Irfan Habib

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Irfan Habib
Irfan Habib.jpg
Habib in Aligarh, November 2011
Born (1931-08-10) 10 August 1931 (age 91)
Alma mater
SpouseSayera Habib
RelativesAbbas Tyabji (maternal grandfather)
Tyabji family
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorC.C. Davies

Irfan Habib (born August 10, 1931) is an Indian historian of ancient and medieval India, following the methodology of Marxist historiography in his contributions to economic history. He identifies as a Marxist and is well known for his strong stance against Hindutva and Islamic fundamentalism. He has authored a number of books, notably the Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556–1707, an Atlas of the Mughal Empire: Political and Economic Maps With Detailed Notes, and an Atlas of Ancient Indian History (with Faiz Habib). As the general editor, he is also the driving force behind the A People's History of India series, volumes of which continue to be released.

Early and personal life[edit]

Irfan Habib – 2007

Habib was born in an Indian Muslim family, the son of Mohammad Habib, a Marxist historian and ideologue belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), by his wife Sohaila Habib (née Tyabji).[2] His paternal grandfather was Mohammad Naseem, a wealthy barrister and member of the Congress party, and his maternal grandfather was Abbas Tyabji, sometime Chief Justice of the High Court of Baroda princely state, and noted follower of Mahatma Gandhi.[3]

Habib's wife Sayera Habib (née Siddiqui) was Professor of Economics at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).[4] The couple have three sons and a daughter.


After returning from Oxford, Habib joined AMU as a member of the faculty; he was Professor of History at Aligarh from 1969–91 and is presently a Professor Emeritus. He delivered the Radhakrishnan Lecture at Oxford in 1991. Habib is an Elected Corresponding Fellow of the British Royal Historical Society since 1997.[3]

Habib has worked on the historical geography of Ancient India, the history of Indian technology, medieval administrative and economic history, colonialism and its impact on Indian historiography.[3]

Amiya Kumar Bagchi describes Habib as "one of the two most prominent Marxist historians of India today and at the same time, one of the greatest living Marxist historians of India between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries."[5]


He was Coordinator/Chairman of the Centre for Advanced Studies, AMU from 1975–77 and 1984–94. He was Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research during 1986–90.[6] He was the general secretary, Sectional President, and then the General President of the Indian History Congress (1981).[3]

Philosophical and political views[edit]

Habib identifies as a Marxist and uses Marxist historiography in his work.[7]

Habib has also written books about Vedas and Vedic age, and he considers the Vedas to be a good historical source, which describes transmission in a priestly culture, that valued faithfulness. He further lays out the reasons that the texts were orally transmitted for hundreds of years, then they were finally written down.[8]

Habib has a sustained commitment to secularism. He led the historians at the Indian History Congress of 1998 who moved a resolution against the "saffronisation" of history.[9] He has said that the BJP government at the Centre which was in power from 1998–2004, especially the MHRD Minister himself, were responsible for inventing facts and dates to suit their interpretation of Indian history.[10] To counter Irfan Habib, Murli Manohar Joshi released a book which rebuts the history of what the former minister calls '‘Habib & Co'’.[11][3]


Selected publications[edit]

Books authored
  • The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556–1707. First published in 1963 by Asia Publishing House. Second, extensively revised, edition published in 1999 by Oxford University Press.
  • An Atlas of the Mughal Empire: Political and Economic Maps With Detailed Notes, Bibliography, and Index. Oxford University Press, 1982
  • Essays in Indian History – Towards a Marxist Perception. Tulika Books, 1995.
  • The Economic History of Medieval India: A Survey. Tulika Books, 2001.
  • Medieval India: The Study of a Civilization. National Book Trust, 2008.
  • People's History of India – Part 1: Prehistory. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2001.
  • People's History of India Part 2 : The Indus Civilization. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2002.
  • A People's History of India Vol. 3 : The Vedic Age. (Co-author Vijay Kumar Thakur) Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2003.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 4/5 : Mauryan India. (Co-author Vivekanand Jha) Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2004.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 6 : Post-Mauryan India, 200 BC – AD 300. Tulika Books, 2013.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 14 : Economic History of India, AD 1206–1526, The Period of the Delhi Sultanate and the Vijayanagara Empire. Tulika Books, 2017.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 20 : Technology in Medieval India, c. 650–1750. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2016.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 25 : Indian Economy Under Early British Rule, 1757–1857. Tulika Books, 2014.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 28 : Indian Economy, 1858–1914. Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, 2006.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 30 : The National Movement: Origins and Early Phase to 1918. Tulika Books, 2018.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 31 : The National Movement, Part 2: The Struggle for Freedom, 1919–1947. Tulika Books, 2020.
  • A People's History of India – Vol 36 : Man and Environment. Tulika Books, 2015.
  • The National Movement: Studies in Ideology & History. Tulika Books, 2011.
  • An Atlas of Ancient Indian History. (with Faiz Habib) Oxford University Press, 2012.
Books edited
  • The Cambridge Economic History of India – Volume I: 1200–1750 (co-editor Tapan Raychaudhuri)
  • UNESCO History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol 5 : Development in contrast: from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. (Co-editors Chahryar Adle and K M Baikapov)
  • UNESCO History of Humanity, Vol 4: From the seventh to the sixteenth century. (With various co-editors).
  • UNESCO History of Humanity, Vol 5: From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. (With various co-editors).
  • The Growth of Civilizations in India And Iran
  • Sikh History from Persian Sources: Translations of Major Texts. (with J.S. Grewal) Indian History Congress and Tulika Books, 2011.
  • Akbar and His India
  • India – Studies in the History of an Idea.
  • State & Diplomacy under Tipu Sultan
  • Confronting Colonialism
  • Medieval India – 1
  • A World to Win – Essays on the Communist Manifesto (co-editors Aijaz Ahmed and Prakash Karat)


  1. ^ a b "Discontinued Awards – AHA".
  2. ^ "Obituary by Anil Nauriya in The Hindu". Archived from the original on 6 November 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e Habib, Irfan (2002). The Making of History: Essays Presented to Irfan Habib. Anthem Press. p. 1. ISBN 9781843310389.
  4. ^ The Agrarian System of Mughal India, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-565595-8, Preface xv
  5. ^ Amiya Kumar Bagchi. Writing Indian History in the Marxist Mode in a Post-Soviet World, Review of Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, Social Scientist, 1996.
  6. ^ "Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, India". Archived from the original on 15 November 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  7. ^ Mitra, Ashok (14–27 October 2000). "A tribute to Irfan Habib". Retrieved 9 April 2007.
  8. ^ The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future, p.271, Martha Nussabaum, Harvard University Press
  9. ^ "Singh, Bajinder Pal, 1998, Historians likely to resist'saffronisation'". The Indian Express.
  10. ^ "Government trying to invent history, says Habib", The Times of India
  11. ^ "NCERT brings out book to counter 'Habib & Co'". The Indian Express. 5 September 2003. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  12. ^ "Official list of Jawaharlal Nehru Fellows (1969–present)". Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund.
  13. ^ "Archive News". The Hindu.
  14. ^ "Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences".
  15. ^ "University of Calicut Former Honorary Degree Recipients" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  16. ^ "प्रो. इरफान हबीब होंगे यश भारती से सम्मानित". Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  17. ^ "CM presented Yash Bharati awards". Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  18. ^ "Eminent achievers to get Yash Bharti Award today". The Times of India.
  19. ^ "Honorary Fellows, University of Oxford".

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