Romila Thapar is an eminent historian, whose core area of study is ancient India. Born on November 30, 1931 she is the daughter of army doctor Daya Ram Thapar. She attained a doctorate in Indian history from School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London in 1958. Thapar is currently Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. Thapar is a visiting professor at Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the College de France in Paris.
Romila Thapar's work on Indian history
Thapar was a reader in Ancient Indian History at Kurukshetra University and then in Delhi University before joining Jawaharlal Nehru University as a Professor. Thapar's major works are Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations, Recent Perspectives of Early Indian History (editor), A History of India Volume One, and Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. Her recent work on Somnath examines the evolution of the historiographies about the legendary Gujarat temple.
Romila Thapar was elected General President of the Indian History Congress in 1983 and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 1999. In 2019, she was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019.
Thapar is an Honorary Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris, the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh (2004). She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. In 2017, she was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. She is co-winner with Peter Brown of the Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity for 2008.
Thapar's refusal to accept Padma Bhushan Award
In 1992 and 2005, Romila Thapar refused to accept the Padma Bhushan award. In 2005, she had written to President A P J Abdul Kalam, stating, "I only accept awards from academic institutions or those associated with my professional work, and not state awards."
Romila Thapar's differences with the right-wing
In 2002, the BJP-led NDA changed History and Social Sciences textbooks on the grounds that some of the passages offended some religious and caste groups. For instance, the passages on beef consumption and creation of the caste system in ancient times were removed, much to the resentment of Thapar.
In 2003, Thapar's appointment to the Library of Congress's Kluge Chair in 2003 was opposed in an online petition. The petitioners called her 'anti-Hindu' and a 'Marxist'. However, several historians and academics supported her and lauded the Library of Congress in the US for ignoring the petition.
On June 12, 2019 JNU asked some of its Professors Emeriti, including historian Romila Thapar, for CVs to “review their position”. In her response to the university, Prof Thapar has pointed out that her conferment letter had said that the position was honorary and for life and that nowhere in the world is the status of Professor Emeritus re-evaluated after it has been conferred. She claimed that the university was trying to “dishonour someone who has been critical of the changes that have been introduced by the present administration”. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) also called the JNU admin's decision - 'politically motivated' and demanded a formal retraction of the move and said a personal apology be issued to her.