For over five decades, the historian Romila Thapar has been at the vanguard of research and writing about ancient India. The author of 20 books including seminal titles such as A History of India and Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, Thapar is also the author of history textbooks for the National Council for Research and Education (NCERT), used widely in schools across the nation. She is an honorary fellow at Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford, and professor emerita at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, with which she has been involved since its inception, and where, from 1971 to 1990, she was professor of ancient Indian history. She has been a visiting professor at Cornell University, and holds honorary degrees from institutions such as the University of Chicago, Oxford University, Edinburgh University and the Universities of Calcutta and of Hyderabad. In 2008, she was awarded the Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of the Humanities.
Throughout her academic career, Thapar’s focus has been on understanding history not as mere factual inquiry but as questioning a cultural and ideological phenomenon. Her oeuvre has transformed the understanding of the Indian subcontinent globally. Thapar has also been a consistent and vocal advocate for education through rational, evidence-based inquiry and research-oriented approaches.
In February 2016, soon after students from JNU were arrested and charged with sedition, The Caravan met with Thapar. They discussed the historical evolution of sedition, the significance of secularism and approaches to higher education in India. Published below is an excerpt from the interview.
This conversation is a part of ‘Notes on Nationalism,’ a series being published by The Caravan that considers various aspects of the public discourse around sedition, nationalism, and Indian identity. You can read other pieces in the series here, here and here.
The Caravan: Where has the notion of sedition come from?