History Teaching: C R Das

CR Das

The present requires a past to understand it for the Present has emerged out of the processes of the past. Involve students of the present – and then relate present events to the past. In fact any social science can be approached through the present. Process of ritualisation, women have been subsumed – history of gender discrimination. Dalit history – marginilisation lies in the past. Post vedic period. What was the role of the man.. of religion .. of technology .. of language in this.

History has been institutionally modeled – connected past of great personalities and the state. Traditionally history focused on the battles and powers of the past rulers. In the eighties / nineties in the history text books of Maharashtra, Shivaji was glorified as the killer of Afzal Khan. Today’s textbooks view his greatness in terms of the administrative systems he introduced for land revenue.

We have a number of pasts – A historian tries to go back to one of these pasts – which is of interest to him. Today’s historians are more interested of the common man’s perspective of those times. To them history is actually a lived experience.

The story of scientific discovery is the story of the scientific process. Of the tools that were used to make progress. A stone is a stone – but when you pick up a sharp stone and used it for hunting, the context changed. It is the context that made it a tool.

Text books don’t create a context, hence the problem of memorization and dates. Most of the bad textbooks deal with what we can call the lower cognitive – What is this? When did it happen? To make it easier for date memorization – remember a broad process. In science, 1905 was a paradigm year – the paper on relativity was published by Einstein. Dates just give you a linear movement of time. Space, Time and Human beings – are three things which are important. Geography, History and Ecology.

A good teacher will take the discussion to the levels of the Higher cognitive – Why did it happen? Can you reconceptualise this? (What would have happened if the Marathas had won the battle of Panipat?) In this sense it is about a demography and its appearance. How did a particular society deal with its social problems? For example today’s Trump victory – the answer can be found in the past. Space is not neutral, it intervenes. State or institutions of that time also play an important role. Growth comes in stages – a struggle of man to free himself from the constraints of society of that time.

History can only be understood by understanding the Art, the Geography, the Economics and the Technology of those times. For example if we need to understand the reign of the Pallavas, we need to understand what was the geography of the region? What were local materials? What drove the economy? Going back to Shivaji’s example and the subsequent Maratha empire. Based in a mostly arid region, how is it that the Marathas were able to stretch their empire pan India? The inclusion of the fertile Konkan region was important in the Marathas maintaining food supplies for its army – and the rest of their empire.

Why did ancient rulers spend so much energy and money to build temples? Can we construe that temples were used to project power? The bigger the king, the bigger the temples. History needs to create a comprehension about a larger human system. Students should get a look at the bigger picture. The past is relevant, when you can use it to build a future.


Chhatrapati Shivaji – History in the context of Geography and Economics

Professor CR Das talked of the use of history today to justify politics. But yet there is a scope for it to be more scientific. The focus of his talk was on the history of the Maratha empire. The question he posed to be audience was: Were the geographical features of Deccan suitable for state formation? The Mughals, who where located in the wet Gangetic plain, had an agriculturally productive territory, with a huge amount of population, which also served as fodder for their army. Yet if you look at most of India’s and the world’s martial races, they have not come up in wet zones, but in arid zones like the Deccan. The Marathas, the Rajputs, come to think of it even the Mughals, all had their origins in arid zones. Possibly, the reason for this is the horse. The 12th century started seeing the use of the horse as military equipment. And horses don’t thrive in wet zones. They are able to get their fodder and grains that developed in arid zones. The other animals that live in wet zones are also oxen and camel. These animals of the arid zones lead to not only the military conquests, but also to development in trade. The nomadic Banjaras were the traditional trading community, who also supported the army. 

Alauddin Khilji was the first Muslim to locate integrating the Deccan into his Northern empire. When Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj started expanding in Deccan at the expense of the Bijapur kingdom, he also adopted a lot of the Islamic state best practices. He took over the Konkan, which was the wet zone that help provide the food supplies to sustain the Maratha army. His successors later on attacked the North, so that they could have a bigger wet zone and therby dominate a larger territory. Another practice that he adopted was the chauth, a 25% tax on income. Professor Das that believes that the downfall of the marathas was because they adopted the economic practices but not the political ones. Though they inherited the mercenary military force of the weakened Mughal state, they were not able to raise the funds to pay salaries. One of the useful political practices of the Mughals he cites is the Durbar, something that the Britishers held onto, but ostensibly the Marathas did not. My question to Prof Das was what would have happened if the Marathas had won the battle of Panipat. He believes things wouldn’t have changed too much. The rise of India’s colonisation coincided with the fall of the American colonies. As the British moved military and manpower from America to India, British domination in India was inevitable. Indian agriculture inputs were required to run the wheels of industry in Britain.