Janaki Nair spoke on 'Can History Wars Foster an Idea of Justice'
The Idea of Justice Chapter Two took place at Shiv Nadar School, Gurgaon on September 26 and 27, 2023. The speaker lineup was as follows:
Romila Thapar, Janaki Nair, Meenakshi Ganguly, Jerry Pinto, Gautam Bhatia, Shivangi Jaiswal, Angana Das, Nisha Abdulla, YLAC—Himani Chouhan, Gunjan Periwal and Nidhi Kinhal, and the History for Peace team—Meena Megha Malhotra and Amreeta Das.
Here is what the students had to say about the conference:
The sessions on both days were marvellous and informative. Ms Meenkashi Ganguly spoke about the rights of women, abortions right and individual freedom, and her experience of the Iraq War. Prof Janaki Nair discussed about the changes in narrative and interpretation of justice with respect to colonialism and imperialism. She mentioned Shashi Tharoor and Utsav Pattanaik's writings on the economic history of India, touching upon the role of teaching and learning history. Mr Jerry Pinto's session was evocative, reminding of lessons on marginalization, discrimination and Dalit resistance.
The workshops on both days were equally interesting and engaging. Workshops on Day 1 focused more on discussion and brainstorming, while Day 2 was based on theatre and drama—all of which proves to be beneficial in pedagogy and learning.
Meenakshi Ganguly delivering her keynote address
It is to the credit of the team of the Shiv Nadar School that made possible such an interesting and informative conference. Teachers’ workshops were well-organized having a topical agenda on justice and history teaching. The speakers were renowned professionals and historians, and the lectures given by them were very informative, holistic and thought-provoking. Ms Janaki Nair addressed the topic of 'history wars' and stressed upon the need—especially in today's time—to revisit the idea of history because past events are generally perceived with personal biases and prejudice. Even history textbooks sometimes provide very meagre content on certain topics that might require more importance within the curriculum, such as, marginalization and subaltern groups. In such situations, it is difficult foe a child to develop an actual meaning or idea of history.
Mr Jerry Pinto discussed spoke about 'Translating the Dalit Experience'. First, I want to thank Mr Pinto for his wonderful work in this field. I feel sad that Dalits exist as Dalits even today! It is high time that we change our mindset and question ourselves: Should we think of them as 'them', or as one among us? Information about Dalits are also quite limited in terms of literary and historical sources, that mostly talk about the upper castes.
The conference provided a great opportunity to listen to eminent historian Romila Thapar. She gave wonderful insights and clarity about morality, justice and ethics. Ethics and values play a crucial role in shaping and guiding human life. They provide a framework for individuals to make decisions, evaluate actions and determine what is right or wrong. Such conferences and workshops should be organized more frequently so that we can get insights on various topics of concern which directly impact us and the society at large.
Romila Thapar delivering her lecture
The conference invited eminent scholars from academia who talked on their perspectives on the idea of justice. Justice, ethics, morality, history, discrimination and human rights are intimately linked concepts and those all were touched upon during the conference via various talks and workshops.
Janki Nair while talking about restorative and retributive justice brushed upon various social, political, educational, and historical aspects. She rightly pointed out that social science is extensively being taught in schools as moral science. She explained the role of history textbooks in creation of ‘social memory’ and its repercussions for learners and society at large. Romila Thapar through her lecture enunciated the difference and linkage between justice and ethics. She elaborated on the role of law, individual and society in purview of justice and ethics. She also touched upon other ideas such as 'banality of evil' and 'consciousness', to explain how the idea of equality and ‘justice for all’ is a new—19th century—idea, prone to influences of capitalism, technology etc.
Jerry Pinto’s captivating lecture on experiences of Dalits was a prudent inclusion in the conference as caste-based discrimination is a form of injustice that is peculiar to India. It is crucial that one understand the concept of injustice to understand justice. So, it is essential that individuals, especially teachers and learners become cognizant of the pervasive caste-based injustice present in society.
Common matter of concern that emerged in all the talks was, the need to include multitude of narratives in classrooms discussions and school textbooks. It is the lack of diverse narratives, in school discourse, textbooks and pedagogy that contributes in perpetuating a narrow and isolated view of history and life. Hence, it is essential that schools and teachers make deliberate, continuous efforts to ensure that learners read and understand the nuances and multiplicity associated with history, justice, injustice, ethics and life experiences.
On the first day first Ms. Meenakshi Ganguly explained Human Rights and Justice in South Asia, raising the issues of human rights in South Asia. Next, Ms Janaki Nair gave a critical speech on the topic 'Can "History Wars" foster an idea of justice?' Then, Mr Jerry Pinto developed our understanding on the topic 'Translating the Dalit Experience'. He discussed how even today, despite the strong ideas and rules of the Indian democracy and Constitution, the condition of Dalit society is that of subjugation and oppression. In fact, the society still considers Dalits worthy of certain tasks such as cleaning excreta or cleaning waste materials. They are still discriminated by the upper caste and not given opportunities for more prestigious work; they are banned from entering temples and choosing the profession like pandits etc.
In the workshop for teachers’ group there were 2 types of activities. The first activity was an ice-breaker activity where we familiarized with eace other by revealing identities through clues. This was done in groups of two. The second activity saw four groups; each group was given a topic and discussion was held on how the topics could be introduced in the higher class in the school through studies. This gave a chance to know how to read the same topic through many different methods and how to choose a better method.
On the second day Ms Romila Thapar spoke on The Question of Ethics. She aroused a lot of curiosity as she explained her point. Her talk helped us to understand the clear difference between ethics, morality and justice. It also inspired questions such as,"As we talked about ethics and morality, what is the role of law between the two?" Such prudent questions enriched the talk and discussion. Hopefully, more such events will be hosted in future.
A glimpse of the workshop sessions
Every speaker was very knowledgeable and well versed on their respective topics. Prof Nair’s talk on promoting ideas of justice among young students was very interesting and informative. Jerry Pinto’s session pulled all the attention by trying to show some reality behind the mirror through his energetic presentation. And lastly, it was a great opportunity to hear Prof Thapar. It was a pleasure to hear her talk on what ethics are and its connections to ancient history. In addition to this, it gave us an opportunity to learn some presentation and communication skills from such eminent speakers.
Overall, a well organised session!
Thank you so much for providing the opportunity to attend the conference.
Personally, I constantly investigate the meaning(s) of ideas like liberty, intolerance, ethics, freedom, justice and so on. I was really looking forward to this conference to enrich my mind with a better understanding about these ideas. So, during the History for Peace conference listening to notable speakers like Ms Meenakshi Ganguly, Prof Janaki Nair, Mr Jerry Pinto and Prof Romila Thapar was a delightful experience for me. Through their talks, we got to know about the reality of administration of human rights, especially, in South Asia. Also, how the notion of justice has changed and evolved in colonial era in the world. Prof Nair talked about the ‘History wars’: The different and evolving opinions about origins and how it has shaped our understanding of justice. She also discussed how, in history classrooms, when children deal with multiple sources in order to interpret conflictual pasts, they develop a sense of tolerance and foster ideas of restorative justice over retributive justice. Mr Pinto gave us examples of experiences he personally had with Dalits and tried to present a vivid picture of the cruelties still faced by them. It was an immensely thought-provoking talk. Prof Thapar raised the question of ethics and its interlinkage with justice. She also pointed out how ‘our pasts changes’ just like our present.
I would like to highlight and appreciate that through the conference we got an opportunity to meet teachers and scholars from diverse fields. It helped us to build connections and have valuable discussions. The workshops were well planned and really helped us to learn better ways to deal with these complex ideas with our learners in our classrooms. Workshops included detailed discussions and drama activities which will certainly help enhance teaching-learning skills. The best part was, that, I came with questions, I found answers to them and returned with more questions.
Students interacting after the workshop sessions