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Writing History

Writing History

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Writing History Author(s): Anita Chakravarty Reviewed work(s): Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 30, No. 51 (Dec.

23, 1995), p. 3320 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4403593 . Accessed: 31/10/2012 08:31
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which has been used very fruitfullyin many studies on modernIndianhistoryin the last two decades. in which Subalieirnl Studies historianshave playeda leadingpart. even as a library. This is hardlyconducive to the writing of history as it was taughtto us.A researcher usuallyhas to hunt around in a dozen libraries in and around the presence of an insurgent consciousness from what were most otten colonial accounts.sincethemajority of printed matter did not qualify as worthwhileliterature and were not preserved in libraries or written about by scholars. On the whatis now rapidlybecomingclear contrary. But the limitationsof oral sources are well known.DISCUSSION Writing History Anita Chakravarty IT is surprising that RamachandraGuha ('Subaltern and Bhadralok Studies'. time-consuming anid thanworkingin the archives.thaltof' the printed literaturein Bengaliol' lhelast two lhundred years. whether liberal. and in many cases without even knowing. One possibility. the old and the young.does not seem to be even remotelyawareof the sea-change that has taken place in modern Indian in the last decadesanda halt: historiography Indian history cannot be written any more except with materialsin the Indianlanguages and for this the ot'ficialarchiveas historians have known it for so long will no longer sut'fice. August 19) should claim (1) that writing aboutthe elite "is emphaticallynot subaltern studies" and(2) thathistoryshouldbe written only from "thefield and the archive. that a 'library'of printed literature. an Indianscholar.especially tor the historian of the subalternclasses. and in fact is most otten the case. to researchers in cultural history is the enormous volume of printedliteraturethat could be soughtout whichcarrythe materials of subaltern historyat a level of immediately thatit is impossibleto findin anyothersource. a single Indian language. every researchertoday is aware that even amongthe most oppressedand disprivileged groups there are relations of domination within.as hasbeendone mostimpressivelyby recentfemiinistscholars. as a research student. It does not allow the scholar. The tirst aLttempts by Subaltern Stludies historians. The possibilities for subaltern historyare immense. will not know of this pecuiliarproblem with languages and sources that Indianhistorianshave faced in thewriting of'theirown Itis astonishing history.is farmorearduous.Historians of modernIndiahave always known.perhapsmost consummately in the recentbook by ShahidAmin reviewedby Ramachandra Guha. Why does it seem to Ramachandra Guhathata studyof new forms ot subordination ot women in middle class families (Dipesh Charkrabarty'sessay in Slubailtern Studies VIII) is not about subalternity? One might also say thata most productivemove in the recent works ot the Suibaltern Studtiesgroup is precisely their of the subalternityot the problematisation nationalist elite.trying to work their way out of this historiographical tradition.Only a tiny tractionof whatwas printed inthe 19thand20thcenturies has entered academic history-writing. It also meansan unprecedented chanceto lay ourhandson a largebodyof writtenmaterials producedby distinctly non-elite sections of the people. theycouldbe animportant supplementto. Surely. 3320 Economic and Political Weekly December 23. whom Ramachandra Guha cites.even for colonial India. Guhacalls"thelivedexperience" of'the people (a phrase that would make any decent philosopher squirm).buthaverarelythoughtabout. with new and bibliographies. to whatRamachandra Contrary Guhabelieves. a formulation thatclearlyhas majorimplicationstor our understanding of the new patternsof domination under the post-colonialregime.This has made the enterprise of scholarslhip fraughtwith tension. thatGuha. Gandhian or Marxist.it was a relation.dominate orrevolt in the English language.bv innovativetechniquesto reaid unanswered.Buttherehasbeen a persistent strand in some ot'thecriticismsthatcontinues to be madein Indiawhich betraysa different of Subtltern anxiety.with negligible exceptions.is so patentlyridiculousthat it hardlydeservescomment. the field constitutedby the printed of the last two hundred literature yearsin the modern Indianilanguages. it has at least ensured that simpleminded basedon whatRamnachandra histories. Putting together this alternativearchive will mean not just that techniques of 'reading againstthegrain'could be applied to texts producedby the Indian elite in the Indianlanguages. that those who are in a position of inone relation domination aresimultaneously in a subalternposition in another. One can understand that a European historian such as Hans Medick. This enabled generations of historiansof modern India to practise their 'craft' without using. Oneof the tirstthingswe learntas students in the mid-I 980s aboutsubaltern studieswas thatsubalternity was nota thingthatbelonged to some social groups.thereis a more special point that needs to be made here.hasmeantthatthisother archive is now literallybeginningto be put together. It is foolish to suggest. piece by piece. frustratiilln This is f-or the simple reasonthatthis 'other archlive'. without the benefit of usable catalogues.of course.Yet it was surely obvious to everyone that the vast masses of the Indian peopledidnotthink.with the emergenlceof new forms of domination and subordinationin postcolonial India. most notably in Ranajit Guha's pioneering work.catalogues. are all in the English language.does not physically exist in anv one placc.at least in Bengali. Whateverhe the shortcomnings of 'the recent Subalternl Studies. containsonly the writingsof the elite. Guha's conilplaint about -abandoningthe archivefor the library". reprographs microfilms. for the foilunate t'ewwho have the opportunity. Subalterni Studieshas been admired andcriticisedin academicforumsall over theworld. this does not "make it very easy for the historian": not at all.I cannotbelieve thatthe situationis any better for other Indianlanguages. between one low caste group and another. But the English-language questionot findingtracesof subaltern voices in an Indian-language archive remained Calcutta.hasmadethemove fromthe ofticial archive to the library. Perhapsthe most significantcontribution of recent works in Subaltertii Studies to the 'craft'of the historian of modem Indiais the sustained way in which they have focuised attention on. As someone who.those betweenmen and women. the best source is still VernacularTracts collectionattheIndiaOl'fice Library.were marked. as Ramachandra Guha does.speak.Oneof theachievements 1 Studies sclholarship is the svstemnatic demonstration of theclose complicityof'elite ideologies. even for the literary disciplines in the Indian languages.the law courtandthe newspaper office" andnot from the library.therecentmoveintocultural hlistory.However. the archive. with its sentimental evocationof the historian as a craltsinaiiwith soiled hands.the tact thatthe material in ourofficial archives.to writcwithoutthinking reflexively of his or her own relationto o t'power theprojects in hisorherown society. Infact.the elite historian of' the subaltern classes .It is perfectlypossible. and for the development of any sustained historiographical practice. 1995 . will henceforth find few takers. but nevera substitutefor. It has already becomeclearthlla this is the principal archive formodemIndian history. A tfinalpoint. containing farriclher treasures thantheofficial archives.was oralhistory. andindeedshiftedthe terrain of debateto.I know that working with printed literature.

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