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Insurgencies and Insurrections


K.S. Dhillon

REPRESENTING REBELLION: VISUAL ASPECTS OF COUNTER-INSURGENCY IN COLONIAL INDIA
By Daniel J. Rycroft
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 321, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 5 May 2007

Subaltern historiography is a comparatively recent discipline in India. With mainstream history appropriating the centre stage for long, the extended historical course traversed by the many subaltern and minority groups in the country on their way to becoming conscious of a distinct identity, remained unexplored until very recently. Yet, the growth and maturation of such groups and movements offers an interesting and intriguing study and has of late been engaging the attention of several Indian and foreign historians of repute. Through their sustained and diligent research and discerning approach to this long-neglected aspect of South Asian historiography, Ranajit Guha, Sumit Sarkar and some of their contemporaries have helped immensely in plugging the many chronological gaps in our understanding of the gradual evolution and fruition of subaltern and minority identities as well as the various struggles that such groups had to wage to reclaim the primeval dignity and autonomy of their lives and living spaces, under recurrent threat from the forces of development and progress, both in colonial and postcolonial India. Understandably, this required the employment of enormous resources and hard work to uncover many previously unidentified episodes of insurgencies and insurrections in the peripheral regions and cultures and the calibrated response of the colonial Indian state to contain such threats to their regime. Such responses often varied in nature from the blatantly brutal to the studiedly ingenious. It is well known that the colonial state did not always adopt explicitly atrocious and confrontational measures, often relying upon subterfuge and cultural manoeuvres instead, to bring the rebellious tribes and communities to heel. The book under review not only further validates such assumptions, generally and specifically, but also greatly enhances our understanding of the deeper connotations of the mechanics of colonial dominance in a subject nation, which, unlike other lands in the African and American continents that the British sought to colonize, was in many ways a fairly well-administered and well-developed region In addition to carrying the story of subaltern historiography forward in a clinical sort of way, it also deals expressly with the counter-insurgency policies and strategies initiated and fine-tuned by successive colonial rulers in the mid-nine- teenth century India, still under East India Company rule, to consolidate their power and authority in the face of stray episodes of defiance by local populations in some parts of the country, peaking in the great sepoy mutiny of 1857.   This remarkable book, in fact, ...


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