Prof. Irfan Habib

Irfan Habib


By Afzal Usmani

Born: 12th August 1931, Baroda (Vadodra) in Gujrat India.

Father: Prof. Mohd. Habib (A noted historian and Alig)

Mother: Sohaila Tayabji (Grand daughter of Justice Badruddin Tayabji of Bombay)



1951: B.A. AMU Aligarh with First Position

1953: M.A. (History), AMU Aligarh with First Position.

1956: D.Phil. from New College, Oxford.


1953: Lecturer, Department of History, AMU Aligarh

1960: Reader, Department of History, AMU Aligarh

1968: Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow.

1969: Professor, Department of History, AMU Aligarh (Retired on 30.08.1991)

1952: Editor, Aligarh Magazine (English)

1982: Watumull Prize of American Historical Association. (Jointly with Tapan Raychaudhuri)

1975-77 &14th June, 1984 to 13th May 1988: Chairman, Department of History, AMU Aligarh

1975-77 & 14th June 1994 to 13th May 1996: Coordinator, Center of Advance Studies (CAS), Department of History, AMU Aligarh..

: Dean, Faculty of Social Science

1986-90: Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research New Delhi, India

(9th September, 1986 to 1st July 1990)

1981: President, Indian History Congress.

1997: Elected Corresponding Fellow, British Royal Historical Society.

2005: Padma Bhushan, Government of India

2006: Muzaffar Ahmad Memorial Prize

2006: Vice-President, Indian History Congress.

2007: Professor Emeritus in Dept. of History AMU Aligarh

Books Authored:

1. The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707. First published in 1963 by Asia Publishing House. Second,
extensively revised, edition published in 1999 by Oxford University Press.
2. An Atlas of the Mughal Empire: Political and Economic Maps With Detailed Notes, Bibliography, and Index.
Oxford University Press, 1982
3. Essays in Indian History - Towards a Marxist Perception. Tulika Books, 1995.
4. The Economic History of Medieval India: A Survey. Tulika Books, 2001.
5. People's History of India - Part 1: Prehistory. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2001.
6. People’s History of India Part 2 : The Indus Civilization. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2002.
7. A People's History of India Vol. 3 : The Vedic Age. (Co-author Vijay Kumar Thakur) Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2003.
8. A People's History of India - Vol 4 : Mauryan India. (Co-author Vivekanand Jha) Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2004.
9. A People's History of India - Vol 28 : Indian Economy, 1858-1914. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books 2006.

Books Edited

1. The Cambridge Economic History of India - Volume I: 1200-1750 (co-editor Tapan Raychaudhari)
2. UNESCO History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol 5 : Development in contrast: from the sixteenth to the
mid-nineteenth century. (Co-editors Chahryar Adle and K M Baikapov)
3. UNESCO History of Humanity, Vol 4: From the seventh to the sixteenth century. (With various co-editors).
4. UNESCO History of Humanity, Vol 5: From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. (With various co-editors).
5. The Growth of Civilizations in India And Iran
6. Sikh History from Persian Sources
7. Akbar and His India
8. India - Studies in the History of an Idea
9. State & Diplomacy under Tipu Sultan
10. Confronting Colonialism
11. Medieval India - 1
12. A World to Win - Essays on the Communist Manifesto (co-editors Aijaz Ahmed and Prakash Karat)


Irfan Habib was born on 12th August, 1931 in Baroda (now Vadodra) Gujrat in a very aristrocrate family of learned scholars. His father Professor Mohammad Habib was a well known historian and a professor in department of history in Aligarh Muslim University.Irfan Habib’s grandfather, Mohammad Naseem was a famous lawyer in Lucknow and a staunch supporter of Aligarh Movement and female education. His mother Sohaila Tayabji was daughter of Abbas Tayabji and grand-daughter of Justice Badruddin Tayabji. Abbas Tyabji was an Indian freedom fighter from Gujarat, who had served as the Chief Justice of the (Baroda) Gujarat High Court. He was son of son of Shamsuddin Tayabji and nephew of Justice Badruddin Tayabji. He was a key ally and supporter of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel during the 1918 Kheda Satyagraha, and the 1928 Bardoli Satyagraha. He was also a close supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. In 1919-20, Abbas Tyabji was one of the members of the Committee appointed by the Indian National Congress to review the charges against General Dyer for the Amritsar Massacre, which occurred during the fight for independence from the British. Tyabji became the national leader after leading major protests against the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi in May 1930. He was married to Amina Badruddin Tayabji, daughter of Justice Badruddin Tayabji. Justice Badruddin Tayabji was First Indian to be called to the English Bar (1867), and then the first Indian barrister in Bombay. He entered public life after three years at the Bar. Along with Kashinath Telang and Pherozeshah Mehta, he formed the "Triumvirate" that presided over Bombay's public life. Justice Badruddin Tayabji was President of the 3rd session of the Indian National Congress in 1887 which was held in Madras. He was one of the founders of the Anjuman-i-Islam, his brother Camruddin being President. He was Justice of the Bombay High Court from 1895, acting as Chief Justice in 1902, the first Indian to hold this post in Bombay.

Irfan Habib started his education in Aligarh Muslim University and completed his B.A. in 1951 securing first position and a gold medal and M.A. in History in 1953 with honors and joined as Lecturer in Department of History in Aligarh Muslim University at a very young age of 22 years. He obtained his D.Phil. degree from New College, Oxford. His research “Agrarian System of Mughal India” was well taken by the research community was published in form of a book in 1963. He was appointed as “Reader” in 1960 and “Professor” in 1969 in the Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University. His major publications including, Agrarian System of Mughal India, Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist perception and Atlas of the Mughal Empire gave his due place in the academic community. He is also the editor of Peoples History of Indian Series, besides having edited UNESCO publications and Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume I. He has authored and edited number of books, over hundred research papers on various fields of Indian and world history. Prof. Irfan Habib has worked on the historical geography of Ancient India, the history of Indian technology, medieval administrative and economic history, colonialism and its impact on India, and historiography. Amiya Kumar Bagchi describes Habib as "one of the two most prominent Marxist historians of India today and at the same time, one of the greatest living historians of India between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries."


Prof. Irfan Habib with other historians in an intellectual session

Prof. Irfan Habib had served as Chairman of Department of History of AMU from 1975 to 1977 and from 14th June, 1984 to May 1988. He had also served as Coordinator of Center of Advance Studies (CAS) in Department of History, AMU Aligarh from 1975 to 1977 and 14th June 1994 to 13th May 1996. In 1986, Prof. Irfan Habib was appointed as Chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) New Delhi, India. He served as its Chairman from 9th September, 1986 to 1st July 1990. He had also served as President and Vice-President of Indian History Congress in 1981 and 2006 respectively. Indian History Congress is India's largest peer body of historians. He delivered Radhakrishnan Lecture at Oxford in 1991. In 1998, he was elected as Corresponding Fellow of British Royal Historical Society, a unique honor earned by his scholarly contribution, recognized by the international community. Prof. Irfan Habib, formally retired on 30.08.1991 has remained associated with the Aligarh Muslim University for all these years without a break, displaying unusual academic interest and scholarly activity that stand out as a model par excellence for every one. Prof. Irfan Habib remains a towering personality fully wedded to the secular values of the Indian Republic. He has illuminated the minds of millions of Indians by his in depth, path breaking erudition of Indian History with a new insight that was so refreshing to the promotion of secular ideals in India. The nation has bestowed on him the coveted civilian title “Padma Bhushan” in 2005. In December 2007, Aligarh Muslim University appointed Prof. Irfan Habib as Professor Emeritus in the department of History. The presence of such a brilliant scholar in the Aligarh Muslim University will add to the academic glory of the institution. He will remain a beacon light for teachers and students of History for several years to come.

Picture 133

Prof. Irfan Habib addressing First AMU Alumni Summit held at AMU Aligarh on 18-19 Oct 2008


Prof. Irfan Habib attending a ceremony where Prof.Masood Hussain Khan was felicitated by Ghalib Institute of New Delhi. The function was held in Feb 2010 at AMU Aligarh

L-R: Prof. Irfan Habib, Prof. Masood H. Khan, Prof. A.R. Kidwai, Prof. I.Hasnain, Dr. Khaliq Anjum

Professional Work

Source :

Books and Monographs


1. Medieval India: The Study of a Civilization, NBT India, New Delhi, 2007
2. Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556-1707, Asia, Bombay, 1963. Translation published in Urdu, Bengali and Marathi; revised edition, Oxford, Delhi, 1999.
3. Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, Tulika, New Delhi, 1995.
4. An Atlas of the Mughal Empire, Oxford, New Delhi, 1982; 2nd ed., 1983. 5. Editor (jointly with Tapan Raychaudhuri) with several contributions, Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol.I, Cambridge, 1982.


1. The Indian Economy, 1858-1914, Tulika, Delhi, 2005
2. Mauryan India, (with V. Jha) Tulika, New Delhi, 2004.
3. Vedic Age, (with V. Thakur), Tulika, New Delhi, 2003.
4. Indus Civilization Tulika, Delhi, 2002.
5. Prehistory, Tulika, New Delhi, 2001.
6. The Economic History of Medieval India: A Survey, Tulika, New Delhi, 2001.
7. Interpreting Indian History, Zakir Husain Memorial Lectures, NEHU, Shillong, 1988.
8. Caste and Money in Indian History, D.D. Kosambi Memorial Lectures, Bombay University, 1987.
9. Peasant and Artisan Resistance in Mughal India (16th and 17th Centuries), McGill Studies in International Development, No.34, Montreal, Canada, 1984.

Edited Publications:

1. Religion in Indian Hsitory, Tulika, New Delhi, 2007.
2. India: Studies in the History of an Idea, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 2004.
3. History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume V jointly with Chahryar Adle, UNESCO, 2003.
4. A Shared Heritage: The Growth of Civilizations in India & Iran, Tulika, New Delhi, 2002.
5. State and Diplomacy under Tipu Sultan: Documents and Essays, Tulika, New Delhi, 2001.
6. Sikh History from Persian Sources (jointly with J.S. Grewal), Tulika, New Delhi, 2001.
7. Co-editor, with several contributions, History of Humanity, Vols.IV & V, UNESCO, 1999 and 2000.
8. Confronting Colonialism Resistance and Modernization under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, Tulika, New Delhi, 1999.
9. Akbar and His India, Oxford, New Delhi, 1997
10. Medieval India-1, Oxford, New Delhi, 1992.
11. Madhyakalin Bharat (Bengali), I-II, 1990 Bagchi & Co., Calcutta.
12. Madhyakalin Bharat (Hindi), 1981-2003, I-VII Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi.
13. Medieval India - a Miscellany, IV Asia Bombay, 1977.


1. Co-author, (with S. Jaiswal and A. Mukherjee), History in the New NCERT Text Books — a Report and an Index of Errors, Kolkatta, 2003.


A. Medieval Economy and Society

1. ‘Medieval Ayodhya (Awadh), Down to Mughal occupation’, Proceeding of Indian History Congress, Calicut, 2006.
2. Persian Book Writing and Book Use in the Pre-Printing Age, 66th session, Santiniketan, 2005.
3. On the Door Steps of Historical Linguistics – A Note on Mughal Lexicography, 65th session, 2004 Bareilly.
4. Textile Times in Medieval Indian Persian Texts – A Glossary, 64th Session, 2003, Mysore.
5. Political Map of India, First Half of the 14th Century, 63rd Session, Amritsar, 2002.
6. Chaptes on ‘Zamindars’, Peasants’, ‘Labourers and Artisans’, ‘Tribes and Tribal Organisation’, The Village Community and Slavery in J.S. Grewal (ed.), The State and Society in Medieval India, Oxford, New Delhi, 2005.
7. ‘Evolution of the Afghan Tribal System’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 62nd session, Bhopal, 2001.
8. ‘Exploring Medieval Gender History’, Symposia Papers, Indian History Congress, pub. 2000.
9. ‘The Eighteenth Century in Indian Economic History’, presented at the symposium on The Eighteenth Century as a Category in Asian History’, NIAS, Wassenaar, The Netherlands, June 1998. Published in On the Eighteenth Century as a Category of Asian History, ed. L. Blusse and F. Gaastra, Aldershot, 1998; and in P.G. Marshall, The Eighteenth (Century in Indian History, Oxford, New Delhi, 2003.
10. ‘Economic and Social Aspects of Gardens in Mughal India’, Mughal Gardens-Sources, Places, Representations, and Prospects, Eds. James L. Wescoat Jr. and Foachin Wolschke-Bulmahn, Washington, 1996.
11. ‘Peasant Differentiation and the Structure of Village Community: 16th and 17th-Century Evidence from Northern India’, Peasants in Indian History, ed. V.K. Thakur and A. Aounshuman, Patna, 1996.
12. ‘Agriculture and Agrarian Conditions in South Gujarat, 1596’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Mysore Session, 1994.
13. ‘Akbar and Social Inequities: A Study of the Evolution of his Ideas’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Warangal session, 1993. 14. ‘Slavery in the Delhi Sultanate, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries - Evidence from Sufic Literature’, Indian Historical Review, Vol.XV, Nos.1-2, 1991.
15. ‘Merchant Communities in Pre-Colonial India’, Merchant Empires, ed. James Tracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, pp.371-399.
16. ‘Land Rights in the Reign of Akbar - the Evidence of the sale-deeds of Vrindaban and Aritha’ (jointly with Tarapada Mukherjee), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Golden Jubilee Session, Gorakhpur, 1989.
17. ‘Fatehpur Sikri, the Economic and Social Setting’, Marg, Vol.XXXVIII, 1987.
18. ‘System of Trimetallism in the Age of the Price Revolution - Effects of the Silver Infulx on the Mughal Indian Monetary system’, The Monetary System of Mughal India, ed. J.F. Richards, Oxford, 1987.
19. ‘Classifying Pre-colonial India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol.12 (Nos. 2 & 3), 1985. also in, Feudalism and Non-European Societies, eds. T.J. Byres and Harbans Mukhia, Frank Cass, London, 1985.
20. ‘Price Regulations of Alauddin Khalji - a Defence of Ziya Barani’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol.21, No.4, 1984.
21. ‘Society and Economic change, 1200-1500’, U.P. Historical Review, vol.II, 1983.
22. ‘The Peasant in Indian History’, Presidential Address, Indian History Congress, 1982. Published in its Proceedings, 1982 session.
23. ‘Economic History of the Delhi Sultanate, an Essay in Interpretation’, Indian Historical Review, vol.IV, No.2, 1978.
24. ‘Indian Textile Industry in the 17th Century’, Professor S.C. Sarkar Felicitation Volume, New Delhi,1976.
25. ‘The System of Bills of Exchange (Hundis) in the Mughal Empire’, Proceedings of the Indian HistoryCongress, Muzaffarpur, Session, 1972.
26. ‘The Jatts of Punjab and Sind’ - Presidential Address at Punjab History Conference, 1971, published in Proceedings of the Conference, and subsequently in Punjab Past and Present, Essays in Honour of Dr Ganda Singh, eds., Harbans Singh and N. Gerald Barrier, Punjabi University, Patiala.
27. ‘Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Mughal India’ Journal of Economic History, (U.S.), 29, 1 (March 1969), and in Enquiry, N.S., vol.III, No.3, 1971.
28. ‘Aspects of Agrarian Relations and Economy in a Region of Uttar Pradesh during the 16th century’, Indian Economic and Social History Review IV(3), 1967.
29. ‘Distribution of Landed property in Pre-British India’ Enquiry, N.S. II(3), Winter 1965, Delhi, and in the Kosambi Commemoration Volume,Indian Society Historical Probings,ed.R.S.Sharma.
30. ‘Evidence for 16th century Agrarian conditions in the Guru Granth Sahib’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, I, 1964.
31. ‘Usury in Medieval India’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, VI, 1964, the Hague.
32. ‘The Currency System of the Mughal Empire (1556-1707)’, Medieval India Quarterly, IV (Nos.1-2), Aligarh, 1960.
33. ‘Banking in Mughal India’, Contributions to Indian Economic History-I, ed. Tapan Raychaudhuri, Calcutta, 1960.
34. ‘The Agrarian causes of the fall of the Mughal Empire’, Enquiry, 2 & 3, 1959.
35. ‘Zamindars in the Ain’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress,Trivandrum, Session 1958.

B. History of Technology

36. ‘Textile Terms in Medieval Indian Persian Texts: A Glossary’, ‘Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 64th session, Mysore, 2003.
37. ‘Joseph Needham and the History of Indian Technology’, Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol.35, No.3, 2000.
38. ‘Akbar and Technology’, in Akbar and his India ed. I. Habib, Delhi, 1997.
39. ‘Pursuing the History of Indian Technology: Pre-Modern Modes of Transmission of Power’, Social Scientist, Vol.20 nos.3-4 March -April 1992. 40. ‘Capacity of Technological Change in Mughal India’, in: Aniruddha Roy and S.K.Bagchi (eds.) Technology in Ancient and Medieval India, Delhi, 1986, pp.1-14.
41. ‘Technological transmissions between the Islamic World and India in Medieval times’ (UNESCO Symposium Kuwait, 1984), published: ‘Medieval Technology Exchanges Between India and the Islamic World’, Aligarh Journal of Oriental Studies, II (1-2), 1985.
42. ‘Changes in Technology in Medieval India’ Studies in History, Vol.II, No.1, 1980.
43. ‘The Technology and Economy of Mughal India’, IESHR, Vol.XVII, No.1, 1980.
44. ‘Technology and barriers to Technological Change in Mughal India’, Indian Historical Review, Vol.V, No.1-2, 1978-79.
45. ‘Technological Changes and Society, 13th and 14th centuries’, Presidential Address, Section II, Indian Historical Congress, Varanasi Session, ,1969, published in the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 1969 session, and with addendum in Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (ed.) Studies in the History of Science in India, Vol.II, New Delhi, 1982.
46. ‘Political Map of India, First Half of the Fourteenth Century’ (with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 63rd session, Amritsar, pub. 2003.
47. ‘Economic Map of India, AD 500-800’ (with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 62nd session, Bhopal, pub. 2002. C. Historical Geography
48. ‘Imagining River Sarasvati - A Defence of Commonsense’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Kolkata session, pub. 2001.
49. ‘India in the Seventh Century: a survey of Political Geography’, (with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Calicut session, 2000.
50. ‘Mapping the Evolution and Diffusion of Humankind and India’s Place in it’, jointly with Faiz Habib, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Patiala session, 1999.
51. ‘The Historical Geography of India, 1800-800 BC’, jointly with Faiz Habib, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 53rd session, New Delhi, 1993.
52. ‘Mapping the Mauryan Empire’ (jointly with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress,Gorakhpur, 1990.
53. ‘Mapping the Archaeological Cultures, B.C. 1800-800’ (jointly with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 49th Session, Dharwar, 1989.
54. ‘The Geography and Economy of the Indus Civilization-Text accompanying Map’ (jointly with Faiz Habib),Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Goa Session, 1988.
55. ‘The Economic Map of India, A.D. 1-300’ (jointly with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of Indian History Congress, Srinagar Session, 1987.
56. ‘Political Geography of Northern India First Half of the Thirteenth Century’ (jointly with Faiz Habib),Proceedings of Indian History Congress, Bangalore session, 1998.
57. ‘A Map of India, 600-320 B.C.’, (jointly with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress,Calcutta, 1996.
58. ‘A Map of India, B.C. 200 A.D. 300 Based on Epigraphic Evidence’, Proceedings of Indian History Congress, Calcutta session, 1991.
59. ‘Political Map of Northern India, first half of the Thirteenth Century’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Bangalore session, 1998.
60. “From Oxus to Yamuna (c.600-c.750)’ (jointly with Faiz Habib), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Aligarh, 1995.
61. ‘Cartography in Mughal India’, Medieval India — a Miscellany, ed.K.A. Nizami, Vol.IV, Bombay,1977.
62. ‘Sutlej and Beas in the Medieval Period’, The Geographer, Aligarh, Vol.6(2), 1954.

C. Medieval Political and Administrative History

63. Chapters on ‘The Delhi Sultanate‘ and ‘The Mughal Empire’ in J.S. Grewal (ed.), State and Society in Medieval India, Oxford, New Delhi, 2005.
64. ‘Formation of the Sultanate Ruling Class’, Medieval India, I, 1992.
65. ‘Review article on Andre Wink’s “Land and Sovereignty in India - Agrarian System and Politics under the Eighteenth Century Maratha Svarajya”,’ Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol.XXV, No.4, Oct.-Dec.1988; and Reply to Wink’s rejoinder, IESHR, XXVI(3), 1989.
66. ‘The Mughal Administration and the Temples of Vrindavan during the Reigns of Jahangir and Shahjahan’,(jointly with Tarapada Mukherjee), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 49th Session, Dharwar,pub. 1989.
67. ‘Akbar and the Temples of Mathura and its Environs’ (jointly with Tarapada Mukherjee), Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Goa Session, 1988.
68. ‘Postal Communications in Mughal India’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Amritsar Session, 1985.
69. ‘Mansab salary scales under Jahangir and Shahjahan’, Islamic Culture, 4 IX, No.3, 1985.
70. ‘The Family of Nur Jahan during Jahangir’s Reign - a Political Study’ Medieval India - a Miscellany Vol.I, 1969.
71. ‘The Mansab System, 1595-1637’ Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Patiala session, 1968.

D. Modern Indian Economy and Society

72. ‘Processes of accumulation in pre-colonial and colonial India’, Indian Historical Review, Vol.XI, No.1-2, 1985/1988.
73. ‘Studying a colonial economy without perceiving colonialism’, Modern Asian Studies, Cambridge,19(2), 1985.
74. ‘Marx’s Perceptions of India’, Marx on India and Indonesia, Karl-Marx-Haus, Trier, 1983; & inMarxist, Delhi, Vol.I, No.1, 1983.
75. ‘Colonialization of the Indian Economy’, Social Scientist, No.32, 1973.

E. Anti-Colonial Resistance

76. ‘The Coming of 1857’, in: Indian People in the Struggle for Freedom, Sahmat, 1998.
77. ‘The Left in the National Movement’, in ibid.
78. ‘Civil Disobedience, 1930-31’, Social Scientist, Vol.25 (8-9) 1997.
79. ‘The Formation of India – Notes on the History of an Idea’, Social Scientist, Vol.25 (7-8), 1997.
80. ‘Gandhiji’, in: Addressing Gandhi, Sahmat, New Delhi, 1995.
81. ‘Gandhi and the National Movement’, Social Scientist, Vol.23 (4-6), 1995.

F. Historiography

82. ‘In Defence of Orientalism: Critical Notes on Edward Said’, Social Scientist, Vol.33(1-2) (2005), andInternational Socialism, London, Autumn, 2005.
83. ‘What Makes the World Change — the long view’, pub. Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, 2003.
84. ‘Timur in the Political Tradition and Historiography of Mughal India’, in L’Heritage timouride, ed. Maria S Zuppe, Tashkent, 1997.
85. ‘Problems of Marxist Historiography’. Social Scientist, No.187, 1988.
86. ‘Theories of Social Change in South Asia’, The Journal of Social Studies, Dhaka, Vol.33.
87. ‘Barani’s theory of the history of Delhi Sultanate’, Indian Historical Review, Vol.7, Nos.1-2, 1980-81.
88. ‘Problems of Marxist Historical Analysis’, Science and Human Progress - Prof.D.D. Kosambi Commemoration Volume 1974; and in Enquiry, NS. No.III(2)19.
89. ‘India look at herself’, Times Literary Supplement, No.3, 361, July 28, 1966.
90. ‘An examination of Wittfogel’s Theory of Oriental Despotism’, Enquiry, 6, 1961.
91. ‘Historians of Medieval India and the Process of National Integration’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 1961, Session; and in The Punjab Past and Present, Vol.VI-1, 1972.
92. ‘Problems of the Study of the Economic History of Medieval India’, Problems of Historical Writings in India, ed. S. Gopal and Romila Thapar, Delhi, 1963.

G. Intellectual History

93. ‘Persian Writing and Book Use in the Pre-Printing Age’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress,66th Session, Santiniketan, 2005.
94. ‘A Fragmentary Exploration of an Indian Text on Religion and Sects: Notes on the Earlier Version of the Dabistan-i Mazahib’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Kolkata session, 2001.
95. ‘Ziya Barani’s Vision of the State’, The Medieval History Journal, SAGE, II (1), 1999.
96. ‘A Political Theory for the Mughal Empire — a Study of the Ideas of Abu’l Fazl’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Patiala session, pub. 1999.
97. ‘The Formation of India: Notes on the History of an Idea’, Social Scientist, Nos.290-91 (1997), pub.1998.
98. ‘A Documentary History of the Gosains of the Chaitanya Sect of Vrindaban’, IHC, 51 Session, Calcutta 1990. Margaret H. Case (ed.), Govindadeva. A Dialogue in Stone, New Delhi, 1996.
99. “Medieval Popular Monotheism and its Humanism - the Historical Setting’, Social Scientist, No.235,1993.
100. ‘Akbar and His Age’, Social Scientist, No.232-3, 1992.
101. ‘Reason and Science in Medieval India’, Society and Ideology in India: Essays in Honour of Professor R.S. Sharma, ed. D.N. Jha, New Delhi, 1996, pp.163-74.
102. ‘Reason and History’, Zakir Husain Memorial Lecture, ‘Zakir Husain College, New Delhi, 1994.
103. ‘The Political Role of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah’, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Aligarh, Session, 1960.

H. Islamic History

104. ‘A study of Hajjaj bin Yusuf’s outlook and policies in the light of the Chachnama’, Bulletin of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Nos. 6&7, 1962-3. J. Archaeology
105. Critique of the Archaeological Survey of India’s Report on Babri Masjid Excavations, Ayodhya’, Frontline, 26 September 2003/ A.G. Noorani (ed.), The Babri Masjid Question, I, Tulika, New Delhi,2003, pp.163-168.
106. ‘Unreason and Archaeology- The Painted Grey-Ware and Beyond’, Social Scientist, Vol.25, Nos.1-2, Jan-Feb.1997.

I. Capitalism, Imperialism, Socialism

107. ‘Capital Accumulation and the Exploitation of the Unequal World — Insights from a Debate withinMarxism’, Essays Presented to Professor Hiren Mukherjee, Kolkata, 2002.
108. ‘Capitalism in History’, Social Scientist, 266-8, Nos.7-9. July-Sept 1995.
109. ‘The Marxian Theory of Socialism and the Experience of Socialist Societies’, Social Scientist, Vol.21,Nos.5-6, May-June, 1993.

J. Language and History

110. On the Doorsteps of Historical Linguistics — A Note on Mughal Lexicography, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 65th session, Bareilly, 2004.
111. “Linguistic Materials From Eighth-Century Sind: An Exploration of the Chachnama” Symposia Papers:IHC 55 Session’, Aligarh 1994.

K. Contemporary History

112. ‘Fifty Years of Independence: A Historical Survey’, Fifty Years of Indian Art, Institutions, Issues,Concepts and Conversations , Ed. Bina Sarkar Ellias, Mumbai, 1997.
113. ‘Emergence of Nationalities in India’, Social Scientist, No.37, 1976.
114. ‘The Role of Marxist Intellectuals in India Today’, Social Scientist, I(5), 1972.

Prof. Irfan Habib - Some articles

From An Agrarian History of South Asia, by David Ludden

New York University

Ideas About Agrarian History

Four scholars have had the most profound personal impact on historical writing about agrarian history before 1800: D.D.Kosambi, Romila Thapar, R.S.Sharma, and Irfan Habib. D.D. Kosambi put ancient studies on a material footing that made agrarian issues prominent, and he integrated history with culture, myth, and archaeology: see An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (Bombay: 1956), Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture (Bombay: 1962), The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India (London:1965), andAncient India: A History of Its Culture and Civilization(New York: 1966). Romila Thapar spans ancient and medieval history and her work centers on social history and society-state relations in the first millennium BCE: see especially Ancient Indian social history: some interpretations (New Delhi: 1978), From lineage to state: social formations in the mid-first millennium B.C. in the Ganga Valley (Bombay: 1984), Interpreting early India (Delhi: 1992), Recent perspectives of early Indian history (Bombay: 1995, and The Tyranny of Labels (New Delhi: 1997). R.S.Sharma also covers ancient and medieval history but his most important work is on feudalism and post-Gupta transitions: Material Culture and Social Formations in Ancient India (Delhi: 1983), Perspectives in Social and Economic History of Early India (New Delhi: 1983),Indian Feudalism (Delhi: 1980), and Origin of the State in India(Bombay: 1989).

Irfan Habib, his students, and his colleagues at Aligarh Muslim University are the central intellectual force in Mughal history. His scholarship covers the second millennium and he is the central figure in debates about agrarian political economy during the early modern period. See The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1556-1707) (Bombay: 1963),An Atlas of Mughal Empire: Political and Economic Maps with Notes, Bibliography and Index (Delhi: 1982), Interpreting Indian History (Shillong: 1988), and Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception (Delhi: 1995).

Early Modern Themes

The imperial Mughal administration is well studied: see M.Athar Ali, The Apparatus of Empire: Awards of Ranks, Offices and Titles to the Mughal Nobility, 1573-1658 (New Delhi: 1985) and Mughal Nobility Under Aurangzeb (Bombay: 1968); Stephen Blake, "The Patrimonal-Bureaucratic Empire of the Mughals," Journal of Asian Studies 39, 1, 1979: 77-94 (reprinted in Kulke, The State, pp.278-304); Neelam Chaudhary, Labour in Mughal India, 1526-1707 (New Delhi: 1996); Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire, C.1595: A Statistical Study (Delhi: 1987), and (editor and translator) "Aurangzeb's Farman to Rasidas on Problems of Revenue Administration, 1665," in Habib, editor, Medieval India (1992) pp 198-208; Tapan Raychaudhuri, "The Mughal Empire," in The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume I, pp.172-92; John F.Richards, The Mughal Empire (Cambridge: 1993), and John F. Richards, editor, The Imperial Monetary System of Mughal India (Dehli: 1987); Athar Abbas Rizvi, Religious and Intellectual History of the Muslims in Akbar's Reign (New Delhi: 1975), Jagdish Narayan Sarkar, Mughal Economy: Organization and Working (Calcutta: 1987), and Douglas E. Streusand, The Formation of the Mughal Empire (Delhi: 1989).

Histories of Mughal regions have more agrarian detail. Irfan Habib, An Atlas of Mughal Empire has the most comphensive data. In addition to the excellent books on Rajasthan cited above, good regional studies include Anil Chandra Banerjee, The Agrarian System of Bengal 1582-1793 (Calcutta: 1980), M.A.Nayeem, Mughal Administration of Deccan Under Nizamul Mulk Asaf Jah (1720-48 AD) (New Delhi: 1985), B.S.Nijjar,Panjab Under the Great Mughals, 1526-1707 A.D. (Bombay: 1968) and Panjab Under the Later Mughals, 1707-1759 (Jullundur: 1972); Tapan Raychaudhuri, Bengal Under Akbar and Jahangir (Delhi: 1969); John F. Richards, Mughal Administration in Golconda (Oxford: 1975), and S.N.Sinha, Subah of Allahabad Under the Great Mughuls, 1580-1707 (New Delhi: 1974).

Histories of Mughal disruption and fragmentation consider propositions about agrarian dynamics originally presented by Irfan Habib. See Muzaffar Alam, The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, Awadh and the Punjab, 1707-1748 (Delhi: 1986), Satish Chandra, Medieval India: Society, the Jagirdari Crisis and the Village (Delhi: 1982), Chetan Singh, Region and Empire: Panjab in the Eighteenth Century (Delhi: 1991); and Wink, Land and Sovereignty.

Current approaches to early modernity in South Asia have emerged from the connected histories of overseas trade, inland economies, agrarian societies, and regional polities, as studies of the eighteenth century have forced a reconsideration of transitions between Mughal and British periods. For trends in historiography, see Athar Ali, "The Eighteenth Century -- An Interpretation." Indian Historical Review 5, 1, 1978: 175-86, and "Recent Theories of Eighteenth Century India," Indian Historical Review 13, 1-2, 1986-1987: 102-8; Irfan Habib,Interpreting Indian History (Shillong: 1988); and Sugata Bose, South Asia And World Capitalism. M. Athar Ali gives a good account of the inland geography of early modern South Asia in his "Political Structures of the Islamic Orient in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," in Habib, Medieval India, pp.129-40; and for a wider view, see David Ludden, "History Outside Civilisation and the Mobility of Southern Asia," South Asia 17, 1, June 1994, 1-23. For an Asian perspective, see Emporia, commodities, and entrepreneurs in Asian maritime trade, C. 1400-1750, edited by Roderich Ptak and Dietmar Rothermund (Stuttgart: 1991). For a global view, see Alan Smith, Creating a World Economy: Merchant Capital, Colonialism and World Trade, 1400-1825 (Boulder: 1991)........

To read the entire article:


History / Action Alert /

Fascist Attack on History and Secular Historians in India
1. An appeal to all concerned
2. Reports, Documents, Interviews
An Appeal

Dear Friend,

The shadow of Fascism is looming large over the practice of history writing in India. The consequences of taking over of all the institutions of research and academic policy-making by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and filling them with RSS-linked nominees are now coming into play. It is indicative of the strength and excellence of secular historiography in India that it is now being seen as necessary by the Sangh Pariver (RSS linked organisations) to embark on a massive drive of crude suppression of academic freedom of the historian before it begins its long-cherished project of ‘re-writing’ India’s past.

The BJP policy on education has involved a major doctoring of school texts in the states ruled by the BJP, and there has also been a systematic and continuous attack on secular historiography, on democratic cultural expression and on minorities. It also needs to be stressed that these developments need to be opposed by all democratic people all over the world in whatever ways possible. International public opinion would certainly carry some weight. It would be nice if the matter could also be taken up at the level of different academic associations (a Historical Association, a Sociological Association, etc., and also a body concerned with south Asian or Asian studies), and they could perhaps express their concern to the Indian government.

In the face of a lot of lies being propagated by the BJP Government and its nominees who now control the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and because not all the information is available to those who feel deeply concerned about the manner in which two volumes edited by Prof. Sumit Sarkar and Professor Panikkar dealing with the freedom movement have been arbitrarily and without warning withdrawn from the Press by the ICHR, we are sending you some additional material--some press clippings from various newspapers, reports of protests against this condemnable act, statements of the people concerned and other historians’ statements all of which give some details that you may find useful in further formulating your opinion and convincing others. It also needs to be stressed that this is not an isolated act.

We would like you to look at our websites AKHBAR and SOUTH ASIA DOCUMENTS on some of the material on these and related developments.

On the Withdrawal of the Towards Freedom Volumes by the ICHR

Statement to the press by Professor Irfan Habib (Former Chairman, ICHR)

The withdrawal of the Towards Freedom volumes by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is a major attack on the principle of academic freedom and the cause of scientific history.

Having been acquainted with the history of the project as a member of the Council of the ICHR from 1972 to 1978 and as Chairman of the ICHR from 1986 to 1993, I would like to give some particulars which are relevant to the debate on the present decision.

When the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was established in 1972, the Government of India decided to entrust to it (in collaboration with the National Archives) a project to publish documents belonging to the period 1937-47, so as to illumine the way in which the freedom of our country was obtained. Many wished that there should be a reply from the Indian side to the Transfer of Power volumes officially published from London, which were considered as one-sided and tendentious. The ICHR, however, decided that the effort should be to publish documents not merely to present an alternative "official" view, but to throw light on all aspects of the National Movement, embracing both apex and popular politics. It was to be as objective a collection as possible. Thus documents were to be collected from the National Archives (NAI), on which a largeNAI team worked, and from other public and private sources (including State Archives), on which the ICHR team worked. An enormous mass of material was collected, but the work of analysis and editing proceeded rather slowly. In 1985 a volume appeared, edited by Dr. P.N. Chopra, covering the year 1937.

When I took over as Chairman, ICHR, in the autumn of 1986, I found that the work was proceeding very slowly. There was also widespread criticism of the published volume as not having done justice to the rich documentation. However, there was no question of withdrawing it: and the statement to this effect attributed to the present Chairman of ICHR, Mr. BR Grover, is entirely baseless. When the volume did not sell well, and the then distributor reported this fact (in 1991, if I remember right), the distributor was changed, and the stock transferred to another firm of distributors in the hope that better results might be forthcoming. This offers absolutely no analogy to the present case.

The needs of the project made it necessary for the volumes to be prepared simultaneously, and accordingly steps in this direction were taken in 1989-90. It was very gratifying that, with Professor S. Gopal as the General Editor, eminent historians agreed to edit individual volumes. The entire project was entrusted to the Editorial Committee, and the volume editors Professors Bipan Chandra, Ravinder Kumar, Mushirul Hasan, Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, along with the late Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta, proceeded to scrutinise the huge pile of documents, classifying and selecting them. Dr Basudev Chatterji subsequently joined the team as Coordinating Editor; he also undertook the task of editing one of the volumes.

Though my term as Chairman, ICHR, ended early in 1993, 1 was very happy when in 1997 Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta's three volumes were published, covering the years 1943-44. These constitute a monumental testimony to his industry and vision. It is especially unfortunate that a Deputy Director of the ICHR should raise the issues of some inoffensive misprints (the responsibility of the ICHR/publisher not of the editor), to throw mud on this work. Some of his remarks like Gandhiji being merely relegated to footnotes or there being no list of contents, have been proved to he totally false.

For some years, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, now the HRD Minister, and Mr. Arun Shourie, one of the Sangh Parivar's chief propagandists (now rewarded for his pains with a seat in the Union Ministry) had been talking themselves hoarse on the expenditure and the long time taken by theTowards Freedom Project, as if this was due to some lapse by the so-called "Left" historians. It is of some interest to consider when the main expenditure was incurred. This was precisely when the present "saffron" Chairman of the ICHR, Mr B.R. Grover, a luminary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad team on the Babri Masjid, was in office .is "Director (Academic)” of the ICHR (from 1974 to 1985). The Government of India's expenditure on the Project ceased on 31.3.1992, and so the editors who began their work in 1990 can hardly be held responsible for the alleged malexpenditure that took place in Mr. Grover's time. But, instead of being arraigned for the fault of excessive expenditure on the project, Mr. Grover (who is not a Professor, nor holder of a Ph.D. degree, nor author of any book, nor "Founder Director" of ICHR, as claimed by him) has been rewarded by being appointed Chairman. ICHR. Now he heads a Council already saffronised wholesale, and has been given the task of imposing the RSS-VHP agenda on it. Clearly, then, the concern with the large expenditure on the Towards Freedom Project is a purely manufactured one in order to divert public attention.

As for delay, if the task of editing was to be well performed, it could not be hastened in a mindless fashion. One of the editors has rightly pointed out that he had to scan over 100,000 documents to make his selection. The editors have received no remuneration for the task done (an honorarium ofRs.25,000 was promised after publication of each set of volumes). Yet they have carried out the work with dedication, with one set printed and three more sets sent to press. If after reaching this stage the volumes are to be withdrawn, who then is causing the delay?

The withdrawal is being justified on petty technical grounds--all proving to be false. Mr. Grover told the press that the volumes had been sent to the publishers (Oxford University Press) without them being shown to his predecessor. Professor S. Settar. The production of Professor Settar's own Foreword to one of the volumes has given a lie to this allegation, wherein he" refers to his gratification at having sent the other volumes to the press as well.

The volumes are being withdrawn supposedly to be screened. Screened by whom? Of Mr. Grover's own modest qualifications (even in the field of Mughal Indian history), I have already written. He has appointed a committee of "experts", of whom, after resignations took care of at least two, there remains none who is a historian of the National Movement or even a historian. How these persons can have the presumption to censor the work of historians of the stature of Professors S. Gopal, Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar, defies imagination. Only the Nazis in Germany over sixty years ago could have been capable of such presumption.

The whole matter is clear. Being in power for the moment, the RSS and the BJP are in a hurry to introduce as much of their ideology into the academic world as they can. The Towards Freedom volumes are crucial for them. Any honest presentation of documents would show the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and their other 'family members' for what they were-- loyal servants of the British raj, and poison-spewers against Gandhiji and all genuine nationalists. They are therefore determined to prevent an impartial publication of documents, and are out to project those who tried to undermine the National Movement as true freedom fighters. From the inscriptions they have been putting on statutes, of non-entities, their false history is now ready to leap into the publications of the NCERT, ICSSR, and other official bodies, but. above all, of the 1CHR.

Such a gross doctoring of history and its diffusion needs to be prevented. One does not have in mind only the honour of the National Movement, or the cause of academic freedom. The battle is for the nation's mind, and that concerns the future of us all.

Reports, Documents, Interviews

•Press Statement of Prof. Irfan Habib, former Chairman of ICHR
•Press Statement of Prof. S Gopal, Series Editor of the ‘Towards Freedom’ Project
•The Issue (column by Prof. KN Panikkar in The Hindustan Times)
•Letter to the Oxford University Press
•Statement by prominent Indian historians
•Letter by the co-workers of Late Prof. Parthasarthi Gupta (whose volume is also under attack)
•Statement by Prof. Settar, Former Chairperson, ICHR
•Report of the first protest march at ICHR on February 18, 2000
•Report of the protest march to Parliament in Delhi by Citizens in Defense of Democracy on February 25, 2000
•The Resolution passed at the meeting at the end of the March on February 25, 2000
•Discussion of the issue in Parliament
•Editorial in Hindu
•Editorial in The Statesman
•Editorial in the Asian Age
•A detailed coverage of the issue in Hindu
•Coverage in the Frontline
•Interviews with KN Panikkar
•Interview with Sumit Sarkar
•Protest letter and International signature campaign
•Addresses and Fax numbers of Indian Prime Minister’s Office and President’s Office

Selective Publications:

Habib, Irfan. The Agrarian System of Mughal India: (1556-1707). Bombay & New York: Asia Publishing House (for Aligarh Muslim U.), 1963.

---. An Atlas of Mughal Empire: Political and Economic Maps With Notes, Bibliography and Index. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982.

---. "Classifying Pre-Colonial India." In Feudalism and Non-European Societies, Editor Harbans Mukhia, pp. 44-53. London: Frank Cass, 1985.

--- "Economic History of the Delhi Sultanate: An Essay in Integration." Indian Historical Review 4, no. 2 (1978): 287-303.

---. Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception. Delhi: Manohar, 1995.

--- "Formation of the Sultanate Ruling Class of the Thirteenth Century." In Medieval India 1: Researches in the History of India, 1200-1750, Editor Irfan Habib, pp.1-21. Delhi: Oxford University Press for the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, 1992.

---. Interpreting Indian History. Shillong: Zakir Husain Memorial Lectures, North-Eastern Hill University Publications, 1988.

--- Medieval India 1: Researches in the History of India, 1200-1750, Editor Irfan Habib. Delhi: Oxford University Press for the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, 1992.

---. "Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Mughal India." Journal of Economic History 29, no. 1 (1969): 32-78 (reprinted in Habib 1995, pp.180-233).

---. "Processes of Accumulation in Pre-Colonial and Colonial India." In Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, Editor Irfan Habib, 259-95 (first published in 1988). New Delhi: Tulika, 1995.

---. "Review of Dirk H.A.Kolff, Rajput and Sepoy -- The Ethnohistory of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450-1850, Cambridge, 1990." In Medieval India 1: Researches in the History of India, 1200-1750, Editor Irfan Habib, pp.pp.210-11. Delhi: Oxford University Press for the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, 1992.

---. "The Social Distribution of Landed Property in Pre-British India: A Historical Survey." In Essays in Indian History: Towards and Marxist Perception, Editor Irfan Habib, 59-108 (first published in 1965). New Delhi: Tulika, 1995.

--- "Technology and Barriers to Social Change in Mughal India." Indian Historical Review 5, no. 1 (1978): 152-74.


Economic & Political



july 26, 2008


Prof. Irfan Habib in the Eyes of Admirers and Critics - Some Recollections- I

Prof. Irfan Habib in the Eyes of Admirers and Critics

Some Recollections- I

Dr Mohammad Sajjad*

How to profile a great teacher who is one of the most influential, respected, and renowned scholars on the subject on the planet, and therefore it gives you a sense of utmost pride, a rare privilege of being his student, and simultaneously he is also having so many critics on the home-turf including some of those who have taught you, and have affectionately stood by you in every happy and sad moments of your life? Such a [vexing] question has created inexplicable dilemma. In my ‘blogs’ I have been ‘imprudently’ candid in sharing the state of affairs in my Dept of History (AMU). Such articulations have also earned lamentations from the obvious quarters. The temerity of rubbing shoulders on ‘wrong side’, and the riskiest business of telling truth to ‘power’ may have its own implications; it is often an experience that you tell the truth at some price. Nonetheless, the truths must come out! One must put the record straight.

In 1990, while making choice of B. A. III courses, I was advised to the courses in a way that the course on the Survey of Modern Indian History had to fit into the scheme as it was taught by the phenomenally renowned, the legendary, Prof. Irfan Habib (b. 1931), about whom a myth used to circulate in my schools and colleges in the Bihar hinterland that there is such a great historian in AMU who can re-write quite a lot of History books if these books would accidentally become extinct. I would verify this from my father (1944-2011), an MA (History) from Calcutta University. He would smile at this “innocence” and correct me by saying, ‘yes, indeed he is known to be a great historian’; then Abba would admit that he hadn’t read his works; he had read only the works of M. Habib (1895-1971), father of Irfan Habib. Among the students of the Calcutta University, by late 1960s, the emerging Marxist historian Irfan Habib was known more as a son of the great historian, M. Habib. My father’s friends and contemporaries of his student days in the Calcutta University, including Biman Bose, (who would become an active Marxist politician and the convener of the Left Front government, West Bengal) looked up to the young historian like that.

We took some time to grow up and understand that circulation of such myths were a metaphor, only indicative to, and acknowledgement of, the great scholarship and stature of him. In 1987, a ‘teacher’ of mine, certainly not a Marxist, and also my father’s colleague, happened to have visited AMU to attend ‘Regional Workshop on the Medieval Indian History’. He went back with lot of admirations for the scholarship of Prof. Irfan Habib.

We therefore attended Irfan Sb’s classes in awe, and also with a big sense of pride. While reaching the topic on the AMU’s founder he would prefer to call him, ‘Syed Ahmad’, rather than ‘Sir Syed’, and we would wonder why he prefers to mention him in ‘irreverent’ way (we were yet to discern what connotes a colonial honorific!). Initially we won’t muster enough courage to ask any question. This ‘aura’ thinned down the day a student dared putting a question bluntly. While speaking on Allama Iqbal’s patriotic oeuvres of effervescent literary quality on linguistic and territorial nations, and subsequent shift to criticism of Western model of territorial nation-state, Irfan Sb happened to have passed a subjective remark in the classroom, whereby he rated Iqbal, the author of Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, to be a ‘greater’ poet-philosopher than Haafiz Shirazi; on this, somebody asked, rather bluntly, ‘how can you say that?’; and the teacher was visibly upset, he was taken aback, and having taken few seconds to recompose himself, he replied, ‘well, you may disagree, as it is only my personal opinion, and creative literature is not my field’. The modesty of the legendary scholar had disarmed everybody in the classroom. The students began to develop even greater reverence for the teacher.

A disappointment was that the long five Units of the annual course, Irfan Sb managed to teach only the first three Units in much detail, whereas the rest two Units had to be pushed at a faster pace. As a result of which we could not be taught the temptingly disputed issue of the context leading to India’s Partition (1937-47) in as much of detail as we had expected. Our seniors told that this often happened with Irfan Sb.

Another curiosity was to know about the history books written by him. (While doing the two years B. A. course in a college of the Bihar University, I had opted for the Ancient India, Modern India, and Modern Europe; at least then, I didn’t have much interest in Medieval India’s history). Irfan Sb’s Agrarian System of Mughal India (1963) was not to be digested in first reading by a mediocre B. A. student like me (I took some more time to partly grasp it, in MA, opting a course on Mughal Economy taught by Prof. A J Qaiser-not an uncritical admirer of Irfan Sb- and wonderful tutorial supplements of Prof. Shireen Moosvi, a hard taskmaster; whereas Irfan Sb would teach us a course on ‘Capitalism, Colonialism and Socialist Societies’, with highly useful tutorial supplements of Prof. RK Trivedi).

Unlike other historians like Romila Thapar, R. S. Sharma, Satish Chandra, and Bipan Chandra, essentially with similar ideological leanings, whose textbooks I had studied before coming to AMU, Irfan Sb had not written any popular textbook; yet, he was astonishingly much popular even among the “non-History” literati, who have had lot of respect and admiration for his scholarship. How was/is it so?

We are still groping for answers to this particular question. Despite our speculative efforts a definitive answer still eludes us. Was it because of: (a) his activism of ideological interventions in too many things, including the issues of everyday politics of communalism, economic exploitation, and …?, (b) his wide range, themes, and long chronological span of historical enquiry and articulations (“Peasants in Indian History”), like essays/special lectures on Indian National Movement (recently compiled in a booklet, The National Movement: Studies in Ideology and History (2011), and on post-independent India (1997); on historiography (“Interpreting Indian History”, 1985), on technology, on environment, etc.; (c) despite being an unapologetic orthodox Marxist, he also did not hesitate from raising some questions on Marx’s questionable observations about India in the 1850s, (‘Problems of the Marxist Historiography’, included in the collection of the most brilliant of his essays, Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, 1995)? [Another volume compiling various other essays of him like ‘Theories of Social Change in South Asia’, and his essay on Indian Nationalism assailing the post-modernist scholars-Pomo Sapiens-could be equally useful]; (d) his critics/detractors, dismissive about his scholarship (presumably more because of his Marxist commitments), would scornfully say that he has earned fame from the media and the state only because of erroneous assumption that he is the only progressive among the Muslim Rightists on the AMU campus. Then they will triumphantly recollect their savage narrative of 1981 when they had made violent attack on him against a press-statement he had made in the Indian Express on the falling academics. ( see Asghar A. Engineer, EPW, August 15, 1981)

My reverence to this phenomenally great scholar notwithstanding, I have not been a student very closely known to him; I haven’t therefore ever ventured to submit our desire to him: why does not he write a textbook of Medieval Indian History. His very nice, and lucid, Medieval India: The Study of a Civilization (2007), is more for a popular reading, with much useful comprehensive reading list. This, however, does not compare with the textbooks on Modern Indian History written by: (a) Sekhar Bandyopadhyay’s From Plassey to Partition (2004) updates the students with all hues, strands and shades of researches on the subject published in last few decades, (b) Sumit Sarkar (1983), which wonderfully draws much upon the primary sources with comprehensive but succinct scrutiny of and critical engagement with the secondary works of different ideological leanings, and (c) Bipan Chandra et al (1989) with very lucid prose, with an approach harmonizing the Marxist & Nationalist schools of historiographies. These are the most popular textbooks for the students, as well as for the teachers.

Irfan Sb (after his superannuation, and during the period in which he was denied ‘Emeritus’ due to the resistance/dissent of his ‘aggrieved’ colleagues cum students/ ex-beneficiaries), launched his ‘Aligarh Historian Society (AHS)’, to promote scientific history-writing and to resist communal one. This is bringing out ‘textbooks’ under the ‘People’s History of India Series’. This extremely useful and informative Series has brought out few monographs. The Medieval Indian History is conspicuously missing. To persuade him to bring out a lucid textbook of Medieval Indian History (or at least of 16-18th century India) incorporating and engaging with the latest researches coming from various schools of historiographies, I, almost a stranger to him, often feel like visiting him on the first floor of the Dept. of History (where he is surrounded by the historians trained by him, mostly non-Marxists both in their scholarly pursuit as well as in ideological-political leanings). That textbook would be of great help to the students and teachers. Would I ever be able to get enough space from him and take this liberty from him? What kind of reply would I get? Will he entertain this request? I really don’t know. Some of his critics (ex-beneficiaries) perceive the circle of his companions as chakravyuha, penetrating which may prove fatal to the naïve Abhimanyus.

During the turbulent days (1990s) of rabidly communal mobilizations, of heightened hate-filled identity consciousness, of political instabilities, administrative atrophy/collusion, and intermittent communal riots, the agitated and anguished Irfan Sb would often deliver nuanced public lectures on such issues mostly in the Lounge of the Faculty of Arts in AMU. These lectures were more lucid, frequented with sarcasm, humour, and satires, incisively insightful, and historically informed discussions on the contemporary politics and economy. While remaining uncritical of the CPI-M, and candidly declaring his deep and active association with it, he would lament almost all other ‘bourgeois’ political formations and their inability to tame (or collusion with) the communal forces. He would also cite archaeological/historical arguments rebutting the Hindutvavadis’ arguments that the Babri Masjid was erected by the Mughal administration by demolishing temples. [Prof. Sarvepalli Gopal of JNU would however angrily disagree with this approach invoking more radical, Constitutional argument, and he will insist on the fact that regardless of history, on the day India attained sovereignty and adopted the secular/plural Constitution, the ‘religious’ structures must be taken as settled facts. Gopal’s understanding was that even if history/archaeology would prove that it was a temple prior to the 1520s, our Constitution would ask us to protect the Babri Masjid]. Even the fringe Muslim Rightists on the campus, harbouring [pathological?] hatred against him and his Leftism, will assemble in these lectures with passion and enthusiasm, and with unstated admiration for the ‘non-believer’ defending the cause of a Masjid which was to be demolished in December 1992 by the Hindu fanatics. Yet these Islamists, aspirants of establishing Hukumat-e-Ilahiya in secular/plural India, will somehow murmur certain refrain against him after the public lecture will stand concluded and the applauding crowd will start dispersing.

On the Black Sunday, December 6, 1992, we, the M. A. (History) students, were attending his long ‘extra’ classes purported to coach us for the UGC’s All India competitive test, qualifying which would give us a ‘handsome’ amount of monthly fellowship to pursue Ph D and also a certificate of eligibility for the job of lectureship; these preparations were equally useful for the Civil Services recruitment exams also. In our private discussions we would be grateful to the teacher for such [unpaid] services; our batch-mates sympathetic to Islamism would dissuade us by arguing disdainfully that they are rendering these services out of their political motives. We would wonder why not others do this out of their own political motives!

To be Continued ….


Mohammad Sajjad, Asstt. Prof.
Centre of Advanced Study in History
Aligarh Muslim University (India)

*Dr Mohammad Sajjad is a Asstt. Professor at Centre of Advanced Study in History Aligarh Muslim University (India) and can be reached at

Rejoinder to the Reactions on My Write-up on Irfan Habib-1

Rejoinder to the Reactions on My Write-up on Irfan Habib-1

Dr Mohammad Sajjad*

A student shared his memories about his teacher; in terms of chronological sequence in which impressions gathered about the teacher by the student himself as well as gathered by others (both admirers and critics) has had also to be shared. He started with how he got familiarized with the name and fame of the historian before coming to Aligarh and its first part ended at his halfway through the MA course; the subsequent things has had to follow. Such a simple, plain, noble, and ‘apolitical’ exercise invited extreme reactions. While one [retired] professor derived most baseless meanings and then became blunt to the extent of subjecting himself to ridicule. Another respondent, a very careful reader - who is and shall remain much respected figure for that particular student- also misconstrued it more as an offence, and less as a befitting tribute from a student to his teacher. Nonetheless, particularly these two reactions did testify their admiration for the scholarship of Prof. Irfan Habib.

The third reaction of a professor, (in)famous for his archaic and pernicious political belief, and hardly known for his scholarship in his own field of teaching and research, read into it an exercise of sycophancy motivated by the desire of self-promotion. The reactions of the two professors hardly elicit any serious consideration by the readers on whatever they write, hence affordable for me to be dismissive about their erroneous and jaundiced views; the third one is too valued for me, hence I’ve tried to argue with him in public and private mails, even though I am not sure how much did I succeed in convincing him. What to say of an unworthy like me, even the worst of his critics don’t ever question the highly rated scholarship of Irfan Habib, insignificant minor exceptions apart. His critics on the home-turf are mostly because of personal reasons whereby they would allege that they have been unduly victimized or some unworthy or less worthy, have been promoted at their cost because of extraneous reasons, factionalism included. Historiographically, some of the historians have tried to disagree with his point-of-views (expressed in his works) on certain things which, I suppose, can’t be said to be dismissing Irfan Habib’s scholarship.

Most disconcerting reactions, orally though, have come from my own colleagues within the Dept. of History, AMU, and I think I must put it across the people, not only to keep them informed but also that they would be the best judges. A colleague of mine reacted with similar allegation that my piece is an exercise in sycophancy intended to derive some benefits; another colleague of mine went on to telephonically inform a professor, my benefactor for long, and either against or indifferent to the faction represented by the teacher I paid tribute to. According to this overzealous colleague I have committed a treachery by writing such a piece, which according to them is an immoral exercise. He lamented me so that I stand alienated by my benefactors in order to preclude any eventuality whereby I may stand benefitted from them in future. Both of these lecturers happen to be the biggest admirers of the [former] VC who had told the Times of India, “AMU is bristling with ISI agents”, and the former VC is the one who was the front-running architect of the “Vajpayee Himayat Committee”(2003-04), even after the most horrific Gujarat pogrom of 2002. One of these two lecturers, pretending to be consistent anti-Left within the Department, had no compunction in virtually begging before an influential professor (may or may not be a Marxist) of the Leftist camp, for a short-term temporary job as school teacher in AMU; he was [generously?] obliged. He has no compunction in flaunting his photograph with a BJP leader, which he proudly displays within his chamber cum classroom/tutorial room. Does he display BJP’s icon to inspire his students?

Why did my piece elicit such responses from my colleagues? It is not a personal issue; it rather symptomises the deep malaise within AMU. Faction-based favouritism, victimization and factional bickerings, and manipulations are so deep in AMU that one cannot see things without that coloured glasses of opportunism, factionalism, sycophancy, etc. Such creatures are to be pitied for their limited discerning abilities. But there is more to it than meets the eyes. They know it pretty well that I don’t belong to any camp which might be operating in AMU; their eye-sore is independently thinking individual, otherwise, if at all they think I have showered laurels upon some undeserving scholar, why don’t they post a mail lamenting the scholar and exposing the supposedly darker side of the teacher. They expect that even that job should be done not by them but by me alone. Looking at the things only with the angle of opportunistic power-play, one of my colleagues went on to persuade somebody who could influence me not to write such things which may earn me goodwill of the teacher; I need not mention that the colleague is known for swiftest opportunistic floor-crossings.

For me what is interestingly puzzling is the fact that very same write-up has been read in two radically different directions: while two individuals read it as lamentation, rest of the people read it more as an exercise in sycophancy, and less as a noble exercise of objective articulation in assessment of the profile of a teacher of amazing repute, in which the ‘title’ of the write-up clearly suggests that I will be sharing the views held by cross-sections, regardless of whether I agree or not with those views about the scholar.
Regardless of these extremely divergent interpretations of my simple and plain essay without any motive of self-aggrandizement, the second part of the essay will articulate only the historiographic approaches and contents adopted in the writings of Prof. Irfan Habib.


Mohammad Sajjad, Asstt. Prof.
Centre of Advanced Study in History
Aligarh Muslim University (India)

*Dr Mohammad Sajjad is a Asstt. Professor at Centre of Advanced Study in History Aligarh Muslim University (India) and can be reached at

A tribute to Irfan Habib: Ashok Mitra

A tribute to Irfan Habib: ASHOK MITRA

The Making of History: Essays presented to Irfan Habib edited by K. N. Panikkar, Terence J. Byres and Utsa Patnaik; Tulika

WHY not say it, Irfan Habib is an extraordinary phenomenon. As a historian, he has few peers. His research on The Agrarian System of Mughal India, published in the 1960s, immediately became a classic. Recognition as a fearless exponent of Marxist historiography rained down on him. His initial work pertained to the medieval era of Indian history. He has ceaselessly produced tracts on aspects of this historical period, each of which bears the stamp of his intellectual depth and clarity of writing. His mind and interest did not, however, long stay confined to any particular, narrow phase of events and occurrences. He soon spread out; nothing from the very ancient period to the outer fringes of modern Indian history has escaped his attention. The point has to be emphasised over and over again: whatever he has written has been the product of scholastic endeavour of the highest order: reasoning, primary data not unraveled in the past, application of such data towards formulating credible hypotheses, and the entire corpus built, stone by stone, into a magnificent edifice which can be held in comparison only with other products emanating from Irfan Habib's mind and pen. It is the combination of quantity of output and quality of excellence which has enabled his works reach the reputation of being the other word for supreme excellence.

Inevitably, he has attracted attention as much within the country as outside. Honours have come to him easily. What is of stupendous additional significance, his interpretation of data, building of premises based on such data and expansion of the underlying reasoning, have never strayed away from their Marxist foundation. He has been unabashedly Marxist in his scholastic activities, and has never made a secret of his intellectual and emotional inclination. No run-of-the-mill braggart, his output, every line of it, every expression of his format, has spelled out his faith and belief. Ours is a hide-bound society; it breathes reaction from every pore. Nonetheless, it has been unable to either bypass or be indifferent to Irfan's towering scholarship. Not only has he been accorded the highest academic distinction in an educational institution which has its fair share of retrograde thoughts and demeanour. Even the country's administrative establishment could not fail to take cognisance of his intellectual prowess. Thus the Chairmanship of the Indian Council of Historical Research was offered to him. He held this position for well over a decade, and it was no vacuous adornment of a throne. He used the opportunity to wonderful effect, guiding and counseling historical research at different centres of learning in the country. The result shows in the secular advance in the quality of history teaching and writing in the different Indian universities.

But research interests have not held back Irfan in a narrow mooring. Alongside his individual research activities and the scholastic work he has encouraged around him, his focus of attention has continued to be his students. He has lived for his students , and it would be no exaggeration to claim that he is prepared to die for them. A little facetious research will prove the point: about half of his colleagues on the faculty of history in the Aligarh Muslim University happen to be his former students. It would still be a travesty to infer that he built his students in his own image. He has been a radical thinker, a weather-beaten socialist prepared to combat all ideological challenges, and yet his catholicism as a teacher is by now a legend. Even those whose stream of thought is not in accord with his wave-length have nonetheless found in him the most painstaking teacher who would not deny a student, any student, what he, rightfully or otherwise, can expect of a teacher. Irfan's style of exposition has an elegance of its own: he is an accredited socialist, and yet his command of language, and the manner in which he puts it across, have the hallmark of the legatee of a benign, civilised aristocracy. Maybe in this matter his heredity has been a natural helper.

That does not still tell the entire story of his dazzling career. It is possible to come across scores and scores of arm-chair socialists and radicals whose faith has not nudged them into political activism. From that point of view too, Irfan Habib is al together out of the ordinary. He has been, for nearly three decades, an accredited member of a revolutionary political party; he has not concealed this datum from any quarters. Quite on the contrary, that identity has been his emblem of pride. He has bee n prepared to serve the cause of the party whenever called upon, without however compromising or neglecting his academic responsibilities. It is this blend of intense - if it were not a heresy, one could say, almost religious - belief and fearless participation in political activism which has marked him out in the tepid milieu of Indian academia. His activism, one should add, has widened beyond the humdrum sphere of political speech-making and polemical writing (although, even in his absent-mindedness, his polemics has never descended to the level of empty rhetoric). Irfan's social conscience has prodded him into trade unionism, what many academics would regard as waywardness of the most shocking kind. Irfan could not have cared less for such snobbery. He has also encouraged his students to combine radical thought with political engagement. He has been at the forefront of organisers of teachers' movements. To cap all, he has been the main inspirer and mobiliser of the non-teaching employees of his university and elsewhere. He has suffered on all these accounts including, for a period, suspension from his university. This was an outrage, and social pressure forced the university to revoke its insensate decision.

TO fail to mention his relentless opposition to communal revanchists of all genres will be an unpardonable omission. Muslim fundamentalists have made him their favourite target; of late, Hindu communalists have joined the ranks of this motley crow d. Irfan has not for one moment cowered before this rabble. A quiet, tranquil person in his natural disposition, there is a reservoir of fire in him which has been continuously directed against society's reactionary scum.

For this truly extraordinary scholar, his friends, colleagues and admirers have now assembled, in the form of a festschrift, an extraordinary collection of 23 essays. The Making of History is a labour of love and regard; it is, at the same time, a compendium of much of academic excellence as of social awareness. And it is a magnificently produced volume, for which full credit devolves on the publishers.

THE festschrift opens with a perceptive and comprehensive Introduction covering the major aspects of Irfan Habib's pursuits and fascinations. The essays that follow are arranged in five sections, each of which reflects Irfan's research interests i n different phases. In this brief survey, it is not possible to render justice to each of the different contributions and their authors. The reviewer therefore proposes to draw attention to only some of the essays and seeks forgiveness from the other aut hors.

An additional preliminary comment is perhaps necessary concerning the nature of the contributions: barring one or two exceptions, each essay bears the imprint of a Marxist approach. That is understandable in the light of Irfan's personal inclinations. In that sense, The Making of History is a fusion of subjectivity and objectivity. The contributions include one British, one from Bangladesh and two from Japan.

The first section covers a span of ancient Indian history. Romila Thapar, in her commentary on Rigveda as a mirror of social change, is as incisive and scintillating as ever. She and Suraj Bhan who discusses the Aryanisation of the Indian civilisation, arrive at more or less the same conclusion, Romila a little elliptically and Bhan much more directly: the post-Independence endeavour on the part of some groups to invest Vedic culture superiority over other civilisations of the ancient world constitutes a much overdrawn picture; all that can be said to its credit, or discredit, is that the social stratification which has been the perennial curse of Indian civilisation has its genesis in Vedic times.

The articles in the second section combine analytical rigour and historical insight to explicate the social processes unleashed toward the end of the Mughal period and the accompanying transition of society from the feudal to the semi-feudal mode. Iqtidar Alam Khan traces the antecedents of market formation and narrates the tales of peasant exploitation as well as peasant resistance. Muzaffer Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam dig into both archival accounts and contemporary literature. Theories are formulate d in this section on the basis of prior intuitions. These are emended via ferreting of data; new hypotheses thereby rear their head. A charming example is provided by J. Mohan Rao's excursion into production and appropriation relations in Mughal India. I n what is almost an aside, Hiroyuki Kotani discusses rural and urban class structures in the Deccan and Gujarat in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; the piece is both a throwback to ancient times and a preview of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century social complexities.

The third section pushes us into the proximity of the colonial era. The four essays in this section divide themselves into two even groups. The first two papers, by Terence J. Byres and Amiya Kumar Bagchi, are pristine examples of the inter-meshing of economic theory and economic history, with emphasis on building new theoretical constructs. Byres posits an inverse relationship between land productivity and size of holding for Mughal India, basing himself on Irfan Habib's pioneering work and laments the lack of a study, a la Irfan, on the agrarian system of British India. Bagchi's tract on the working class as the historian's burden is breathtaking in its sweep. His premise does not have an altogether specific Indian context; the essay connotes a historicity which has a universal appeal; the endless saga of the repression of the working class and their resistance to it is nonetheless illumined by examples picked from Indian annals, north and south, east and west.

The other two essays in the section are gems of statistical exploration intended to reveal the extent and magnitude of colonial exploitation. Shireen Moosvi painstakingly gathers together data from different sources, adding her own collation of primary data, to establish the empirical truth of the stagnation, and in certain periods, the actual delcine of both per capita income and real wages in the colonial era. On the other hand, Utsa Patnaik wades into the Luxemburgian theme of external exploit ation. Her fresh estimates of eighteenth century British trade as a transfer device from tropical colonies will be quoted, this reviewer has not the least doubt, in future texts attempting to describe the colonial nightmare.

Section four again has a theme-wise bifurcation. The first two essays, the contributions of Javeed Alam and Aijaz Ahmad, constitute a devastating critique of a genre of academic pretensions that have gained prominence in recent years. To be fair, the pro tagonists of such scriptures are often well-meaning in their interpretations. They have, however, been affected by the malady of either left-wing adventurism or straightforward frustration. Both Aijaz Ahmad and Javeed Alam are punctilious in the construction of their hypotheses, and the common conclusion one reaches from assimilating the message of their two essays is that modernity and post-modernism have added at best some footnotes to Marxist historiography. The articles by Mihir Bhattacharya, Ratnab ali Chatterjee and Malini Bhattacharya dwell on the two-way relationship between historical occurrences and the cultural process. Mihir discusses the impact of the grim Bengal famine of the 1940s on the sensitivity of two outstanding Bengali novelists, Manik Bandyopadhyay and Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay. Ratnabali Chatterjee analyses the archaeological evidence of the early traces of nationalism in the cultural nuances of medieval Bengal. Malini Bhattacharya is severe in her attack on the modern-day trends to package so-called ethnic products, including folk songs, musical tunes and handicrafts, for crass commercial purposes. She tells us that the indigenous artists, whatever their sphere of creativity, articulated a deeply felt secularism, from which we should draw inspiration.

Section five ushers in many of the themes of contemporary controversy. K. N. Panikkar analyses the links between culture and nationalism and their anti-thesis represented by communal politics. He does not stray from solid facts, and yet spares no invecti ve for the social reactionaries where such invective is richly deserved. Mushirul Hasan revisits Indian partition. He invites the new generation of historians to cast away the conventional format of Partition studies and concentrate on stressing the hitherto neglected literature on inter-community relations, Partition and national identity. Mushtaq H. Khan sheds light on a problem which has till now scarcely drawn the attention of Indian scholars: what he describes as class, clientelism and communal politics in Bangladesh. K.M. Shrimali's meticulous review of the archaeological evidence pertaining to earlier times has two objectives: first, to question the empirical foundation of the alleged conversion of Hindu religious structures into mosques, et al, in the Muslim epoch, and second, to prove how flimsy is the claim of a Rama temple predating the Babri Masjid in the Ayodhya location.

The final section relates to economics of the modern era. C.P. Chandrasekhar discusses the ongoing economics reforms focussing on the public sector undertakings and suggests that these reflect the construct of a true pompadour non-civilisation. Th e last essay in the volume, by Prabhat Patnaik, is of an altogether different genre. Prabhat depicts his essay as a simple model of an imaginary socialist economy. His modesty is misleading, for his construction is not of an imaginary socialist system, b ut of an idyllic system, which carries forward the Marxist-Leninist ideological postulate beyond Rosa Luxemburg, Oskar Lange and Michal Kalecki. Prabhat's conceptual model of an internally consistent socialist economy, this reviewer is firmly of the view, will still the disquiet of many doubting Thomases.

The volume ends with a detailed and conscientious list of Irfan's publications, which will be of immense use to future research scholars.

All told, The Making of History is a most appropriate tribute to Irfan Habib's unrelenting commitment to history and the social sciences. Several of the contributions in the volume, one is tempted to suggest, are bound to make history!

January 5, 2001: The Rediff Interview/ Professor Irfan Habib

January 5, 2001: The Rediff Interview/ Professor Irfan Habib

The Rediff Interview/ Professor Irfan Habib

The saffronisation of Indian history has been a controversial subject ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party assumed power at the Centre. This has angered many leading historians in the country.

The apprehension of historians like Professor Irfan Habib arises from the fact that this process will result in a distorted interpretation of Indian history.

In Calcutta to attend the 61st session of the Indian History Congress, Professor Habib, a former head of the Indian Council of Historical Research, spoke to Rifat Jawaid about the revival of the Babri Masjid controversy and other issues pertaining to Indian history.

The 61st session of the Indian History Congress is being held at a time when the Babri Masjid issue is once again being debated. What does the IHC make about the revival of the Ayodhya controversy?

It's not historical evidence that is being talked about today. The position of the Indian History Congress in the past was that irrespective of the origin of the Babri Masjid, the structure should not have been demolished. Whether those who said there was a Ram temple underneath and those who said there wasn't -- the point is that once a structure is established and it becomes an ancient monument, it can't be disturbed. These two controversies must be absolutely delinked.

Therefore, in the Warangal Resolution of March 1993, the History Congress specifically criticised the Government of India for referring the matter to the Supreme Court. We have maintained all along that the structure that upholds must be preserved as it is.

The only thing which has revived the controversy is Vajpayee's assertion that the destruction of the Babri Masjid was a kind of a national movement. So obviously, historians are perturbed with the prime minister's interpretation of what was an act of vandalism.

An ICHR offical recently stated that there was no Babri Mosque at the disputed site in Ayodhya. How do you react to his statement?

Sushil Kumar, the person whom you are referring to, is merely a director of the Indian Council of Historical Research. He is not a historian. By making such statements, he probably feels he could please his masters.

Do you think people without a background in history should be allowed to hold key positions in an organisation like the ICHR?

Ask this question to the present regime.

How do you compare the National Democratic Alliance government with its predecessors?

Other regimes were not interested in a particular ideological myth. The present regime wants to impose a specific mindset or ideology which is not an ideology of science. This is how I find the present government different from the regimes we had in the past.

As a historian, how disturbed are you by the reported attempts of the saffronisation of Indian history? There are reports that saffronisation is taking place in text books, educational institutions such as the ICHR, the Indian Council of Social Sciences Research and the National Council for Education, Research and Training.

You are asking me two different questions. First, we must understand what value education the HRD ministry in the BJP government is talking about. To me, value education is another name for religious instructions as it is clear from the curriculum and filling up of posts in the NCERT with those practicing the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. But that is declared illegal by the Indian Constitution. By our Constitution, no State-supported institutions can impart religious instructions on a compulsory basis. It is unconstitutional.

The BJP government is visibly concerned because religious instructions mean, to that extent, a scientific approach is automatically curtailed. Be it Islam or any other religion, the very nature of religion is that you accept it. No archaeologist worth his name can say that Ibrahim founded the Kaaba, yet Muslims believe this. So clearly, religion must be separated.

Secondly, history deals with religious beliefs that the Kaaba was founded by Ibrahim. Therefore, I believe religion does not prove its beliefs by history and history does not accept the fact of the religion unless of this kind. If these two issues are mixed in Indian education, it will mark the demise of scientific and rationale education in the country.

How difficult is it for independent researchers to carry on with their work under the BJP government? Not so long ago, two historians -- Sumit Sarkar and K N Panikkar -- had alleged that two of their volumes on the freedom movement were withdrawn because they refused to toe the Sangh Parivar line.

So long as India continues to uphold the dignity of democracy and civil rights, there is no reason why historians should feel intimidated. As for the withdrawal of the two volumes edited by two eminent historians, I feel it is a matter for the ICHR. The Indian History Congress has that matter on its agenda and we will get a resolution on it during our three-day conclave. The general body of our Congress will debate this issue extensively.

The BJP government is being singled out for recruiting scholars who toe their line. But the Left Front government in Bengal has often been accused of appointing people with a Marxist background to sensitive positions. As a Marxist, how can you justify this?

Even I have come across such reports in a section of media. As for Bengal, all the appointees here were never been short of basic prerequisites. They have always fulfilled the academic standards. The only difference between the BJP government and the non-BJP ruled states including Bengal is that the latter did not regard Marxist views as totally unacceptable.

History is based on fact. Yet one often sees historians divided on any given issue. Many people say personal prejudice and political lineage influence researchers.

Every individual sees a particular set of historical facts differently. It may be because of his experience, affiliation and political allegiance. However, there is very little doubt that they are all historians. On the other hand, the kind of things the Sangh Parivar is busy doing today? It is not adhering to any historical facts.

A true historian can never say anything outside the framework of historical facts. The only satisfying revelation is that those who believe in distorting

facts. The only satisfying revelation is that those who believe in distorting history are very few in number. There are many who owe political allegiance, but they do not necessarily follow them while researching certain subjects.

Coming back to the Babri Masjid controversy, what is your personal reading? Was there really a Ram temple on which Babar constructed a mosque?

I have no different opinion than what some eminent historians have already said on this issue. Actually, this historical evidence was collected and a detailed report issued by four historians of repute in the past. They observed that when the Babri Masjid was being constructed, there was no memory of a Hindu temple in Avadh, which was then a medieval town.

The nation that is India: Prof. Irfan Habib

The nation that is India: Prof. Irfan Habib

The article was published in The Little Magazine.

When Benedict Anderson published his Imagined Communities in 1983, with the subtitle Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, the text was widely hailed as an unanswerable critique of the claims to nationhood by peoples outside Western Europe. Very few readers of Anderson apparently had the patience to reflect that too much was perhaps being read in the new word ‘imagined’. Earlier writers had used words like ‘consciousness’, ‘belief’, ‘consider’ (the last in Seton-Watson, quoted by Anderson himself), to indicate that a nation comes into existence when large numbers become convinced that they form one. But in this respect, the nation is no different from any other ‘community’ or association, whether a religious community or family or tribe or caste or even profession. It is only in our ‘imagination’ that a fellowship in faith, or a common ancestry, or a similar way of doing things makes us see some of us as a community or a class. Indeed, it is our ‘imagination’ that makes us so different from animals.

If there is a point in Anderson’s book, of which a reminder would be useful, it is that consciousness of nationhood is of comparative recent origin: for the world at large, outside Western Europe, it is mainly a post-French Revolution (1789) phenomenon. But this was not, unlike what Anderson tells us, simply because the exciting ideas of the French Revolution first caught the imagination of ambitious individuals in Latin America, starting with Simon Bolivar. The crucial basis for emerging nationhood was provided by colonialism, which was no imagined phenomenon either for Latin America, or for Asia and Africa. Colonialism was ruthlessly exploitative, and it could be opposed only if people, who were oppressed, were brought together on the largest scale possible. The ‘nation’ provided precisely such a unifying platform.

Colonialism was also an unconscious agency for a momentous transfer of ideas. Based in Europe (and the United States), its economic framework rested on the capitalist economy of the metropolitan countries. It was necessary for colonialism itself that parts of capitalist infrastructure, such as railways, processing factories, and some technology, should reach the colonies; and that certain numbers of colonial populations should learn the languages of the rulers for convenience of governance. These steps opened the doors to the transmission of ideas and knowledge from Europe. Marx described this as a source of ‘regeneration’ of the exploited people (he was speaking in 1853 with reference to India), in contrast to the ‘destructive’ role that colonialism had simultaneously played in the sphere of economy and society of the colonial peoples.

This notion of a dual process of destruction and regeneration was challenged by Edward Said in his Orientalism, the first edition of which came out in 1978. Despite his disclaimers in the ‘Afterword’ appended to the 1995 edition, Said clearly argues in his main text that European studies of eastern countries and peoples fundamentally distorted the pictures of the latter’s true cultures. Soon, one began to hear of ‘colonial discourse’ and even ‘colonial knowledge.’ In Imagining India, first published in 1990, Ronald Inden asserted that "the agency of Indians, the capacity of Indians to make their world, has been displaced in these [Orientalist] knowledges (the plural shows that we are now in the framework of post-modernist ‘knowledge’ on to other agents." Edward Said concedes in his Afterword that he did not wish to deny the ‘technical’ achievements of the ‘Orientalists.’ He should, however, have paused to examine what these technical aspects amount to. In essence, these flow from the assumption that non-European peoples can be studied by the same methods and criteria as the European. The concept of the ‘other’, the initial point of colonial discourse, was thus continuously undermined by the universality of the scientific method that the Orientalist needed to be committed to. That is often why the prejudices and aberrations of one generation of Orientalists were exposed and rejected by the next.

It is in fact the concept of universality that is of particular importance in the transmission of ideas from the West to the East. ‘Liberty’, ‘Constitution’ and ‘Nation’ were not just principles suited to Europe, but were applicable, under similar circumstances, to all of mankind. Countries in the East could also, therefore, become ‘nations’. When Raja Rammohun Roy, in an 1830 letter, asserted that India was not a nation because Indians were "divided up among castes," he implicitly accepted that India could become a nation if its people shifted their primary loyalties from caste to country. In 1870, Keshav Chandra Sen was already looking forward to this prospect in the light of India’s educational development and social reform. By the very name that the moderate Indian leaders gave to the organisation they founded at Bombay in 1885 — the Indian National Congress — the proposition that India is a nation was widely proclaimed.

But why was India chosen as the nation, and not individual territorial divisions within it? Perhaps it was because India alone was seen as a country. Several nations have been created, such as the United States, Ecuador, Bolivia or Congo, which had no previous existence as countries; but such instances belong to areas where for one reason or another there was no preceding accepted concept of country. Where such concepts have existed since pre-modern times, the country already existing in the popular mind becomes a natural candidate for nationhood. It is clearly for this reason that Ba’athist or Nasserite Arab nationalism has found it so difficult to replace the separate nations of Egypt, Syria and Iraq with one, single, indivisible ‘Arab nation’. The existence of India as a country had long preceded British rule. It was due undoubtedly in part to facts of geography, with the Indian peninsula separated by mountains and the sea from the Eurasian continent. Within the limits so set, cultural affinities had developed which led people to distinguish those in India from the rest of the world. Many of these affinities appear as aspects of the Hindu tradition. That the caste system and Brahmanical ideas and rituals were important among the culturally shared elements is undeniable. But it can be shown (as I have tried to do in a couple of essays) that the concept of India as a country is stronger in writers like Amir Khusrau (d.1325) or Abu’l Fazl (d.1603), writing in Persian, than in any identifiable preceding writer in Sanskrit. This is surely because the cultural affinities were not exclusively religious. Tara Chand, in his Influence of Islam on Indian Culture, observed that extensive political structures like the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire helped to generate larger political allegiances, and so made the consciousness of the country’s unity still stronger. Even in the eighteenth century, when he had lost all power, the Mughal emperor was seen as the natural sovereign of Hindustan. And when the rebels of Avadh, in the name of Prince Birjis Qadr, penned their defiant reply to Queen Victoria’s Proclamation of 1858, they spoke of the wrongs that the British had done to the princes of Hindustan, referring to both Tipu Sultan of Mysore and Maharaja Dalip Singh of the Punjab. In their words, it was "the army and people of Hindustan" that had now stood up to challenge the British. The 1857 rebels thus saw India very clearly as their country, and their natural reserve of supporters. If the India of their perception was still not a nation, it was only because they did not yet have any notion of establishing a single state over the country — and a unified political entity is the crux of nationhood.

The unification of the country on an economic plane by the construction of railways and the introduction of the telegraph in the latter half of the nineteenth century, undertaken for its own benefit by the colonial regime, and the centralisation of the administration which the new modes of communications and transport made possible, played their part in making Indians view India as a prospective single political entity. Modern education (undertaken in a large part by indigenous effort) and the rise of the press disseminated the ideas of India’s nationhood and the need for constitutional reform. A substantive basis for India’s nationhood was laid when nationalists like Dadabhoy Naoroji (Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India, 1901) and R.C. Dutt (Economic History of India, 2 vols., 1901 and 1903) raised the issues of poverty of the Indian people and the burden of colonial exploitation, which was felt in equal measure throughout India.

We see, then, that three complex processes enmeshed to bring about the emergence of India as a nation: the preceding notion of India as a country, the influx of modern political ideas, and the struggle against colonialism. The last was decisive: the creation of the Indian nation can well be said to be one major achievement of the national movement.

The idea once propounded had to be defended against numerous critics. The Simon Commission Report (1930) pointed to India’s cultural diversities, its religious divisions and the multiplicity of its languages. One could retort by citing the classic example of Switzerland, a land of Catholics and Protestants and four languages. But beyond these technical quibbles was the stake that the people could be persuaded to see in a unified, free India. The real answer to the Simon Commission was, therefore, the Karachi Resolution of March 1931, in which the Congress spelt out the political, social and economic contours of the future free India in which the state would ensure ‘fundamental rights’ to all. The Indian state, it was pledged, would observe ‘neutrality in regard to all religions’, and the cultures and languages of ‘the different linguistic areas’ would be protected.

Religious divisions undoubtedly undermined this notion of a secular, single nation of India. That a divide-and-rule policy was of advantage to colonialism may be taken for granted. Such a policy could not, however, succeed if the seeds for division did not exist. The same new conditions, notably the rapid means of communications and the press, which had so helped the nationalist cause, also provided platforms for communalist propaganda, both Hindu and Muslim, on a scale and of a type no one could have imagined in the pre-1857 period. In the earlier stages, one strand of nationalism also played with religion: it could supply a source of mass mobilisation when other instruments were lacking. Tilak’s agitations in the 1890s against the Age of Consent Bill and plague inoculation, together with his espousal of the Shivaji cult, offer classic illustrations of this tendency. Aurobindo Ghosh provided simultaneously the theoretical basis for a ‘Hindu Nationalism’. Tilak’s senior contemporary Jamaluddin Afghani similarly propounded the doctrine of pan-Islamism to unite all Muslim peoples against European colonial powers — the unifying factor was again religion. Afghani’s exclusion of India from his scheme did not mean that the vision once propounded would not exert any influence on Indian Muslim minds.