The field of humanities is the legacy of Europe in cultures that faced colonialism. 

This legacy pervades the institutional and intellectual formations of the humanities 

even to this day. Millions of students study humanities in thousands of higher 

education institutions today. But the student composition is markedly 

heterogeneous as the students come from divergent bio-cultural formations (called 

jatis). In the context of such a historical legacy any attempt to reorient teaching 

and research in the humanities in India is required to confront two related 

questions: (i) How does the field of humanities configure cultural forms and 

formations in India? and (ii) How do these forms and formations relate to 

communication technologies—oral to digital—in their millennial existence? 

Intellectual and institutional futures of the humanities in India will depend on how 

one addresses these questions.  In other words, the future of the humanities is 

contingent upon the exploration of the cultural forms (in image, music, text and 

performative formats) of these divergent and countless communities. These 

unstructured forms with millennial genealogies compel one to confront the 

challenge of the “lively archives”. To affirm one’s relation to one’s past and forge 

new paths of inquiry that will reconnect temporal generations is the central task of 

teaching and research in humanities. 


Accents of Memory

Mnemocultures signify cultural formations that articulate their memories 

essentially by the most primordial communicational technologies of speech and 

gesture. In India cultural memories are composed, expressed, mediated, 

transformed and disseminated through the medium of the body. The body 

circulates as the quintessential medium and destination of articulated 

inheritances. Such embodied and enacted cultural forms have had no use for 

archives and museums—which emerged as surrogate bodies of memories 

everywhere. Mnemotechnologies such as writing, print, audio-visual analogue 

techniques and even digital technologies are destined towards surrogate 

retentional systems like scriptoria, archive, museum, database or datalake. 

The historical ascendency of mnemotechnologies marginalizes and enframes the 

embodied and enacted articulation of mnemocultures. Even after the invasion of 

mnemotechnologies( from scribal to digital) mnemocultures sustained their 

embodied articulation of memories. This cultivated indifference toward 

disembodied or surrogate retentional systems of memory distinguishes and 

differentiates mnemocultures in general and Indian jati cultural formations in 

particular from the cultures (of the West) that are haunted by archival passions.


Critical Humanities

The multiple repositories of Indian cultural memories can be retained and 

enhanced only when the cultural inheritors of these heritages learn to affirm their 

inheritances. For this to happen the primary steps of unlearning the two centuries’ 

old internalized jati stigmatization and learning to reflect on the deeply 

sedimented but unexamined guilt must be undertaken. Today such urgent steps 

can be initiated only in the academic-research institutional context. For, nowhere 

in Indian history can one find such a powerful and singular, institutional structure 

that promises to “contain” the jatis and janjatis in unifying categories (but 

disavowing and denegating) – than the modern educational system (the university).

If the field of humanities is fundamentally concerned with human creativity and 

reflection, and the question of what is proper to man, the future of critical 

humanities in India is deeply contingent upon what we do with these jan-

jati cultural inheritances that we are composed by. The question of cultural 

memories concern not just humanities studies only but is inescapably related to 

the entire orientation of education in the country as such. The questions who are 

we educating and what are we educating them for cannot be dissociated for long 

from the question of cultural inheritances and their difference. Colonial education 

was aimed at permanently altering the relationship between jati and culture, what 

we think and how we live, cognitive and experiential realms. The definitive 

consequence of this epistemic violence can be seen in the severe disorientation in 

our humanities studies in particular and our educational telos in general.  The task 

of the critical humanities to explore the ways in which to suture the torn fabric of 

the relation between jati (genos) and culture in the context of ascendant 


School of Literary Studies

The English and Foreign Languages University

Hyderabad 500 007 INDIA

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