Students at Allahabad University Find 'Healing' through Marginalized History!

A curriculum on marginalized history, devised by Dr. Vikram, addresses historical neglect to foster comprehensive understanding. The course is presently being taught in the Master's Degree program in History at Allahabad University.
Students at Allahabad University Find 'Healing' through Marginalized History!

New Delhi- In the corridors of history education across Indian universities, certain profound questions often remain unexplored. However, for postgraduate students at Allahabad University, these queries become a compelling part of their academic journey. Why does Queen Victoria grace museum paintings in resplendent attire, while Adivasi or Dalit women are depicted with exposed breasts? What nuances underlie the reactions to terms like "Kinnar," and why do historical monuments predominantly showcase erotic sculptures featuring courtesans and lower-class women in compromising positions?

Here, the history scholars specializing are not merely memorizing historical events. Instead, they are immersed in a unique educational approach, one that encourages them to assess history through the lens of Bahujan perspectives. This innovative approach, spearheaded by Dalit Professor Vikram, seeks to unravel the intricacies of historical narratives, prompting students to ponder over the "what" and "why" of historical occurrences.

All of these questions are part of a special curriculum called 'Marginal History', which students at Allahabad University study in their 3rd and 4th semesters of the postgraduate program. Dr. Vikram Harijan, a Dalit assistant professor in the Department of Medieval and Modern History, created this course about eight-nine years ago which is being taught now for over five years. The impact is clear – the teacher says students are becoming more understanding and sensitised towards marginalized groups. The Mooknayak spoke to Dr. Vikram to understand what led him to conceptualize the course, its impact, and how he envisions implementing it across other universities in India.

In response to the question about the genesis of the idea of Marginalised History, Dr. Vikram shared that it originated from a workshop held at the Central University of Allahabad during the tenure of Vice Chancellor A. K Hanglu who emphasized the need to develop new courses, replace outdated syllabi, and introduce innovative content. Following Hanglu's guidance, a new syllabus was crafted.

Prior to his stint at Allahabad University, Professor Vikram had been associated with Assam University. During his time there, he proposed a course on Dalit history, but unfortunately, the committee rejected it. Undeterred, when revising the curriculum related to caste for Assam University, he sought the counsel of Hanglu , who advised against confining the study of Dalits to a limited scope. Instead, he proposed the term 'Marginal' and recommended developing a comprehensive course on 'Marginal Society' that would encompass all marginalized communities. Following this insightful suggestion, Professor Vikram created the course titled 'Marginal Communities in Indian History.'

" While officially named Marginalised History, I prefer to refer to it as Healing History. This is because the course serves as a soothing balm, healing the wounds and suffering that our people have endured over the years. I believe that history often encompasses narratives of bloodshed, anguish, poison, and discrimination. I am inclined towards healing and moving away from these negative aspects, fostering a more positive and empathetic understanding of our shared past" Vikram told The Mooknayak.

Prof Vikram says there's a notable transformation among students after the new curriculum – a student who used to habitually destroy Baba Saheb's statue has ceased such actions.
Prof Vikram says there's a notable transformation among students after the new curriculum – a student who used to habitually destroy Baba Saheb's statue has ceased such actions.

"In the curriculum, there is food history, there is fashion history. Why certain communities eat non-vegetarian, why Mahapatra among the Brahmins faces discrimination harder than Dalit communities do? Why the so-called upper caste had access to decent clothing and the lower-caste men and women were deprived of basic dressing? We address such issues in classrooms that are topics that would never find voices in public spaces," says Vikram.

The Marginal History course, offered in the third and fourth semesters of M.A History is an elective course aimed at addressing the historical neglect of marginalized communities. Professor Vikram highlights that traditional teachings on caste usually fall under sociology, while gender is often marginalized within the realm of human studies. He argues for the inclusion of topics such as lesbian, gay, disabled, witchcraft, and sports to provide a comprehensive understanding of marginalized communities.

The curriculum is structured into several parts. The first part, 'Approach,' delves into the historical relationship of various schools toward marginalized communities. The second part, 'Ideology,' explores how different ideologies, including those of Karl Marx, Ambedkar, Lohia, and Gandhi, impact the understanding and elimination of caste. The third part, 'Text,' incorporates important texts related to marginalized societies, such as Ambedkar's 'Annihilation of Caste,' Manusmriti, Golwalkar's 'We or Our Manhood Defined,' and ancient Buddhist texts.

Professor Vikram ensures a diverse representation of voices in the textual narrative, including writers from the Bahujan community like Om Prakash Valmiki, Sharan Kumar Limbale, Tulsiram, Rajni Tilak, and Anita Bharti. The course aims to challenge existing narratives and explore whether biographies can replace conventional history, incorporating the stories of Arjak Sangh, Ram Swaroop Verma, Periyar, Lalai Yadav, Savitri Bai Phule, Jyotiba Rao Phule, and Ambedkar.

The course also addresses religious taboos in the section 'Religion and Marginalized People,' examining the status of disabled individuals, women, Dalits, gays and lesbians, and war victims in Hinduism. It extends to the position of Pasmanda Muslims, sub-castes within various communities, and the history of religious Sikhs, Dalit Christians, and other marginalized groups in different religions.

Dr Vikram says, Queen Victoria grace museum paintings in resplendent attire, while Adivasi or Dalit women are depicted with exposed breasts?
Dr Vikram says, Queen Victoria grace museum paintings in resplendent attire, while Adivasi or Dalit women are depicted with exposed breasts? Image source- Jharkhand Blog

Vikram explaains further, " "In our curriculum, we delve into the history of Mazhabhi (religious) Sikhs, specifically focusing on Ramdasiya Chamars. Professor Runki Ram from Punjab University has extensively written about the Ramdasia Chamar community, emphasizing their role in resistance movements, not only within India but also abroad. We've incorporated Professor Runki Ram's texts to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Ramdasia Chamar community.

Similarly, our curriculum sheds light on the history of Dalit Christians among Christians. The aim is to enlighten students about the place and status of Dalits within various religions. Our focus extends beyond religious teachings; we delve into the cultural aspects of marginalized communities. We explore the unique cultural expressions of these communities and scrutinize whether their culture carries elements of hegemony or reflects Brahministic influences.

Take, for instance, the Mridang dance of Chamars. We explore the origins of this dance form, its significance, and the cultural aspects surrounding it. The Mridang instrument, exclusively used by the Chamar caste, becomes a focal point of discussion. Additionally, we examine the cultural expressions of washermen, including their songs and dances. Through this, we aim to illustrate how religion dominates these artistic expressions and uncover the underlying hegemonic structures.

In the same vein, we introduce students to figures like Shitala Mai, aiming to provide insights into the religious, cultural, and artistic dimensions of marginalized communities. Our goal is to present a holistic picture, allowing students to understand the intricate interplay of religion, culture, and identity within these communities."

Discussing the impact of the new curriculum, Vikram highlights the positive changes in students' attitudes. He shares, "There's a notable transformation – a student who used to habitually destroy Baba Saheb's statue has ceased such actions. Additionally, there's a shift in behavior. Previously, when the term 'Kinnar' was mentioned in class, students would react with grins. Now, they are coming to realize that Kinnars have their own existence, and the understanding of diverse sexual orientations as a natural and personal choice is gradually sinking in."

Dr. Vikram aims to spread this course to other universities as well. "I endeavor to ignite debates on the curriculum's content through social media and engagements in various programs. During my lectures, I encourage students to shift their mindset and contribute to crafting a new narrative that is Bahujan-sensitive. Additionally, I plan to write to the HRD Ministry and UGC, providing a detailed program and urging them to incorporate it as an elective course for history students nationwide."

Also Read-

Students at Allahabad University Find 'Healing' through Marginalized History!
From Bonded Labour to Academic Heights: Dr Vikram Harijan's Saga
Students at Allahabad University Find 'Healing' through Marginalized History!
Dr. Vikram Harijan of Allahabad University Faces FIR for Controversial Remarks On Hindu Gods

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