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Invoking Marginality

Soofia Siddique

Edited by Crispin Bates
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2013, pp. xxx 244; xxviii 227; xxvii 225; xxix 154, Rs. 850.00 each


Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857 is a seven-volume series that has emerged from a research project based at the University of Edinburgh involving collaborative research and international conferences beginning in the 150th year marking the revolt. Aiming to move beyond traditional nationalist and imperialist perspectives, the series invokes marginality in a variety of ways to offer fresh perspectives on a topic saturated with historical discourse, yet prone to repetitious and limiting interpretations. Of the seven volumes, each organized around a specific thematic focus, three are awaited.   The first volume titled ‘Anticipations and Experiences in the Locality’ focusses on prior instances of resistance to colonial rule, privileging a longue durée of anti-colonial struggles and examines the dynamics of the local during the uprising on its own terms, querying the single event horizon of 1857. In the opening article ‘Bandits, Bureaucrats and Bahadur Shah Zafar’, Tom Lloyd somewhat arrestingly declares that ‘“1857” Did Not Take Place’. Arguing against a reading of 1857 as marking a decisive epochal shift with the trial and deposition of Bahadur Shah, Lloyd draws attention to a gradual and pre-dated tendency of the colonial administration invoking extra-legal rights and parameters for trial and sentencing, as in the history of the Anti-Thug Campaign of the 1830s and 40s. An interesting foray into the history of the extra-legal in the consolidation of the colonial state, the article however in its exclusively juridical focus risks overstating the connection and comparability of the Anti-Thug trials with Bahadur Shah’s trial. A relevant counterpoint is provided by Gautam Bhadra’s article in the same volume, ‘What Constitutes a Margin or Margins? The Politics of Perception and the Representation of Power’, in which during the course of his exploration of the fluid and reconfiguring nature of resistance from the Kol tribals of Chota Nagpur during 1857, Bhadra mentions that letters written and received by the local King Arjun Singh reflect that ‘the Badshah’s arrival was expected, and this hope would have bolstered their confidence against the might of the company’. This quixotic hope of the personal appearance of the Emperor (lacking real powers, and old and feeble) nevertheless offers a glimpse into the symbolic authority of the Badshah even in the ‘margins’, suggesting that the effect and perception of the trial and deposition may exceed an observation of common juridical procedures. Other interesting essays in this volume include Andrea Major’...

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