SPPU “Postpones” 79th Indian History Congress
Savitribai Phule Pune University took this decision unilaterally, citing “financial issues”
December 13, 2018
The 79th Indian History Congress (IHC) scheduled from 28-30 December at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Maharashtra, has been “postponed” until further notice. The Executive Council members were informed about the postponement through an anonymous email on 11 December 2018. The SPPU authorities have announced the postponement of the upcoming event 15 days prior to the schedule on the university website. In a recent press release, the Indian History Congress stated that the decision to postpone the session was taken unilaterally by university authorities.
Speaking with the Indian Cultural Forum, Dr. Mahalakshmi Ramakrishnan, secretary of the 79th Indian History Congress said, “Over 1200 delegates were supposed to attend and around 700 papers were to be presented in this year’s Indian History Congress.”
One of the reasons given by the SPPU authorities to the conference authorities was “financial difficulties and lack of accommodation for the delegates.” The EC of IHC has also expressed their anguish in a letter written to the Vice Chancellor.
Commenting on the issue, eminent historian Romila Thapar said, “The last minute postponement sounds rather suspicious because they should have known about the financial situation much earlier. Also, the state of Maharashtra does not agree with the history as taught by the Indian History Congress.”
The annual IHC receives grants from UGC, ICHR, NEUPA and other public institutions. It has also received an amount of Rs. 15 lakhs as delegate and membership fees. According to close sources, one of the reasons given by the SPPU authorities earlier was uncertainty in the “law and order” situation of Maharashtra. Later, however, a letter issued by the university stated that it’s not just the law and order situation, but also financial issues since they are unable to raise funds for the conference.
Responding to the multiple changes in reasons given by the university authorities, Prof. Thapar added, “The reason for not allowing the Congress will keep changing. It all sounds a bit suspicious.”
Indian History Congress is one of the biggest events held in the academic circles. The body constitutes noted academics and historians from across the country. It is recognised by the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) and has a formal representation in the Central Advisory Board of Archeology. IHC, by its constitution, is only committed to the objective of History and not to any particular political ideology or outlook. It has also been defending the academic freedom of speech since 1975, after the arrests of several academics and others during the Emergency. The Indian History Congress decides its upcoming session’s venue a year prior to the event. The current venue, Savitribai Phule Pune University was chosen by the association of Indian History Congress after the university authorities’ proposal.
Disappointed with the recent changes in the upcoming History Congress, Professor S Irfan Habib, Delhi based historian of science and modern politics said, “The last minute postponement of such a big conference, which the university committed to the IHC more than a year ago, can’t be decided by the university alone. The university must have gotten an idea about the financial situation while preparing for the conference, i.e. 3 to 6 months before. This last minute change can’t just be seen as a “financial” issue, there could be more to it.”
Last year, the Indian History Congress had also critiqued the right-wing government, citing its example on plastic surgery and genetic science relating it to the mythical idols. “The IHC has been facing serious issues over the past few years. The government and especially this right-wing government always have a problem with the IHC. It doesn’t agree with the idea of India that the Indian History Congress proposes or talks about. The whole thing is politically motivated and one can see through it,” added Prof. Habib.
Responding to the postponement, Lakshmi Chandran, a participant and winner of last year’s Dr. Nasreen Ahmed Memorial Prize said, “I was also invited to the IHC for the award. I had already booked tickets. As a participant, I am utterly disappointed with the postponement of the event. For students of history, IHC is one of the most prestigious conferences and it is these students who will be the most affected by the postponement because they can’t afford to lose such a huge sum of money.” Talking to the Indian Cultural Forum, another participant Upasana Hazarika said, “It takes several months of hard work to write a research paper for the conference. Postponing the conference will really demotivate students.”
The IHC has also called for an emergency Executive Council on 14 December 2018 regarding its future course of action. In another Press release issued by the Indian History Congress, Pune, it has called for public support from the citizens and academic community of Pune.
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