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A Historic Conference on Uttarakhand History

Garhwal Post, October 7, 2007

Srinagar, 6 Oct: The historic first conference of the Uttarakhand History and Culture Association concluded this weekend at H.N.B. Garhwal University in Srinagar, with delegates setting the baseline for professionalism and further growth in scholarly activities in the state.

Honoured guests included Professor K.P. Nautiyal, former head of History and Archaeology as well as Vice-Chancellor of Garhwal University, Professor D.D. Sharma, eminent scholar of Himalayan and Indian languages, and Dr. R.S. Tolia, past Chief Secretary and current information commissioner. Over two days of proceedings, scholars from Uttarakhand and beyond presented more than 60 papers through five hectic sessions. The papers were so numerous that the sessions had to run through lunch breaks.

The association was originally proposed by Professor B.M. Khanduri, the current director of the Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography and head of Garhwal University’s Department of History, Ancient Indian History, Culture, and Archaeology. The idea of creating such a state level forum for academic work subsequently received unstinting support of the Garhwal University Vice-Chancellor Professor S.P. Singh and eventually a massive organizing committee led by Professor S.S. Negi, which included scholars and volunteers from all over the region.

The conference also marked the launch of milestone publications that will be immeasurably useful to both scholars and lay people alike. The first booklet, “Uttarakhand: A Historical Profile”, summarizes what scholars have tentatively concluded about Uttarakhand’s history, including a reasonably thorough chronology and account of its ruling dynasties. A second booklet lists the research achievements of Garhwal University’s archaeological projects as well the development of its infrastructure for future study.

An additional booklet was printed by PAHAR and distributed by Padmashri Dr. Shekhar Pathak alongside his delivery of the first Acharya Shiv Prasad Dabral memorial lecture. Dr. Dabral passed away in 1999 at the age of 88 and was a prolific historian and polymath who authored dozens of books on the history of Uttarakhand including the landmark “Uttarakhand Ka Itihas.” The special lecture in his honour will continue from year to year as the association’s keynote address.

Pathak’s marathon speech on the first night of the conference touched on a multitude of themes, from considering the Himalayas as a melting pot of different races and religions to calling to attention the new research possibilities made possible by DNA analysis. He also identified four deficiencies in the current literature and proposed further research on women, children, Dalits, and the Uttarakhandi Diaspora across India and abroad. Pathak explained that closing these gaps is all the more urgent considering that women are the backbone of the state, children its future, Dalits the keepers of its traditional knowledge, and pardesis an undeniably important segment of the Uttarakhand population given that almost 30 to 35 lakhs Uttarakhandis are residing outside the state.

On the second day, Professor Atul Saklani of Garhwal University delivered the special invited lecture, providing various interpretations of the phenomenon of social banditry as it related to the erstwhile rebellious reputation of the Rawain region of northwest Garhwal. The central crux of the argument that a landscape of hunger in rugged infertile climes related directly to the ideology of loot adopted by various peoples, was presented eloquently by Saklani whose seminal tome on the Tehri princely state in years past had previously marked him as one of the eminent historians of Uttarakhand.

The concluding speech by Dr. Tolia impressed upon the delegates to pursue their studies with renewed alacrity. He echoed both Pathak in calling for studies that would reach beyond the political bounds of Uttarakhand state and Nautiyal, who drew attention to the serious problem of plagiarism and shoddy scholarship that stains research in the region. Tolia noted that hitherto, various Uttarakhand studies have been oriented southwards, yet much of Uttarakhand’s history has involved relations to the North, West, and East of the region. He also emphasized proper referencing as the key aspect of essay writing and avoiding unintended plagiarism. His proposal for a purpose-driven research agenda stirred some controversy, as fears were voiced this could stifle academic freedom and lead to political interference. However, Tolia’s congenial boosterism of the efforts of all and his keen intellectual interest in the topics presented lifted the spirits of those involved and provided a positive capstone to the conference.

The next meeting of UHCA will convene in Kumaun University (Nainital) next year.