Paper 2 – Indian Society : Structure and Change
A. Introducing Indian Society:
(i) Perspectives on the study of Indian society:
(a) Indology (GS. Ghurye).
(b) Structural functionalism (M N Srinivas).
(c) Marxist sociology ( A R Desai).
(ii) Impact of colonial rule on Indian society :
(a) Social background of Indian nationalism.
(b) Modernization of Indian tradition.
(c) Protests and movements during the colonial period.
(d) Social reforms
The term ‘subaltern’ was coined by Antonio Gramsci. Initially it was widely used to denote inferior rank in army, but nowadays, the term subaltern implies people of inferior rank for his/her various attributes such as economic condition, race, ethnicity, gender, caste, sexual orientation and people are marginalised for such attributes. Thus subaltern perspective is the way to understand society from the below. The people who are marginalized for various reasons in a stratified society produce knowledge and have politics of their own.
SUBALTERN STUDIES IN INDIA
The subaltern studies which emerged in India as a post-colonial theory is about re-writing history of the people. This project is mostly credited to Ranajit Guha and his colleagues such as Partha Chatterjee, David Hardiman, Shahid Amin, Gyanendra Pandey, David Arnold, Sumit Sarkar and Dipesh Chakrabarty. The subaltern historiography i.e. the methods of studying history is concerned with the “history of the subaltern people”. The basic premise of the subaltern history was to look at the history from below or the history of the subaltern people as opposed to the elitist perspective in history which ignores their contributions in making of history. Dhanagare has pointed out that the subaltern historiography approach seeks to restore a balance by highlighting the role of politics of the people as against elite politics played in Indian history.
RANAJIT GUHA’S SUBALTERN PERSPECTIVE
According to Guha, the subaltern historiography focuses on the peasants and tribal movements during colonial period in India as it has been overlooked by the dominant mainstream elitist historiography. Guha in his article entitled “Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India,” argues that the historiography of the Indian nationalism was dominated by these elitists who were the colonial and bourgeois nationalist. This type of historical writing gives the impression that the Indian nation and the consciousness of nationalism was an achievement of only the elites. The one sided perspective considers Indian
nationalism as the response of the charisma of certain elite leaders. Thus, the subaltern historiography overlooks the politics of the people. The subaltern historiographers argue that there was politics of the subaltern classes in the nationalist movement parallel to the politics of the dominant elites.
The movement, protest, resistance of the peasants, tribal and the marginalised groups during colonial period against the colonial power reflects varied intensities. Their mobilisation and resistance independent of the elite, emerged from people themselves. The subaltern historiography constructs the binary of the elite and the people. Guha discusses in Elementary Aspects of the Peasants Insurgency in Colonial India an interesting account of the peasants’ assertions, peasants consciousness, their mystic visions and religiosity and the social bond of their communities in his study of the 19th century peasant’s insurgency in
HARDIMAN’S STUDY OF DEVI MOVEMENT
His analysis of Indian nationalism and independence movement has given new insights in understanding the local power structure and nationalism. He examined the role of local peasants’ activities and Adivasi (tribal) assertions during the colonial time especially in western India. He has used ethnographic and archival sources to analyze movements of western India to promote the subaltern studies in India. He has studied the Devi movement which took place in Gujarat during 1922-23. It was Adivasi tribal movement by tribal peasants against the moneylenders, landlords and liquor shop owners Hardiman in his article titled “Adivasi Assertion in South Gujarat: The Devi Movement” discusses about the assertion of the Adivasis against the liquor dealers for the harmful effects of liquor on the people of their community.
AMBEDKAR’S DALITS AS SUBALTERN
Ambedkar defines Dalithood as “a kind of life condition that characterizes the exploitation, suppression and marginalization of Dalit people by the social, economic, cultural and political domination of the upper castes’ brahiminical ideology”. One of the important concepts introduced by Ambedkar related to the caste system, was the idea of ‘graded inequality’. He differentiates between inequality and graded inequality. According to Ambedkar, the caste system in India is a unique form of graded inequality where except Shudras and Untouchables, the rest enjoy privileges according to their hierarchical social status in the traditional social strucutre. Ambedkar argues that caste disassociates work from interest. It disconnects intelligence from manual labour. It denies the right to cultivate vital interest. It
prevents mobilization. The civilized society does need division of labour, but in no civilized society the division of labour is accompanied by the unnatural division of labour.
The Subaltern perspective stands for understanding the society through conditions of subordination of people belonging to the different caste, class, age, gender, race etc. It seeks to present an alternate image of society through the viewpoint of the masses usually unrepresented. It seeks to restore a balance by highlighting the role of the masses as against the elites in political and social movements. The major proponents of subaltern perspective in India are BR Ambedkar, David Hardiman, Ranjit Guha among others. They have tried to incorporate the views of weaker sections in the writings on Indian society.