ADDRESS AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE DIAMOND JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS OF THE KERALA HISTORY ASSOCIATION, KOCHI
18-12-2005 : Kochi
Past meets the present and creates the future
I am delighted to be with you, participate in and share your joy and happiness on this occasion of the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the Kerala History Association. Your association has done good work since its inception in 1945, in the erstwhile State of Cochin, just before our nation attained independence after over 1000 years of alien rule. Born at this historically crucial turning point of Indian civilization, your Association has engaged in the significant and important work of learning and propagating the problems and lessons of history of India in general, and Kerala in particular.
The progress achieved by the Association is a tribute to its learned, eminent founders, Kulapathi K.M. Munshi, and others. Successive President?s of your Association have carried forward the vision of the founders. Now, at this moment of your Diamond Jubilee, you are blessed to have as your President our learned and distinguished former Judge of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer. I trust that under his wise leadership, your Association continues to grow and prosper.
The True Value of History
Why is a study of history so significant and important for humanity? It is said that the true value of history exists in what it tells us about the world in which we live. At birth we enter a world which we did not create, and which we come to understand only in part, and then only gradually. With time, in our own day, our awareness of that world extends beyond the household, the neighborhood and the region to encompass many other parts of the world. But even the most distant parts of the world represent only that portion of humanity that is presently alive. All aspects of our existence are products of much longer periods of development, and their continuity and change, remain only dimly evident to us, until we begin to learn something about the past.
History and people
An endless unfolding awareness might perhaps be what brings about fundamental change in humanity, both at individual and at collective levels. Clearly, at the collective level, history has a crucial role to play in this unfolding of awareness, through an accurate understanding the past. The best historians present us with descriptions and analyses of the past that make unfamiliar times and places somehow comprehensible. In seeking to penetrate the veil of the past, we end up by studying how other individuals and societies dealt with the practical and existential problems at least related to our own.
My observation is that in India many have written history of India both from the Indian historians recently and by those who had conquered us. So far, even 58 years after Independence, the dogmas, rituals, systems and norms of the historical past, imposed by the last millennium of invasion and conquest, still continue to condition our minds. We tend more to conform to the past, rather than think in true freedom and create a future, free from the pain of the past. Now time has come, in 21st century, we need new breed of historians who can make the past meet the present and create the future. With executive approach to study and use of history, a value-adding approach, we can surely develop capabilities as a nation to think strategically and create a glorious future. Let me share a few thoughts on how our historians can do this.
The history of mankind is reflected mainly as a history of conflict for political power, hunger for territory, and capturing wealth of others. Historically, India is a victim of this pattern of violence. One observes that human life on planet earth passes through alternating periods of stable and unstable war, followed by periods of unstable and stable peace. Along with China and Egypt, we have a rich social and cultural history of over 5000 years. However, over that last 1000 years, we have had three waves of invasion across land and sea, followed by three waves of freedom.
In 1947, just 58 years ago, we entered the third wave of freedom from alien rule. 58 years is a small drop in the ocean of historical time. How can a study of history enable this third wave of our freedom from invasion and alien rule be sustained far into the future millennia, in an increasingly insecure world?
World needs from India: a book of war and peace.
I have always felt, history is a record of triumph and defeat of a particular country by another with the purpose of territorial gain or imposing certain doctrines or the combination of both. Unfortunately, India was the theater of such action from many nations. I ask my self? Why my nation succumbed to this phenomenon? Why my nation allowed many nations to have territorial and other ambitions? Why in the Indian history very rarely talked about India?s invasion of other nations? It doesn?t mean that now my country may enter into such adventures, no never. But I am telling the historians that these questions should be answered, why a living civilization has been invaded? There may be many reasons, but it is essential that the knowledge of history should strengthen the nation by a unified action.
It is here that such knowledge of historians can make vital contributions to national security and economic development. An authentic, comprehensive unfolding history of India is yet to be written, in such a manner and style that enables our citizens, analysts and policy makers at all levels to understand the rhythms of social and economic change, locally and globally, which enabled cycles of conquest and freedom from such conquests in India. Then perhaps we might be able to understand our history executively, and implement strategies for social, technological and economic change by empowering people with knowledge to think strategically and create their future.
For example, writers of history of industrial institutions in the West, do so in a manner where after researching and recording the historical facts internal and external to many institutions, they go further. Through insight and incisive analysis, they try to identify cognizable patterns of ?evolution? or periods of orderly, steady growth, and ?revolution? or periods of disorder and chaos. More significantly, they identify successful and unsuccessful strategies that had enabled institutions either to survive and grow or walk into the darkness.
Can this kind of historical research and analysis be extended to the level of nations and civilizations? What circumstances and conditions made repeated invasions possible? What conditions made freedom from alien rule possible? Why complex civilized societies do decline and collapse, like the ancient Maya, Greek and Roman civilizations. Even the periodicity of these cycles is different. Some societies decline gradually, occurring over centuries. Others have been rapid, occurring over the course of a few years. War, drought, natural disaster, disease, overpopulation, and economic disruption, and above all disunity and segmentation of thinking of our people; any of these can bring about the collapse of a civilization. Internal causes (such as political struggles or over farming) can combine with external causes (such as war or natural disaster) to bring about a collapse. What does this mean for modern civilizations and what does it mean for India? What strategies might be identified for sustainable growth and security in an increasingly insecure world? What can we learn from the past?
History is a great teacher
History may be past, but it certainly presents the future. Any organisation?s or a nation?s history is the quintessence of what it had achieved over a period and which inevitably points to what is in store. History is something that relates itself to the present and makes it relevant to it. I still recall that some time ago, questions were raised why history should be taught as a subject in the educational curriculum, whether it was not a waste of time to do so. Such a point of view is extremely short sighted and misses the crucial point. History is a great teacher. There is a lot to learn from the pluses and minuses of the historical past. It is a fact of life which cannot be wished away. Ignorance of the historical past makes the present hollow and the future floundering.
Societal Change by Practical Skills from the Study of History
Learning and using history for creating the future of a nation, institution, community or even an individual is a bit like learning how to play a musical instrument. History cannot do much for us unless we know how to play on it. When Bismillah Khan played the shenai, the entire hall swelled with a sound of beauty that it continues to overwhelm us. Historical research can compel a society to analyze itself carefully, construct coherent arguments, present those arguments persuasively, and draw intelligent conclusions enabling a future to be created, free from the past.
The best historical writing presents complex problems in clear and accessible prose. The ability to do this could make an important contribution to the day-to-day life of almost every sphere of society and its economy. Otherwise, blindly repeating and reliving history is irrational. As Albert Einstein observed ?Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.?
History helps us to understand the past, the known, so that we are able become aware of our conditioning, understand the whole content of our consciousness, which is to understand ourselves and act rationally on that understanding. This process frees us from the past. The moment we give total attention to the content of our conditioning, our history, we are free from the past completely, and then it falls away from us naturally. Order comes about when we discover for ourselves what causes disorder. The practical skills developed by history should thus enable us to vigourously and passionately enhance the hard earned values of freedom and democracy, and empowering people to contribute effectively to national security and economic prosperity.
Let us dispassionately treat our history after 1857, the commencement of war of independence, as our baseline. Let us preserve data and start writing accurately after the year 1857, when the nation in an integrated way challenged the alien rule. It is in this context that the Kerala Historical Association has a crucial role to play, created as it was in 1945. Your Association can contribute greatly to this mission to write and continuously update history from 1857, by acquiring and adapting new technology assisted research and analytical skills. Obviously, you cannot do so alone, and so there is need for strategic and operational level partnership with other academic, research, government and industrial institutions. Not just the history of Kerala or India, but that of a dynamic, globalized new world of the 21st Century.
Inspiring society with books of history.
From 1857 to 2005, India has a history of war, history of movement of Ahimsa Dharma and Non-violence and success of achieving freedom and also near achieving economic freedom. Historians of 21st century have a great challenge to write an Indian history, from domination to freedom: political and economic. This research and analysis recorded in the history books of India will be document of freedom which should inspire all nations to protect their territorial and economic integrity. In today?s context, the word territory is not confined just only to land borders, but to sea, air and even space. The tools of modern information technology and the information explosion that is taking place in the last quarter of a century, makes the writing of history today possible for the historians of the 21st century.
Like all study and research work in any knowledge domain, history writing has to be done not only for the sake of the subject itself, but also for the society as a whole. It has to be done not in isolation, but in a manner and style that enables social change to unfold, breaking out of past limitations and constraints. Historical writings must inspire the younger generation into enlightened action to realize their full potential, and that of the society that nurtures them.
History of Maritime States and Preservation of Nationhood
Kerala, as many of you are aware, has played, and continues to play a very important role in the preservation of our nationhood. Kerala is a maritime state like West Bengal, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Pondicherry, Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat. The circumstances and strengths of maritime states have profoundly affected the destiny of India.
In the guise of trading, and using gunboat diplomacy, a maritime state of India was first invaded across the seas on the West Coast. The same was experienced by other maritime states in India, as the French and British used the same strategy to set up bases on the East Coast in Pondicherry, Chennai and Kolkota.
Thus India was invaded in the past because of unawareness of its maritime vulnerabilities, and it is well established that control of India depended on control of the seas.
Today the situation is not very different. The Indian Ocean is strategically important for sea-borne trade and access to West Asia?s energy resources. New amorphous insecurities like ?global terrorism? has taken root and has invited the permanent militarization of the Indian Ocean and its islands with the deployment of nuclear weapons, and other advanced sea borne and space based technologies by the US, Europe, Australia and Russia. Driven by needs to secure energy supplies from West Asia, China and Japan have extended their naval reach into the Indian Ocean.
As Jawaharlal Nehru once said: ?To be secure on land, we must be supreme at sea.? The 1971 war with Pakistan to liberate Bangladesh, we witnessed gunboat diplomacy again with the US sending its aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, deploying nuclear weapons. This once again emphasized the need to ensure the growth of maritime security.
There are other economic stakes also for the nation in maritime security. Our trading with other nations has intensified. Nearly 70% of the oil vitally needed for the transportation sector is imported and delivered by ships sailing across the ocean. Almost all of the remaining 30% of oil is obtained from offshore oil installations. The UN has declared a 200-nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone and in a few years? 350-nautical miles Legal Continental Shelf would be added to further raise the stake of maritime territory of India.
Hence all maritime States need to be kept constantly aware of their crucial role in maritime security. The contribution of Kerala to maritime security has been significant. Kochi has been made a major Naval Base and is being developed as the ?cradle of learning? for Naval and Coast Guard personnel.
Maritime security has other many critical aspects like the merchant marine, shipbuilding capabilities, seaport capacities, fishing industry, coastal security and law enforcement to counter increasing maritime crimes like drug trafficking, gunrunning and human smuggling. Many these aspects of maritime security fall within the jurisdiction of the maritime States and our navy and Coast Guard.
It is here that a proper use of historical research and skills in history writing can play a vital part towards preserving our nationhood in terms of economic prosperity of the states and national security. History writers in maritime states have a key role to play to keep the people, especially the younger generation, perennially alerted to the dangers from across the seas, including natural disasters like Tsunamis. Not just dangers, but also the great opportunities for economic development that maritime states uniquely possess.
It is no longer sufficient to write about Vasco da Gama and bemoan our fate. We must enable our people break out of the past, and make them aware through our educational institutions and historians of what is actually happening in the ever present moment, which is history continuously in the making. Only then can we have the full force of the people in the maritime states, indeed all other states on India, behind India?s nationhood.
History is not simply a chronological record of what happened in the past; it is not a string of stories or incidents that happened over the years ? it represents the strengths and weaknesses of the system. It traverses the pattern of growth of any organization or nation, the trials and tribulations it had to go through, the successes and failures of ventures undertaken and tacitly includes lessons to be taught and learnt for it to sustain itself in the days to come. To my mind, history is a throbbing, pulsating record pertaining to the past that is full of life for the present and is a beacon for the future.
The Kerala History Association has thus a supreme challenge before it, to raise the consciousness of people to the flow of history, how to step out of history, and through a continuous writing of post-independence history help the nation to be secure and prosperous in an insecure world of great opportunities for the uplift of our people to their full potential.
My best wishes and greetings to Shri Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, President and all members of Kerala History Association on this occasion of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
May God bless you all.