ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Subaltern Collaboration and the Colonial State

Historical scholarship on the lives of marginalised groups in modern Indian society has tended to depict subalterns and the colonial state as antithetical forces.

Historical scholarship on the lives of marginalised groups in modern Indian society has tended to depict subalterns and the colonial state as antithetical forces. With some justice, historians associated with the Subaltern Studies Collective perceived subaltern consciousness to stand outside of, or in opposition to, colonial modernity and its various institutions. In their view, there was an autonomous subaltern sphere that—untrammelled by the influences of the colonial state—was the source of true and authentic resistance to Western social and political forms and thought. They therefore focused on moments of dramatic peasant revolt against the complex represented by the zamindarsahukar, and sarkar. In their hands, the subaltern entered history as a resistant subject.

What such a conceptualisation overlooked, however, were the innumerable situations in the history of colonial India when subalterns looked on the state in a less adversarial fashion, and indeed, in many instances, collaborated with that agency towards myriad ends. The idea of collaboration is invoked here deliberately, stemming from the significance that the historian Anil Seal would invest in the term in his landmark study of Indian nationalism titled The Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the Later Nineteenth Century, even as it is intended in a far more diffused sense than initially articulated. Yet, even in the optics of Seal’s colleagues of the Cambridge School of historiography, collaboration extended primarily to indigenous elites. How subalterns interacted with the colonial state lay outside of their self-declared remit. This is a question, therefore, that requires deep consideration.

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Updated On : 12th Sep, 2022
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