“As many as three people were killed and half-a-dozen people injured in the violence on Tuesday in Madikeri(1)” reported India Today on 13th November, 2015, the day on which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had enforced a state-wide band in Karnataka over the death of its worker. The violence, according to The Huffington Post of 10th November, 2015 was a result of communal clashes between pro-Tipu Sultan Muslim groups and Hindutva activists: “Historians have said Tipu Sultan was a freedom fighter” it notes. “But the more vocal in India’s right wing political parties have always held the view that Tipu was an intolerant ruler who forcefully converted Hindus and persecuted Christians… On 6 November, the United Christian Association (UCA) held a protest outside the deputy commissioner’s office in Mangalore and showed their support for the Sangh’s agitation against Tipu.(2)”
Contesting interpretations of historical events as well as individuals/groups and their actions often lead to the genesis, persistence, and shaping of conflicts that can have wide-ranging and severe ramifications. It is thus critical that history classes not just teach students about past events, individuals, and groups but also provide them the means to think historically about them.
This involves understanding how, in response to a historical problem, different individuals and groups can offer different explanations; how these explanations usually consist of arguments, narratives, expositions or a combination of these; how the arguments, narratives and expositions must be based on facts and how these facts must in turn be derived from evidence drawn from primary or secondary sources. A good explanation to a historical problem, thus, should comprise of a coherent interplay between arguments, narratives, facts, and evidences.
It is also important that students experience the limitations of historical enquiry; and understand that any individual or group attempting to comprehend and/or explain a historical event, must necessarily be “constrained by the range of sources they can access, will interpret and use the same evidence in different ways and will select and put emphasis on different aspects of the evidence. In other words, that most, if not all, historical phenomena can be interpreted and reconstructed from a variety of perspectives, reflecting the limitations of the evidence, the subjective interests of those who are interpreting and reconstructing it, and the shifting cultural influences which determine to some degree what each new generation regards as significant in the past.” (Stradling, 2003)(3)
The author works at Wipro where he manages an initiative called Wipro Applying Thought in Schools (WATIS), which partners with a network of civil society organizations to build capacities for school education reform in India. He can be reached at email@example.com.