Social Scientist. v 16, no. 186 (Nov 1988) p. 3.

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For An Indian History of Peasant Struggle

In this paper, I will make a plea for a historiographical project which has only begun to be formulated. I will not, therefore, present before you another sociological model of peasant revolt, neatly wrapped up and ready to be applied to whichever pre-capitalist period or backward agrarian country you happen to work on. The project I will describe is an Indian project, whose specific problems and analytical contours have begun to emerge out of the experiences, both practical and theoretical (i.e., both historical and historiographical), of peasant struggles in that predominantly agrarian society. It is, as I will argue, a central element of that larger project of constructing the framework for an Indian historiography rescued from the prisonhouse of colonialist knowledge, a task which too has by no means been completed.

Let me anticipate an obvious objection by stating quite clearly that what I will argue for is an Indian history of peasant struggle, not a history of peasant struggles in India. The semantic difference signifies a quite radical difference in the approach to historiography. The latter stands for an arrangement of the historical material on peasant struggles in India according to a framework in which the fundamental concepts and analytical relations are taken as given, established in their generality by the forms of a universal history (e.g., the theory of transition from feudalism to capitalism, or modernisation theory, or the theory of world systems, or the theory of the moral economy of the peasant, and so on). The former seeks to discover in that material the forms of an immanent historical development, fractured, distorted and forced into the grid of 'world history* only by the violence of colonialism. The framework of this other history does not take as given its appointed place within the order of a universal history, but rather submits the supposedly universal categories to a constant process of interrogation and contestation, modifying, transforming and enriching them. The object is not to resume the course of a pre-colonial history by erasing from historical memory and present reality the experience of colonialism: this would be not only archaic and Utopian, it would in fact be reactionary even to pretend that this is possible. Rather, the

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

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