Top Banner

of 26

Chakrabarty storia

Apr 10, 2018



Welcome message from author
This document is posted to help you gain knowledge. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think about it! Share it to your friends and learn new things together.
  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    1 43

    The Public Life of History:

    An Argument out of India

    Dipesh Chakrabarty

    I should explain at the outset that by the expression publiclie o history, I do notreer to the role that historians can and do sometimes play

    as specialists or experts appointed by governments or to the particular questions

    that have been raised about this role in orums such as the Public Historian. I have

    in mind a dierent question: under what conditions can history and historians

    play an adjudicating role when disputes relating to the past arise in the domain o

    popular culture in democracies? By history, then, I mean something very specic:

    the academic discipline that we research, teach, and study in universities under

    that name, the discipline that was invented in Western Europe in the early part

    o the nineteenth century and o which Leopold von Ranke, or all the criticisms

    made o his approach during and ater his lietime, is still considered a putative

    ounding ather. I one could think o the lie o this discipline within the univer-

    sity composed o classrooms, courses, examinations, seminars, conerences,journals, and so on as its cloistered lie, as it were, then by its public lie

    one could mean the connections that such a discipline might orge with institu-

    tions and practices outside the university and ocial bureaucracy. Can this disci-

    pline have a public lie in my sense o the term when the public actually debates

    the past?

    India is a good site rom which to address this question. The Hindu Right that

    rose to political power in India in the 1980s and 1990s by spreading anti-Muslim

    and antiminority sentiments was oten accused by secular historians justi-ably, I might add o rewriting history or even replacing it by myths or public

    Public Culture 20:1 doi 10.1215/08992363-2007-020

    Copyright 2008 by Duke University Press

    Thanks to my coeditors and collaborators in this special issue and to Rochona Majumdar and

    audiences at the University o Melbourne, the Australian National University, and Columbia Uni-

    versity or their comments.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 44

    consumption. Implicitly or explicitly, these historians the most prominent o

    them (such as Romila Thapar or Sumit Sarkar) based in Delhi argued or arole or their discipline in public debates about pasts and identities in India, par-

    ticularly when the Hindu Right was disseminating antiminority sentiments and

    memories that were clearly at odds with reasoned historical judgments. Thapar,

    or example, has repeatedly emphasized in her recent writings the importance o

    historical reasoning in Indias public lie. She has argued the need or identities

    in India to be ultimately validated by the discipline o history: In the retelling

    o an event, . . . memory is sometimes claimed in order to create an identity, and

    history based on such claims is used to legitimize the identity. Establishing a

    uller understanding o the event is crucial in both instances, or otherwise the

    identity and its legitimation can be historically invalid.1 Another reason India is

    an interesting site is that the demand or the discipline o history oten called

    scientic history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries arose in pub-

    lic lie long beore Indian universities actually taught the subject at a graduate or

    research level. Yet over time, as I shall seek to show, the discipline o history has

    become marginal in debates among subaltern groups that arise rom their percep-tions o the past. This is not a criticism o the heroic and laudable attempts by

    historians today to nd a public career or their specialist skills. But their present

    situation unlike that o amateur nationalist historians at the beginning o the

    last century is a bit reminiscent o a moment in the lie o the English philoso-

    pher Thomas Hobbes. Famously, Hobbes once thought that incontrovertible logic

    would compel people to listen to him, thus obviating any need or persuasive

    rhetoric. But he soon realized that while the matter o providing compelling logic

    was in his hands, logic by itsel could not ensure that people would at all eel

    motivated to listen to him in the rst place. Hobbes put it this way: As it is my

    part to show my reasons, it is theirs to bring attention.2

    Similarly, the act-respecting, secular historian in India can bring his or her rea-

    soning to the public, but there is no guarantee that the public will bring their atten-

    tion. Given their expertise, it is only understandable that historians in India should

    seek a role in adjudicating disputes about the past in India. But what prevents them

    rom realizing this aspiration? It is to answer this question that I provide a history ohistory in India beore returning, in conclusion and with some comparative glances

    1. Romila Thapar, Somnatha: Narratives o History, in herNarratives and the Making o His-

    tory: Two Lectures (Delhi: Oxord University Press, 2000), 49.

    2. Hobbes quoted in Quentin Skinner, Visions o Politics: Hobbes and Civil Science (Cambridge:

    Cambridge University Press, 2002), 75.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 45

    at relevant debates in Australia and the United States, to the larger concern rom

    which this essay arises: can history, the academic discipline, have a public lie in asituation when the past is a matter o contestation in everyday lie?

    Historys Beginnings in Indian Public Life

    History was not a university subject in India at the postgraduate level until ater

    the First World War. The rst masters degree in modern and medieval history

    was created by the University o Calcutta in 1919, and most graduate-level history

    departments in other universities came up in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet the cultiva-tion o history as a scientic discipline began in India in the 1880s and more

    seriously in the 1900s, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra, two regions I will

    concentrate on in the rst part o this essay, amid what could only be described as

    enormous public enthusiasm or history.

    The expression enthusiasm or history is not mine. The poet Rabindranath

    Tagore used it an essay he wrote in 1899 in the literary magazine Bharati, wel-

    coming the decision o Akshaykumar Maitreya (a pioneering amateur historian) to

    bring out a journal called Oitihashik chitra (Historical Vignettes) rom Rajshashi

    in northern Bengal (now in Bangladesh). Tagore wrote: The enthusiasm or his-

    tory that has arisen recently in Bengali literature bodes well or everybody. . . .

    This hunger or history is only a natural consequence o the way the vital orces

    o education[al] . . . movements are working their way through Bharatbarsha

    [India].3 Tagore was right in describing his own times. A host o young Bengali

    scholars had begun to take an interest in the past and in debating ways o access-

    ing it: Akshaykumar Maitreya (1861 1930), Dineshchandra Sen (1866 1939),Rajendralal Mitra (1822 91), Rakhaldas Bandyopadhayay (1885 1930), the

    young Jadunath Sarkar (1870 1958), and others come to mind. There were, simi-

    larly, a bunch o amateur scholars taking an active interest in regional history

    in western India: V. K. Rajwade (1864 1926), D. B. Parasnis (1870 1926), V. V.

    Khare (1858 1924), K. N. Sane (1851 1927), R. G. Bhandarkar (1837 1925),

    G. S. Sardesai (1865 1959), and others. They worked on and rom a variety o

    sources ranging rom old literature to amily genealogies, sculptures, and coins.

    Among themselves they debated scientic ways o studying the past, but they

    were all votaries o the new science o history.4 The idea that history could be a

    3. Tagore cited in Prabodhchandra Sen,Bangalir itihash shadhona (The Bengali Pursuit o His-

    tory) (Calcutta: Genera l Printers, 1953 54), 36.

    4. See Tapati Guha-Thakurta,Monuments, Objects, Histories (New York: Columbia University

    Press, 2004), chaps. 4, 5; and Prachi Deshpande, Creative Pasts: Historical Memory and Identit y in

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 46

    subject o research and the very conception o research itsel were new.5

    The English word research was actually translated into Bengali and Marathi inthe rst decade o the twentieth century and incorporated into names o organi-

    zations such as the Varendra Anusandhan Samiti (Varendra Research Society),

    established in Rajshashi in 1910, and the Bharat Itiahas Samshodhak Mandal

    (Association o Researchers in Indian History), ounded in Poona in the same

    year. The Bengali word anusandhan was a piece o neologism, translating literally

    the English word research, while samshodhakin Marathi meant researcher.6

    This demand in public lie or researched knowledge o the past had some-

    thing to do both with European administrators enthusiasm or discovering

    Indian history and with the cultural nationalism o nineteenth-century Indian

    intellectuals, many o whom subscribed to the supposedly universal ideals o the

    Empire. Nineteenth-century European administrators oten believed that histori-

    cal knowledge provided one o the best ways o knowing India. For instance,

    James Grant Du, the pioneer o modern Maratha history, acknowledged his per-

    sonal lack o preparation or historical research and yet undertook to do the same,

    asking, Unless some members o our service undertake such works, . . . how isEngland to become acquainted with India?7 Many o the contemporary Indian

    scholars, such as the ones I have mentioned beore, all agreed, or their part, that

    the ormation o the nation depended on the dissemination o modern (i.e., o

    European origin) scholarly knowledge in public lie. It did not hurt their nationalist

    pride to acknowledge European superiority in knowledge. As the noted Indolo-

    gist R. G. Bhandarkar put it in a public lecture titled The Critical, Comparative,

    and Historical Method, delivered on March 31, 1888, It is no use ignoring the

    Western India, 1700 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). See also Shyamali Sur,

    Itihash chintar shuchona o jatiyotabader unmesh: Bangla 1870 1912 (The Beginning o Historical

    Thought and the Emergence o Nationalism: Bengal 1870 1912) (Calcutta: Progressive Publishers,

    2002); Gautam Bhadra, Jal rajar golpo (The Story o the Fake King) (Calcutta: Ananda, 2002);

    Kumkum Chatterjee, The King o Controversy: History and Nation-Making in Late Colonial

    India,American Historical Review 110 (December 2005): 1454 75.

    5. I am indebted to Arjun Appadurai or inspiring in me an interest in this question by inormally

    sharing with me his own interest in the history o the practice called research.

    6. On the history o these two organizations, see Nirmalchandra Choudhuri, Akshaykumar Mai-

    treya: Jibon o shadhona ( Akshaykumar Maitrya: Lie and Endeavors) (Darjeeling: North Ben-

    gal University, 1984?), chapter on Varendra Research Society. For the Poona Mandal, see the brie

    remarks o Jadunath Sarkar in hisMaratha Jaitya Bikash (The Development o the Maratha Nation)

    (Calcutta: Ranjan Publishing House, 1936/7), 44; and Deshpande, Creative Pasts, 117 19.

    7. James Grant Du,History o the Marathas, 4th ed., vol. 1 (Bombay: Times o India Oce,

    1878), ix.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 47

    act that Europe is ar ahead o us in all that constitutes civilization. And knowl-

    edge is one o the elements o civilization. I Indian scholars were to competewith Europeans, they could do so only by ollowing their [the Europeans] criti-

    cal, comparative, and historical method.8 Bhandarkar repeated the point in his

    presidential address at the rst Indian conerence o Orientalists, which was held

    in Poona on November 5, 1919: The study o . . . Indian literature, inscriptions

    and antiquity according to the critical and comparative method o inquiry, . . .

    is primarily a European study. Our aim, thereore, should be to closely observe

    the manner in which the study is carried on by European scholars and adopt such

    o their methods as recommend themselves to our awakened intellect.9

    In other words, Indian scholars who believed in the Empire as representing

    something universal also believed that knowledge itsel was grounded in that uni-

    versal and that historians in India and Europe belonged, equally, to the same

    republic o letters. To quote Bhandarkar again: Between the Western and Indian

    scholars a spirit o co-operation should prevail and not a spirit o depreciation o

    each other. We have but one common object, the discovery o truth. 10

    It was in the same spirit o bringing knowledge, a public good, to the peoplethat Rabindranath Tagore, addressing the student community at a meeting orga-

    nized by the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (Bengali Literary Academy) during the

    years o the Swadeshi movement (1905 7), said:

    Bengal is the country nearest to us. The Bengali Literary Academy has

    made the language, literature, history, sociology etc., o this land into

    subjects or their own discussions. My appeal to the Academy is that they

    invite students to be part o these discussions. . . . I students, led by theAcademy, can collect details about religious sects among the lower orders

    o their own country, then they will both learn to observe people with

    attention and do some service to the nation at the same time.11

    8. The Critical, Comparative, and Historical Method o Inquiry, As Applied to Sanskrit Schol-

    arship and Philology and Indian Archaeology, in Collected Works o Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, vol. 1,

    ed. Narayan Bapuji Utgikar and Vasudev Gopal Paranjpe (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research

    Institute, 1933), 390, 392.

    9. Presidential Address at the Opening Session o the First Oriental Conerence o India, held at

    Poona on the 5th o November 1919, in Collected Works o Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, 319.

    10. Bhandarkar, Presidential Address, 319.

    11. Rabindranath Thakur [Tagore], Chhatroder proti shombhashon (Address to Students)

    inRabindrarachanabali (Collected Works o Rabindranath) (hereaterRR), centenary ed., vol. 12

    (Calcutta: Government o West Bengal, 1961 62), 728 29.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 48

    For Tagore, the criterion by which knowledge could be judged true was that

    it helped to improve the lie o the people. Simply reading ethnology, orinstance Tagore used the English word was not enough. I such reading did

    not generate the least bit o curiosity or a ull acquaintance with the Haris, the

    Bagdis, and the Doms [all untouchable/low-caste groups] who live around our

    homes, said Tagore, it immediately makes us realize what a big superstition we

    have developed about books.12

    Both Akshaykumar Maitreya and Jadunath Sarkar shared Tagores sentiments.

    Maitreya worked through the Varendra Research Society, set up on the model o

    European academies. Sarkar was more tied to the idea o the university. But they

    agreed on the need or the dissemination o scientic history. They thought o

    the historian as a custodian o the nations or the peoples memories. Presiding

    over a conerence o the North Bengal Literary Association at Rangpur (now in

    Bangladesh) in 1908, Maitreya announced a three-step program with respect to

    scientic history: (a) knowledge had to be acquired, (b) discoveries had to be

    made, and (c) publicized among ordinary people in accordance with scientic

    methods. Otherwise, he eared, the scientic pursuit o history would be reducedto mere argumentation among the learned.13

    From his undergraduate years on, Jadunath Sarkar later, rom 1929, Sir Jadu-

    nath Sarkar, usually regarded as the doyen o the modern discipline o history in

    India aspired to the lie o a researcher. Yet all his lie he wrote or nonspecial-

    ist readers in magazines and newspapers such as theModern Review, Prabasi, the

    Hindusthan Standard, and so on. He was a lielong member o the Bangiya Sahitya

    Parishad (Bengal Literary Academy) and the Poona Mandal. He was also asso-

    ciated with Bihar Research Society and with the nationalist student-conerence

    in Bihar that was started by Rajendra Prasad, the rst president o independent

    India. Sarkar even presided over some sessions o that conerence.14 What he said

    in 1915, when he addressed the History Branch o the Eighth Convention o the

    Bengal Literary Association, held in Bardhaman, echoed Maitreyas and Tagores

    sentiments about the need to make connections between education o the masses

    and historical research:

    12. Thakur [Tagore], Chhatroder proti shombhashon, 729.

    13. Maitreya cited in Choudhuri,Akshaykumar Maitreya, 94 95.

    14. Moni Bagchi, Acharya Jadunath: Jibon o shadhona ( Jadunath, the Teacher: Lie and

    Endeavors) (Calcutta: Jijnasha, 1975), 52 53.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 49

    Some people say with regret that historical essays have banished the short

    story rom the pages o the Bengali monthly magazine. I this piece ogood news . . . is indeed true, then literary leaders and the learned acad-

    emies are aced with a crucial duty with regard to the development o the

    nations mind. . . . Our duty is to help tie together this newly-awakened

    endeavor to serve history, to contain and direct this initiative through

    advice so that the Bengali brain is not mis-spent.15

    Such direction could come about only through the popularization o scientic

    history. The best way o cultivating history is the scientic way, wrote Sarkar.

    The scientic way is the rst step in national development. The more we dis-

    cover the real truth about the past, the more the minds o our people will proceed

    along the right lines. . . . True history teaches people the causes o rise and all o

    nations, their health and illness, their death and regeneration. Sarkar then moved

    his rhetoric up a notch. He likened this scientic history to the old medical and

    religious scriptures o the Hindus: Without this mahashivatantra [literally, a

    tantric text on the Great Shiva], this national ayurvedashastra [literally, the Vedic

    science o lie], this dedication to truth, and without an irrepressible urge or con-tinuous improvement, there is no gain.16

    Paternalistic remarks, no doubt. Yet they point to an obvious unity o senti-

    ments between Maitreya, Sarkar, and Tagore. All o them wanted to ground the

    discipline o history in the emergent public lie o the nation.

    The Unraveling of the National Public

    Early nationalist demand or scientic history had one major problem that wecan see today with hindsight: the process o dissemination o knowledge the early

    nationalists envisaged was a top-down one. Tagore, or instance, would oten be

    troubled by the gap between educated and ordinary people: Our consciousness is

    ailing to reach every place in the national body. . . . Various actors separating the

    educated rom the ordinary society prevent our sense o national unity rom being

    truly realized.17 But the we o his address were clearly the educated Indians.

    They were to be the bearers o consciousness. It was their mission to connect

    15. Jadunath Sarkar, Presidential Address to the History Branch, Eighth Bengal Literary Con-

    vention (Bardhaman), Proceedings o the History Branch, 1. My copy o this report, kindly lent by

    Gautam Bhadra, does not have a printers line.

    16. Sarkar, Presidential Address, 1, 8 9.

    17. Tagore, Shabhapatir obhibhashon (Presidential Address), Provincial Convention in

    Pabna, 1907 8, inRR, 825.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 5 0

    with the poor and the marginal. This vision o the nation was predicated on the

    assumption that elites were capable o overcoming deep-seated social conficts tousher in an age o social harmony.

    With all their belie in the universality o knowledge, what a Tagore or a

    Sarkar, or a Bhandarkar or that matter, could not imagine was the actual nature

    o the democracy that evolved in India once mass politics became the mainstay

    o the nationalist movement. As more and more groups were swept up in the

    tides o the nationalist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, the wars that marked

    the social body o India came to the ore, destroying the ideal o social unity that

    once inspired Sarkar or Maitreya beore the First World War. What once looked

    like a benign enthusiasm or history now produced, as mass politics evolved,

    so many history wars.18 Historical contestation pitting one social group against

    another took place in the nineteenth century as well but gained real momentum

    in the political bargaining o the 1930s and 1940s, when enthusiasm or the past

    was ast transormed into partisan passions. To put it simply, the Hindus now

    wrote histories that tried to depict Muslim kings as unabashed oppressors; Mus-

    lims blamed the Hindus or their relative decline; lower castes revolted againstBrahmanical texts and oppressions; many in the upper castes turned toward more

    inclusive but aggressive versions o Hinduism.19 The idea o historical knowledge

    as a universal, as some kind o a public good, was clearly in crisis.

    Sarkar got a taste o this evolving public lie and its relation to history in

    the 1920s and 1930s, when the Brahman/non-Brahman confict erupted in Mara-

    tha history, making the seventeenth-century Maratha king Shivaji a key symbol in

    this confict.20 When the liberal Maharashtrian Brahman politician M. G. Ranade

    wrote his Rise o the Maratha Powerat the end o the nineteenth century, he

    treated Shivaji (a Maratha king allegedly with a Brahman guru, Ramdas) as a

    national symbol or all castes, including Brahmans. This was indeed the Shivaji

    that Bengalis celebrated during the Swadeshi movement (1905 7). In the early

    18. I am borrowing an expression, anachronistically, rom the Australian context. See Stuart

    Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2003).

    19. The literature on these topics is abundant. I have ound Catherine Adcocks thesis on the

    Arya Samaj and the histories they were sponsoring in the 1920s particularly helpul in this context;

    Adcock, Religious Freedom and Political Culture: The Arya Samaj in Colonial North India (PhD

    diss., Divinity School, University o Chicago, 2007).

    20. James Laines engaging short bookShivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (New York: Oxord

    University Press, 2003) as well as the ugly response to it in certain parts o Maharashtra and

    Daniel Alan Jasper, Commemorating Shivaji (PhD diss., New School University, April 2002), help

    to understand the changing ortunes o Shivaji as a modern political icon.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 5 1

    part o the twentieth century, however, as the non-Brahman movement in Maha-

    rashtra gathered momentum, Shivaji, a Shudra king with aspirations to Kshatriyastatus, was claimed as a symbol o non-Brahman pride in public lie. In 1907

    Krishnarao Arjunrao Keluskar, a teacher at Wilson High School in Bombay,

    wrote a biography o Shivaji, titled Kshatriyakulabatangsha chhatrapati Shiva-

    jimaharajanche charitra (A Lie o Shivaji Maharaj, Lord o the Royal Umbrella

    and the Pride o the Kshatriya Lineage). The book was dedicated to the King o

    Kolhapur, Shahu Maharaj, who himsel had just managed to upgrade his status

    rom Shudra to that o being a Kshatriya.21 The book was translated into English

    in 1921 by N. S. Takakhav, a teacher at Wilson College, Bombay. In 1924 a Shri

    Shivaji Literary Memorial Committee was ounded in Bombay as part o the

    growing non-Brahman movement. Keluskar, the author o the original Marathi

    version, was a member o this committee. The committee decided to publish an

    authentic lie story o Shivaji with a view toward removing unounded preju-

    dices and misunderstandings unortunately perpetuated in . . . Maratha history

    written by irresponsible writers who chiefy gathered their inormation rom

    Mahomedan sources. Keluskars Marathi book was selected or this purpose.The ruler o the Holkar dynasty another pillar o the non-Brahman move-

    ment gave 28,000 rupees to get 4,000 copies o this book distributed gratis to

    libraries and institutions.22

    Jadunath Sarkar was oten the target o criticism in what was written on Shivaji

    by modern Maratha nationalists in the early twentieth century. His bookShivaji

    and His Times (1919) was criticized by Poona scholars or, among other things,

    his supposed ailure to even mention maharashtradharma, a term ully sym-

    bolic o the great movement o uplit that Ramdas [Shivajis guru], Shivaji . . . had

    carried on during the seventeenth century, . . . a term which is the key to unlock

    the mystery o the Marathi Swarajya [sel-rule].23 He was accused o dependence

    on Mahomedan sources that allegedly prevented him rom being able to see

    the Maratha king in his ull glory. In his preace to the translation o Keluskars

    volume, Takakhav criticized Sarkars Shivaji and His Times in these terms: His

    21. I have used an English translation o this book: N. S. Takakhav, The Lie o Shivaji Maharaj,

    Founder o the Maratha Empire (adapted rom the original Marathi work written by K. A. Keluskar)

    (Bombay: Manoranjan Press, 1921), oreword.

    22. Takakhav, The Lie o Shivaji Maharaj. The copy at the Regenstein Library at the University

    o Chicago has all this inormation printed on a sheet o paper attached to the back cover. Non-

    Brahman leaders rom Gwalior and Baroda, too, helped with the publication and distribution o this


    23. See the review by Junata Purusha (Common Man),Mahratta, August 17, 1919.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 5 2

    [Sarkars] sympathies are with Moguls and the commanders o the Mogul empire.

    His sympathies are with the British actors in Surat and Rajapur. His sympathiesare anywhere except with Shivaji and his gallant companions. . . . Shivaji is at

    best patronized here and there with a nodding amiliarity and spoken o as i a

    amiliar underling with the name o Shiva. 24 It was no small irony that the new

    non-Brahman history warriors would thus make the Rankean Sarkar out to be

    a partisan, Muslim-infuenced, anti-Hindu historian.

    The anti-Brahmanical history war over Shivaji reached a crescendo around

    1930 31. The 1925 Poona session o the Indian Historical Records Commission

    had passed a resolution deciding to move the Bombay government to conduct a

    scientic investigation o the records o the pre-British Peshwa rulers let in

    the Poona Alienation Oce and to produce a list o what was available o these

    records. As the word scientifc suggests, Sarkar, a leading member o the commis-

    sion, was probably one o the principal architects o this resolution. It was upon his

    recommendation that his close collaborator G. S. Sardesai, a Brahman historian

    o the Marathas, was appointed by the government to undertake the task. By then

    Sardesai had resigned his service with the Native State o Baroda at consider-able personal sacrice to devote himsel exclusively to historical research.25

    On Sardesais appointment to this position, all hell broke loose in the non-

    Brahman political circles as well as among the Mandal historians o Poona, who

    themselves wanted access to the records o the Peshwa Datar. But o critical

    importance to this part o the story were larger political developments in the Bom-

    bay presidency. The non-Brahman movement o the presidency had achieved new

    strength by the mid-1920s. The well-known non-Brahman leader B. D. Jhadav

    was appointed the rst non-Brahman education minister o the Bombay govern-

    ment or 1924 26. He would stay on as the agriculture minister or the next ew

    years. The non-Brahman leaders o the Bombay Legislative Council raised many

    questions over Sardesais appointment as the editor o a proposed set o selec-

    tions to be made rom the eighteenth-century Maratha records now held by the

    British.26 Their questions turning on whether a Brahman could write the his-

    tory o non-Brahmans (such as the Marathas) would not sound new to us. But

    24. Takakhav,Lie, 6. For more cr iticisms o Sarkar in this work, see vi, ix, 16n1, 268n3, 478n1,

    566, 569n1, 620n1.

    25. Proceedings o the Seventh Session o the Indian Historical Records Commission held in

    Poona on 12 13 January 1925 (Calcutta: Government o India, Central Publication Branch), 3.

    26. See Maureen L. P. Patterson, A Preliminary Study o the Brahman versus non-Brahman

    Confict in Maharashtra (MA thesis, University o Pennsylvania, 1952), 113, 115.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 53

    they show us the depth o the connection between history and identity politics on

    the subcontinent. I cite here some o the questions asked and answers given inthe Bombay Legislative Council. The questioners o March 13, 1930, were Rao

    Bahadur S. K. Bole, N. E. Navle, and others. W. F. Hudson supplied the answers

    on behal o the government. The questions were pointed at the Brahman Sardesai

    and his Brahman assistant, K. P. Kulkarni:

    Rao Bahadur S. K. Bole [SKB]: Were applications invited or the post?

    . . .

    W. F. Hudson [WFH]: No.SKB: Were there no t persons to do the work rom the backward


    WFH: Not as ar as I know.

    SKB: May I bring to the notice o the Honourable Member names o persons

    rom among the backward castes who have done historical research work?

    WFH: Thank you.

    . . .

    SKB: How many non-Brahmin readers and how many Brahmin readers areemployed?

    WFH: Three Brahmins and three non-Brahmins.

    N. E. Navle: Is it not a act that the backward classes, especially the Mara-

    thas and the allied communities, apprehend that damage would be done to

    their history at the hands o the Brahmin ocers whom the government have


    WFH: Government are not aware o it.

    SKB: Are not the government aware that manipulations are being made to

    give more importance to Ramdas [a Brahman saint] and less importance to


    . . .

    WFH: Does the question arise, Sir?

    . . .

    SKB: My question points out the apprehension o the backward classes that

    history might be tampered. I was going to point out how they have begun to

    [distort history].27

    Much was also made then o the act that Sarkar could not read the Modi script in

    which old Marathi documents were written. Sardar G. N. Mujumdar, a Maratha

    member o the Legislative Council, asked: Is it not a act that Sir Jadunath Sarkar

    27. Bombay Legislative Council Proceedings, Questions and Answers, March 13, 1930,

    1320 21.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 5 4

    and Proessor Rawlinson [the recently retired principal o the Poona Fergusson

    College] do not know the Modi script?28 Bole intervened in the council debatesagain to ask whether the government was aware that much discontent is elt

    among the non-Brahman communities because no trained [non-Brahman] man,

    although available, was taken [by] Datar to protect their [the non-Brahmans]

    own interests in their history and that they have shown their distrust in the per-

    sonnel appointed.29 A book published by Shri Shiva Karyalaya in Poona in 1931,

    English Records on Shivaji, edited by a D. V. Kale, was ull o complaints about

    Sarkar. Here is a typical example: There is a good deal o rst-class material

    published in Marathi. . . . Sir Jadunath has used not more than hal a dozen let-

    ters rom Marathi and he claims that though based as it is on English and Persian

    records his biography o Shivaji so ar as existing material goes is denitive.

    This claim is antastic even or Sir Jadumaths sel-complacency. First-class his-

    torical material rom Marathi sources he has not used, probably because he can-

    not use it properly.30

    Faced with these history wars, the idea o scientic history had to beat a hasty

    retreat. It was clear that history, the discipline, was not going to acquire the kindo public lie that a Tagore or a Sarkar once desired or it. On being told that his

    histories were untrue to the real spirit o non-Brahman Maratha history because

    he could not read the Modi script, Sarkar could now ume only in private, or he

    recognized that the space or the kind o historical truth that he pursued had

    shrunk in the public lie that mass politics had created in India. He wrote pri-

    vately to his riend Sardesai:

    I have said that I have used all the Marathi materials on Shivaji avail-able. Now, the only materials available are the printed ones, which are all

    inBalbodh and thereore can be read by me. No material, besides these,

    known to reer to Shivaji exists in ms. [manuscript] in Modi. I reject the

    nibadpatras, mazharnamas, and worthless private documents o the kind

    o which thousands have been printed and many thousands are lying in

    ms. in Modi. My claim is thereore true to the letter while . . . [Poddar?]

    is making a lying suggestion that historical papers relating to Shivaji are

    denitely known to exist in unprinted Modi. I so, where are they? My

    28.Bombay Legislative Council Proceedings, Questions and Answers, March 13, 1930, 1323.

    29.Bombay Legislative Council Proceedings, Questions and Answers, March 18, 1930, 1476.

    30. D. V. Kale, ed., English Records on Shivaji(1659 1682) (Poona: Shri Shiva Karyalaya,

    1931), 44.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 55

    ignorance o Modi does not handicap me in the least, in view o the known

    condition and extent o Shivaji sources.31

    In his public statements, however, he would no longer express the enthusiasm

    or a public lie or history that he had once expressed in his youth. He now pre-

    sented the pursuit o historical truth as something very much disengaged rom

    any public activity. A lonely pursuit with rewards slow in coming, it was now to

    be compared to the endeavors o a yogi and not to any imagined ayurvedashas-

    tra or the nation. This is how, or instance, Sarkar expressed his sentiments in

    a radio address broadcast in 1948, a year ater India had attained independenceand about nine years beore his death: The pursuit o literature or ne arts [he

    always reerred to history writing as a literary activity] is exactly like the pursuit

    oyoga. The present age, however, made this much more dicult to do than

    previously. Why? Sarkar made it clear that the reason had to do with the advent

    o mass politics and the particular orms it had taken in India. We usually say,

    he continued, this is the time o popular sovereignty [janatantra], the age o

    democracy [in English in original]. But, in his judgment and that o many other

    political conservatives, India was not yet ready or such democracy. Sarkar wrote

    out o conservative instincts, but the words one must admit, looking at the cor-

    rupt and venal nature o political power in India today had a sort o prescience:

    Where the masses are uneducated and unorganized, there the political reign will

    denitely pass on to raudulent thieves. Whoever nds that they have no possibili-

    ties or making money rom business or other worldly activities, will now set up

    political parties and make themselves and their relatives rich at the expense o

    the country. He then went on create an imaginary gure o a young scholar whomight have shared his own sense o deeat: The prevalence o such injustice and

    dishonesty on all sides can make the thoughtul young person despondent. What

    could this young scholar be but a antasy gure, a projection rom his own

    youth, now irrevocably past? It was as i to comort himsel that Sarkar invented

    an imaginary dialogue with this solitary, young, and lonely scholar o the uture,

    or the despondency really was all his own: I will say to him: dont despair. Truth

    will denitely win in the end perhaps ater your death.32

    31. Hari Ram Gupta, ed.,Lie and Letters o Sir Jadunath Sarkar (Hoshiarpur: Punjab Univer-

    sity, 1958), 151 52.

    32. Bagchi,Acharya Jadunath, 5.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 5 6

    History in the Life of Indian Democracy

    Patriots such as Maitreya, Bhandarkar, and Sarkar had once created a vulgate and

    vulgar version o Ranke in the hope that the discipline itsel would nd a vibrant

    lie in India both within and outside the university.33 Central to their thinking,

    however, was one assumption: that the lie o the nation was about producing

    and celebrating Indias deep and undamental unity. Histories driven by iden-

    tity politics Hindus versus Muslims, upper castes versus lower, one linguistic

    group versus another saddened them emotionally and threatened their intellec-

    tual rameworks. For that generation o Indian nationalists, products primarily othe late nineteenth and the early twentieth century beore the coming o electoral

    politics, the unity o India was ultimately built around the idea o civilization. As

    Tagore once put it, What is remarkable about India is her constant attempt to

    ound unity in diversity.34

    This line o thinking has cast a long shadow over debates about history in

    India, as recent controversies over Hindu historiography show. Upholders o

    secular historiography today do not repeat the point about the civilizational

    unity o India or that kind o cultural nationalism, however noble, has no polit-

    ical takers in the country but their intellectual rameworks are oten based on

    assumptions about a sociological (not civilizational) unity o India that is assumed

    to exist as something prior to the conficts that produce warring memories in

    public lie. Romila Thapar is again a good case in point. In a convocation address

    delivered at the Jadavpur University in Calcutta in the mid-1990s, she disagreed

    with historians including some prominent intellectuals in the ranks o Subal-

    tern Studies who privileged the idea o the ragment in their discussions oIndian history. Instead, she stressed the need or taking a holistic view o India,

    or in her opinion even the mutually opposed and the most conrontational

    groups in India made up, in their togetherness, a single and whole society, and it

    was this prior existence o the whole, she contended, that was overlooked in the

    talk about the ragment.35

    Fragment or no ragment, this imagination o the nation as constituting some

    kind o a whole seems untenable today. The assumption that there is a whole in

    33. On this point, I have beneted rom discussions with Carlo Ginzburg.

    34. Rabindranath Thakur [Tagore], Bharatbasher Itihash (The History o India),RR, 1029.

    35. Romila Thapar, Secularism and History, in Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History

    (Delhi: Oxord University Press, 2000), 1015 17. The point is repeated in Somnatha: Narratives

    o History: Merely to analyze ragments cannot be the end purpose o writing history. Thapar,

    Narratives, 49.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 5 7

    India that always trumps all conficts and diversity does not strike us today with

    any degree o obviousness beyond what the media or Bollywood can producewith cricket or the occasional war with Pakistan. The perceived unity generated

    around sports and wars is not necessarily alse, but it would be unrealistic to think

    o these moments as somehow revealing a deep transhistorical truth about Indias

    capacity or social or political unity. Many o the intellectuals and politicians o

    the lower-caste groups in India or instance, the political bloc that sometimes

    goes by the name odalit-bahujan samaj (society o the oppressed and the major-

    ity) preer to write histories that have deep connections with politics o iden-

    tity and that do not subscribe to the ideology o a whole. Listen, or instance, to

    Kancha Ilaiah, a dalit-bahujan (oppressed-majority) intellectual, writing in Sub-

    altern Studies on the need to combat upper-caste histories: The Dalit-bahujan

    experience a long experience o 3,000 years at that tells us that no abuser

    stops abusing unless there is retaliation. An atmosphere o calm, an atmosphere

    o respect or one another in which contradiction may be democratically resolved

    is never possible unless the abuser is abused as a matter o shock-treatment.36

    The casualty o Ilaiahs approach to history is not Indian democracy. For as BadriNarayan has shown with his meticulous research, such contestation o upper-caste

    rendition o history has been an integral part o the electoral politics o recent

    dalit-bahujan leaders Kanshi Ram or Mayawati.37 The causality o this history

    war has been the historical method itsel.Dalithistorians have not always cared

    or evidence in the way that we might expect them to i they were our colleagues

    or students in universities. Ilaiah, or instance, writes with a clear and explicit

    intention to eschew the use o sources and evidence and to base his history on

    experience alone (and o course does not see himsel as producing mere testi-

    mony, either).38 In the essay he wrote or Subaltern Studies, Ilaiah, a university-

    trained political scientist, deliberately set aside all academic procedures in order

    36. Kancha Ilaiah, Productive Labour, Consciousness and History: The Dalitbahujan Alterna-

    tive, in Subaltern Studies IX: Writings on South Asian History and Society, ed. Shahid Amin and

    Dipesh Chakrabarty (Delhi: Oxord University Press, 1996), 168 69.

    37. Badri Narayan, Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India: Culture, Identity andPolitics (New Delhi: Sage, 2006), chap. 4.

    38. On this point, Ilaiahs essay shares something o the spirit o an essay written by the Canberra-

    based academic Rosanne Kennedy on the question o testimony provided by Australian Aboriginal

    individuals with respect to the history o the stolen generations. Kennedy opposes the role o the

    historian as the expert by wanting to read testimonies as contributions to historiography in their

    own right. See Rosanne Kennedy, Stolen GenerationsTestimony: Trauma, Historiography, and theQuestion o Truth, Aboriginal History 25 (2001): 116 32.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture

    1 5 8

    to claim or the dalit-bahujan peoples a past that would not look to academics

    or vindication.39 Ilaiahs radical claim was that the existing archives and wayso reading them the discipline o history, to be precise had to be rejected i

    dalit-bahujans were to nd pasts that helped them in their present struggles.40

    He would much rather write out o his personal and dalitgroups experience o

    oppression. In his words: The methodology and epistemology that I use in this

    essay being what they are, the discussion might appear unbelievable, unaccept-

    able, or untruthul to those scholars and thinkers who are born and brought up

    in Hindu amilies. Further, I deliberately do not want to take precautions, qualiy

    my statements, ootnote my material, nuance my claims, or the simple reason

    that my statements are not meant to be nuanced in the rst place. They are meant

    to raise Dalitbahujan consciousness.41 I still remember the debate among the

    editorial members oSubaltern Studies that preceded our decision to publish this

    essay that deliberately and as a political gesture fouted all the disciplinary

    protocols o history and yet claimed to represent the past in a series that was, ater

    all, an academic enterprise.42

    Badri Narayans research on dalitclaims about the past in the Indian state oUttar Pradesh gives us a ascinating account o how history wars unction in the

    electoral democracy o India today. Narayans recent book, Women Heroes and

    Dalit Assertion in North India , studies the debates about history that have accom-

    panied the rise to prominence and power o the lower-caste party, the Bahujan

    Samaj Party, and o its leaders, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.43 What Narayan

    documents in the rst place is the degree to which the electoral success o the

    lower castes went hand in hand with a phenomenal growth in the demand or

    representations o the past, representations that would allow the ormerly margin-

    alized and oppressed groups to take pride in their own histories. The result has

    been an unprecedented prolieration o myths, legends, and mythical anecdotes

    through oral, written, and visual media. Statues have been made odalitheroes

    and heroines, their images put on cheap calendars, airs, and estivals organized

    39. See Ilaiah, Productive Labour, 165 200. Ilaiah began by saying: Mainstream historiog-

    raphy has done nothing to incorporate the Dalitbahujan perspective in the writing o Indian history:

    Subaltern Studies is no exception to this.

    40. Ilaiah, Productive Labour, 168.

    41. Ilaiah, Productive Labour, 168.

    42. Here also we must note that Ilaiahs rejection o academic disciplines cannot ever be total.

    His relationship to academic disciplines, however polemical, must mean some sharing o common


    43. Narayan, Women Heroes.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 59

    in their names, and books brought out to narrate their stories. Some o the heroes

    are indeed historical gures, while others belong to the larger Hindu pantheon olocal and/or national gods and goddesses. Narayans research shows us that the

    demand or pasts on the part o up-and-coming low-caste groups in India does not

    translate into a demand or more academic histories. I anything, what he docu-

    ments is a veritable estival o tradition invention by low-caste communities.

    Consider the case o Udadevi, a Pasi (low-caste) heroine o the 1857 Rebellion,

    whose roadside statues, as Narayan reports, can now be seen all over U.P. [Uttar

    Pradesh]. According to Narayan, the rst-ever image o Udadevi was created

    in 1953 by a painter who was invited to do so by basing himsel on narratives

    collected by a botanist working at the Birbal Sahni Institute. The idea was to

    place this image in a new museum on the history o Lucknow on the campus o

    the National Botanical Research Institute. In 1973 a statue was built ollowing

    this painting. The statue soon developed cracks, and it was repaired clumsily by

    unskilled labourers. Later, when the lower-caste political party BSP wanted to

    publicize Udadevis image on posters and calendars as part o their overall cam-

    paign, they picked up this distorted image and made it popular.44The legendary Pasi king o yore, Maharaj Bijli Pasi, is another case in point. A

    symbol o caste glory or all the dalits, he had his rst image ordered by Kanshi

    Ram, who then popularized it through calendar art and posters. Not knowing

    what Bijli Pasi actually looked like, Kanshi Ram reportedly asked sculptors to

    put together the best eatures o ve Sikh gurus . . . revered by dalits.45 Even

    more ascinating is the case o Suhaldev. Originally a hero o the Pasis, he has

    been deied by upper-caste devotees who built a Hindu temple or him (in all

    probability to garner dalitsupport). I quote Narayan at some length, or the details

    o the case are telling:

    Suhaldev is . . . [an] icon o the Pasi caste popular in Central U.P. The rst

    image . . . was created in 1950 in Jittora near Bahraich . . . by the local

    Congressman. . . . Two local painters . . . were commissioned to paint

    the rst pictures o Suhaldev rom their imagination. Later, Samaydeen

    o Gonda sculpted a statue o Suhaldev based on [this] painting in which

    he was portrayed as a soldier astride a horse. This clay statue was laterreplaced by a cement one. The local raja [landlord] o Prayagpur donated

    500 bighas [about 166 acres] and the Jittora lake to the Suhaldev Smarak

    [Memorial] Committee. Earlier the statue was placed in the park in

    44. Narayan, Women Heroes, 71 72.

    45. Narayan, Women Heroes, 73.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture


    the orm o a memorial. Today however the place has been renovated

    to resemble a temple with the statue as the idol. . . . A priest has beenappointed to conduct prayers. . . . the devotees also take dips in the Jittora

    Lake, which is believed to have medicinal properties.46

    Clearly, these are developments in which invented pasts are blended with history,

    myth, legend, religion, and so on to produce ingredients that eed the electoral

    machinery and caste politics in India. These mixtures speak to a growing demand

    or pasts that would, as I said, give pride to groups that have suered marginal-

    ization or a long time. But by the same token, they represent histories that arecompletely and deliberately dominated by particular points o view. In this regard

    they are marked by a rampant sense o perspectivalism. You can either agree or

    disagree with these accounts o the past. But there is no question o their seeking

    validation rom the historians history or even being amenable to the usual meth-

    ods o historical verication.

    The second point to note is that these accounts o the past o lower-caste groups

    represent combative narratives. They remind people o past domination and are

    actually meant to incite both riends and enemies to (political) action. They arethus part o the ongoing social wars in India, wars that get drawn into electoral

    battles. Let me again give two examples o this rom Narayans study. Narayan

    reports the anger o Thakurs and Yadavs (upper- and middle-caste landowners

    who owe political allegiance to the Samajwadi Party) o Azamgarh at the instal-

    lation by low-caste Chamars and Pasis o statues o Ambedkar, the most exalted

    historical leader o the dalits: Omkar Singh, a ty-year old Thakur living in a

    village . . . o Azamgarh district, whose amily owned most o the land o thatvillage, said heatedly that all the upper-castes elt greatly angered when they saw

    statues o Ambedkar and emphasized that they would not be responsible i they

    lost control and resorted to bloodshed.47 The same call to war, a deliberate cul-

    tivation o provocation and incivility, marks the language o Mayawati, the ex-

    untouchable leader oten identied with Jhalkaribai, a legendary dalitheroine

    who reportedly gave her lie ghting the British in 1857. Narayan mentions how

    Mayawatis speech

    tries hard to resist upper-caste notions o emininity . . . [and] mildness,

    docility. . . . Male ocials or rival leaders are addressed as tu or tum (an

    impolite orm o you). . . . Colloquial terms o address like arrey and

    46. Narayan, Women Heroes, 72

    47. Narayan, Women Heroes, 75.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 6 1

    terrey, used primarily by upper-caste men to address lower-castes, appear

    requently in her conversation. . . . Abusive words . . . that connote inher-ent masculinity, violence and aggression, like kuchalna (crushing) and

    ukharna (plucking) are also thrown into her conversation.48

    A Public Life for History?

    What do these combative lower-caste histories produced as a part o the unc-

    tioning o electoral process in India oretell or the discipline o history in

    India?Michel Foucaults 1976 lectures published under the title Society Must Be

    Deendedpresent us with a way orward with this question.49 I assume with

    Foucault and somewhat against Thapar that societies are not integrated wholes.

    They do not represent any kind o oneness. Societies, Foucault says, are internally

    traversed by wars; they carry legends o conquest and subjugation as part o

    their memories. Liberal regimes are those that are able, in particular historical

    circumstances, to divert these ever-present wars into institutions managed by the

    two main modes o power that Foucault diagnoses as characteristic o modern

    times: discipline (which works by individuating and through the individuals

    cooperation) and regulation (which is about managing humans in large num-

    bers). In this context, Foucault says something quite remarkable about popular

    history. Beore history became a modern knowledge orm to be taught in uni-

    versities, he contends, most historical ballads and legends were about conquest,

    domination, and subjugation. That is what history was in the popular domain:

    memories o conquests that made up the social. It was only when history becamean academic discipline that it became more aligned with the Hobbesian and

    eventually liberal quest or a social ormation rom which conquest had been

    banished. Hegels (and Marxs) philosophy, Foucault argues, carries orward this

    dream. It is, o course, precisely Foucaults point that the theme o conquest was

    never actually exiled rom the social body; it was simply shited into the politics

    o disciplinary institutions something that Foucault regarded as war by other

    means.50 In other words, even when we do not discount the benets o liberal-

    48. Narayan, Women Heroes, 159.

    49. Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Deended: Lectures at the Collge de France, trans.

    David Macey, ed. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, general ed. Arnold Davidson (New York:

    Picador, 2003).

    50. Foucault, Society; see in particular the lectures o January 14, January 21, February 4, and

    February 11, 1976.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture


    ism, Foucault reminds us that projects o social domination continue through the

    working o institutions that are integral to the working o a liberal regime. Amongsuch disciplinary institutions one would have to count universities and the par-

    ticular disciplines they invent and teach.

    In my personal experience, the emergence in Australia o an academic subject

    called Aboriginal history has been very much about the process Foucaults lec-

    tures outlined. Aboriginals are undeniably a group o people who have suered

    systemic discrimination in Australian history since the beginning o European

    occupation and settlement o the country. They are also, arguably, a conquered

    people. Yet the moment nonindigenous Australia decided to include them in a lib-

    eral imagination o the nation say, rom the reerendum o 1967, which resulted

    in Aboriginals being counted in the national census and the ederal government

    assuming some legislative powers with respect to the indigenous peoples a new

    academic subject began to emerge within Australian institutions, initially through

    the inspired and inspiring researches o academics such as Henry Reynolds. The

    subject was christened Aboriginal history and ormally introduced in the mid-

    1980s (when I was a lecturer in history at the University o Melbourne). From thevery beginning, the subject was embroiled in vigorous disputation about histori-

    cal methods and their capacity to represent Aboriginal pasts. Whether it was a

    Henry Reynolds deending historical objectivity, or a Deborah Bird Rose looking

    at Aboriginal songs as historical evidence, or a Tony Birch posing poetry as an

    alternative mode o history, or a Bain Attwood trying to preserve the rationality

    o the discipline o history, or a Stephen Muecke or the late and lamented Minoru

    Hokari experimenting with orms o writing history, the university has always

    been a major site o methodological battles over Aboriginal pasts.51 One could

    say, ollowing Foucault, that Australia has been able more than India to shit

    its social wars into the disciplinary and regulatory mechanisms o institutions

    including the university. That is, I think, why attempts by the current right-wing

    government to stife all moves toward reconciliation between indigenous and

    51. Most o the authors named have many books to their credit. For a start, see Henry Reynolds,

    The Other Side o the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion o Australia (Ring-

    wood, Vic.: Penguin, 1982); Deborah Bird Rose, Hidden Histories: Black Stories rom Victoria

    River Downs, Humbert River and Wave Hill Station (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991);

    Bain Attwood, Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History (Crow Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin,

    2005); Stephen Muecke,Ancient and Modern: Time, Culture, and Indigenous Philosophy (Sydney:

    University o New South Wales, 2004); Minoru Hokari, Cross-Culturizing History: Journey to the

    Guridji Way o Historical Records (PhD diss., Australian National University, January 2001). For

    the reerence to Tony Birch, see my essay History and the Politics o Recognition (orthcoming).

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 63

    nonindigenous Australians have been accompanied by spectacular attacks on the

    research credentials o historians who wrote with sympathy or Aboriginal su-ering in the past.52 Even institutions outside the university, such as the National

    Museum in Canberra, have been at the center o debates regarding the representa-

    tion o the pasts o indigenous peoples.53

    Indian democracy, unlike the Australian one, is not managed through a mix

    o discipline and regulation. Social wars are out in the open in this democracy

    and uel the debates and disorder that mark its public lie.54 It is not universi-

    ties that displace and absorb social wars into battles over or about disciplines. It

    is indeed remarkable how, in all that progressive and secular Indian historians in

    Delhi have written in the last twenty-ve years about the Hindu Rights tendency

    to mythologize the past and about the relevance o history, there has not been

    a single, original debate among them about the methods o their discipline (no

    Carlo Ginzburg, no Hayden White, no Greg Dening, no Inga Clendinnen here).55

    The institutions that help absorb and displace the wars that traverse the Indian

    social body and thus keep the nation going are the courts o law and electoral

    processes and the political oces they make available to winners. The nexusbetween street politics (a part o the political mobilization process in India) and

    the culture o litigation may be easily seen in the Indian debate over the publi-

    cation in 2003 o the American historian James Laines bookShivaji: The Hindu

    King in Islamic India. Laine had reerred to historical conjectures about Shivajis

    paternity. In January 2004, the Sambhaji Brigade, a right-wing group named ater

    Shivajis eldest son, vandalized the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in

    Poona (where scholars had helped Laine in his research), reportedly destroying

    52. See Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication o Aboriginal History, vol. 1: Van Diemens Land

    1803 1847(Paddington, NSW: Macleay Press, 2002); and Robert Manne, ed., Whitewash: On Keith

    Windschuttles Fabrication o Aboriginal History (Melbourne: Black, 2003).

    53. See Uros Cvoro, The Doppled Dialectical Image: Museology, Nation and History in the

    National Museum o Australia (PhD diss., University o New South Wales, October 2005).

    54. See my essay, In the Name o Politics: Democracy and the Power o the Multitude in

    India, Public Culture 19 (Winter 2007): 35 57.

    55. I am ignoring here Ashis Nandys work, or he is not seen as a historian. Several Indian

    historians and academics railed against postmodernism, but about historical methods they only

    upheld the existing consensus. My point is that progressive or anti-Hindutva historians did not dis-

    pute methodological points among themselves, whereas methodological debates in Australia took

    place between historians who were, politically, on the same side. Historians in India who did raise

    interesting methodological questions included Shahid Amin, Partha Chatterjee, and Gautam Bhadra,

    who were all members o the Subaltern Studies editorial collective and were accused by several sel-

    proclaimed secular intellectuals in India o giving ammunition to the Hindu Right!

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture


    18,000 books and over 30,000 manuscripts in the process. They labeled the book

    a Brahmin conspiracy because it suggested that Shivajis biological ather mayhave been a Brahman servant in the amily. The publishers withdrew the book,

    and the Maharashtra government banned both this book and a subsequent book

    by Laine.56 The Bombay High Court lited the ban on April 26, 2007, on peti-

    tion by civil liberties activists and a documentary lmmaker, but the Sambhaji

    Brigade burned an egy o Laine in Poona on April 30, and the political party,

    Shiv Sena, threatened urther violence i someone dared to sell the book.57 It is

    signicant that universities and academic historians in the state played absolutely

    no role in these events.

    Indian democracy is perhaps too special a case rom which to produce a gen-

    eral argument. Its mixture o the rst past the post voting system, political par-

    ties that all deliberately acquire the capacity to create mayhem on the streets as a

    means o strengthening their bargaining muscle, political passions that oten foat

    ree o all concerns with good governance, a relatively ree press, and a liberal

    set o laws working in combination with everyday illiberal practices has a certain

    claim to uniqueness. Besides, the social location o the research university var-ies rom one democracy to another: it is relatively marginal in the Indian public

    sphere (where ull-time research institutions oten get more attention); more cen-

    tral in Australian public lie; and isolated rom the larger society and yet presti-

    gious in the United States. In discussing the question o the public lie o history

    in dierent democracies, one has to pay attention to the peculiarities o individual


    Yet it may be that a general trend has marked the career o history in the liberal

    democracies o the world in the period since the Second World War and the waves

    o decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. I will have to be brutally short and

    blunt in my description o this trend. Everywhere in the last ve or six decades,

    it seems, the academic subject o history has come under pressure to incorporate

    and represent the pasts o social groups hitherto marginalized in or excluded rom

    mainstream narratives. In almost every democracy this has given rise to the ques-

    tion o whether the distinction between testimony and historiography should

    be dissolved in the interest o challenging the authority o the academic historian.As the discipline o history has opened up to the possibilities o multiple narra-

    tives o the same event, it has attempted to accommodate multiple perspectives

    56. Telegraph, April 27, 2007.

    57.Daily News and Analysis, April 29, 2007; Times o India, April 29, 2007; Sakal (in Marathi),

    May 2, 2007; Sakal, April 30, 2007. My thanks to Philip Engblom or these reerences.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 65

    while expressing uneasiness over the danger o relativism as many truths

    as there are perspectives though many historians have also acknowledgedthat perspectives do not as such lead to the abyss o relativism. Along with this

    has come the welcome move, in all democracies, to diversiy the aculty and the

    student body engaged in the discipline. However, all this has happened at the

    expense o certainty about what may constitute positive historical knowledge

    beyond the perspectives o conficting interests. Historians believe that they oer

    knowledge that goes beyond the collection and description o actoids. The ideal

    o knowledge still animates discussions among historians, but we are less and

    less sure about the nature o this knowledge. Nineteenth-century historians acted

    on the assumption that they knew what this knowledge was (above and beyond

    perspectives), but today we seem to be ar less sure. O course, within the proes-

    sion there are pragmatics by which research and knowledge are recognized.

    But, put under scrutiny, this knowledge is hard to dene when every historical

    generalization is seen as made up o a combination o individual acts (relatively

    uncontested) and perspectives (entirely contestable). Nineteenth-century ound-

    ers o the discipline had a sense o historical truth universal truth that tran-scended the particularity o individual acts. Not that they ever claimed to have

    reached this goal, but the goal constituted the ethical horizon o their work. Most

    historians today would not subscribe to the same conception o truth, and would

    be hard put to dene what might constitute positive knowledge once history

    moves beyond the realm o individual acts. And this situation is only made more

    acute when the past under discussion is vigorously contested in public lie.

    For now I have to leave this broad generalization as a piece o unsubstanti-

    ated speculation, but let me at least explain what is at issue here. An instructive

    example is Thomas Holts thoughtul and provocative response to Joan Scotts

    equally provocative 1991 essay The Evidence o Experience.58 Scott, readers

    may remember, took a poststructuralist position in that essay, arguing against the

    politics o identity (which used the evidence o experience) and highlighting the

    need or historians to be sensitive to the discursive production o experience

    itsel. Holts invited comment on Scott exemplies our contemporary predicament

    with respect to dening historical knowledge. Holt wanted to argue that therewere institutional and material realities o discrimination that went beyond the

    level o discourse, so that actual experience o such realities might indeed contrib-

    58. Joan Scott, The Evidence o Experience, in Questions o Evidence: Proo, Practice, and

    Persuasion across the Disciplines, ed. James Chandler, Arnold I. Davidson, and Harry Harootunian

    (Chicago: University o Chicago Press, 1994), 363 87.

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture


    ute to the enrichment o our knowledge. At the same time, though, Holt wanted to

    abjure the essentialism o a Kancha Ilaiah the belie that only a black historiancould write black history. But this gave rise to a very interesting conundrum. The

    problem, bluntly stated, writes Holt, is that i one accepts that whites can study

    blacks and that men can study women, then what intellectual need is there as

    opposed to a moral or political one or colleges and universities to aggressively

    recruit black or emale historians? Since, however, he wanted to deend diversity

    o aculty and students on grounds o knowledge, this is how he continued:

    Heretoore, many o us have avoided the essentialist, ahistorical (andpatently alse) trap that only blacks can study blacks and only women can

    study women by invoking the value brought to intellectual inquiry by the

    dierences in peoples experience something that can be learned as

    well as lived. Moreover, such diversity is crucial, we have argued, not only

    because it might provide a dierent perspective on the history o excluded

    groups but because such perspectives brought to bear on yet other groups

    dierent rom themselves can prooundly shape the interpretations o the

    collective general history; that is, blacks should also study whites andwomen should also study men.59

    For Holt, then, particular perspectives born o particular experiences were help-

    ul insoar as they shaped the interpretations o [our] collective general history.

    This collective general history is what I have called historical knowledge. As

    an ideal, it is clearly meant to be something that transcends stories told rom par-

    ticular and conficting perspectives. But do we know what this collective general

    history is when all ideas o universal history have been abandoned? Holt does

    not or reasons o space, I assume attempt to explain what he means by the

    expression. But my guess is that even i he had had the space, he would have ound

    it dicult to explain exactly how such a collective general history became both

    collective and general, thus superseding the confict o various perspectives. Such

    collective and general histories are what historians today have become unsure o

    as they embrace, under the pressures o democracy in postcolonial times, the idea

    o multiple perspectives.

    I thus disagree with Badri Nayarans proposition that history as proposedby subalterns and Dalits, which is grossly dierent rom proessional academic

    history, is actively and consciously redening the boundaries o history as

    59. Thomas Holt, Experience and the Politics o Intellectual Inquiry, in Chandler, Davidson,

    and Harootunian, Questions, 394 95 (original emphasis).

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    An Argument

    out of India

    1 67

    60. Narayan, Women Heroes, 88.

    61. Narayan, Women Heroes, 88. The essay Narayan reers to is Globalisation, Democratisation,

    and the Evacuation o History, in At Home in Diaspora: South Asian Scholars and the West, ed.

    J. Assayeg and V. Benei (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003).

    knowledge.60 Discussing whether the democratization o history as knowledge

    o communities ultimately leads to the democratization o history as a disci-pline, Narayan cites in deense o his statement an essay I published in 2003.

    He writes: The modes o reasoning taught in . . . courses on social theory in

    universities are not necessarily obvious to citizens rom the subaltern classes who

    now actively shape the character o Indian democracy. Chakrabarty identies that

    there is an obvious paradigm shit in which . . . history as proposed by subal-

    terns and Dalits, which is grossly dierent rom proessional academic history, is

    actively and consciously redening the boundaries o history as knowledge.61 It

    is immaterial whether the observation is Narayans or mine, or the point is this:

    How can history as proposed by subalterns and Dalits redene the boundaries

    o history as knowledge when it is precisely the status o historical knowledge

    that is in decline? All we have is a clash o cultures between dalits looking or

    pasts that would do them proud and academic historians who, in critical spirit,

    always historicize but seldom conclude. And idalits and other subaltern groups

    have not responded to historians critical spirit, then historians have to ask them-

    selves the Hobbesian question: why dont people bring their attention even aterhistorians have adduced their reason in public?

    There was a time when the likes o Sir Jadunath Sarkar believed in universal

    history. That belie was tied to his primary (though alse) belie that the British

    Empire stood or some universal interests. He could thus visualize a public lie

    or history, or history was a universal good. There was also a time, toward the

    end o the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth, when many European

    intellectuals believed in historical knowledge as a universal good. (Indeed, it was

    rom them that Sir Jadunath derived his own ideas.) When European empires col-

    lapsed under challenge rom nationalist movements, these so-called universals,

    which had oten acted as ruses or Europeans particular and parochial interests,

    had to give way to demands or multiple historical perspectives, since previously

    marginalized and suppressed groups now wanted to be incorporated into the lie

    o the nation and their demands could no longer be overlooked. The discussion o

    history in the West was thus quite prooundly shaped by the intellectual allout

    rom decolonization. The talk o multiple perspectives was also part o this talkabout representation. It was part o the struggle to make the West itsel more dem-

  • 8/8/2019 Chakrabarty storia


    Public Culture


    ocratic and multicultural. The orce o this process brought the older nineteenth-

    century European understandings o historical truth and knowledge to a crisis.That surely was not a bad thing. It made or a democratic urge within the disci-

    pline o history even i it happened at the expense o knowledge.

    However, it is clear that in order or history, the discipline, to have a public lie

    again, sheer confict o perspectives will never be enough. There needs to be a

    renewal o some orm o shared and general i not universal history. (Here I use

    general and universal interchangeably, in the same way that one speaks o

    Newtons general laws o motion.)62 Obviously, there is no question o returning

    to the alse universals o the past. But I eel optimistic that some kind o species-

    history will emerge in the years to come, particularly i the looming environmen-

    tal crisis shortage o drinking water, global warming causing population shits

    all over the world, actors that aect us all as a species brings into being agen-

    cies o global governance or ensuring that humans consume scarce resources in

    ways that are air to all. The reader will remember that young Marx started as a

    philosopher o the species-being o humans. Today, however, we are aced with

    the thought o species-nitude as something lacing our political projects. As webegin to write species-history in this light, superseding national ones at least or

    some areas o collective human lie, and as that history becomes part o a search

    or globally equitable orms o extraction and distribution o natural elements that

    are absolutely necessary or human existence, the possibility emerges o thinking

    about the general or the universal once again. O course, we cannot aord to give

    up our well-earned, healthy suspicions o the universal.63 I also make an impor-

    tant assumption: that the heritage o anticolonial struggles and o the postcolo-

    nial struggles or democracy will stand us in good stead in ghting o possible

    attempts by any particular dominant power to hijack uture global governance in

    their own parochial interests. And, o course, I have to acknowledge that in speak-

    ing thus I speak in a utopian spirit. I speak o a politics to come.

    62. Obviously, there is more to be said on the question o the general and/or the universal. I

    remain grateul to Chris Gregory and Lauren Berlant or conversations on this point. However, space

    prevents me rom engaging the topic here in any detail.

    63. These receive careul attention in Et ienne Balibars On Universalism In Debate with

    Alain Badiou,, (accessed July

    20, 2007).