Social Scientist. v 16, no. 186 (Nov 1988) p. 18.


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Subaltern Consciousness and Populism:

Two Approaches in the Study of Social Movements in India

The sociology of social movements is a growing edge of the discipline in more recent decades. However, studying tribal and peasant revolts or movements was a dominant tradition both in the history and in the ethnography of India for quite some time. The pioneering accounts on the Bhumij revolts and the Kol insurrection in Chotanagpur by J.C. Jha,1 Kalikankar Datta's work on the Santal insurrection,2 B.B. Kling's study of the 'Blue Mutiny'3—the indigo disturbances (1859-62)—in Bengal, and Ravinder Kumar's on the Deccan Riots (1875),4 come to mind almost immediately. The tradition continued even thereafter. Studies on the Tanabhagat or the Birsa Munda and his movement,5 the Rampa rebellion of 1924 and of course Sunil Sen's study6 of the sharecroppers' struggle in Bengal must also be mentioned additionally. Similarly, studies by Majid Siddiqi7 and Kapil Kumar8 on the agrarian/peasant revolt led by Baba Ramchandra in Pratapgarh and Faizabad districts of Oudh have notably continued the same trend in more recent years. The list is only illustrative and not exhaustive.

If one looks at the approaches or frameworks of analysis in the studies mentioned above, then, barring Ravinder Kumar, who has used the framework of class analysis meaningfully in studying the anti-moneylender Deccan Riots, most of the other pioneering studies are either pure histories or ethnographies of tribal/peasant protest movements. Rarely have the/ researchers gone into conceptual discussions and they have not found it necessary to use or examine any of the prevailing theoretical-analytical paradigms. Notable exceptions to this are the studies by Siddiqi,9 Kapil Kumar,10 Gyanendra Pandey11 and this author12 who have started an important debate on the precise linkage between the peasantry and the Indian National Congress, and Gandhi in particular. However, the middle peasant thesis (like that of Eric Wolf and Hamza Alavi)13 and Barrington Moore's14 hypothesis on the role of commercial agriculture as a factor conducive for peasant mobilization have been thoroughly examined by only a few of the studies referred to above.15 This is not to

* Department of Sociology, University of Poona.



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