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International Indexed & Refferred Research Journal, August 2012, ISSN 0975-3486, RNI-RAJBAL 2009/30097:VoL III*ISSUE-35
Subaltern is a term first used in a non military sense
by Marxist Antonio Gramsci which refers to a group
who are outside the established structure of political
representation. Gramsci also emphasized that the term
'subaltern' is an allusion which refers to any person or
group of inferior rank and status, whether because of
race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, creed,
caste or religion. Subaltern is a broad category which
attempts to emphasize individual whose voice and
actions have been muted, drastically reinterpreted,
lost, or consciously swept away. On the other hand ,
in a different context, the subaltern have been under-
stood as synonymous with women , children ,colonial
subjects, the poor, the illiterate, the proletariat or the
religious ethnic minority. 'Subaltern', the term is used
in postcolonial theory. Post colonial school of thought
such as Orientalism and New Historicism and other
different branches of learning which opened up new
vistas of enlightenment to the oppressed.
This enlightenment project brought a radi-
cal change by translating the dreams into reality of
the oppressed classes through their continuous pro-
cess of resistance which in turn were supported by the
postcolonial writing. Postcolonial enlightenment tried
to help the marginalized people to move from the
margins to the centre.
Subaltern studies began in 1982 when a
collective of South Asian scholars in Britain espe-
cially Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakraborty ,
initiated publication of a book titled Subaltern Stud-
ies, entitled by Ranajit Guha.These Writers in this
journal tended to focus on the local elites and ortho-
dox Marxists, the working classes to the industrial
workers who are the members of the subaltern stud-
ies. The term subaltern studies group(SSG) or subal-
tern studies collective (SSC)are the groups of South
Asian scholars interested in the postcolonial and the
post colonial societies of the South Asia in particular
and the developing world in general. Peter Gran ar-
gues that in India ,subaltern studies is read against
liberalism ,Marxism and religious fascism , whereas
in US, it's ability to represent India by being read into
ideologies of difference and otherness. The formation
of subaltern studies is not a sudden or an abrupt phe-
nomenon. So far the formation of this group is con-
Research PaperEnglish
August, 2012
Subaltern perspective in Amitav Ghosh's novel
The Hungry Tide
cerned, it was founded by Ranajit Guha .In recent
times, some former members have disillusioned with
the post modern turn that the group have taken. The
most prominent writers of the subaltern scholars are
Ranajit Guha, Partha Chatterjee, Dipesh Chakrabarty,
Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak, Gyan Pandey, Edward
Said, Gautam Bhadra, David Hadriman, Shahid Amin,
Sudipta Kabiraj etc.
Amitava Ghosh is the most contemporary
novelist whose novel's deals with the most contempo-
rary issues such as modern man's perennial problems
of existential crisis, problems of alienation, problems
of restless, rootless and unsettled , problems of
marginalization etc. In his novel The Hungry Tide,
depicted the unfulfilled hopes and aspiration of the
post war and post partition subaltern classes of the
subcontinent. The problems which are depicted in the
novel are the post war aesthetics of postcolonial mi-
gration and resettlement of refugees and orphans.
The echoes of identity crisis, sense of alien-
ation and displacement of the migrants' rootlessness,
homelessness, cultural and linguistic identity, all reso-
nate through the novels. Amitav Ghosh in his novel
defines the space of home in relation to nation and in
relation to the global village. The Hungry Tide sum-
maries the events at Morichjhapi in1979 and the sub-
altern consciousness that Nirmal finds in the novel.
He not only emphasizes with the world but also iden-
tifies with the refugees as he understands the univer-
sal yearning of the wretched of the earth, the millions
without a home. In this respect we can mention Homi
Bhabha who emphasizes the importance of relation of
social power in his working definition of subaltern
groups as oppressed minority groups whose presence
was vital to the self-definition of the majority group:
subaltern social group were also in a position to sub-
vert the authority of those who had hegemonic power.
Amitav Ghosh in his novel delineates the post
partition influx of population from East Bengal to
West Bengal .The problem of the Bengali Hindu refu-
gees was not confined geographically to one state only
rather crossed the eastern border in West Bengal mostly
in Kolkata and its suburbs also.
In the novel The Hungry Tide Nirmal's diary
entries recounting Morichjhapi and the plight of the
* Sushil Sarkar
* Research Scholar, Dept. of English ,VISVA-BHARATI, Santiniketan, West Bengal
International Indexed & Refferred Research Journal, August 2012, ISSN 0975-3486, RNI-RAJBAL 2009/30097:VoL III*ISSUE-35
Fokir's mother Kusum serve as a true reality of the
sunderbans. The refugees fought for survival, became
the victim of Morichjhampi after the water and food
supplies were cut off to the islands to coerce the refu-
gees to flee. The question of rootlessness and deprived
classes who were the subaltern agents ,sit there help-
less and listen to the policemen making their an-
nouncements, hearing them say that their lives, their
experience, was worth than dirt or dust.
Again, Homi Bhaba, the most important
thinker of postcolonial thought, propounded that the
importance of power relations in the subaltern groups
as had been focused as oppressed minority groups
whose presence was crucial to the self -definition of
the majority group: subaltern group of the social struc-
ture also in a position to subvert the authority of those
who had hegemonic power. The refugees of the novel
who are the victims of the constructed East Bengali
Muslims as the ontological 'Other' who are every-
where depressed , oppressed, and as well as
marginalized . The eminent critic of subaltern is
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak whose epoch-making line
is fully apt -"Can the subaltern Speak?" implies that
silence is the critical component of subaltern identity.
Interestingly the maneuvering the Dalit and the
gendered subaltern Kusum's story retold by the male
and elite class representative Nirmal .The role and
the complexities of the subaltern language also very
prominent in the text of the novel .The ethnicity and
the gender intersections are the crucible for articulat-
ing the relationship between internal colonialism and
subaltern studies which has been prominent in novel
The Hungry Tide.
The refugees were the subaltern classes who
were forced to seek out a dwelling elsewhere but un-
fortunately forced to shelter into resettlement camp
somewhere in Central India .Here home is not only
something which make our hands, it is a place which
the mind decides to be it's personal space, a space free
of all inhibitions. A related reference can be made to
Anderson's concept of "Imagined Community". But
the fact is that they cannot make home just for main-
taining the existence of their own. In Fanon's words
these settlers are the depository of the maleficent
powers, the unconscious and the irretrievable instru-
ment of blind forces. Nirmal, a revolutionary during
his earlier days is enthused by the spectacle of resil-
ience shown by the Morichjhapi incidents. He de-
cided to record everything in his notebook so that
history can get certain publicity through the Kanai.
Nirmal in his journal finds a strong utopian strand in
his endeavor, in his attempt by the dispossessed to
possess something of their own. It is brutally repressed
by the government forces and aftermath Kusum is
killed. NIrmal as a Marxist believed in rapproche-
ment across class barriers that can bring subaltern
people and the elite together which a generation later
Piya repeats with Kusum's son Fokir. The inherent
cause of the brutal violence, the Morichjapi was for a
long time in both for an academia and popular imagi-
nary can be attributed to the invisibility of the low
caste and class identity. The West Bengal State Com-
mittee Meeting in 1982 also justified the eviction by
pointing out that the refugees could not given any
shelter under any circumstances. Amitav Ghosh asks
a crucial question to the global people - "If you care
for the environment, does hat mean that you don't
care about the plight of human beings, especially
impoverished people?"(Ghosh, The chronicle Inter-
view). So the condition of the dispossessed, displaced,
dispriviledged is unpredictable and hostile in the ter-
rain of the sunderbans. The massacre, the tiger killing
Kusum's father and Fokir's vulnerability to the state
official are instances in the novel that depicted the
subaltern as well as the marginalized people's pre-
The voice of the common men, their struggle
and sacrifices which went unnoticed in the annals of
the history began to get a prominent voice in the fic-
tion of Amitav Ghosh in a different way. Ghosh's
fiction echo the Foucauldian analysis. History ceases
to be the forte of those who wield power. In the recent
period novelists are currently obsessed with in ac-
quiring the lost history in which the powerless,
marginalized and subjugated expresses themselves
and move towards the centre. But the centre and the
dream of the oppressed of finding a safe haven in the
tide country and finding a voice meet a silent death.
Amitav Ghosh portrays these subaltern classes with
using history as a tool which at least come to terms
with our troubling present.
1 Ghosh, Amitava. The Hungry Tide. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2005.
2 Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Community. London; Verso, 1983.
3 Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans.Constance London: Macgibbon and Kee, 1965.Print.
4 Spivak, Gayatri Chakraborty. "A Critique of Post Colonial Reason." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.Ed
Vincent B Leitch.New York: WW Norton and Co., 2001.2197-2208.Print.
5 Roy, Dolon. Nation: "A psychic Space or a Geopolitical State? A Reading of Amitav Ghoshe's The Hungry Tide" .Indian
English Fiction: A Reader.Ed.Srabojit Biswas.Kolkata: Books Way, 2009.119-127.Print.
6 Ludden, David. Reading Subaltern Studies, Critical History, Contested Meaning and Globalization of South Asia. London, 2001.Print.