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Wednesday, 28 December 2016
Claude on Dharampal
"How can any society survive, let alone create, on the basis of borrowed images of itself?" - Claude's preface to Dharampal's "Science and technology in the 18th Centure" (available online).
"The general effect of Dharampal’s work among the public at large has been intensely liberating. However, conventional Indian historians, particularly the class that has passed out of Oxbridge, have seen his work as a clear threat to doctrines blindly and mechanically propagated and taught by them for decades.
Dharampal never trained to be a historian. If he had, he would have, like them, missed the wood for the trees. Despite having worked in the area now for more than four decades, he remains the quintessential layman, always tentative about his findings, rarely writing with any flourish.
Certainly, he does not manifest the kind of certainty that is readily available to individuals who have drunk unquestioningly at the feet of English historians, gulping down not only their ‘facts’ but their assumptions as well. But to him goes the formidable achievement of asking well entrenched historians probing questions they are hard put to answer, like how come they arrived so readily, with so little evidence, at the conclusion that Indians were technologically primitive or, more generally, how were they unable to discover the historical documents that he, without similar training, had stumbled on so easily.
Dharampal’s unmaking of the English-generated history of Indian society has in fact created a serious enough gap today in the discipline. The legitimacy of English or colonial dominated perceptions and biases about Indian society has been grievously undermined, but the academic tradition has been unable to take up the challenge of generating an organised indigenous view to take its place. The materials for a far more authentic history of science and technology in India are indeed now available as a result of his pioneering work, but the competent scholar who can handle it all in one neat canvas has yet to arrive. One recent new work that should be mentioned in this connection is Helaine Selin’s Encyclopaedia of Non-Western Science, Technology and Medicine (Kluwer, Holland) which indeed takes note of Dharampal’s findings.
Till such time as the challenge is taken up, however, we will continue to replicate, uncritically, in the minds of generation after generation, the British (or European) sponsored view of Indian society and its institutions. How can any society survive, let alone create, on the basis of borrowed images of itself?"