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My birthday brings joy and troubled memories: Ex-JNU prof born on Aug 15, 1947

Birth records of Delhi show that 132 children were born here on August 15, 1947. Himanshu Prabha Ray, a historian who taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University, was one of them

IndependenceDay2017 Updated: Aug 16, 2017 16:53 IST
Parvez Sultan
Parvez Sultan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Partition,Independece Day,India's Independence
People migrating to Pakistan sit on the roof of an overcrowded coach railway train near New Delhi on September 19, 1947, a month after Partition.(AP Photo)

Himanshu Prabha Ray, a former professor at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was among 132 children in Delhi born on August 15, 1947.

“I do not remember being given any special privileges. The only advantage was that my birthday was always a holiday,” said Ray, who was born at the Military Hospital in Delhi Cantonment.

Grown up listening to stories by her mother about the raising of the Indian flag at midnight and celebrations on the streets on August 15, Ray said it was also a very stressful and troubled period for her parents because of the turmoil of Partition.

“My mother used to be worried about my father’s safety because of violence. Even though my parents were not harmed, my mother was deeply disturbed by the mutilated bodies that she had seen. She would often talk about it. Thus, it was an occasion to celebrate but also an event that brought troubling memories,” she said. Her father was a doctor in the army.

Besides being an academician, Ray is also a well-known author, researcher, and archaeologist who participated in excavations at historic sites at Purana Qila (New Delhi in 1971-72, 1972-73), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh in 1973-74), Arikamedu (near Puducherry in 1990- 1991) and also in Lopburi Province (Thailand in 1989) and Mahasthan (Bangladesh in 1993).

Ray also served as chairperson of the National Monuments Authority (NMA) and edited a series of books on archaeology.

A recipient of several awards, she graduated in English and did her post-graduation in Sanskrit from Panjab University. She also holds a diploma in Archaeology and M Phil (Archaeology) degree from University of Cambridge. She did her PhD in early historical trade from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“Freedom to me means decolonization of the mind, which continues to be a challenge, since most of what is taught in universities and educational institutions are theories derived from the West. We need to find and define our own space in the global arena,” Ray said.


“Secularism is respect for all religions and by no means denigration of any. It is ironic that though terms such as ‘diversity’ and ‘plurality’ are bandied around in public discourse in our country, very little of this finds its way into teaching or in school education.”


Nationalism means pride in one’s country and oneself and again one sees little evidence of this in the debates that have taken place on the subject.

First Published: Aug 16, 2017 14:19 IST