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Biographies on radar of historians

Cuttack, Dec. 30: Biographies of eminent local personalities can be a new literary genre and source for the study of local history and contemporary politics.

This insight comes across in a book on popular culture and social history of the former feudatory state of Mayurbhanj in northern Odisha and its neighbouring districts, (of Jharkhand and Bengal).

Authored by Chandi Prasad Nanda and Herman Kulke, the book — Locating Local History: Rethinking ‘Marginal’ Community and Identity Politics — was released by eminent historian Romila Thapar during the 74th session of the Indian History Congress, which concluded at Ravenshaw University here today.

“The book is an outcome of the idea initiated by my co-author to explore non-official and non-archival sources and hitherto unutilised local source material for the overall conceptualisation of local history in particular and popular culture and social history in general,” Kulke, an eminent historian on the cult of Jagannath, told The Telegraph today.

The book brings out the under-explored history and identity politics apart from two strands of cultural assertion within a ‘marginal’ community — Kurmi Mahantas — in quest of their adivasi identity.

With the help of autobiography of Siva Mahanta (a little known personality of late 19th century of the Kurmi community), the assertion for adivasi status of Mahantas is highlighted.

The biography of Niranjan Mahanta (an obscure early 20th century socio-religious reformer of the Kurmi community), on the other hand, is relied upon to explore how a marginal community was engaged in re-defining and locating itself as a Kshatriyas within the social order of Hindu Brahmanical tradition. The Kurmi community were lower class in the colonial census.

Two other books — Aadya Kalina Bharat Itihas — an Odia translation of Romila Thapar’s book by Prof Pritish Acharya and Towards Freedom-1947, Part I, edited by historians Irfan Habib and Sucheta Mahajan was also released during the session.

The Odisha panel on “History and the Present: Rethinking Society, State and Region in Odisha” on its second day saw six presentations, including one on Poet Gangadhar Meher and another on Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das.

Pritish Acharya, department of history described Gangadhar Meher (1882- 1924), who was born in a weaver family, as a poet with a difference.

His writings saw two phases. In the first phase, his creations were submissive in nature, be it in the case of women characters or people who had full faith in political justice (the British). In the second phase, Meher’s writings, however, criticised the feudal order and the British Raj after the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi.

Satyanarayan Sahu, joint secretary Lok Sabha secretariat, described Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das as “a modern man” and “a compassionate rebel”.

He said that Sahu Gopabandhu had started Samaj (now a premier Odia daily) in the context of famine and tried to address the concerns of the people using the media as a tool.

In lines of the Japan Code of Study, 1872, he stressed on ensuring that there was not a family with illiteracy and no one in the family remained illiterate.

Gopabandhu stressed that development should be in harmony with nature and criticised the canal system as they would cause floods.

He claimed these facets of Gopabandhu had been given little attention.

As part of the 74th congress, a two-day Aligarh Panel on forms of labour in Indian history was coordinated by eminent historian Irfan Habib.


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