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A Multifaceted Survey

Amar Farooqui

Edited by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. ix 366, Rs. 1095.00


This volume, despite its slightly vague title, is a valuable collection of essays which survey writings on various areas of Indian history, especially ‘new and developing areas of study’. All ten contributions are on areas in which there has been, as Sabyasachi Bhattacharya notes, ‘intense research activity’ in recent years. Some of these, such as the history of the Sikhs and military history, have been part of what might be called mainstream historical writing in the sense that there has been a long tradition of academic interest in these themes, while the others review the state of research on issues that have begun attracting attention relatively recently. Of the latter, five focus specifically on marginalized people or regions: tribal communities, dalits, women, Christians, and North East India.   J.S. Grewal’s essay, the lengthiest in the book, deals exhaustively with writings on ‘Sikhism, Sikh History and Sikh Literature’. It begins with accounts produced by officials of the East India Company in the early nineteenth century when the British were feverishly gathering information about Ranjit Singh’s kingdom which they would eventually use to annex Panjab—extending from the Satluj to the ill-defined borders of Afghanistan—soon after his death. J.D. Cunningham’s History of the Sikhs published in 1849, which according to Grewal is still regarded as a classic, has been enormously influential in shaping the contours of the history of Panjab. In colonial writings there was a tendency to equate Panjab with the Sikhs, a tendency that became even more pronounced in the post-1857 period. For this reason the pioneering work of Syed Muhammad Latif, ‘the first major (Indian) historian of the Punjab’, ambitiously entitled History of the Panjab from the Remotest Antiquity to the Present Time (1891) is of considerable interest.   While giving ‘ample coverage’ to the Sikhs, Latif’s narrative was not confined to any community but looked at the region as a whole. Writings on Sikh history came of age with Hari Ram Gupta and Ganda Singh in the 1930s and 1940s when colonial interpretations began to be seriously questioned from an essentially nationalist perspective. Sita Ram Kohli, Khushwant Singh, N.G. Barrier, Grewal himself (as well as Gupta and Ganda Singh) are major scholars to have written on the subject in the latter half of the twentieth century. More recently W.H. McLeod has contributed significantly to our understanding of the Sikhs and their past (his ...

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