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Understanding Modes of Colonial Domination

R. Gopinath

By K.N. Panikkar
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 279, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

This selection of K.N. Panikkar’s articles published between 1976 and 2005 not only brings together in one place, the writings of a major modern Indian social historian, but also serves as a historiographical record of the changing concerns of Marxist social history over the last three decades.   Panikkar describes the theme of this volume as an attempt to understand the modes of colonial domination and the varied forms of resistance, ranging from armed opposition to intellectual dissent, that this provoked. His writings and positions both within and outside academics have always been political. Unlike some resident and most non-resident historians of India who tend to discount the colonial impact, colonialism always provided that crucial context, for Panikkar, within which Indians tried to forge an alternative to colonial modernity. The Introduction to the collection clearly lays out the general argument of colonial cultural transformation in India. The earliest three articles refer to Kerala. ‘The Revolt of Velu Thampi’ in Travancore against British domination brings out the sporadic, disunited nature of early Indian opposition and its failure. The 1971 article on peasant resistance and revolts in Malabar locates Mapilla uprisings from the middle of the nineteenth century to the 1921 rebellion in the context of state-landlord exploitation, religion and limits of congress politics. Simi-larly, ‘Agrarian Legislation and Social Classes’ (1978) is a detailed empirical study of the flawed premises of the colonial tenurial policy in Malabar and the partial, pro-landlord and big-tenant attempts to resolve the increasing class contradictions. Panikkar later went on towrite a full monograph elaborating these themes.   The rest of the essays mark Panikkar’s shift to cultural history. Two of the essays once again take up the case of indigenous medicine and the novel to critique the complex processes of colonial modernity in Malabar. The thought-provoking article on the Ayurvedic movement in Malabar lucidly brings out the elements of revivalism and elitism in this proffered alternative to modern western medicine. While the Arya Vaidya Sala supported by the traditional magnates in Malabar sought to claim scientificity in the face of western allegations of being quackery, it in turn made the same accusations against indigenous practitioners of popular medicine. ‘Creating a New Cultural Taste’ (1997) studies O. Chandu Menon’s Indulekha to understand how the western educated colonial intelligentsia imagined a future that while different from colonial modernity and tradition continued to be greatly rooted in both. The short piece, ‘Novel as Colonial ...

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