I should explain at the outset that by the expression “public life of history,” I do not refer 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 forums such as the Public Historian. I have in mind a different question: under what conditions can history and historians play an adjudicating role when disputes relating to the past arise in the domain of popular culture in democracies? By history, then, I mean something very specific: 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 of the nineteenth century and of which Leopold von Ranke, for all the criticisms made of his approach during and after his lifetime, is still considered a putative founding father. If one could think of the life of this discipline within the university — composed of classrooms, courses, examinations, seminars, conferences, journals, and so on — as its “cloistered life,” as it were, then by its “public life” one could mean the connections that such a discipline might forge with institutions and practices outside the university and official bureaucracy. Can this discipline have a public life in my sense of the term when the public actually debates the past?
India is a good site from 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 often accused by “secular” historians — justifiably, I might add — of rewriting history or even replacing it by myths for public consumption. Implicitly or explicitly, these historians — the most prominent of them (such as Romila Thapar or Sumit Sarkar) based in Delhi — argued for a role for their discipline in public debates about pasts and identities in India, particularly when the Hindu Right was disseminating antiminority sentiments and “memories” that were clearly at odds with reasoned historical judgments. Thapar, for example, has repeatedly emphasized in her recent writings the importance of historical reasoning in India’s public life. She has argued the need for identities in India to be ultimately validated by the discipline of history: “In the retelling of 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 fuller understanding of the event is crucial in both instances, for otherwise the identity and its legitimation can be historically invalid.”1 Another reason India is an interesting site is that the demand for the discipline of history — often called “scientific history” in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — arose in public life long before Indian universities actually taught the subject at a graduate or research level. Yet over time, as I shall seek to show, the discipline of history has become marginal in debates among subaltern groups that arise from their perceptions of the past. This is not a criticism of the heroic and laudable attempts by historians today to find a public career for their specialist skills. But their present situation — unlike that of amateur nationalist historians at the beginning of the last century — is a bit reminiscent of a moment in the life of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Famously, Hobbes once thought that incontrovertible logic would compel people to listen to him, thus obviating any need for persuasive rhetoric. But he soon realized that while the matter of providing compelling logic was in his hands, logic by itself could not ensure that people would at all feel motivated to listen to him in the first place. Hobbes put it this way: “As it is my part to show my reasons, it is theirs to bring attention.”2
Similarly, the fact-respecting, secular historian in India can bring his or her reasoning to the public, but there is no guarantee that public will bring their attention. 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 from realizing this aspiration? It is to answer this question that I provide a history of history in India before returning, in conclusion and with some comparative glances at relevant debates in Australia and the United States, to the larger concern from which this essay arises: can history, the academic discipline, have a public life in a situation when the past is a matter of contestation in everyday life?
History’s Beginnings in Indian Public Life
History was not a university subject in India at the postgraduate level until after the First World War. The first master’s degree in modern and medieval history was created by the University of Calcutta in 1919, and most graduate-level history departments in other universities came up in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet the cultivation of history as a “scientific 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 first part of this essay, amid what could only be described as enormous public “enthusiasm for history.”
The expression “enthusiasm for history” is not mine. The poet Rabindranath Tagore used it an essay he wrote in 1899 in the literary magazine Bharati, welcoming the decision of Akshaykumar Maitreya (a pioneering amateur historian) to bring out a journal called Oitihashik chitra (Historical Vignettes) from Rajshashi in northern Bengal (now in Bangladesh). Tagore wrote: “The enthusiasm for history that has arisen recently in Bengali literature bodes well for everybody. . . . This hunger for history is only a natural consequence of the way the vital forces of education[al] . . . movements are working their way through Bharatbarsha [India].”3 Tagore was right in describing his own times. A host of young Bengali scholars had begun to take an interest in the past and in debating ways of accessing 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, similarly, a bunch of “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 from a variety of sources ranging from old literature to family genealogies, sculptures, and coins. Among themselves they debated “scientific” ways of studying the past, but they were all votaries of the new science of history.4 The idea that history could be a subject of “research” — and the very conception of “research” itself — were new.5 The English word research was actually translated into Bengali and Marathi in the first decade of the twentieth century and incorporated into names of organizations such as the Varendra Anusandhan Samiti (Varendra Research Society), established in Rajshashi in 1910, and the Bharat Itiahas Samshodhak Mandal (Association of Researchers in Indian History), founded in Poona in the same year. The Bengali word anusandhan was a piece of neologism, translating literally the English word research, while samshodhak in Marathi meant “researcher.”6
This demand in public life for “researched knowledge” of the past had something to do both with European administrators’ enthusiasm for discovering “Indian” history and with the cultural nationalism of nineteenth-century Indian intellectuals, many of whom subscribed to the supposedly universal ideals of the Empire. Nineteenth-century European administrators often believed that historical knowledge provided one of the best ways of “knowing” India. For instance, James Grant Duff, the pioneer of modern Maratha history, acknowledged his personal lack of preparation for historical research and yet undertook to do the same, asking, “Unless some members of our service undertake such works, . . . how is England to become acquainted with India?”7 Many of the contemporary Indian scholars such as the ones I have mentioned before all agreed, for their part, that the formation of the nation depended on the dissemination of “modern” (i.e., of European origin) scholarly knowledge in public life. It did not hurt their nationalist pride to acknowledge European “superiority” in knowledge. As the noted Indologist 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 fact that Europe is far ahead of us in all that constitutes civilization. And knowledge is one of the elements of civilization.” If Indian scholars were to “compete with Europeans,” they could do so only by following “their [the Europeans’] critical, comparative, and historical method.”8 Bhandarkar repeated the point in his presidential address at the first Indian conference of Orientalists, which was held in Poona on November 5, 1919: “The study of . . . Indian literature, inscriptions and antiquity according to the critical and comparative method of inquiry, . . . is primarily a European study. Our aim, therefore, should be to closely observe the manner in which the study is carried on by European scholars and adopt such of 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 itself was grounded in that universal and that historians in Indian and Europe belonged, equally, to the same republic of letters. To quote Bhandarkar again: “Between the Western and Indian scholars a spirit of co-operation should prevail and not a spirit of depreciation of each other. We have but one common object, the discovery of truth.”10
It was in the same spirit of bringing knowledge, a public good, to the people that Rabindranath Tagore, addressing the student community at a meeting organized by the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (Bengali Literary Academy) during the years of 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., of this land into subjects for their own discussions. My appeal to the Academy is that they invite students to be part of these discussions. . . . If students, led by the Academy, can collect details about religious sects among the lower orders of 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
For Tagore, the criterion by which knowledge could be judged “true” was that it helped to improve the life of the people. Simply reading “ethnology,” for instance — Tagore used the English word — was not enough. If such reading did not generate “the least bit of curiosity for a full 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 Tagore’s sentiments. Maitreya worked through the Varendra Research Society, set up on the model of European academies. Sarkar was more tied to the idea of the university. But they agreed on the need for the dissemination of scientific history. They thought of the historian as a custodian of the nation’s or the people’s memories. Presiding over a conference of the North Bengal Literary Association at Rangpur (now in Bangladesh) in 1908, Maitreya announced a three-step program with respect to “scientific” history: “(a) knowledge had to be acquired, (b) discoveries had to be made, and (c) publicized among ordinary people in accordance with scientific methods.” Otherwise, he feared, the scientific pursuit of history would be reduced to “mere argumentation among the learned.”13
From his undergraduate years on, Jadunath Sarkar — later, from 1929, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, usually regarded as the doyen of the modern discipline of history in India — aspired to the life of a researcher. Yet all his life he wrote for nonspecialist readers in magazines and newspapers such as the Modern Review, Prabasi, the Hindusthan Standard, and so on. He was a lifelong member of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (Bengal Literary Academy) and the Poona Mandal. He was also associated with Bihar Research Society and with the nationalist student-conference in Bihar that was started by Rajendra Prasad, the first president of independent India. Sarkar even presided over some sessions of that conference.14 What he said in 1915, when he addressed the History Branch of the Eighth Convention of the Bengal Literary Association, held in Bardhaman, echoed Maitreya’s and Tagore’s sentiments about the need to make connections between education of the masses and historical research:
Some people say with regret that historical essays have banished the short story from the pages of the Bengali monthly magazine. If this piece of good news . . . is indeed true, then literary leaders and the learned academies are faced with a crucial duty with regard to the development of the nation’s 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 of “scientific” history. “The best way of cultivating history is the scientific way,” wrote Sarkar. The scientific way is “the first step in national development. The more we discover the real truth about the past, the more the minds of our people will proceed along the right lines. . . . True history teaches people the causes of rise and fall of nations, their health and illness, their death and regeneration.” Sarkar then moved his rhetoric up a notch. He likened this scientific history to the old medical and religious scriptures of the Hindus: “Without this mahashivatantra [literally, a tantric text on the Great Shiva], this national ayurvedashastra [literally, the Vedic science of life], this dedication to truth, and without an irrepressible urge for continuous improvement, there is no gain.”16
Paternalistic remarks, no doubt. Yet they point to an obvious unity of sentiments between Maitreya, Sarkar, and Tagore. All of them wanted to ground the discipline of history in the emergent “public” life of the nation.
The Unraveling of the National Public
Early nationalist demand for “scientific history” had one major problem that we can see today, with hindsight: the process of dissemination of knowledge the early nationalists envisaged was a top-down one. Tagore, for instance, would often be troubled by the gap between educated and ordinary people: “Our consciousness is failing to reach every place in the national body. . . . Various factors separating the educated from the ordinary society prevent our sense of national unity from being truly realized.”17 But the “we” of his address were clearly the educated Indians. They were to be the bearer of consciousness. It was their mission to connect with the poor and the marginal. This vision of the nation was predicated on the assumption that elites were capable of overcoming deep-seated social conflicts to usher in an age of social harmony.
With all their belief in the universality of knowledge, what a Tagore or a Sarkar, or a Bhandarkar for that matter, could not imagine was the actual nature of the democracy that evolved in India once mass politics became the mainstay of the nationalist movement. As more and more groups were swept up in the tides of the nationalist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, the “wars” that marked the social body of India came to the fore, destroying the ideal of social unity that once inspired Sarkar or Maitreya before the First World War. What once looked like a benign “enthusiasm for 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 of the 1930s and 1940s, when enthusiasm for the past was fast transformed into partisan passions. To put it simply, the Hindus now wrote histories that tried to depict Muslim kings as unabashed oppressors; Muslims blamed the Hindus for their relative decline; lower castes revolted against Brahmanical texts and oppressions; many in the upper castes turned toward more inclusive but aggressive versions of Hinduism.19 The idea of historical knowledge as a universal, as some kind of a public good, was clearly in crisis.
Sarkar got a taste of this evolving public life — and its relation to history — in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Brahman/non-Brahman conflict erupted in Maratha history, making the seventeenth-century Maratha king Shivaji a key symbol in this conflict.20 When the liberal Maharashtrian Brahman politician M. G. Ranade wrote his Rise of the Maratha Power at the end of the nineteenth century, he treated Shivaji (a Maratha king allegedly with a Brahman guru, Ramdas) as a national symbol for all castes, including Brahmans. This was indeed the Shivaji that Bengalis celebrated during the Swadeshi movement (1905 – 7). In the early part of the twentieth century, however, as the non-Brahman movement in Maharashtra gathered momentum, Shivaji, a Shudra king with aspirations to Kashtriya status, was claimed as a symbol of non-Brahman pride in public life. In 1907 Krishnarao Arjunrao Keluskar, a teacher at Wilson High School in Bombay, wrote a biography of Shivaji, titled Kshatriyakulabatangsha chhatrapati Shivajimaharajanche charitra (A Life of Shivaji Maharaj, Lord of the Royal Umbrella and the Pride of the Kshatriya Lineage). The book was dedicated to the King of Kolhapur, Shahu Maharaj, who himself had just managed to upgrade his status from Shudra to that of 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 founded in Bombay as part of the growing non-Brahman movement. Keluskar, the author of the original Marathi version, was a member of this committee. The committee decided to publish an “authentic life story” of Shivaji with a view toward removing “unfounded prejudices and misunderstandings unfortunately perpetuated in . . . Maratha history written by irresponsible writers who chiefly gathered their information from Mahomedan sources.” Keluskar’s Marathi book was selected for this purpose. The ruler of the Holkar dynasty — another pillar of the non-Brahman movement — gave 28,000 rupees to get 4,000 copies of this book distributed gratis to libraries and institutions.22
Jadunath Sarkar was often the target of criticism in what was written on Shivaji by modern Maratha nationalists in early twentieth century. His book Shivaji and His Times (1919) was criticized by Poona scholars for, among other things, his supposed failure to even mention maharashtradharma, a term “fully symbolic of the great movement of uplift that Ramdas [Shivaji’s guru], Shivaji . . . had carried on during the seventeenth century, . . . a term which is the key to unlock the mystery of the Marathi Swarajya [self-rule].”23 He was accused of dependence on “Mahomedan sources” that allegedly prevented him from being able to see the Maratha king in his full glory. In his preface to the translation of Keluskar’s volume, Takakhav criticized Sarkar’s Shivaji and His Times in these terms: “His [Sarkar’s] sympathies are with Moguls and the commanders of the Mogul empire. His sympathies are with the British factors in Surat and Rajapur. His sympathies are anywhere except with Shivaji and his gallant companions. . . . Shivaji is at best patronized here and there with a nodding familiarity and spoken of as if a familiar underling with the name of ‘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-influenced, anti-Hindu historian.
The anti-Brahmanical history war over Shivaji reached a crescendo around 1930 – 31. The 1925 Poona session of the Indian Historical Records Commission had passed a resolution deciding to move the Bombay government to conduct a “scientific investigation” of the records of the pre-British Peshwa rulers left in the Poona Alienation Office and to produce a list of what was available of these records. As the word scientific suggests, Sarkar, a leading member of the commission, was probably one of the principal architects of this resolution. It was upon his recommendation that his close collaborator G. S. Sardesai, a Brahman historian of the Marathas, was appointed by the government to undertake the task. By then Sardesai had resigned his service with the Native State of Baroda — at considerable personal sacrifice — to devote himself exclusively to historical research.25
On Sardesai’s appointment to this position, all hell broke loose in the non- Brahman political circles as well as among the Mandal historians of Poona, who themselves wanted access to the records of the Peshwa Daftar. But of critical importance to this part of the story were larger political developments in the Bombay presidency. The non-Brahman movement of the presidency had achieved new strength by the mid-1920s. The well-known non-Brahman leader B. D. Jhadav was appointed the first non-Brahman education minister of the Bombay government for 1924 – 26. He would stay on as the agriculture minister for the next few years. The non-Brahman leaders of the Bombay Legislative Council raised many questions over Sardesai’s appointment as the editor of a proposed set of selections to be made from the eighteenth-century Maratha records now held by the British.26 Their questions — turning on whether a Brahman could write the history of non-Brahmans (such as the Marathas) — would not sound new to us. But they show us the depth of the connection between history and identity politics on the subcontinent. I cite here some of the questions asked and answers given in the Bombay Legislative Council. The questioners of March 13, 1930, were Rao Bahadur S. K. Bole, N. E. Navle, and others. W. F. Hudson supplied the answers on behalf of 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 for the post?
. . .
W. F. Hudson [WFH]: No.
SKB: Were there no fit persons to do the work from the backward communities?
WFH: Not as far as I know.
SKB: May I bring to the notice of the Honourable Member names of persons from among the backward castes who have done historical research work?
WFH: Thank you.
. . .
SKB: How many non-Brahmin readers and how many Brahmin readers are employed?
WFH: Three Brahmins and three non-Brahmins.
N. E. Navle: Is it not a fact that the backward classes, especially the Marathas and the allied communities, apprehend that damage would be done to their history at the hands of the Brahmin officers whom the government have appointed?
WFH: Government are not aware of 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 Shivaji?
. . .
WFH: Does the question arise, Sir?
. . .
SKB: My question points out the apprehension of 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 of the fact that Sarkar could not read the Modi script in which old Marathi documents were written. Sardar G. N. Mujumdar, a Maratha member of the Legislative Council, asked: “Is it not a fact that Sir Jadunath Sarkar and Professor Rawlinson [the recently retired principal of the Poona Fergusson College] do not know the Modi script?”28 Bole intervened in the council debates again to ask whether the government was aware “that much discontent is felt among the non-Brahman communities because no trained [non-Brahman] man, although available, was taken [by] Daftar to protect their [the non-Brahman’s] own interests in their history and that they have shown their distrust in the personnel appointed.”29 A book published by Shri Shiva Karyalaya in Poona in 1931, English Records on Shivaji, edited by a D. V. Kale, was full of complaints about Sarkar. Here is a typical example: “There is a good deal of first-class material published in Marathi. . . . Sir Jadunath has used not more than half a dozen letters from Marathi and he claims that though based as it is on English and Persian records his biography of Shivaji ‘so far as existing material goes is definitive.’ This claim is fantastic even for Sir Jadumath’s self-complacency. First-class historical material from Marathi sources he has not used, probably because he cannot use it properly.”30
Faced with these history wars, the idea of scientific history had to beat a hasty retreat. It was clear that history, the discipline, was not going to acquire the kind of public life that a Tagore or a Sarkar once desired for it. On being told that his histories were untrue to the real spirit of non-Brahman Maratha history because he could not read the Modi script, Sarkar could now fume only in private, for he recognized that the space for the kind of historical “truth” that he pursued had shrunk in the “public life” that mass politics had created in India. He wrote privately to his friend Sardesai:
I have said that I have used all the Marathi materials on Shivaji available. Now, the only materials available are the printed ones, which are all in Balbodh and therefore can be read by me. No material, besides these, known to refer to Shivaji exists in ms. [manuscript] in Modi. I reject the nibadpatras, mazharnamas, and worthless private documents of the kind of which thousands have been printed and many thousands are lying in ms. in Modi. My claim is therefore true to the letter while . . . making a lying suggestion that historical papers relating to Shivaji are definitely known to exist in unprinted Modi. If so, where are they? My ignorance of Modi does not handicap me in the least, in view of the known condition and extent of Shivaji sources.31
In his public statements, however, he would no longer express the enthusiasm for a public life for history that he had once expressed in his youth. He now presented the pursuit of historical truth as something very much disengaged from any public activity. A lonely pursuit with rewards slow in coming, it was now to be compared to the endeavors of a yogi and not to any imagined ayurvedashastra for the nation. This is how, for instance, Sarkar expressed his sentiments in a radio address broadcast in 1948, a year after Indian had attained independence and about nine years before his death: “The pursuit of literature or fine arts [he always referred to history writing as a literary activity] is exactly like the pursuit of yoga.” The “present age,” however, made “this much more difficult to do than previously.” Why? Sarkar made it clear that the reason had to do with the advent of mass politics and the particular forms it had taken in India. “We usually say,” he continued, “this is the time of popular sovereignty [janatantra], the age of democracy [in English in original].” But, in his judgment and that of many other political conservatives, India was not yet ready for such democracy. Sarkar wrote out of conservative instincts, but the words — one must admit, looking at the corrupt and venal nature of political power in India today — had a sort of prescience: “Where the masses are uneducated and unorganized, there the political reign will definitely pass on to fraudulent thieves. Whoever finds that they have no possibilities for making money from business or other worldly activities, will now set up political parties and make themselves and their relatives rich at the expense of the country.” He then went on create an imaginary figure of a young scholar who might have shared his own sense of defeat: “The prevalence of such injustice and dishonesty on all sides can make the thoughtful young person despondent.” What could this “young scholar” be but a fantasy figure, a projection from his own youth, now irrevocably past? It was as if to comfort himself that Sarkar invented an imaginary dialogue with this solitary, young, and lonely scholar of the future, for the despondency really was all his own: “I will say to him: don’t despair. Truth will definitely win in the end — perhaps after your death.”32
History in the Life of Indian Democracy
Patriots such as Maitreya, Bhandarkar, and Sarkar had once created a vulgate and vulgar version of Ranke in the hope that the discipline itself would find a vibrant life in India both within and outside the university.33 Central to their thinking, however, was one assumption: that the life of the nation was about producing and celebrating India’s deep and fundamental unity. Histories driven by identity politics — Hindus versus Muslims, upper castes versus lower, one linguistic group versus another — saddened them emotionally and threatened their intellectual frameworks. For that generation of Indian nationalists, products primarily of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century before the coming of electoral politics, the unity of India was ultimately built around the idea of civilization. As Tagore once put it, “What is remarkable about India is her constant attempt to found unity in diversity.”34
This line of thinking has cast a long shadow over debates about history in India, as recent controversies over “Hindu” historiography show. Upholders of “secular” historiography today do not repeat the point about the civilizational unity of India — for that kind of cultural nationalism, however noble, has no political takers in the country — but their intellectual frameworks are often based on assumptions about a sociological (not civilizational) unity of India that is assumed to exist as something prior to the conflicts that produce warring memories in public life. 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 of Subaltern Studies — who privileged the idea of the “fragment” in their discussions of Indian history. Instead, she stressed the need for taking a “holistic” view of India, for in her opinion even the mutually opposed and the most “confrontational” groups in India made up, in their togetherness, a single and whole society, and it was this prior existence of the whole, she contended, that was overlooked in the talk about the fragment.35
Fragment or no fragment, this imagination of the nation as constituting some kind of a whole seems untenable today. The assumption that there is a “whole” in India that always trumps all conflicts and diversity does not strike us today with any degree of obviousness beyond what the media or Bollywood can produce with cricket or the occasional war with Pakistan. The perceived unity generated around sports and wars is not necessarily false, but it would be unrealistic to think of these moments as somehow revealing a deep transhistorical truth about India’s capacity for social or political unity. Many of the intellectuals and politicians of the lower-caste groups in India — for instance, the political bloc that sometimes goes by the name of dalit-bahujan samaj (society of the oppressed and the majority) — prefer to write histories that have deep connections with politics of identity and that do not subscribe to the ideology of a whole. Listen, for instance, to Kancha Ilaiah, a dalit-bahujan (oppressed-majority) intellectual, writing in Subaltern Studies on the need to combat upper-caste histories: “The Dalit-bahujan experience — a long experience of 3,000 years at that — tells us that no abuser stops abusing unless there is retaliation. An atmosphere of calm, an atmosphere of respect for one another in which contradiction may be democratically resolved is never possible unless the abuser is abused as a matter of shock-treatment.”36 The casualty of Ilaiah’s approach to history is not Indian democracy. For as Badri Narayan has shown with his meticulous research, such contestation of upper-caste rendition of history has been an integral part of the electoral politics of recent dalit-bahujan leaders Kanshiram or Mayawati.37 The causality of this history war has been the historical method itself. Dalit historians have not always cared for “evidence” in the way that we might expect them to if they were our colleagues or students in universities. Ilaiah, for instance, writes with a clear and explicit intention to eschew the use of “sources” and “evidence” and to base his history on “experience” alone (and of course does not see himself as producing mere testimony, either).38 In the essay he wrote for Subaltern Studies, Ilaiah, a university- trained political scientist, deliberately set aside all academic procedures in order to claim for the dalit-bahujan peoples a past that would not look to academics for vindication.39 Ilaiah’s radical claim was that the existing archives and ways of reading them — the discipline of history, to be precise — had to be rejected if dalit-bahujans were to find pasts that helped them in their present struggles.40 He would much rather write out of his personal and dalit groups’ experience of oppression. In his words: “The methodology and epistemology that I use in this essay being what they are, the discussion might appear ‘unbelievable,’ ‘unacceptable,’ or ‘untruthful’ to those ‘scholars and thinkers’ who are born and brought up in Hindu families. Further, I deliberately do not want to take precautions, qualify my statements, footnote my material, nuance my claims, for the simple reason that my statements are not meant to be nuanced in the first place. They are meant to raise Dalitbahujan consciousness.”41 I still remember the debate among the editorial members of Subaltern Studies that preceded our decision to publish this essay that deliberately — and as a political gesture — flouted all the disciplinary protocols of history and yet claimed to represent the past in a series that was, after all, an academic enterprise.42
Badri Narayan’s research on dalit claims about the past in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh gives us a fascinating account of how history wars function in the electoral democracy of India today. Narayan’s recent book, Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India, studies the debates about history that have accompanied the rise to prominence and power of the lower-caste party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and of its leaders, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.43 What Narayan documents in the first place is the degree to which the electoral success of the lower castes went hand in hand with a phenomenal growth in the demand for representations of the past, representations that would allow the formerly marginalized and oppressed groups to take pride in their own histories. The result has been an unprecedented proliferation of myths, legends, and mythical anecdotes through oral, written, and visual media. Statues have been made of dalit heroes and heroines, their images put on cheap calendars, fairs, and festivals organized in their names, and books brought out to narrate their stories. Some of the heroes are indeed historical figures, while others belong to the larger Hindu pantheon of local and/or national gods and goddesses. Narayan’s research shows us that the demand for pasts on the part of up-and-coming low-caste groups in India does not translate into a demand for more academic histories. If anything, what he documents is a veritable festival of “tradition invention” by low-caste communities.
Consider the case of Udadevi, a Pasi (low-caste) heroine of the 1857 Rebellion, whose roadside statues, as Narayan reports, “can now be seen all over U.P. [Uttar Pradesh].” According to Narayan, the first-ever image of Udadevi was created in 1953 by a painter who was invited to do so by basing himself 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 of Lucknow on the campus of the National Botanical Research Institute. In 1973 a statue was built following 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 Udadevi’s image on posters and calendars as part of their overall campaign, “they picked up this distorted image” and made it popular.44
The legendary Pasi king of yore, Maharaj Bijli Pasi, is another case in point. A “symbol of caste glory for all the dalits,” he had his first 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 features of five Sikh gurus . . . revered by dalits.”45 Even more fascinating is the case of Suhaldev. Originally a hero of the Pasis, he has been deified by upper-caste devotees who built a Hindu temple for him (in all probability to garner dalit support). I quote Narayan at some length, for the details of the case are telling:
Suhaldev is . . . [an] icon of the Pasi caste popular in Central U.P. The first image . . . was created in 1950 in Jittora near Bahraich . . . by the local Congressman. . . . Two local painters . . . were commissioned to paint the first pictures of Suhaldev from their imagination. Later, Samaydeen of Gonda sculpted a statue of Suhaldev based on [this] painting in which he was portrayed as a soldier astride a horse. This clay statue was later replaced by a cement one. The local raja [landlord] of 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 the form of a memorial. Today however the place has been renovated to resemble a temple with the statue as the idol. . . . A priest has been appointed 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 feed the electoral machinery and caste politics in India. These mixtures speak to a growing demand for pasts that would, as I said, give pride to groups that have suffered marginalization for a long time. But by the same token, they represent histories that are completely and deliberately dominated by particular points of view. In this regard they are marked by a rampant sense of perspectivalism. You can either agree or disagree with these accounts of the past. But there is no question of their seeking validation from the historian’s history or even being amenable to the usual methods of historical verification.
The second point to note is that these accounts of the past of lower-caste groups represent combative narratives. They remind people of past domination and are actually meant to incite both friends and enemies to (political) action. They are thus part of the ongoing social wars in India, wars that get drawn into electoral battles. Let me again give two examples of this from Narayan’s study. Narayan reports the anger of Thakurs and Yadavs (upper- and middle-caste landowners who owe political allegiance to the Samajwadi Party) of Azamgarh at the installation by low-caste Chamars and Pasis of statues of Ambedkar, the most exalted historical leader of the dalits: “Omkar Singh, a fifty-year old Thakur living in a village . . . of Azamgarh district, whose family owned most of the land of that village, said heatedly that all the upper-castes felt greatly angered when they saw statues of Ambedkar and emphasized that they would not be responsible if they lost control and resorted to bloodshed.”47 The same call to war, a deliberate cultivation of provocation and incivility, marks the language of Mayawati, the ex- untouchable leader often identified with Jhalkaribai, a legendary dalit heroine who reportedly gave her life fighting the British in 1857. Narayan mentions how Mayawati’s speech
tries hard to resist upper-caste notions of femininity . . . [and] mildness, docility. . . . Male officials or rival leaders are addressed as tu or tum (an impolite form of “you”). . . . Colloquial terms of address like arrey and terrey, used primarily by upper-caste men to address lower-castes, appear frequently in her conversation. . . . Abusive words . . . that connote inherent masculinity, violence and aggression, like kuchalna (crushing) and ukharna (plucking) are also thrown into her conversation.48
What do these combative lower-caste histories — produced as a part of the functioning of electoral process in India — foretell for the discipline of history in India?
Michel Foucault’s 1976 lectures published under the title Society Must be Defended present us with a way forward with this question.49 I assume — with Foucault and somewhat against Thapar — that societies are not integrated wholes. They do not represent any kind of oneness. Societies, Foucault says, are internally “traversed by wars”; they carry legends of conquest and subjugation as part of 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 of power that Foucault diagnoses as characteristic of modern times: discipline (which works by individuating and through the individual’s cooperation) and regulation (which is about managing humans in large numbers). In this context, Foucault says something quite remarkable about popular history. Before history became a modern knowledge form to be taught in universities, he contends, most historical ballads and legends were about conquest, domination, and subjugation. That is what history was in the popular domain: memories of conquests that made up the social. It was only when history became an academic discipline that it became more aligned with the Hobbesian — and eventually liberal — quest for a social formation from which conquest had been banished. Hegel’s (and Marx’s) philosophy, Foucault argues, carries forward this dream. It is, of course, precisely Foucault’s point that the theme of conquest was never actually exiled from the social body; it was simply shifted into the politics of disciplinary institutions — something that Foucault regarded as war by other means.50 In other words, even when we do not discount the benefits of liberalism, Foucault reminds us that projects of social domination continue through the working of institutions that are integral to the working of a liberal regime. Among such disciplinary institutions one would have to count universities and the particular “disciplines” they invent and teach.
In my personal experience, the emergence in Australia of an academic subject called “Aboriginal history” has been very much about the process Foucault’s lectures outlined. Aboriginals are undeniably a group of people who have suffered systemic discrimination in Australian history since the beginning of European occupation and settlement of the country. They are also, arguably, a conquered people. Yet the moment nonindigenous Australia decided to include them in a liberal imagination of the nation — say, from the referendum of 1967, which resulted in Aboriginals being counted in the national census and the federal 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 of academics such as Henry Reynolds. The subject was christened Aboriginal history and formally introduced in the mid- 1980s (when I was a lecturer in history at the University of Melbourne). From the very beginning, the subject was embroiled in vigorous disputation about historical methods and their capacity to represent Aboriginal pasts. Whether it was a Henry Reynolds defending historical objectivity, or a Deborah Bird Rose looking at Aboriginal songs as historical evidence, or a Tony Birch posing poetry as an alternative mode of history, or a Bain Attwood trying to preserve the rationality of the discipline of history, or a Stephen Muecke or the late and lamented Minoro Hokari experimenting with forms of writing history, the university has always been a major site of methodological battles over Aboriginal pasts.51 One could say, following Foucault, that Australia has been able — more than India — to shift its social wars into the disciplinary and regulatory mechanisms of institutions including the university. That is, I think, why attempts by the current right-wing government to stifle all moves toward “reconciliation” between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians have been accompanied by spectacular attacks on the research credentials of historians who wrote with sympathy for Aboriginal suffering in the past.52 Even institutions outside the university, such as the National Museum in Canberra, have been at the center of debates regarding the representation of the pasts of indigenous peoples.53
Indian democracy, unlike the Australian one, is not managed through a mix of discipline and regulation. Social wars are out in the open in this democracy and fuel the debates and “disorder” that mark its public life.54 It is not universities 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-five years about the Hindu Right’s tendency to mythologize the past and about the relevance of history, there has not been a single, original debate among them about the methods of 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 of law and electoral processes and the political offices they make available to winners. The nexus between street politics (a part of the political mobilization process in India) and the culture of litigation may be easily seen in the Indian “debate” over the publication in 2003 of the American historian James Laine’s book Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India. Laine had referred to historical conjectures about Shivaji’s paternity. In January 2004, the Sambhaji Brigade, a right-wing group named after Shivaji’s eldest son, vandalized the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Poona (where scholars had helped Laine in his research), reportedly destroying 18,000 books and over 30,000 manuscripts in the process. They “labeled the book a ‘Brahmin conspiracy’ ” because it suggested that Shivaji’s biological father may have been a Brahman servant in the family. The publishers withdrew the book, and the Maharashtra government banned both this book and a subsequent book by Laine.56 The Bombay High Court lifted the ban on April 26, 2007, on petition by civil liberties activists and a documentary filmmaker, but Sambhaji Brigade burned an effigy of Laine in Poona on April 30, and the political party, Shiv Sena, threatened further violence if someone dared to sell the book.57 It is significant that universities and academic historians in the state played absolutely no role in these events.
Indian democracy is perhaps too special a case from which to produce a general argument. Its mixture of the “first past the post” voting system, political parties that all deliberately acquire the capacity to create mayhem on the streets as a means of strengthening their bargaining muscle, political passions that often float free of all concerns with good governance, a relatively free press, and a liberal set of laws working in combination with everyday illiberal practices, has a certain claim to uniqueness. Besides, the social location of the research university varies from one democracy to another: it is relatively marginal in the Indian public sphere (where full-time research institutions often get more attention); more central in Australian public life; and isolated from the larger society and yet prestigious in the United States. In discussing the question of the public life of history in different democracies, one has to pay attention to the peculiarities of individual cases.
Yet it may be that a general trend has marked the career of history in the liberal democracies of the world in the period since the Second World War and the waves of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. I will have to be brutally short and blunt in my description of this trend. Everywhere in the last five or six decades, it seems, the academic subject of history has come under pressure to incorporate and represent the pasts of social groups hitherto marginalized in or excluded from mainstream narratives. In almost every democracy this has given rise to the question of whether the distinction between “testimony” and “historiography” should be dissolved in the interest of challenging the authority of the academic historian. As the discipline of history has opened up to the possibilities of “multiple narratives” of the same event, it has attempted to accommodate multiple perspectives while expressing uneasiness over the danger of “relativism” — “as many truths as there are perspectives” — though many historians have also acknowledged that perspectives do not as such lead to the abyss of relativism. Along with this has come the welcome move, in all democracies, to diversify the faculty and the student body engaged in the discipline. However, all this has happened at the expense of certainty about what may constitute positive historical knowledge beyond the perspectives of conflicting interests. Historians believe that they offer knowledge that goes beyond the collection and description of factoids. The ideal of knowledge still animates discussions among historians, but we are less and less sure about the nature of 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 far less sure. Of course, within the profession there are pragmatics by which “research” and “knowledge” are recognized. But, put under scrutiny, this knowledge is hard to define when every historical generalization is seen as made up of a combination of individual facts (relatively uncontested) and perspectives (entirely contestable). Nineteenth-century founders of the discipline had a sense of historical truth — universal truth — that transcended the particularity of individual facts. Not that they ever claimed to have reached this goal, but the goal constituted the ethical horizon of their work. Most historians today would not subscribe to the same conception of truth, and would be hard put to define what might constitute “positive knowledge” once history moves beyond the realm of individual facts. And this situation is only made more acute when the past under discussion is vigorously contested in public life.
For now I have to leave this broad generalization as a piece of unsubstantiated speculation, but let me at least explain what is at issue here. An instructive example is Thomas Holt’s thoughtful and provocative response to Joan Scott’s equally provocative 1991 essay “The Evidence of Experience.”58 Scott, readers may remember, took a poststructuralist position in that essay, arguing against the politics of identity (which used the evidence of experience) and highlighting the need for historians to be sensitive to the discursive production of “experience” itself. Holt’s invited comment on Scott exemplifies our contemporary predicament with respect to defining historical knowledge. Holt wanted to argue that there were institutional and material realities of discrimination that went beyond the level of discourse, so that actual experience of such realities might indeed contribute to the enrichment of our knowledge. At the same time, though, Holt wanted to abjure the essentialism of a Kancha Ilaiah — the belief that only a black historian could write black history. But this gave rise to a very interesting conundrum. “The problem, bluntly stated,” writes Holt, “is that if one accepts that whites can study blacks and the men can study women, then what intellectual need is there — as opposed to a moral or political one — for colleges and universities to aggressively recruit black or female historians?” Since, however, he wanted to defend diversity of faculty and students on grounds of knowledge, this is how he continued:
Heretofore, many of us have avoided the essentialist, ahistorical (and patently false) trap that only blacks can study blacks and only women can study women by invoking the value brought to intellectual inquiry by the differences in people’s 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 different perspective on the history of excluded groups but because such perspectives brought to bear on yet other groups different from themselves can profoundly shape the interpretations of the collective general history; that is, blacks should also study whites and women should also study men.59
For Holt, then, particular perspectives born of particular experiences were helpful insofar as they shaped “the interpretations of [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 from particular and conflicting perspectives. But do we know what this “collective general history” is when all ideas of “universal history” have been abandoned? Holt does not — for reasons of space, I assume — attempt to explain what he means by the expression. But my guess is that even if he had had the space, he would have found it difficult to explain exactly how such a “collective general history” became both collective and general, thus superseding the conflict of various perspectives. Such collective and general histories are what historians today have become unsure of as they embrace, under the pressures of democracy in postcolonial times, the idea of multiple perspectives.
I thus disagree with Badri Nayaran’s proposition that “history as proposed by subalterns and Dalits, which is grossly different from professional academic history, is actively and consciously redefining the boundaries of history as knowledge.”60 Discussing whether the “democratization of history as knowledge of communities” ultimately leads to “the democratization of history as a discipline,” Narayan cites in defense of his statement an essay I published in 2003. He writes: “The modes of reasoning taught in . . . courses on social theory in universities are not necessarily obvious to citizens from the subaltern classes who now actively shape the character of Indian democracy. Chakrabarty identifies that there is an obvious paradigm shift in which . . . history as proposed by subalterns and Dalits, which is grossly different from professional academic history, is actively and consciously redefining the boundaries of history as knowledge.”61 It is immaterial whether the observation is Narayan’s or mine, for the point is this: How can “history as proposed by subalterns and Dalits” redefine “the boundaries of history as knowledge” when it is precisely the status of “historical knowledge” that is in decline? All we have is a clash of cultures between dalits looking for pasts that would do them proud and academic historians who, in critical spirit, always historicize but seldom conclude. And if dalits and other subaltern groups have not responded to historians’ critical spirit, then historians have to ask themselves the Hobbesian question: why don’t people bring their attention even after historians have adduced their “reason” in public?
There was a time when the likes of Sir Jadunath Sarkar believed in universal history. That belief was tied to his primary (though false) belief that the British Empire stood for some universal interests. He could thus visualize a public life for history, for history was a universal good. There was also a time, toward the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth, when many European intellectuals believed in historical knowledge as a universal good. (Indeed, it was from them that Sir Jadunath derived his own ideas.) When European empires collapsed under challenge from nationalist movements, these so-called universals, which had often acted as ruses for Europeans’ particular and parochial interests, had to give way to demands for multiple historical perspectives, since previously marginalized and suppressed groups now wanted to be incorporated into the life of the nation and their demands could no longer be overlooked. The discussion of history in the West was thus quite profoundly shaped by the intellectual fallout from decolonization. The talk of multiple perspectives was also part of this talk about representation. It was part of the struggle to make the West itself more democratic and multicultural. The force of this process brought the older nineteenth- century European understandings of historical truth and knowledge to a crisis. That surely was not a bad thing. It made for a democratic urge within the discipline of history even if it happened at the expense of “knowledge.”
However, it is clear that in order for history, the discipline, to have a public life again, sheer conflict of perspectives will never be enough. There needs to be a renewal of some form of shared and general if not universal history. (Here I use “general” and “universal” interchangeably, in the same way that one speaks of Newton’s “general” laws of motion.)62 Obviously, there is no question of returning to the false universals of the past. But I feel optimistic that some kind of species- history will emerge in the years to come, particularly if the looming environmental crisis — shortage of drinking water, global warming causing population shifts all over the world, factors that affect us all as a species — brings into being agencies of global governance for ensuring that humans consume scarce resources in ways that are fair to all. The reader will remember that young Marx started as a philosopher of the species-being of humans. Today, however, we are faced with the thought of species-finitude as something lacing our political projects. As we begin to write species-history in this light, superseding national ones at least for some areas of collective human life, and as that history becomes part of a search for globally equitable forms of extraction and distribution of natural elements that are absolutely necessary for human existence, the possibility emerges of thinking about the general or the universal once again. Of course, we cannot afford to give up our well-earned, healthy suspicions of the universal.63 I also make an important assumption: that the heritage of anticolonial struggles and of the postcolonial struggles for democracy will stand us in good stead in fighting off possible attempts by any particular dominant power to hijack future global governance in their own parochial interests. And, of course, I have to acknowledge that in speaking thus I speak in a utopian spirit. I speak of a politics to come.
Thanks to my coeditors and collaborators in this special issue and Rochona Majumdar and to audiences at the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, and Columbia University for their comments.
1. Romila Thapar, “Somnatha: Narratives of History,” in her Narratives and the Making of History: Two Lectures (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 49.
2. Hobbes quoted in Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics: Hobbes and Civil Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 75.
3. Tagore cited in Prabodhchandra Sen, Bangalir itihash shadhona (The Bengali Pursuit of History) (Calcutta: General 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 Identity in 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 of Historical Thought and the Emergence of Nationalism: Bengal 1870 –1912) (Calcutta: Progressive Publishers, 2002); Gautam Bhadra, Jal rajar golpo (The Story of the Fake King) (Calcutta: Ananda, 2002); Kumkum Chatterjee, “The King of Controversy: History and Nation-Making in Late Colonial India,” American Historical Review 110 (December 2005): 1454 – 75.
5. I am indebted to Arjun Appadurai for inspiring in me an interest in this question by informally sharing with me his own interest in the history of the practice called “research.”
6. On the history of these two organizations, see Nirmalchandra Choudhuri, Akshaykumar Maitreya: Jibon o shadhona (Akshaykumar Maitrya: Life and Endeavors) (Darjeeling: North Bengal University, 1984?), chapter on Varendra Research Society. For the Poona Mandal, see the brief remarks of Jadunath Sarkar in his Maratha Jaitya Bikash (The Development of the Maratha Nation) (Calcutta: Ranjan Publishing House, 1936/7), 44, and Deshpande, Creative Pasts, 117 –19.
7. James Grant Duff, History of the Marathas, 4th ed., vol. 1 (Bombay: Times of India Office, 1878), ix.
8. “The Critical, Comparative, and the Historical Method of Inquiry, As Applied to Sanskrit Scholarship and Philology and Indian Archaeology,” in Collected Works of 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 of the First Oriental Conference of India, held at Poona on the 5th of November 1919,” in Collected Works of Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, 319.
10. Bhandarkar, “Presidential Address,” 319.
11. Rabindranath Thakur [Tagore], “Chhatroder proti shombhashon” (“Address to Students”) in Rabindrarachanabali (Collected Works of Rabindranath) (hereafter RR), centenary ed., vol. 12 (Calcutta: Government of West Bengal, 1961 – 62), 728 – 29.
12. Thakur [Tagore], “Chhatroder proti shombhashon,” 729.
13. Maitreya cited in Nirmalchandra Choudhuri, Akshaykumar Maitreya: Jibon o shadhona (Akshaykumar Maitreya: Life and Endeavors) (Darjeeling: North Bengal University, 1984?), 94 – 95.
14. Moni Bagchi, Acharya Jadunath: jibon o shadhona (Jadunath, the Teacher: Life and Endeavors) (Calcutta: Jijnasha, 1975), 52 – 53.
15. Jadunath Sarkar, “Presidential Address to the History Branch,” Eighth Bengal Literary Convention (Bardhaman), Proceedings of the History Branch, 1. My copy of this report, kindly lent by Gautam Bhadra, does not have a printer’s line.
16. Sarkar, “Presidential Address,” 1, 8 – 9.
17. Tagore, “Shabhapatir obhibhashon” (“Presidential Address”), Provincial Convention in Pabna, 1907 – 8, in RR, 825.
18. I am borrowing an expression, anachronistically, from 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 found Catherine Adcock’s thesis on the Arya Samaj and the histories they were sponsoring in the 1920s particularly helpful in this context; Adcock, “Religious Freedom and Political Culture: The Arya Samaj in Colonial North India (PhD diss., Divinity School, University of Chicago, 2007).
20. James Laine’s engaging short book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) — as well as the ugly response to it in certain parts of Maharashtra — and Daniel Alan Jasper, “Commemorating Shivaji” (PhD diss., New School University, April 2002), help to understand the changing fortunes of Shivaji as a modern political icon.
21. I have used an English translation of this book: N. S. Takakhav, The Life of Shivaji Maharaj, Founder of the Maratha Empire (adapted from the original Marathi work written by K. A. Keluskar) (Bombay: Manoranjan Press, 1921), foreword.
22. Takakhav, The Life of Shivaji Maharaj. The copy at the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago has all this information printed on a sheet of paper attached to the back cover. Non- Brahman leaders from Gwalior and Baroda, too, helped with the publication and distribution of this book.
23. See the review by “Junata Purusha” (“Common Man”), Mahratta, August 17, 1919.
24. Takakhav, Life, 6. For more criticisms of Sarkar in this work, see vi, ix, 16n1, 268n3, 478 n1, 566, 569n1, 620n1.
25. Proceedings of the Seventh Session of the Indian Historical Records Commission held in Poona on 12 –13 January 1925 (Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publication Branch), 3.
26. See Maureen L. P. Patterson, “A Preliminary Study of the Brahman versus non-Brahman Conflict in Maharashtra” (MA thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1952), 113, 115.
27. Bombay Legislative Council Proceedings, Questions and Answers, March 13, 1930, 1320 – 21.
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.
31. Hari Ram Gupta, ed., Life and Letters of Sir Jadunath Sarkar (Hoshiarpur: Punjab University, 1958), 151 – 52.
32. Bagchi, Acharya Jadunath, 5.
33. On this point, I have benefited from discussions with Carlo Ginzburg.
34. Rabindranath Thakur [Tagore], “Bharatbasher Itihash” (The History of India), RR, 1029.
35. Romila Thapar, “Secularism and History,” in Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1015 –17. The point is repeated in “Somnatha: Narratives of a History”: “Merely to analyze fragments cannot be the end purpose of writing history.” Thapar, Narratives, 49.
36. Kancha Ilaiah, “Productive Labour, Consciousness and History: The Dalitbahujan Alternative,” in Subaltern Studies IX: Writings on South Asian History and Society, ed. Shahid Amin and Dipesh Chakrabarty (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), 168 – 69.
37. Badri Narayan, Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India: Culture, Identity and Politics (New Delhi: Sage, 2006), chap. 4.
38. On this point, Ilaiah’s essay shares something of the spirit of an essay written by the Canberra- based academic Rosanne Kennedy on the question of “testimony” provided by Australian Aboriginal individuals with respect to the history of the “stolen generations.” Kennedy opposes “the role of the historian as the expert” by wanting to read “testimonies” as “contributions to historiography in their own right.” See Rosanne Kennedy, “Stolen Generations Testimony: Trauma, Historiography, and the Question of ‘Truth,’ ” Aboriginal History 25 (2001): 116 – 32.
39. See Ilaiah, “Productive Labour,” 165 – 200. Ilaiah began by saying: “Mainstream historiography has done nothing to incorporate the Dalitbahujan perspective in the writing of 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 Ilaiah’s rejection of academic disciplines cannot ever be total. His relationship to academic disciplines, however polemical, must mean some sharing of common ground.
43. Narayan, Women Heroes.
44. Narayan, Women Heroes, 71 – 72.
45. Narayan, Women Heroes, 73.
46. Narayan, Women Heroes, 72
47. Narayan, Women Heroes, 75.
48. Narayan, Women Heroes, 159.
49. Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège 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 of January 14, January 21, February 4, and February 11, 1976.
51. Most of the authors named have many books to their credit. For a start, see Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia (Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 1982); Deborah Bird Rose, Hidden Histories: Black Stories from 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 of New South Wales, 2004); Minoru Hokari, “Cross-Culturizing History: Journey to the Guridji Way of Historical Records” (PhD diss., Australian National University, January 2001). For the reference to Tony Birch, see my essay “History and the Politics of Recognition” (forthcoming).
52. See Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, vol. 1: Van Diemen’s Land 1803 –1847 (Paddington, NSW: Macleay Press, 2002), and Robert Manne, ed., Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2003).
53. See Uros Cvoro, “The Doppled Dialectical Image: Museology, Nation and History in the National Museum of Australia” (PhD diss., University of New South Wales, October 2005).
54. See my essay, “ ‘In the Name of Politics’: Democracy and the Power of the Multitude in India,” Public Culture 19 (Winter 2007): 35 – 57.
55. I am ignoring here Ashis Nandy’s work, for 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 dispute 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 of the Subaltern Studies editorial collective and were accused by several self- proclaimed “secular” intellectuals in India of giving ammunition to the Hindu Right!
56. Telegraph, April 27, 2007.
57. Daily News and Analysis, April 29, 2007; Times of India, April 29, 2007; Sakal (in Marathi), May 2, 2007; Sakal, April 30, 2007. My thanks to Philip Engblom for these references.
58. Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” in Questions of Evidence: Proof, Practice, and Persuasion across the Disciplines, ed. James Chandler, Arnold I. Davidson, and Harry Harootunian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 363 – 87.
59. Thomas Holt, “Experience and the Politics of Intellectual Inquiry,” in Chandler, Davidson, and Harootunian, Questions, 394 – 95 (original emphasis).
60. Narayan, Women Heroes, 88.
61. Narayan, Women Heroes, 88. The essay Narayan refers to is “Globalisation, Democratisation, and the Evacuation of History,” in At Home in Diaspora: South Asian Scholars and the West, ed. J. Assayeg and V. Benei (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003).
62. Obviously, there is more to be said on the question of the “general” and/or the “universal.” I remain grateful to Chris Gregory and Lauren Berlant for conversations on this point. However, space prevents me from engaging the topic here in any detail.
63. These receive careful attention in Etienne Balibar’s “On Universalism — In Debate with Alain Badiou,” Translate.eipcp.net, translate.eipcp.net/transversal/0607/balibar/en (accessed July 20, 2007).