Understanding Of History
Yuba Nath Lamsal
Most people often tend to define as well as believe that history is the documentation of the past events. It may be true, to a large extent, as history contains and compiles every incident and every bit of information that takes place in the past. However, history is not merely a record of the past. A real and genuine history is the objective analysis and interpretation of the incidents taken place in the past from which lessons are leant to cope with the present situation and chalk out the future course.
History deals with both documentation as well as its interpretation of the past events. The proper study and analysis of past is a must to exactly understand and ascertain the present situation. In the absence of understanding the past and objective analysis of the present, the forward journey often becomes difficult and the vision for the future gets blurred. Ignorance or distortion of history leads to failure in achieving the goal set forth. Study of history and its objective interpretation is, therefore, a key to success in every sector, including the political life of a person, party or a nation. A successful or visionary leader first studies history and makes correct analysis of the present state from which he/she embarks on the forward march. We, therefore, must study history to exactly ascertain the present situation and, accordingly, plan the course of action for the future.
Nepal's history is checkered with full of twists and at the same time plenty of absurdities and contradictions. Many interesting yet intriguing incidents have taken place in our history that roughly dates back to around two thousand years. But tradition of record-keeping and history writing has been a recent phenomenon not only in Nepal, but in entire South Asia. Our history, mostly ancient history, is based more on mythology, assumption and speculations rather than based on facts. Lack of factual data and authentic information vis-à-vis our ancient history writing has often led to rival interpretations on some our historical events. Although some stone scriptures of the Lichchhivi period give some idea about our ancient history, they are not sufficient. Our authentic history begins only after the rise of Malla dynasty in Nepal during which the tradition of lineage writing and record keeping, although on personal basis, started. But this, too, was not scientific and these records were not safely preserved. Foreigners, especially the British, were the first ones to write Nepalese history, and other historians, including the Nepalese still base their research and history writing on the works of the British.
It is also said that history is written by the victors. In the case of Nepal, it is also true. The Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16 was a watershed in our history in which Nepal lost almost a one-third of its territory to the British. A clause of the Sugauli Treaty signed between Nepal and British-India in 1816 after the war had a provision that had allowed the British to establish residency (embassy) in Kathmandu.
Some British expatriates who arrived in Kathmandu after the establishment of the British residency wrote Nepal's history based more on the lineage stories and oral accounts than the scientific researches. The history books written by the British and foreigners give only rough idea of Nepal's ancient history. They do not reflect the real picture of the society of ancient Nepal. The Nepalese ancient history is, therefore, incomplete and inaccurate. After the Anglo-Nepal war and Sugauli Treaty, British boasted as being the victors and they wrote the history often trying to demonise the Nepalese and distort Nepalese history. Later some Nepalese wrote history books, but their works, too, were heavily based on the works of the same British historians rather than conducting scientific and objective research. As a result, different historians have different versions of our historical incidents and historical personalities.
Baburam Acharya is one of the noted Nepalese historians who has made some comprehensive researches on Nepalese history and his works give a better and more authentic picture of Nepalese history. Acharya's works, too, have some drawbacks as he tends more to eulogise the rulers or the kings of that time. In the absence of uniformed version in the analysis of history, disputes occur even on the role of some of our historical personalities. The polemics on Prithvi Narayan Shah and his role can be taken as an example. He is, no doubt, a great historical personality, who laid the foundation of a unified and modern Nepal, which was historical necessity. But some people tend to underestimate his historical role and try to demonise him as cruel feudal tyrant.
Prithvi Narayan Shah was, no doubt, a feudal ruler. But what we must take into account is the fact that the period was feudal. The British were imperialists and their cruelty had been even harsher. Moreover, Nepal of that time was like a military state and was virtually at war completely focusing on the unification of several scattered principalities. During the war, some cruel incidents might have occurred, but they should not be generalised just to demonise someone who has played a historic role for unifying Nepal. There are also some diverse views even in the understanding of Nepal's unification. But Nepal's unification was historical necessity, and it was done at the initiative of Prithvi Narayan Shah.
Nepal is a diverse country with diverse cultures and ethnic groups. But it does not mean that there should be diverse and conflicting understanding of history. History should by no means be distorted or misinterpreted to suit the personal interest or the interest of a particular group or section, which only creates division in the society and country. While some outside scholars or researchers have come up with their own version of our history, we simply tend to believe them and stir unnecessary debates even on some non-issues. We have hardly made our own efforts to conduct scientific research and accordingly write our authentic history.
Nepal has been in perpetual transition right after the Sugauli Treaty. This perpetual transition is partly due to our lack of uniformed understanding of Nepal's history and partly due to external elements.
Regime changes have been frequent in Nepal, but systemic changes are a few. We cannot expect visible changes when regime change takes place except the change of players in the power game. Systemic changes are supposed to bring about drastic change in the power structure as well as in the governance. In Nepal's case, even systemic changes did not bring about significant change in the overall governance. In the modern history of Nepal, three major systemic changes have taken place.
One was the political change of 1951 when Rana's family rule was overthrown and democracy was established under constitutional monarchy. In the absence of effecting some sweeping changes in the governance, Nepal again reverted to king's authoritarian regime within a decade. It took 30 more years to overthrow the king's absolute regime. A popular movement of 1990 forced the king to remain as a constitutional head of the state and restore multi-party democracy. It was the second systemic change. However, the king again took over power and tried to impose authoritarian rule. The third systemic change took place when the monarchy was abolished and Nepal was declared a republic in 2008. Even the systemic changes have not brought about significant change in the overall governance as well in the life of people. As a result, transition in Nepal has been perpetual phenomenon, which is partly to do with the lack of understanding in history and partly changes in governance.
(The author can be reached at: [email protected])