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Furthering a Non-Communal Understanding of History

Meena Bhargava

By Satish Chandra
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp. ix 549, Rs. 695.00


This volume is an anthology of valuable essays by Professor Satish Chandra, published earlier in different journals and books. Since the earliest of these essays was written in 1946, the shape and direction of history writing have undergone a tremendous change. The essays in this collection reflect – and have also been responsible for determining – new currents in history writing over the last five decades.   The Introduction begins on a nostalgic note, providing an insight into the experiences of Satish Chandra in his makings of a historian. But as he recounts his career as a student, as a researcher, as a historian, he explains with subtlety the shift in historical trends and historical writings over the years. These shifts are reflected in the themes chosen for discussion viz. society and state, society and countryside, economy, religion and state, political processes and historiography. While these categories may provide thematic coherence, the author emphasizes that the reason that he selected these classifications was to underline a basic approach reflected in many of the articles, that of exploring the interconnection between society, economy, religion and state and their interaction with political processes.   The volume contains twenty-four essays, which discuss a range of topics, revolving around five themes and reflecting a pattern of historical understanding for more than five decades. Using Jaipur records for the first time, Satish Chandra published ‘Jizyah in the Post-Aurangzeb Period’ in 1946 (chapter 17). Considering the period in which it was written, it offered a radical argument i.e. jizyah was not imposed on the non-Muslims in the eighteenth century and neither was there any interference with the religious movements or building of new places of worship. Satish Chandra thus propounded that though theoretically Muslim, eighteenth century was an example of a liberal state. Since the 1940’s, Satish Chandra’s contribution to the consolidation of medieval Indian history has remained consistent and unabated.   Another pathbreaking essay in the book is on the crisis of the jagirdari system (chapter 4), a concept indispensable for the understanding of medieval Indian history. This hypothesis was expounded for the first time in Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court, 1707-40 (first published 1959, new edition, 2001). It questioned many of the ideas of Jadunath Sarkar viz. expansion of the Mughal Empire to such an extent that it succumbed under its own weight, constant pressure of immigrants from Central Asia that adversely affected the character of the people and the resistance ...

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