000 years before present and its interface with other cultures of the world.

The members of the committee are:
1. Shri K.N. Dikshit, Chairman, Indian Archaeological Society, New Delhi and former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India;
2. Dr. R.S. Bisht, former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India;
3. Dr B.R. Mani, former Director General, National Museum, New Delhi and former Additional Director General, Archaeological Survey of India;
4. Prof. Santosh Shukla, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi;
5. Dr. Ramesh Kumar Pandey, Vice Chancellor, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi;
6. Prof. Makkhan Lal, Director, Delhi Institute of Heritage Management, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi;
7. Dr. G.N. Srivastava, former Additional Director General, Geographical Survey of India;
8. Justice Dr. Mukundkam Sharma, Chancellor, Lal Bahadur Shastri Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Delhi and former Judge of Supreme Court of India;
9. Prof. P.N. Shastri, Vice Chancellor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi;
10. Prof. R.C. Sharma, Head, Department of Linguistics, University of Delhi;
11. Prof. K.K. Mishra, Dean, Anthropology, University of Hyderabad and former Director, Anthropological Survey of India;
12. Dr. Balram Shukla, Department of Sanskrit, University of Delhi;
13. Prof. Azad Kaushik, Scientist and International Thinker, Canada;
14. Pt. M.R. Sharma, Chairman, “Sangmarg” World Brahmin Federation, India, New Delhi;
15. Representative from Ministry of Culture; and
16. Representative from Archaeological Survey of India.

(e) At present, there is no such proposal.

Concerns over the reply:

The written reply does not directly address the question whether the committee members aptly represent the diversity of India. From the list of members mentioned, it can be noted that all of them are upper caste Hindu male members. There is no place in the panel for women, Dalits, and minorities or adequate representation of people from South India and North East India.

The experts mentioned in the committee include at least four professors or academicians specialising in the Sanskrit language. This is overkill considering no experts from other languages find mention in the panel. And by including the head of a caste group, the government seems to suggest that Brahminism is the cultural identity of India.

Most members in the committee are from the archaeological or administrative disciplines. Lack of scholars specialising in Ancient History in the committee is a major drawback.

The arbitrary timeline of 12000 years is also a cause for concern. The concept of a nation state did not exist so far back in history, with multiple settlers practicing different forms of cultural practices across the subcontinent. There is a genuine apprehension that the committee will investigate the history purely from the majority Hindu perspective.

P.S. This panel on Ancient History was previously formed in 2016 but failed to submit their report within the deadline. Check out the details here.

If you are keen to know more about the kind of questions being raised by our MPs in the Lok Sabha and their corresponding answers by Ministers, head over to the official website here.